Looking back on the Los Angeles Rams recent drafts, one major component has stood out above anything else: the team has not made a first round pick since 2016, the year they traded up to and drafted number one overall and used it to bring, what many believed would be the franchise quarterback in Jared Goff.
Goff gave Los Angeles five, decent seasons and was then shipped to Detroit for veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford during the offseason. Since 2016, the highest pick the Rams have had was the very next draft in 2017 where they drafted tight end Gerald Everett with the 44th pick overall in the second round.
Despite their lack of first-round options, the Rams have been able to draft significantly great players in the later rounds who have become elite playmakers for the current makeup of the franchise – WR Cooper Kupp (2017, 3rd Round, pick #69), LB Micah Kiser (2018, 5th Round, pick #147), S Taylor Rapp (2019, 2nd Round, pick #61), RB Cam Akers (2020, 2nd Round pick #52) and S Jordan Fuller (2020, 6th Round, pick #199), to name a few.
Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the biggest concerns position-wise for the Rams included interior offensive lineman, inside linebacker and cornerback. But even before making their picks, the biggest news out of the Rams war room was the announcement that general manager Snead had tested positive for Covid-19.
Snead and Rams head coach Sean McVay announced in their presser that they had been in close contact with a team staff member (no name given) who had contracted Covid-19. Snead made the responsible decision to not be present at the Rams Malibu Draft House and found himself drafting from the confines of his garage.
Following the first 56 picks, the Rams selected WR Tutu Atwell (Louisville) with the 57th overall pick. A bit of a surprise to begin their draft but if Rams fans have learned anything with McVay, it’s that he knows how to be the architect to take some semi-unknown names and turn them into top talent.
Atwell adds more explosiveness to the wide receiving corps and special teams unit with his ability to stretch defenses and speed to turn a 5-yard pass gain into a 25-yard gain (for example). With the addition of DeSean Jackson, the Rams appear to have improved their offense with the multiple deep-threat options.
When asked if he was surprised when the Rams drafted him, Atwell said he wasn’t after numerous Zoom calls he had with McVay.
“Coach told me I’d be a good role (player) and a good fit for their offense and how they’re going to be able to use me,” Atwell said. “I feel great about it. I’m a great receiver. When the ball is in my hands, I know what to do with it. The thing is, I just need the ball in my hands, and I’ll show you everything else, you got my word.”
Atwell finished his college career with 140 receptions for 2,307 yards and 21 touchdowns across three seasons, tied for fifth in school history with 21 touchdown catches, ranked fourth with 10 100-yard receiving games and eighth with 2,307 receiving yards.
The Rams were expected to have two picks in the third round with the 88th and 103rd overall picks but made a trade with the San Francisco 49ers and gave up their 88th pick. In return, the Rams were given the 117th and 121st overall picks, giving them three total selections in the fourth round.
With their 103rd overall pick, the Rams selected LB Ernest Jones (South Carolina). Jones adds strength and depth at the linebacker position and the Rams fulfilled one of their needs. The 230-pound linebacker brings a relentless, physical style of play to an already top-ranked defense and could contend for a spot in his rookie season.
“I’m going to do whatever they come in there and ask me to do,” Jones said to the media after being drafted. “I’m going to deliver whatever they tell and tasks they put in front of me, it’s going to get handled on my end.”
In his junior season, Jones led the Gamecocks in tackles for the second straight year (86 total) and averaged 9.6 tackles per game, good for sixth in the entire SEC. Additionally, Jones proved how relentless he can be on his own when he accounted for 18 total tackles against Ole Miss and 19 total tackles against LSU.
The fourth round is where the Rams really stacked their picks and after trading #121 for #130 with Jacksonville, the Rams selected DT Bobby Brown III (Texas A&M, pick #117), CB Robert Rochell (Central Arkansas, pick #130) and TE Jacob Harris (UCF, pick #141).
