The year was 2016. It was also the last time that the Rams made a pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. The team took quarterback Jared Goff and every year since then general manager Les Snead has either traded the team’s first round selection away or traded out of it.
Despite not having a pick in the first round since 2016 and their next one not coming until 2024 due to the most recent Goff trade, the Rams have not had a losing record.
But first round picks are important? That’s where the Rams drafted Aaron Donald.
First round picks are important, and it is in fact where the Rams selected Donald. However, since 2017, the Rams would have had just one selection that landed inside the top-20. That pick landed at number five, the year after the team went 4-12 in Jeff Fisher’s last season.
Since then? The Rams would have had picks at 23, 31, 20, and this year they would have picked at 25.
Everyone knows that the NFL draft is a crapshoot. Hitting on talent anywhere is like throwing darts. Now, as you get deeper into the draft, it’s like stepping farther and farther away from the dart board, making it more difficult to hit a bullseye. It’s easier to hit a bullseye the closer you are to the board and the closer you are to the top of the draft. However, eventually, it’s not that much of a difference and the odds are about the same.
With those picks that the Rams would have had, the teams that ended up selecting, drafted wide receiver Corey Davis (5th overall), offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (23rd overall), offensive lineman Kaleb McGary (31st overall), and edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson (20th overall).
The lone benefit of having a first round pick, especially when you’re selecting in the 20-32 range is that team’s get that fifth year option with a player. That’s a big reason why the Baltimore Ravens traded up to 32 from the second round to draft quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The Titans declined the option on Davis who didn’t have a 1,000 yard season in Tennessee. Wynn has started just 18 of a potential 48 starts due to injury. McGary has been inconsistent and at times been a liability. Chaisson started just three games this year and totaled one sack.
Now, while the Rams may not have taken those exact players, what is interesting is that those players are at what the Rams have also considered positions of need. Maybe the Rams take Jamal Adams instead of Davis in 2017. It’s possible that the Rams take better players than who New England took in 2018 and 2019. Potentially, the Rams don’t take Chaisson. However, in each of those drafts, the Rams took a player at those respective positions.
Looking at the Rams’ history since 2000, they have selected six players in the 20-32 range. Those players are Trung Canidate, Adam Archuleta, Ryan Pickett, Robert Thomas, Steven Jackson, and Alec Olgetree. Archuleta was a solid player, but Adrian Wilson who made five pro bowls was selected in the third round. Pickett had a good career, but Kris Jenkins made four pro bowls was taken in the second round.
Thomas played three years for the Rams. James Harrison went undrafted. Steven Jackson was by far the best of these picks. Lastly, Ogletree had a solid career with the Rams, but not a game-changing player by any means.
Aside from the fifth year option however, the odds of getting a starting caliber player at the end of the first round and where the Rams select in the second round is about the same. What’s even more important is that they’ve typically hit on those picks.
In 2017, the Titans took Davis fifth overall. The Rams selected Cooper Kupp in the second round. The Patriots took Wynn in 2018. Joe Noteboom has also had his share of injuries but is just as good of a player as Wynn. McGary was selected by the Falcons in 2019. Bobby Evans has turned into a good lineman and David Edwards has 24 starts in two years. Finally, last year the Jaguars selected Chaisson who recorded just one sack in three starts. In the third round, the Rams selected Terrell Lewis who didn’t record a sack, but tallied two sacks.
That doesn’t even mention hits on players like Cam Akers, Terrell Burgess, Jordan Fuller, Nick Scott, Micah Kiser, Travin Howard, Reynolds, or Ebukam. The Rams have had success finding players on days two and three of the draft.
To add on to that, since 2017, the Las Vegas Raiders have led the NFL with seven first round picks. The Raiders have exactly zero winning seasons in that time span. Let us not forget that between 2012 and 2016, the Rams had 11 picks inside the top 50. That resulted in exactly zero playoff appearances.
With Les Snead calling the shots and McVay coaching the Rams, this is a team that has done a great job of finding talent that has been overlooked by other teams and developing them.
This isn’t to say first round picks aren’t important. However, what you do with those picks is even more important. The idea of the pick sometimes becomes better than the actual pick itself. Would the Rams trade Isaiah Wynn for Brandin Cooks? 100 out of 100 times. Would the Rams trade K’Lavon Chaisson and whoever the Jaguars pick at 25 this year for Jalen Ramsey? 200 out of 100 times.
Even at 32, Matthew Stafford is going to be better than any quarterback available in the later parts of the first round this year. You can question trading Jared Goff, but calling this trade an overpay when it is reported that Carolina offered the eighth overall selection is just silly. It’s not an overpay at all.
The Rams are in a position in which it’s championship or bust and they have to continue to hit on their picks in the middle of the draft. However, if recent history tells us anything, it’s that the Rams will at the very least remain competitive in the NFC and find gems later on that other teams have overlooked.