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2022 Draft Preview: Rams continue to plan ahead and build on recent success

So, have you seen On the Clock, yet?

If not, there's still plenty of shelf life left before the Rams first attempt to "Steal the Draft."

The earliest they figure to participate in this weekend's event is deep in Friday's third round – the compensatory portion at the end of that round, in fact.

Nonetheless, if the championship season of 2021 exemplified anything, it's how essential every corner of the roster was to winning those 12 regular season games and four more in the playoffs.

Key contributors from Draft Saturdays (or beyond) included Travin Howard, David Edwards, Nick Scott, Brycen Hopkins, Jordan Fuller, Kendall Blanton, and many others. The power of this weekend is transformational, and the organization relishes the challenge to mine for the right Rams.

As I organize my updated thoughts on their innovative and now popularized approach to deploying draft capital, these are some of the reflections that come to mind.

104, Or Maybe More

If the Rams don't select until Saturday, I'll take that as a good sign.

Hopefully, that would mean that two favorable forces came to fruition: A deep board still has plenty of prospects they'd be more than content with landing Saturday morning. Plus, another competitor couldn't sit tight overnight and made the Rams a trade offer.

That would give the scouting department and coaching staff a bit more ammunition to accomplish their goals on Day Three, as well as the hours to gameplan their strategy for Saturday.

Then again, I'd also be fine with knowing who the Rams punter of the future is going to be before falling asleep Friday night.

Kidding. Kind of.

Whose House-keeping? Rams House-keeping!

It helps to refresh my memory where the Rams are with respect to the flurry of trades that leave them without a selection inside the Top 100 this year.

Instead of Pick 32, they have Super Bowl Champion Matthew Stafford, now under contract through 2026.

Everyone good with that? Cool.

The value of next year's first-round pick is still TBD, but even if Los Angeles goes 0-17 and hands the Lions the top overall selection of 2023, I think we'd all sign up for that deal again – especially considering the escalating price points for elite quarterbacks.

The Rams also lack picks 64 and 96 this week as a result of acquiring Von Miller from Denver. The Lombardi would not reside in Los Angeles without Miller playing at the highest level of any defensive player in the NFL postseason, so even though his short tenure with the team stings, no regrets. Also consider that the Rams stand to recoup the outbound third-round capital via the compensation formula in 2023 as a result of Miller's guaranteed $51 million from Buffalo.

As for Day Three, the Rams sent this year's fourth-round selection to Houston along with Brandin Cooks (turning pick 57 in 2020 into Van Jefferson along the way).

Their 2022 sixth-rounder is now in New England's cupboard as part of the exchange for Sony Michel's sledgehammering last season. Few individuals were more responsible for the Rams December turnaround than Michel.

And the Rams gained Miami's seventh courtesy of the Aqib Talib trade. That's the highest L.A. is slated to draft in any round, for what it's worth!

The end result for this year is five of the standard seven picks traded away, and six others added back into the mix via other means, for a total of eight going into Thursday.

Thanks for bearing with me through that exercise.

Not for all the Sevenths

Which brings us to this recent quotation from Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

"I think volume (of draft picks) matters," he said. "But with whatever chart people are using, there's no amount of seventh-round picks that can equate to the value of that first-round pick."

That caught my eye, in part because that new coaching staff has Rams roots and I wish them well. But also because I agree – and it feels like L.A. brass would, too – with the components of his comment.

(1) Volume matters: See the analysis directly above. For all the perception of the Rams "F(reewheel)ing them picks," they've actually drafted far more players than league average lately and stand to do so again in 2022.

(2) There's no satisfactory exchange rate between sevenths and firsts: Of course, there isn't. And that also holds true for sixths, fifths, fourths, etc.

The overwhelming reason the Rams whole model works is that they drafted a GOAT at 13 overall in 2014! Without the most dominant defensive player on the planet wrecking shop, the structure likely would have crumbled by now.

But where the Rams held a first-mover advantage was in pivoting away from a myopic mindset regarding how to deploy first-round capital: namely, pick college players.

From the Rams perspective, they've actually made plenty of important selections on Thursdays each year since 2016. And will again this week. And next year, too.

