Countdown to the Draft: Early 60s brought Rams franchise players

Leading up to this year's NFL Draft, scheduled to take place April 23-25, theRams.com will revisit notable draft moments in team history. In the final installment of the four-part series, we take a look at 1961 and 1962 when the Rams acquired franchise players very late and very early in the draft.

Background

It's hard to believe, but the 7-round draft taking place this week was at one point nearly three-times as long.

That's right. Back in 1961, the draft lasted a whopping 20 rounds – and it would work to the Rams' advantage.

According to an April 2016 story published by ESPN's Nick Wagoner, defensive lineman Deacon Jones was a surprise discovery. Los Angeles' scouts were originally evaluating film of a running back playing against South Carolina State – where Jones played his first year of college football – but couldn't ignore the plays Jones continued to make in that same game.

The Rams later selected Jones in the 14th round with the 186th overall pick in the 1961 NFL Draft. The reason he was such a steal, per Wagoner was likely due to his small-school background coming out of Mississippi Valley State.

A year later, L.A. had the chance to secure more talent, though much earlier in the draft.

In 1962, the Rams became the eighth team in NFL history to own two of the top four picks in the draft.

They acquired the No. 2 overall pick – used to take North Carolina State quarterback Roman Gabriel – by trading two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and First-Team All-Pro Del Shofner to the New York Giants following the 1960 season.

A 4-10 record in 1961 then landed them the No. 3 overall pick, used to select Utah defensive tackle Merlin Olsen.

Collectively, those three choices would become more than decade-long foundational pieces for the Rams.

Rams highlights

Jones' decorated 11-year career with the Rams included seven Pro Bowls and All-NFL honors for six straight years from 1965-70. Although sacks did not become an official stat until 1982, it is estimated he tallied 159.5 unofficially for his career. Jones is also credited for coining the term.

In his 11 years with the Rams, Gabriel established club records for most seasons and consecutive seasons leading the team in passing (nine, 1963-72) and career passing attempts (3,313). All three records remain unbroken to this day. His 1,705 career completions and 22,223 career passing yards are both third-most in franchise-history. A three-time Pro Bowler as a Ram, he was chosen as the 1969 NFL MVP by the Associated Press, UPI, NFL Newspaper Entertainment Association and won the league's player of the year award after leading the NFL in passing touchdowns that season (24).

Olsen unofficially collected 94 sacks in 15 seasons with Los Angeles, getting named to the Pro Bowl 14 times and earning six All-Pro honors during that span. His 15 seasons as a Ram share with Charlie Cowan and Joe Scibelli for second-most in franchise history. Olsen's 198 consecutive games played and 208 total games played from 1962-76 both rank second-most in franchise story.

In the late 1960s, Jones and Olsen teamed with Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy to form the Fearsome Foursome – the nickname for what Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus considers the most dominant defensive line in the NFL.

Both Jones and Olsen are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rams Ring of Honor and on NFL's 75th anniversary team.

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