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Rams-Cardinals matchups will carry heavy draft implications in 2023

It’s a race to the bottom for the struggling teams of the NFC West

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams are bracing themselves for a down year after six very competitive seasons under Sean McVay. While LA parted with a number of costly veterans over the offseason, they are also trying to thread the needle of their rebuild by keeping around Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford. These core players could help the Rams turn things around quickly and could provide a foundation to the next version of the contending roster.

But there’s also a chance that there’s too much for them to overcome this season, and with 40 rookies heading into training camp the Rams could be outright bad. That’s not to say a losing record and missing out on the playoffs for the second consecutive season would be a wasted year—the young players will get valuable playing time that should pay dividends in 2024 and beyond.

LA hasn’t had a first round draft pick since they selected quarterback Jared Goff first overall in 2016, though they are finally slated to participate in the Thursday night draft activities next spring. A down year could give them a building block for the future, though within the NFC West there is another team that figures to be in the running for multiple top picks: the Arizona Cardinals.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Rams-Cardinals will have big draft implications

The Cardinals not only own their first rounder next spring but they also acquired the Houston Texans’ first pick as part of a trade package in last month’s draft. Arizona will be without QB Kyler Murray for most of the season and with Houston likely starting rookie CJ Stroud, it’s reasonable to see both teams finishing in the bottom 10 of the standings. Arizona figures to be one of the worst teams in the NFL for next season but their surplus of draft capital could help them turn things around in a hurry.

Los Angeles hosts the Cardinals in Week 6 of the upcoming season, and it’s unlikely that Murray will have returned from his 2022 ACL tear by that point—meaning the Rams should face off with either veteran Colt McCoy or fifth round rookie Clayton Tune. McCoy made a start against the Rams last season and led Arizona to a 27-17 victory in Week 10.

The second matchup comes in Week 12 in late November, and by that point we will know who the Rams are. If they are better than expected, the Cardinals will be a stepping stone into the playoff hunt; however, if the season has gone south we could realistically see Los Angeles embrace the youth movement and possibly even turn towards rookie QB Stetson Bennett.

The Rams going 2-0 against the Cardinals would almost certainly take them out of the equation for a top five pick next year. Hopefully if that happens we are discussing playoff scenarios—finishing in the middle of the pack is almost a worst-case scenario for LA.

Dropping both games or even splitting the pair of contests would tell us that the Rams erred in not tearing the roster completely down to the studs and fully embracing the rebuild (not a “remodel” as Les Snead has mentioned).

What’s at stake at the top of the 2024 draft?

Top QB prospects

Caleb Williams seems to be the consensus top signal caller heading into the college football season, and draft analysts compare the USC QB’s playing style to Patrick Mahomes. North Carolina’s Drake Maye is 6-4 and has a profile similar to Justin Herbert. While most attention has been paid to Williams and Maye so far, there are other intriguing options that could prove to be first round prospects in Washington’s Michael Penix, Jr. and Texas’ Quinn Ewers.

A generational WR

Receivers with size, speed, and pedigree like Ja’Marr Chase don’t grow on trees, and unless you are picking towards the top of the order you’ll never have a shot at one.

Marvin Harrison, Jr. of Ohio State seems to be the best wide receiver prospect since Chase. He’ll likely be the best non-QB available in next year’s draft. Expect him to go very early, and a team like the Cardinals with potentially multiple high picks and (possibly) a franchise QB already in place in Murray.

If Rams fans have to suffer through a losing season in 2023, it would be disappointing for them to also not come away with a top quarterback or a generational wide receiver in next year’s draft. While a top draft selection comes with a cost, perhaps that is the best outcome for the future of the team.

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Mike Christy/Getty Images