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2023 Draft Preview: Rams in premium position to make big impact

For the past three months, the Los Angeles Rams and their fans have been the model of forbearance.

Finally, this weekend, the franchise can attack their plans for the 2023 season and beyond via the NFL Draft, college free agency, and eventually the resumption of veteran free agency.

In this column, you'll find thoughts on how the Rams might approach the coming days, why they should be regarded as a desirable NFL destination for rookies and veterans alike, and whether or not they'll take a quarterback with one of their 11 scheduled selections.

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But first, a reminder of a couple foundational principles.

If you're looking for a name of a draft-eligible player, you won't find it here. There are too many experts already in that mock draft space. My streak of never even glancing at one continues, as I'll reserve my anticipation for meeting the newest group of Rams rookies and learning their stories (and for the schedule release in May, my favorite day on the offseason calendar).

I also have profound appreciation and admiration for the staff of people who spend every waking professional moment specializing in this excruciatingly complex and difficult exercise. So I won't pretend to tell general manager Les Snead and his staff how to handle their business.

That being written, I'm sure you can relate to the sentiment that the first quarter of the Rams calendar year has been an exercise in restraint and patience.

Time to let it rip.

There's half a training camp roster to fill.

Feel The Need

And as a result, we can happily discard the annual question: Should they prioritize team need or take the best player available?

For the 2023 Los Angeles Rams, a simple "Yes" will suffice.

It's virtually impossible to envision a scenario where the best player available on their board doesn't also address a void on their current depth chart.

In Premium Position

We recognize that positions carry relative value, though – both in terms of impact on winning and corresponding future contract size.

The priorities in modern football have become fortifying your passing attack or destroying that of your opponent. Therefore, the groups we're talking about here are quarterback, receiver, offensive tackle, corner, and pass-rushers.

In recent drafts, the odds of the Rams connecting on a franchise piece at those positions from slots outside the Top 50 (or even 100) have been slim.

This year, it feels like there's a chance. I'd really love to see the Rams land at least one player with "contract-extension potential" at a premium position and believe that's a fair expectation for Friday night.

Pro (and Con) Football Focus

This is where we can turn to our friends at Pro Football Focus for a high-level perspective of the Class of 2023.

Among the key takeaways of their strengths and weaknesses breakdown:

This could be the best group of edge rushers in recent memory, which is great news for the Rams, who never did fill Von Miller's cleats in 2022 (how could they?) and have moved on from Leonard Floyd.

After a record-setting number of receivers flew off the board in recent years, 2023 could be different with fewer blue-chip candidates. Perhaps the run on Day One receivers will be more modest, leaving L.A. with an intriguing target to begin Day Two?

A comparatively strong tight end class figures to be where some franchises look to fortify their skill groups, though. The Rams need both receiver and tight end, so it's helpful to have optionality to prioritize one or the other, potentially early on Friday.

PFF also notes that there's value to be found deep in the draft at running back and on the defensive interior – more reassurance for a franchise that has a bevy of late-round picks and voids at those positions.

And lastly, and succinctly, apparently it's a good year to need a quarterback.

Take a look through the best photos of Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Baker Mayfield, John Wolford & Bryce Perkins throughout the 2022 season.

Meet Me at the QB

For the first time in the Sean McVay Era, there's a real possibility of the Rams selecting a quarterback through the draft.

I first sensed this back in the fall when I asked McVay if he'd like the chance to evaluate a crop of college quarterbacks and whether the Baker Mayfield experience would influence the Rams thinking about their depth chart at that position.

"In a lot of instances, we've been (less experienced at backup) just based on the way that we've allocated our resources, whether that be via the draft or how we've even acquired our quarterbacks," the head coach replied. "(The 2022 season) will definitely force a lot of reflection – I don't want to say changing of things – but reevaluating.

"How do you really want to look at things from a one, a three, and a five-year plan?"

To be clear, drafting a mid-to-late round quarterback (and-or signing a college free agent) in the hopes that he could be Matthew Stafford's backup would still be a very affordable method of addressing that vacancy.

And yes, the Rams certainly need additional arms for the off-season program.

However, in this game of musical chairs, there are only so many NFL seats available. John Wolford and Bryce Perkins remain unsigned, as do veterans ranging from Teddy Bridgewater to Brandon Allen.

And the Rams don't have to carry three signal-callers on the active roster as they've done in recent seasons.

Therefore, finding Stafford's backup – and in a dream scenario, his eventual successor – is an avenue the Rams may have explored with new eyes during this draft process, but it's hardly the necessity it's been portrayed to be this cycle.


Speaking of perceived priorities…

If the Rams pour into their offensive line this weekend, I'd completely understand. But none of us should be surprised if the opposite proves to be the case.

