Champion LA Rams show up fashionably late to another draft
By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES (AP) The Rams have been back home in Los Angeles for just over six years now, and they're thriving as Hollywood trendsetters.
For instance, they were sitting out the first round of the NFL draft before it was cool.
Barring a spectacular trade, the defending Super Bowl champions won't make a first-round pick for the sixth consecutive year when the NFL's top prospects get together in Las Vegas. Thanks to two major deals to acquire the veteran talent that led them to their title, the Rams aren't scheduled to make a pick at all until nearly the end of the third round.
"It really makes Thursday nights not stressful at all," general manager Les Snead said with a laugh.
Snead and his front office have been the league's most aggressive group in recent years in using their draft capital to secure concrete, proven assets. Their current first-round pick went to Detroit in the trade to acquire Matthew Stafford, while their second- and third-round picks went to Denver for the half-season rental of Von Miller.
Those transactions played a major role in the Rams' championship run last season, and the rest of the NFL has picked up on the importance of that equation. A record eight teams don't have a first-round pick this month, with most following the Rams' lead of using their draft capital to acquire someone more surefire than a prospect.
Los Angeles broke through last season with a talent base built on this foundational strategy. The Rams' star-powered success was bolstered by Snead's success in later rounds, where he has found a large handful of coach Sean McVay's starters in recent years.
The Rams' once-unorthodox strategy is working, and Snead has shown no indication he's changing it - which is fortunate, because they don't have a first-round pick next season, either.
Once the Rams show up fashionably late to the draft on Friday night, they'll have eight picks - just three before the sixth round. Los Angeles' first pick is scheduled to be 104th overall. Every other team has at least one pick before then, and several teams have a few. Five of Los Angeles' eight picks are compensatory selections for losses across the roster, and just three are among the top 210 overall selections.
Given their current draft status, Snead will have to make a stellar pick to get an immediate contributor to the 2022 team. Yet rookie contributors aren't typical for the Rams: Last season's squad didn't get significant help in the regular season from any of the 2021 draft picks except linebacker Ernest Jones and cornerback Robert Rochell, who both subsequently got injured. But Snead has found seven players in the fifth, sixth or seventh rounds who eventually became significant contributors over the past four drafts, including defensive starters Sebastian Joseph-Day and Jordan Fuller.
The Rams can't firmly target specific needs with such low picks, but they clearly could use depth in the secondary after getting through last season with a less-than-exciting group of defensive backs around Jalen Ramsey before losing starting cornerback Darious Williams in free agency last month. A talented offensive lineman could be a contender for the starting spot at right guard vacated by Austin Corbett. The Rams have long shown they can never get enough offensive talent after using their three highest picks in the past two years on skill-position players. They've also chosen a running back in four consecutive drafts.
The Rams can't target surefire starters in the draft, but they can definitely bolster their special teams. Mid-round draft picks typically get important roles on kick coverage units, and the Rams have been good at acquiring versatile athletes to fill multiple roles in those units. Los Angeles also could use a late-round pick on a punter to compete with veteran signee Riley Dixon for the chance to replace Johnny Hekker, who was released in a cost-cutting move after a decade with the Rams.
For the second straight season, the Rams are doing their team-building work this month out of the office. They're moving into a " Draft House, " a luxury property showcasing the best reasons to live in Southern California. Last season's house was in Malibu with a view of the ocean, and this season's estate is perched atop the Hollywood Hills with lavish views of the Rams' beautiful hometown - air quality permitting, of course.
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Updated April 22, 2022