National Football League

The Rams Are Stuck Playing Catch Up in the Draft

les snead featured-2

As the Rams worked their way through the 2015 draft, I liked what I heard. I didn’t think there was a player taken in the ten selected after Todd Gurley that I thought would have been a better choice than him. And I liked the way they tried to rebuild the offensive line, and got a developmental quarterback in Sean Mannion.

Jake Long talks to reporters following Tuesday's OTAs
Jake Long’s injury forced the Rams to accelerate their development of Greg Robinson.

That being said, I’m still waiting to see Jeff Fisher and Les Snead implement a program.

The best franchises in the NFL have a forward thinking plan to replace departing players. To this point, this administration seems to scramble to replace departing guys with rookies rather than developed players.

The 2012 and 2013 drafts stocked a depleted roster. The Rams had so little talent before Fisher arrived that they needed to take players and use them immediately. However, in the 2014 and 2015 drafts, a plan for the future may have served them better.

Last year, with the knowledge that Jake Long was coming off a knee injury and Joe Barksdale was going to be a free agent in 2015, the Rams used their first pick on Greg Robinson. He was a developmental player that the team hoped would be able to play guard for a season and step in at tackle this year, after Long departed. But Robinson’s development accelerated when Long got hurt again last season, and they hope he’ll improve this year and perform better than he did as a rookie.

In the 2014 second round, the Rams traded up to take slot corner Lamarcus Joyner. Even though the Rams had a pair of safeties that they liked in Rodney McCleod and Tim McDonald, and had three young corners in Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins and Brandon McGee, they decided to take Joyner, who barely played in his rookie year.

To compound the Joyner decision, the Rams traded for Tampa’s Mark Barron during the season and got great work out of cornerback E.J. Gaines during his rookie year. Hindsight being 20-20, would the Rams have been better off saving the fifth round pick they dealt moving up three spots, and getting another player they liked who could step up in 2015?

In round three last year, the Rams took Tre Mason, who they chose to draft over 2013 rookies Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham. Mason ascended to a starting role, so that worked out fine.

But in round four in 2014, the Rams took developmental safety Maurice Alexander. They already had two starters and had taken Joyner, who was listed as a safety. With upcoming free agency for Barksdale and a need for a developmental quarterback, they added to their safety collection.

Lamarcus Joyner
The addition of Lamarcus Joyner in 2014 created an excess of safeties for the Rams.

Because they’d traded their fifth rounder to move up for Joyner, the Rams’ next choice was in the sixth. Having overloaded at safety at the expense of taking a quarterback, they took Gaines as their first sixth rounder, then took Garrett Gilbert, who had no chance of ever supplanting Sam Bradford.

In the seventh round, they tried to work on the offensive line by picking Mitchell Van Dyk and Demetrius Rhaney, but would up getting no production from any of their last five choices, cutting three of them and placing two in injured reserve.

With injury issues facing Jake Long and Bradford, and impending free agency for Barksdale, might it have been more prudent for the Rams to have two tackles and a representative quarterback ready for 2015?

Sure enough, both tackles and the quarterback are now gone. And to get a backup quarterback, they had to give up this year’s seventh rounder to Houston for Case Keenum, whom they cut last December.

Fast forward to this year’s draft.

After the 2015 season, Chris Long will be 31 and heading into the last year of his contract. William Hayes and Eugene Sims will be unrestricted free agents. If the Rams had the QB and the OT ready to go for this season, they would have been able to use one or more of their choices on defensive ends to get ready for when they aren’t around. With Johnson and Jenkins both heading to free agency after 2015, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a highly-regarded corner to get ready for 2016?

The best way to manage a football roster is to have players developed and ready to step in for upcoming free agents or players that are going to be thirty or more years old. The Rams easily could have had two offensive tackles and a quarterback ready to take off in 2015, but instead have a troubling redundancy at the safety position.

Because they didn’t get ready for this year last year, next season they’ll be in a position where they have to take defensive ends and cornerbacks they should have taken in the latest draft that also will have to be counted on as rookies.

There might be a better way to build a program.

Read More: Eleven NFL Experts React to the Rams’ Todd Gurley Draft Pick