NFL DRAFT DEEP DIVE: LOS ANGELES rams
By Simon Carroll
The NFL Draft is over, and we cannot head into the three-month abyss that is the offseason without looking at what all 259 selections mean for each franchise. Whilst too early to judge just how successful a draft class each team’s was, we can look at how rookies fit within schemes, where they stand on depth charts, and who we can expect to make an impact in 2021. We continue our team by team series with the Los Angeles Rams:
|3||103||Ernest Jones||LB||South Carolina|
|4||117||Bobby Brown||IDL||Texas A&M|
|4||130||Robert Rochell||CB||Central Arkansas|
|7||249||Ben Skowronek||WR||Notre Dame|
|7||252||Chris Garrett||EDGE||Concordia State|
The Los Angeles Rams aren’t overly fond of first round draft picks. The last time they used one on a draft prospect, they traded up to number one overall to grab quarterback Jared Goff – all the way back in 2016.
Since then, Rams fans have not had anything to get excited about on the opening night of the NFL Draft; in 2017 they were still paying Tennessee for their move up for Goff. 2018 saw them send their first rounder to New England for Brandin Cooks, whilst in 2019 they swung a draft-day trade to allow The Falcons back into the bottom of the first round (Kaleb McGary). The last two years were forfeited for the right to add All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey to their roster courtesy of Jacksonville, and the next two years have also been sacrificed after they swung a trade for Matthew Stafford this offseason – a trade that would see their most recent first round pick, Jared Goff, leave town.
In the five seasons the Rams haven’t selected in the first round, they have a record of 46-24, showing that there is more than one way to build a roster. It is undeniable that Jalen Ramsey is worthy of two first rounders, but as the roster ages and the salary cap tightens, does Les Snead’s ‘win now’ ethos come at a long-term cost? The Rams headed into the 2021 NFL Draft with some very obvious needs and a lack of high end draft capital, making the room for error even smaller than usual. Days two and three would be crucial…
Since the aforementioned Brandin Cooks departed Los Angeles (just two years after they trade a first round pick for him), the Rams have lacked some true speed at the receiver position. They have a talented trio of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson (who they drafted with a pick they received from Houston for Cooks), but none of them particularly challenge defenses vertically. Identified as a priority, the Rams used their first selection of draft weekend on Tutu Atwell, the diminutive receiver from Louisville.
Reminiscent of former Ram Tavon Austin, Atwell is lightning in a bottle. True track speed, coupled with quick feet and impressive agility, make him extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands. An ideal marriage with the imaginative Sean McVay, Atwell will be used in a variety of ways, getting him the ball in space on jet sweeps and trick plays – he’ll almost have his own playbook. The drawback is undoubtedly his size; he was listed at just 169lbs, and played even lighter than that at Louisville. With serious questions about his longevity in a brutal league, did the Rams grab a luxury item in a draft in which they have limited resources?
Their third round pick will have made much more sense to Rams fans. Ernest Jones is a hard-hitting thumper of a linebacker who is an ideal fit in the 3-4 scheme that Raheem Morris inherits from Brandon Staley. With a litany of departures at linebacker over the last two years, the former Gamecock has every chance of wrestling snaps away from Troy Reeder and Micah Kiser. Ultimately, his lack of natural athleticism may limit him to a two-down run stuffing role, but Jones injects some much needed toughness into the heart of this defense.
The Rams made up for the lack of a day one selection with seven picks on day three. Here we saw Les Snead hone in on some of those areas of needs, identifying prospects that fit the requirements of his coaching staff.