Despite losing Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox over the offseason, the Rams defensive line is still solidified to be ranked at the top with the talent of A’Shawn Robinson, Sebastian Joseph-Day and the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. Brown III led Texas A&M in sacks (5.5) and earned First Team All-SEC recognition after posting 22 tackles (7.5 for loss) in his junior season.
When Brown III was asked about what he thinks about joining a defensive line led by Aaron Donald, he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“That’s one of my favorite players,” Brown III said. “I don’t really even know what to say. I don’t know how to feel. It feels like an out of body experience (laughs). I will definitely take any advice he gives me, any of it, I don’t care what it is. I’m just ready to do anything they ask of me to the best of my ability.”
Robert Rochell joins the cornerback group with the likes of Darious Williams, David Long Jr., and of course, Jalen Ramsey. As a redshirt senior in 2020, Rochell produced 27 tackles, three pass breakups and made five interceptions. Similar to new teammate Bobby Brown III’s admiration for Aaron Donald, Rochell channels his play style to that of Ramsey.
“He’s a guy who I really look up to in ways of playing cornerback,” Rochell said. “I just recently changed to the position and he’s definitely one of the guys I picked up on. Same kind of body style, same type of attitude about football. He’s a guy that I’m ready to get beside of and work and learn from.”
With their final pick in the fourth round, the Rams selected Jacob Harris out of the University of Central Florida. Harris is listed as a wide receiver and played majority of his games at the wide receiver position last year where he hauled in 26 catches for 472 yards and seven touchdowns. His size (6-foot-5, 211 pounds) suggests that he will transition to the tight end position and can fill the void after the departure of then Rams tight end Gerald Everett.
Harris has only been playing football for five years, as he pursued soccer through most of high school before playing football his senior year.
On top of his offensive playmaking ability, Harris was a staple for the UCF special teams and spoke on his ability to be an athlete and play both sides of the ball.
“My role, especially throughout UCF, I started on all four special teams, so just getting down the field, trying to make a play on the ball carrier, whether that’s kickoff cover or punt,” Harris said. “I also played punt return and kick return blocking as well, so I’ve got experience in both of those areas and I feel like I’m ready to just utilize those at the next level.”
The Rams rounded out their draft with a fifth-round selection of DL Earnest Brown IV (Northwestern, pick #175), and seventh-round selections of RB Jake Funk (Maryland, pick #233), WR Ben Skowronek (Notre Dame, pick #249) and LB Chris Garrett (Concordia-St. Paul, pick #252).
McVay and Snead drafted nine talented individuals on both sides of the ball but if we look again at the major needs heading into the draft, you can see one particular position was not drafted whatsoever: that being an offensive lineman.
“We got a lot of young guys from experience and you don’t want to be naïve to the fact that you don’t just want to look to the upcoming season, but you want to have a long-term perspective,” McVay said. “There’s a lot of depth with the 11 players that we had in the offensive line room going into today and all of them have played meaningful games. They’re guys we project as NFL guys and I think it’s a reflection of the confidence of the group we have in place and it’s how things kind of shook out.”
Snead reiterated most of what McVay had to say, emphasizing how this particular group is probably the deepest group that has played together in his career overall.
“We did know this going into this draft,” Snead said. “If we did take an OL, it would really be a player in his redshirt year. It would be hard for an offensive lineman to be one of our eight, no matter how good they were coming into this group.”
Throughout the weekend, reporters had time to speak to each draft pick individually after they were chosen by Los Angeles and each player couldn’t help but show their highest enthusiasm, speaking high volumes and solidifying the choices Snead and McVay made.
“When you look at the nine guys, there was a real genuine excitement,” McVay said. “I think there is a consistent passion for the game of football, these guys love what they’re doing and that ends up being contagious. The overall shared enthusiasm they all had can’t help but get you excited as well and those are the types of people we want to bring into our building and we’re really excited to add those nine players.”