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Former Rams exec: We turned down enticing trade offer before picking Aaron Donald

Lions GM Brad Holmes also noted that the team nearly picked Sammy Watkins instead of Greg Robinson

St. Louis Rams 2014 Draft Class News Conference Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

What if instead of drafting Aaron Donald with the 13th overall pick in 2014, the Rams instead accepted a huge trade offer and instead landed Zack Martin, C.J. Mosley, or Brandin Cooks? Or worse, Kelvin Benjamin? What if instead of picking Greg Robinson with the second overall pick that same year, the Rams chose Sammy Watkins?

According to Brad Holmes, the current general manager of the Detroit Lions and a former area scout with the St. Louis and Los Angeles Rams who specifically helped tip the team off to the ultra-talented defensive tackle out of Pitt that year, there were a number of scenarios that nearly played out that day in 2014: The Rams could have had Watkins and Donald. They could have also had Robinson and a second bust, if they had accepted an “enticing” trade offer at 13th overall.

Unfortunately for the Rams, they picked Robinson. Fortunately for the Rams, they also picked Donald.

Brad Holmes appeared the Peter Schrager’s podcast for the NFL called “The Season” on Wednesday (normally I would embed the video, but NFL for some reason blocks the ability to do that) and discussed his experience coming up as a scout for the Rams after starting out as a PR intern. Holmes was in Pittsburgh to get a closer look at Donald for the Rams and he says that it was Matt House, someone he knew because of mutual colleague Steve Spagnuolo and the defensive coordinator at Pitt, who gave him the best sense of how special AD was.

“I go to Pitt and see Matt and he tells me, “Are you staying for practice?” He says to come out a half-hour early. He didn’t tell me why. I come out to practice early and they practice in that bubble that they share with the Steelers. It’s the ball boys, the equipment managers, the specialists, and Aaron Donald. Those are the only people. Donald is sitting on this bag, fully-taped up with this twitch in his knee like “I’ve been waiting ALL DAY. Where’s everybody at? I’ve been waiting on this all day.” Then Matt goes, “Did you come out early?” “Yep.” “Did you see it?” “Yep”. Nothing else needed to be said.”

Holmes notes that he was nervous to give Donald too high of a grade because he knew that coaches were going to be skeptical of a defensive tackle who only weighed 285 lbs. But he relayed to Jeff Fisher and Les Snead the story of Donald anxiously waiting for practice a half-hour early and convinced the front office that he was a special prospect mostly because of his intangibles.

“Aaron Donald is very talented and strong, but it’s his work ethic, passion, and intangibles, and passion for football. I’m like, “That said it all to me, when Matt House told me to come out early” and sure enough he was right.”

The Rams were convinced that Donald was the best pick for them too and then when Donald was available at pick 13, nothing would move Les and Jeff off of the pick. Holmes says the team got an enticing trade offer but “Jeff and Les were like absolutely not, we’re picking this guy.”

Holmes also notes that it was a close decision between picking Robinson over Watkins with the second overall pick, but that it was one of those things that came down to the “premium positions”, which Holmes puts in quotes. (Holmes has been criticized recently for selecting running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell in the top-20.)

In a long interview with Schrager, Holmes also name drops a lot of former Rams personnel and players who may be of interest to fans looking to reminisce on “the bad old days”. That includes coming up first as a PR intern (which would mean that Holmes would have been talking to people like me as a job and somehow now he’s a GM) before getting helped out by running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, and general manager Charley Armey.

But that’s all a part of history. Almost ten years later, Aaron Donald is still a part of the present and future.