After a surprising run to the playoffs in 2023, the Los Angeles Rams have to feel they are on the cusp of truly contending over the coming seasons. Much has been made of how LA went “all in” to win Super Bowl LVI and they’ve now successfully transitioned between eras of their roster. Los Angeles will have ample salary cap resources and draft capital to add to what is already a playoff caliber roster.
But the Rams cannot allow their Super Bowl window to be limited by the career remainders of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald—who could all individually retire after next year without causing much shock. Les Snead and Sean McVay must continue to thread the needle between winning games today and preparing for the future. Perhaps the best way to do so is to draft a quarterback with one of their first picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, and already experts are linking them to players that should be available in the late first or second rounds.
With all JJ McCarthy tape, it's important to note he was 20 years old the entire season. He will get bigger and his arm will get stronger.— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) January 20, 2024
This is a fantastic rep. From the little pump fake to the actual throw. pic.twitter.com/BbV8A6HkcJ
Why the Rams should take a developmental QB:
Matthew Stafford finished the 2023 season on a tear, but it’s important to remember the offense’s early season struggles and not allow recency bias to set in. Stafford has always been a streaky quarterback, and last season was no exception for the veteran. It’s difficult to balance that Stafford had maybe his best career season and him turning age 36 next month—how many more years does he have playing at that level? Would the Rams be jeopardizing the upside of a roster ready to contend if they don’t have a long-term plan B in place? Carson Wentz is capable of stepping in for a three-game stretch and keeping you afloat, but he’s already demonstrated he’s not a viable full-time starter in the NFL. Snead has also shown that he’s not willing to commit a sizeable portion of the team’s salary cap allocation to a reserve QB, though that stance could—and maybe should—change after the fallout of Stetson Bennett and Brett Rypien early in the 2023 season.
The Rams need a developmental quarterback that has flashed the creativity and uniqueness that makes Stafford such a strong fit with McVay. LA’s offense would also benefit from mobility from its signal caller, which helps the team pickup easy first downs and forces the opposition to defend you differently. The way in which Stafford wins is sometimes like playing a video game on its highest degree of difficulty—there are more easy buttons that the Rams could press with a new QB.
The draft isn’t the only way to find that talent, but it’s much more attractive to invest in a player on a cost-controlled contract and a clean slate. A rehabilitation project like the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson also fits this bill, but can you say with confidence that he’s a realistic option if Stafford hangs it up after 2024 and the Rams roster is still built to win now? Let McVay identity a moldable player from this draft class that he believes has starting potential next year and beyond, and pair that player with a veteran backup that can step in for Stafford before the rookie is ready.
Taking a quarterback has downside for the Rams:
The Rams believe they can spend the offseason being more aggressive in free agency than they have in recent years and continuing to add through the draft in order to position themselves amongst the NFL elite. They were supposed to have a down year in 2023 and instead made the playoffs after all.
So why shouldn’t the team use its only first round pick since 2016 on a potential star wide receiver that can complement Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp? If they miss out on a top edge rusher in free agency they might be able to find one at #19 overall. There will also be fans clamoring for offensive line help, especially at tackle where Alaric Jackson is a question mark and Rob Havenstein isn’t getting any younger. The Rams also may need two new starting outside corners, and they could find at least one of those starters in the first or second rounds.
Drafting a quarterback would fill a long-term need at the expense of short-term gains, and that could be difficult to square for a team on the verge of contention.
Michigan’s JJ McCarthy is the right man for the job:
McCarthy’s detractors are strong, but he strikes me as someone who will become a bigger name as the draft grows nearer and nearer. He has the DNA to play in the Shanahan-McVay tree of schemes, and there could be several teams at the back of the first round clamoring for his services. Time will tell if that’s how things truly unfold.
So why is McCarthy right for the Rams? First, he’s only 20 years old and can’t legally consume alcohol—and that’s important context when contemplating his college career.
We know that Michigan made very limited asks of McCarthy en route to the NCAA championship. All we have to go off of are flashes. It’s wild that McCarthy and his team reached the pinnacle of college football but individual he’s still not battle tested.
It’s because of his age and relatively greenness that he’s not tagged as a day one starter at the NFL level, but the NFL clearly thinks enough of him that he made the decision to leave Michigan early. Players don’t leaps like that without receiving positive feedback from decision makers at the professional level.
McCarthy is the perfect draft and stash type of quarterback, and maybe one of the more attractive options out of the college game since the Green Bay Packers drafted Jordan Love in 2020. Rarely do highly drafted passers get the opportunity to develop on the bench behind the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, and McCarthy has the skills, talent, and creativity that is worth waiting on.
I think JJ McCarthy goes in the 8th to 26th overall range, perhaps to a Shanahan tree team. He did plenty enough athletically to see an upside path.— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) January 22, 2024
Some examples of that here ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/VYi6UIsVw9