The 2023 draft is a little more than a week away. To say the 2023 draft is an important one for the Los Angeles Rams might be an understatement. Coming off of a 5-12 season and arguably no high-impact players drafted since 2017, Les Snead and the Rams are approaching a fork in the road.
If the Rams turn left, they are facing a rebuild that will likely last 3-5 years. Get the 2023 draft wrong, and that’s the reality they face. The trio of Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Matthew Stafford will all be 30 by the time the season begins. This isn’t a team that has time for a long-term rebuild as an option in their current model.
Contrarily, if they turn right, this is a team that’s ready to compete for a championship once again in 2025.
It’s pretty clear by some of the moves that the Rams have made that they don’t see themself and top contenders next season. While they have cleared cap space for 2024, you can think of next year as a 2017 2.0. With $60M+ to spend on free agents, the Rams will be able to sign a premier pass rusher and newer versions of Robert Woods and Andrew Whitworth — both of whom turned out to be home-run free agent signings.
A good draft in 2023 sets the Rams up nicely for what their current team-build should be, and that’s the 2025 season. The Rams don’t necessarily need immediate contributors for 2023. They need guys that will be ready to take the next step and become difference-makers when they are ready again for a final push in 2025.
In fact, ending up with a top-15 draft pick in 2024 might not necessarily be a bad thing as once again, it sets them up to draft a high-impact player who will be ready to take that next step in his second year in 2025.
This is a big reason why taking an edge rusher in the second or third round makes a lot of sense. Take Josh Uche as an example. Uche was selected with the 60th overall pick in 2020. In his first two seasons, he combined for four sacks. Last year, he finally took that next step and finished with 11.5 while looking like one of the NFL’s up-and-coming pass rushers for the New England Patriots. Edge rushers taken outside the first-round typically don’t have an immediate impact.
Tight end is another position that will have to be looked at in the draft. This is a position that typically takes some time to develop and don’t hit their potential until year two or three. Tyler Higbee didn’t eclipse 500 yards until his fourth year and will likely be gone after this season. Replacing him with a player who will be ready in 2025 is a necessity.
When the Rams signed Stafford and Kupp to contract extensions last offseason, they strategically tied the two together through 2026. The Rams have an “out” in Stafford’s contract following 2025 and Kupp’s contract is also very movable at that point. This puts Kupp at 32 and Stafford at 37 years of age with both players at the beginning of their productive declines.
The beginning of the Rams’ next window starts in 2023 and they’ll have two years to capitalize. While Stafford, Kupp, and Donald will remain the cornerstones, they still need to find their pillars to hold everything together. Those players will be found in the 2023 draft.