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Rams must balance best player available with position value during draft

LA has roster needs across the board. They should throw darts at areas that can provide greatest return.

Los Angeles Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 to win the NFL Super Bowl LVI football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

As of today the Los Angeles Rams have just 45 players on their roster. They will need to reach 90 in time for training camp this fall. The team has 11 picks in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, so it’s clear that Les Snead will be busy filling out the roster once the Rams make their final selection and can turn to the UDFA class and the remaining veteran free agent pool.

The sheer number of players that will be added over the next month or so suggests that nearly every position across the depth chart is on the table. This even includes quarterback where Matthew Stafford is the only player currently under contract—and it seems the Rams are intent on drafting at least a backup if not someone they can groom as Stafford’s heir apparent.

This year’s draft is the most important since Sean McVay arrived in Los Angeles in 2017, and the 11 upcoming selections represent dart throws as the Rams look to pry open a new window of contention.

Upgrades at any position that can either help you throw the football or keep the other team from passing should be valued higher than ones that don’t. The Rams must value contributors at the most important positions on the depth chart, and they have recently embraced modern perspectives on the team building hierarchy—though it took learning some hard lessons after investing heavily in running back Todd Gurley and linebacker Alec Ogletree.

General outline of NFL position value:

  • Quarterback
  • Pass rusher (outside, then interior) / pass catchers
  • Coverage players (corners, safeties, then linebackers)
  • Offensive tackles
  • Interior offensive linemen
  • Primarily run-stopping defensive linemen
  • Traditional off-ball linebackers
  • Running backs

LA’s trade for receiver Brandin Cooks in 2018 was the first hint at the team’s shift in philosophy, which took another step forward when they acquired corner Jalen Ramsey the following season. Matthew Stafford provided an immediate upgrade at quarterback and allowed McVay to implement a passing game that was independent of production on the ground—something was once a crutch for the offense with Jared Goff. The icing on the cake, and a significant part of the Rams’ victory in Super Bowl LVI, was the mid-season trade for Von Miller in 2021.

All of these players filled key roles at the most important positions in terms of team building. The Rams also got a little lucky when Cooper Kupp—a former third round pick—developed into the best receiver in the NFL at a time when pass catchers have never been more valuable.

While Cooks, Ramsey, and Miller are already gone—and with the door seemingly closing on Stafford’s time in Los Angeles—now is the time for LA to learn from their successes in regards to position value and reallocate resources in areas that will pay the largest dividends.

Perhaps with that in mind, the most sound decision the Rams can make is spending the number 36 overall pick on a quarterback—assuming one that McVay truly believes in is there. Next comes edge rusher or receiver, followed by cornerback or safety.

The bottom line is that the Rams must strike a balance between the most important areas of their roster and how the top talent falls to them in the draft. Selecting the “best player available” is an overused cliché, but when paired with positional value it becomes more of an aspirational goal for the organization. Drafting is more of an art than a science, and it takes a fair amount of good fortune to find impact players late in the draft where Los Angeles is picking.

But the Rams are bound to find some gems out of their 11 shots this year—they will be best served if these hits come from passers, pass rushers, pass catchers, or pass defenders.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images