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This or That: Which draft prospects should Rams prioritize in early rounds?

Which draft prospects provide the most value for the Rams?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Missouri at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams enter one of the most important drafts of the Les Snead era. With 11 draft picks, including three in the top-100, Snead should be able to draft some difference-makers on offense and defense.

With needs all over the roster, Snead really won’t be able to go wrong with any position. However, good draft process is about weighing value, both talent and position-wise, and comparing that with need and best player available.

For example, the value of taking a quarterback is at its highest in the first-round as this is where the highest hit-rate is for the position. The odds of finding a franchise quarterback in the first-round is much higher than finding one in the fourth or fifth-round. Of course, there are exceptions. However, generally speaking, that is the case.

The opposite can be said about running backs. Given the value of the position, short shelf-life, and dependency on situation, it makes much more sense to take a running back in later-rounds than in the first-round.

Earlier in the draft process, I weighed value vs. need targets and compared some of those options with the best player available as well as where those may all line up. You can check that out below.

In this exercise, we’ll compare two players at the same position, but try to figure out where that player or position may have the best value.

EDGE Rusher: Will McDonald IV or Isaiah McGuire

Will McDonald IV has been a player that has been heavily connected to the Rams in mock drafts with the 36th overall pick. However, is he the best option for the Rams at that position at that spot?

A case can be made that the Rams shouldn’t take an edge rusher at 36 at all. Over the past three seasons, 14 edge rushers have been selected in the second-round. Out of those 14 players, only Azeez Ojulari in 2021 had more than five sacks as a rookie.

The odds of someone like McDonald IV having an impact as a rookie are minimal. He also is a raw athlete that was played out of position at Iowa State. That isn’t to say he can’t develop into a good player. It just might take 2-3 years for him to hit his ceiling.

In 2020, both Alex Highsmith and Jonathan Greenard were found in the later stages of the third-round. Both players have followed a similar development path.

This is why taking a player like Isaiah McGuire in the third-round at pick 69 or 77 might make more sense than selecting McDonald IV at 36. McDonald may have a higher ceiling, but the Rams can develop McGuire on a similar trajectory. While he may not reach the same heights, they still get relatively the same production. The Rams can then spend on a premier edge rusher next offseason in a good free agent class.

Courtesy Kent Lee Platte (@mathbomb) | RAS Football

Waiting on the position allows the Rams to get a complimentary edge rusher with similar athleticism that can perform when they are ready in a year and then take a player at another position that is more likely to have an immediate impact at 36.

Verdict: Isaiah McGuire in round 3

Center: John Michael Schmitz or Ricky Stromberg

John Michael Schmitz was a popular choice for the Rams early in the draft process, but that momentum has seemingly slowed down over the past month. That may be a good thing because Schmitz likely isn’t in the top-5 options for the Rams at 36. Still, he’s someone that they would have to consider.

Schmitz is a player that would completely transform the Rams offensive line and give them stability in the middle. While Brian Allen had a good 2021, he has never gone through a full season without missing a game. The two seasons in which he missed significant time ended up being disasters for the offensive line.

The issue here is that center isn’t necessarily a highly valued position in the NFL. Jason Kelce is the highest-paid center and he makes $14.25M per year. The highest-paid player at every other position on the offensive line makes at least $20M per year. Center is the least valuable position on the offensive line and it’s possible to find starting caliber players later in the draft.

While Rams fans have flashbacks to Creed Humphrey, it’s forgotten that Quinn Meinerz was taken by the Denver Broncos late in the third-round and the Atlanta Falcons drafted Drew Dalman in round four. Plug-and-play interior offensive linemen can be found in the middle stages of the draft.

This is a deep class at center and Ricky Stromberg out of Arkansas is one of those mid-round players. He’s very experienced in the SEC and a very smart player at the center position. At the very least, he provides depth for Allen in the case that he does get hurt.

Courtesy Kent Lee Platte (@mathbomb) | RAS Football

The Rams don’t need to spend high draft capital on the center position. It’s more important for them to find some depth or someone who has the ability to start. Stromberg may not be a flashy pick like Schmitz, but he might be the correct pick.

Verdict: Ricky Stromberg in round 5

Cornerback: Cam Smith or DJ Turner

Cornerback will be an intriguing position for the Rams. It’s a deep class and therefore it will be possible to find good players in the third-round. However, with only Cobie Durant as a legitimate option in the secondary, the Rams really need a player with high-upside and CB1 potential.

If Emmanuel Forbes is available when the Rams are on the clock, he should be the sure-fire selection with no debate. After that is where things can get interesting.

Smith provides inside-outside versatility and has the speed that the Rams look for as he ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. This is a player who could fill in the role left by Jalen Ramsey. Smith has value as a blitzer and could play the “star” position that the Rams have introduced in recent years.

However, this is a deep cornerback class and the Rams may be ok waiting on the position until pick 69 or 77. The cornerback position will need to be addressed within the first three picks, and as long as that is the case, they should be fine.