The defensive line was an area that the front office looked to reinforce; Aaron Donald’s rib injury in the playoffs last season saw him operating at lower than his usual standard and the whole line struggled as a result. Bobby Brown, Earnest Brown and Chris Garrett all were selected, and whilst Garrett might ultimately find himself as an outside ‘backer, this front seven should definitely have more strength in depth. Meanwhile, small school prospect Robert Rochell comes in, potentially with a view to being the long-term replacement for the departed Troy Hill. As my colleague Rebecca Rennie opines, with a little polish the Central Arkansas corner could be a steal:
According to lineups.com, the Rams special teams units ranked 27th out of all NFL teams in 2020. So it was unsurprising to see this front office focus on prospects who would add value in this area. Offensive trio Jake Funk, Ben Skowronek and Jacob Harris will all have to earn their stripes on kickoff and punt duties before they see their names move up the depth chart. All three have experience of such roles in their college career, with Funk in particular showing standout capabilities in all phases of special teams during his time at Maryland.
One To Watch: Bobby Brown
Bobby Brown is going to surprise a lot of people. The 315lb behemoth from Texas A&M is an absolute load for offensive linemen to deal with, and possesses so much natural power it is scary. Slipping to the fourth round due to inconsistency in both production and effort, his natural traits are undeniable. He is dominant in the run game, happy to maintain contact before shedding his block and meeting the ball carrier. He copes comfortably with double teams, and with 5.5 sacks in his final year at College Station showed that he knows his way into the backfield.
Despite playing predominantly as the undertackle in The Aggies 4-3 defense, Brown has both the size and strength to play at nose in any front. With more dedication I can see him quickly becoming a mainstay on this defensive line alongside Aaron Donald and A’Shawn Robinson. The Rams could have themselves an intimidating trio that should be a scary thought for offenses in the NFC West.
|Jeremiah Haydel||WR||Texas State|
|Jordan Meredith||IOL||Western Michigan|
|Landen Akers||WR||Iowa State|
|Max Roberts||LB||Boston College|
|George Silvanic||IDL||Air Force|
Two areas that the Rams didn’t address in the draft that will have caused their fans consternation were the offensive line and safety. PFF had the Rams’ o-line ranked third in the NFL in 2020, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that Andrew Whitworth will be forty before the end of next season. Snead brought in two UDFA’s to bolster the group, with former Iowa Hawkeye Alaric Jackson an intriguing name. Held in high regard playing opposite Tristan Wirfs in 2019, Jackson’s stock tumbled last year. He could prove bonus value and make the roster in a backup role.
The loss of safety John Johnson in free agency has left a big hole in this secondary, and because of that safety felt like a surprising omission from the Rams draft selections. Maybe the board didn’t fall Les Snead’s way in that regard, because he added three after the draft. None of these names should provide serious consternation to the guys ahead of them on the depth chart, but one guy to look out for would be Paris Ford. Despite being regarded by some as a day two pick, Ford had a catastrophic pro day that wiped out all of his draft stock. His loss could be this franchise’s gain if that showcase event proved to be a blip and not a sign of things to come.
The lustre of the Rams seems to have faded over the past two seasons despite both producing winning records and a playoff win in 2020. It’s easy to forget that this team went to the Super Bowl two years ago, and whilst some of the big names have departed, others have come in. More importantly, the highly regarded coaching staff are still in situ, and only a fool would bet against Sean McVay having his team ready to go once again.
As usual, free agency took centre stage for the Rams over the draft, particularly this year with the trade for Matthew Stafford. But that’s not to say they haven’t improved over draft weekend; there is a definite boom or bust element to Tutu Atwell, but as a landing spot Los Angeles is probably most likely to get the best out of him. And this defensive front has benefited from some reinforcements that, whilst they might not be stars from day one, should produce future starters.
For the past five years, the Rams have taken a step away from the limelight during draft weekend. But don’t for a second think that means they’re ready to do the same once the season rolls around. This team is gearing up for another tilt at the playoffs.
PREVIOUSLY THE FOUNDER OF NFL DRAFT UK, SIMON HAS BEEN COVERING COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL DRAFT SINCE 2009. BASED IN MANCHESTER, SIMON IS ALSO CO-CREATOR & WEEKLY GUEST OF THE COLLAPSING POCKET PODCAST.