Imagine if the Los Angeles Rams had traded for Matthew Stafford two years ago, just as they actually did, but the cost was only one first round pick instead of both 2022 and 2023. It’s not hard to think of that as a possibility and the only reason it didn’t happen is because...it didn’t happen.
It’s been said that the second first round pick was included just to get Jared Goff off of the books, so we can even pretend that the Rams kept Goff and moved him to another team for whatever they could get at the time.
Now take that exact scenario and what we would have is the exact same 2023 Los Angeles Rams situation. Same Super Bowl victory in 2021. Same problems facing the 5-12 team in 2022. Same need to take a step back and reset in 2023. Literally if you just ignore the 2023 first round draft pick belonging to the Detroit Lions, everything else could—in theory—be exactly the same about the current Rams franchise.
Everything except for one thing: They would have used the sixth overall pick for themselves.
That’s it, that’s the one difference. The Lions ended up trading down with the Arizona Cardinals and basically acquired picks 34 (used on TE Sam LaPorta) and 168 for pick 81, then the Lions chose Jahmyr Gibbs 12th overall.
But let’s say that the Rams were at pick 6, as they would be if they had managed to get the Lions to accept only one first round pick, a third, and Goff for Stafford, what might they have done? Perhaps L.A. would have traded down with the Cardinals and then selected whichever players best fit Sean McVay’s current needs.
Perhaps they would have stayed at six and selected Paris Johnson, Tyree Wilson, Bijan Robinson, or Jalen Carter, the players selected between 6-9.
Any of that would make sense. And so what would make sense as far as predicting the Rams’ 2023 season if they had managed to keep their first round pick?
Rationally speaking ... We shouldn’t have to change their immediate forecast all that much. It’s just. One. Player.
Look, any of these prospects could turn out to be great NFL players and I hope that’s what happens for them. It’s still just one player and the immediate value of any rookie is almost always much lower than the value that makes teams pick them that high in the first place.
Perhaps only Bijan Robinson will be an All-Pro out of the gate, but even if Robinson was on the Rams that wouldn’t mean that the Rams would win an extra six games next year because of a running back upgrade. Or even one additional game.
Take the Rams entire 2023 rookie draft class—a whopping 14 players—and just add one to it. That is the only difference between where the L.A. Rams could stand “if only” they had a first round pick and where they currently stand because they didn’t have their first round pick. That’s the only difference.
Well, the Rams won a Super Bowl in 2021 despite not using a single first round pick in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, or 2021 on a rookie prospect. Not once.
The Eagles went to the Super Bowl last year even though they had plenty of first round regrets, like Andre Dillard in 2019 and Jalen Reagor in 2020, and even though rookie first round pick Jordan Davis didn’t have a major impact last season. They didn’t need him to and he’s just one player. Philadelphia is getting plenty of help from day two and day three picks like Jalen Hurts, Landon Dickerson, and Josh Sweat.
Instead of adding 14 players and say, Paris Johnson or Tyree Wilson, which would certainly be preferable to not having an extra prospect (but not as preferable as winning a Super Bowl with Stafford), the Rams “only” added 14 draft prospects. And most of them were late in the draft, but that doesn’t change the fact that: The only difference is a lack of a first round pick.
Many, many, many first round picks provide no value in their careers at all, and most first round picks don’t help as rookies.
The Rams won a Super Bowl without overrating the value of using first round picks on actual rookie prospects. I believe they will finally go back to drafting first round prospects again in 2024. But he will still be just one guy and he’s no guarantee.
It may feel like the L.A. Rams are “missing” something in their efforts to reset, reload, and remanage their situation. But they’re the exact same 2023 team that they would have been with a first round pick, just minus one extra shot in the dark.
So we have to treat them just the same.