Turner out of Michigan is another good fit for the Rams. While he may not have the size or upside of Smith, he’s still a solid option in the third-round. Turner has good speed and ball skills. He may not develop into a true number one cornerback, but he’ll be able to get the job done.

It all depends on what the Rams are looking for in the cornberack position in this draft. Do they want a Ramsey replacement? Contrarily, are they looking for someone who can develop until they can get a solid pass rush to help the secondary?

At 36, McVay may value a pass-catcher or edge rusher over a potential elite cornerback. This one is really close, but Smith’s upside may get the advantage.

Verdict: Cam Smith in round 2

Running Back: Zach Charbonnet or Israel Abanikanda

There’s no question that at some point the Rams are going to have to take a running back in the NFL Draft. It’s only a matter of when that happens. In this scenario, a player like Charbonnet is likely going to go anywhere in the 50-75 range. The Rams would either need to trade back from 36 or hope Charbonnet falls to them at 69 or 77.

While Charbonnet isn’t necessarily bad value at 69 or 77, the Rams still have other, higher priority needs. A player like Israel Abanikanda is a similar athlete, but will be available in the fifth-round.

Courtesy Kent Lee Platte (@mathbomb) | RAS Football

The Rams also don’t necessarily need a player like Charbonnet who has three-down back upside. With Cam Akers coming off of a strong finish to 2022 and Kyren Williams in the fold, the Rams simply need to add some depth. Abanikanda provides exactly that.

Verdict: Israel Abanikanda in round 5

Tight End: Dalton Kincaid or Zack Kuntz

In one of the best tight end classes of all-time, it would not be surprising to see the Rams select a tight end, especially with Tyler Higbee on an expiring contract. As with the other positions on this list, it’s only a matter of when the Rams address the position.

If a player like Kincaid were to fall out of the first-round and to 36, McVay may stand on the table outside by the pool at the Rams draft house for Snead to call it in. Still, tight end isn’t necessarily the most pressing need for the Rams. He’s a very good fit as an athletic player with speed and a very good receiver. Kincaid is only an average blocker, but is good after the catch and is a natural receiver. He’d fit in seamlessly in the Rams offense.

However, in a good tight class, there may be players available later on in the draft. One of those players is Zack Kuntz.

Kuntz also fits what the Rams like in their tight ends, but at 6’7, he’s much taller than what they have typically targeted at the position. He’s also extremely raw with only 15 starts at Old Dominion.

Kuntz is more of a projection on day three of the draft. Due to his athleticism and traits, he may go on day two. However, he’s more likely a day three project. Is that project something that the Rams have time to commit to? They already attempted a similar project with Jacob Harris.

Tight ends taken anywhere in the draft typically take a few years to develop. By the time a player like Kincaid were to blossom, they may only get two very good years out of him. For example, Zach Ertz finally eclipsed 800 yards in his third season. Is that worth a high draft pick?

Verdict: Dalton Kincaid in round 2

Wide Receiver: Jalin Hyatt or Jayden Reed

You could put Tyler Scott at Cincinnati here as his build is similar to Hyatt. However, with the reported interest in Jayden Reed out of Michigan State from the Rams, we’ll take a look at him instead.

The Rams need to take a wide receiver in the draft. They needed one before trading Allen Robinson. However, following the trade, it emphasizes the need even more. While the Rams could look for a big-bodied receiver that can win 50-50 balls, a speed threat might be the better option.

The Rams need a consistent deep threat and someone who can replace Van Jefferson once he’s a free agent next offseason. Adding explosiveness to the offense is a must.

If explosiveness is what the Rams are looking for, Jalin Hyatt makes a lot of sense at 36. Some will say he’s a one-tick pony and ran a limited route-tree at Tennessee. However, if he’s only a vertical threat, he’s shown that he’s an extremely good one. Hyatt has also shown that he is a good route-runner.

He’ll need to develop into more of a complete receiver, but he has the tools to add those nuances to his game.

While the Rams have drafted two receivers in the second-round who haven’t necessarily worked out, the best receiver on the team was taken in the third. Can the Rams find another Kupp as they did in 2017?

Reed is a speed threat and can win in the vertical areas of the field. However, he also may have a more developed route-tree than Hyatt and has alignment versatility. Reed has some consistency issues, but is a well-rounded receiver.

Where Reed may be more developed in some areas of his game, Hyatt without a doubt has the higher ceiling. However, him becoming a complete receiver may be more of a projection.

The Rams do need explosiveness and Hyatt is very clearly the more explosive player. If the top cornerbacks and edge rushers are off the board at 36, Hyatt will need to be considered at that draft slot. This isn’t a great wide receiver class, but there will be some value in the second-round. While they may be able to get a similar player in Reed at the end of the third-round, Hyatt’s ceiling is much higher compared to Reed’s and he can have an immediate impact.

Verdict: Hyatt in round 2