It's just that they've chosen the more expensive and reliable prime production of (former first-round picks) Brandin Cooks, Jalen Ramsey, and Matthew Stafford over the more budget-friendly potential of Isaiah Wynn, K'Lavon Chaisson, and Travis Etienne.

In a hard salary cap environment, I'm well aware that the puzzle is far more complex than presented here. But I'd also contend that it's nearly impossible to quantify the value of exclusive negotiating rights with players like Ramsey and Stafford (and Cooks, though it didn't quite play out over the long haul the way everyone had hoped).

I'll even toss in a quick look at trading out of the first round on draft day 2019. The Rams offered Atlanta pick 31 in exchange for 45 and 79 overall. Then L.A. effectively parlayed those chips into David Long Jr., Taylor Rapp, Bobby Evans, Greg Gaines and Nick Scott.

Volume matters, remember?

Even without the Lombardi Trophy (which instantly validates all of it), the "first-free" strategy has held up well.

A Year Ahead

In terms of need, you don't need me to tell you that corner, edge, and offensive line – guard in particular – have voids to fill.

But in following the Rams overarching draft strategy, their pattern is to plan ahead. Meaning, there's often a connection between the positions they draft in the spring of one year and the players who are on the verge of free agency 10 months later. (See: Bobby Brown III in anticipation of the departure of Sebastian Joseph-Day or Brycen Hopkins for Gerald Everett or Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller for John Johnson.)

In 2022, notable starters entering their contract's final year include defensive tackles Greg Gaines and A'Shawn Robinson; offensive tackles Rob Havenstein and Bobby Evans; safeties Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott; offensive guard David Edwards; running back Darrell Henderson Jr., and corner David Long, Jr.

It's always possible that a contract extension could offset a future need. But in general terms, after a one-year hiatus from drafting offensive lineman, I'd expect that streak to end rather soon. It almost always makes sense to load up at corner and skill positions. And I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rams come away with an addition to what now looks like a crowded safety room.

A Year Ago

While we're all anxious to meet the newest Rams, last year's draft class should be the one poised to impact the 2022 season more significantly.

Here's a quick rundown of the "redshirt freshman" and what reasonable hopes might be for their second season.

WR Tutu Atwell (2nd Round): Gadget complement to starting corps of Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson II, and Van Jefferson. Active on game days.

LB Ernest Jones (3rd Round): Starter next to Bobby Wagner.

DL Bobby Brown (4th Round): Solidly in the #Dawgwork rotation.

CB Robert Rochell (4th Round): Part of the starting trio of Ramsey and David Long, Jr.

WR Jacob Harris (4th Round): Red zone weapon. Mismatch. Gunner on the best punt coverage unit in the NFL.

DE Earnest Brown IV (5th Round): Interior depth.

RB Jake Funk (7th Round): Running back depth. Special teams contributor.

WR Ben Skowronek (7th Round): Depth and matchup piece. Gunner on the best punt coverage unit in the NFL.

LB Chris Garrett (7th Round): Situational pass-rusher. Active on game days.

A Word to the Future Rams

Lastly, more so than ever, I'm thrilled for the young men who are just hours away from becoming Los Angeles Rams.

I hope this doesn't come across as "they're lucky to be here," because that's not the sentiment at all. Anyone on a draft board is extraordinarily deserving and has invested so much to earn their moment.

But of all the places they could continue their football careers and pursue their professional aspirations, it's hard to beat the Rams recent track record.

The Rams' first five selections of 2017 have earned second contracts in the NFL.

Nine players from the 2018 draft class are on rosters.

The top seven picks of the 2019 group are still with Los Angeles and started at least one game last year for the reigning World Champions.

Seven members of the 2020 haul have contributing roles on the depth chart going into next season.

Under Les Snead and Sean McVay, the Rams haven't drafted perfectly. But their respective departments can identify and develop with the best, especially in the later rounds and free agency. And once you're in the facility, they put players in positions to thrive.

If you are obsessed with the process like Kupp and Aaron Donald; if you consume what McVay and his coordinators and position coaches are offering; if you follow the path that the Sports Medicine and Performance staff of Reggie Scott, Byron Cunningham, Justin Lovett, Jacques McClendon, Joey Blake and so many others pave…

If they pick you, and you pick ball, there's every opportunity to be special and to be a part of something special.

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