Because in-house, they have at least four veterans with proven starting ability: Rob Havenstein, Coleman Shelton, Brian Allen, Joe Noteboom.


And at least three others have intriguing starting potential: Tremayne Anchrum Jr., Alaric Jackson, Logan Bruss.

Plus, former draft selection AJ Arcuri and Zach Thomas are under contract.

I will duck for cover as soon as I finish typing this, but the argument could be made that offensive line is actually the Rams deepest and most solidified position group.

I'm not going as far as to draw a complete parallel to 2021 when they made nine selections, zero along the offensive line. Having Andrew Whitworth helped them bet on themselves up front that year, outperform their reputation, and win a ring.

But the similarities to the 2021 Draft are certainly there – including another round of staff changes in that room.

Also in this space, I'll throw out for the first time: I believe the 2023 offense will be more friendly to the offensive line than it has been the past two campaigns. More on that throughout the summer.

Lastly on this topic, I'll point back to PFF’s analysis one more time for this direct quotation:

Another position group that looks much bleaker than last year is the interior offensive line… It will be hard to find any help to bolster the interior offensive line on the first two days of the draft.

Again, if the Rams see an opportunity to upgrade up front, it's never a bad idea. But those prospects are going to be weighed against the top seven names (at least) mentioned above, and connecting the dots, standing pat wouldn't be a stretch.

Daily Double

We know this about the Rams – they aren't afraid to double up on attacking areas of their roster with multiple selections within the same draft.

2022 was one of the most pronounced examples, with four defensive backs (two corners, two safeties) taken on Day Three, including Quentin Lake and Derion Kendrick back-to-back at 211 and 212 overall.

They also drafted three receivers in 2021 and two tackles in 2019. With picks and need aplenty, why not throw multiple darts at a position?

Over/Under 11.5 Picks

The Rams haven't drafted as high as 36th since moving up to select Jared Goff in 2016.

Last year, they didn't even have a Top 100 selection, having to wait until the end of Round Three to nab Logan Bruss with a compensation pick at 104 overall.

Friday will feel much different, with at least three scheduled chances before that point (36, 69, and 77).

Of course, there's no guarantee Snead submits a name at those spots –the odds might even be against it!

Which begs the question: Over or under 11.5 picks for the Rams in 2023?

With history as our guide, and half of a 90-man roster to fill, I like the over.

I Love L.A. (And So Should CFAs)

But don't get hung up on the actual number of picks – especially Day Three picks.

I'm of the opinion that this will be the most critical college free agent group in my time with the franchise. With apologies for redundancy, there are so many helmets to be had, after all. And that level of opportunity should resonate with undrafted players and their representatives who see roster spots there for the taking in Los Angeles.

Furthermore, think about all the staff turnover for the Rams this offseason. Again, undrafted players and their representatives could logically lean L.A. as a preferred destination because there are new position coaches with open minds about their depth charts at tight end, offensive line, outside linebacker, running back, and defensive back.

Plus, there's a new special teams coordinator – a crucial decision-maker when it comes to undrafted rookies making the cut.

"I think (the open roster spots) will help us, honestly, in the post-draft stuff – later in the free agent market," Chase Blackburn said upon his arrival at the team facility back in March.

The former undrafted linebacker turned two-time Super Bowl Champion serves as a fantastic model for the category of player the Rams will be offering a deal. "Guys will want to come here because they can sense that there's a role for them to be made on this team if they can hash it out and do it the right way. There's opportunities here."

The Starting Line

And finally, to the notion that this is the most important Rams draft weekend in recent memory, I'm inclined to agree, especially in the context of what I just wrote about the college free agents.

Reflecting on the 2021 Super Bowl roster, these names (and their draft rounds) jump off the page: Brian Allen (4th), Greg Gaines (4th), Tyler Higbee (4th), David Edwards (5th), Jordan Fuller (6th), Sebastian Joseph-Day (6th), Travin Howard (7th); undrafted contributors like Troy Reeder and waiver claims like Darious Williams; specialists signed off the practice squad or even the street like Matt Gay and Brandon Powell, respectively.

Where I'm going with this is that if the Rams are able to acquire comparable, dependable building blocks this weekend and throughout the summer, it will allow them to unleash the full potential of their future resources sooner rather than later.

You may not find the next Jalen Ramsey or Matthew Stafford or Von Miller this April. But what if you can discover the next Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, A'Shawn Robinson, or even Aaron Don— … okay, there's only one of him.

But the point stands.

The more reliable newcomers you can identify and get on the field in 2023, the more targeted and aggressive the search can be for those proven talents at premium positions – whether that happens at the trade deadline, 2024 free agency, the 2024 Draft, or beyond.

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