Les Snead’s Most Important Hand

This draft is the biggest test Les Snead has faced in his career. Will he live up to the high bar he has set for the LA Rams?

It was appropriate that the Rams went full “Breaking Bad” for their “Draft Lab” this week. Not just because North Hollywood native Bryan Cranston is a die-hard LA sports fan and always game to revisit Walter White (with Aaron Paul always down to reprise Jesse), but because the show’s infamous breakneck moments mirror the way the Rams operate under Les Snead.

It might seem odd to do an homage to a show that ended ten years ago this year when something more current like “Succession” is right there and has its own frantic energy but that would be rude.

The last year and a half might have made Les Snead seem like a Kendall Roy trying and failing to outmaneuver anyone, but in Snead’s defense unlike any of the Roy kids, he’s actually accomplished something.

No, his chaos really is more like Walter White’s because it’s frantic, impulsive, and usually leaves a massive amount of collateral damage in its wake but there’s always a ton of calculation and machination. The Super Bowl was his “Face Off”/”Gliding Over All” moments and now there’s a fear he’s heading towards his “Ozymandias” moment.

The past two off-seasons have seemed disastrous on all levels to the point where those that embraced his “F— Dem Picks” strategy are having a Marge Simpson epiphany that they can’t overlook everything he does anymore.

Les Snead’s Most Important Draft Picks

This draft is probably the most important draft in Les Snead’s career. That might sound like a Raising Cane’s level of overheated puffery but it’s true. Post-Super Bowl has seen all of his chaotic tendencies converge. He gave out ill-advised contract extensions, traded players and picks, and tried to take a big swing at the deadline. The ratio of bad luck and hubris is debatable but Les Snead the gambler became a William H Macy-style cooler.

His draft history pre-McVay is spotty at best. For every Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Todd Gurley home run he it there’s also a lot of Greg Robinsons on his ledger. His vaunted 2017 draft in hindsight looks more like a Brad Holmes special than Snead given how well Holmes has done in Detroit (whether true or not perception matters).

Sean McVay has made this off-season one of falling on his sword and preaching how much of a humbling experience the last year has been. Sure, it’s what everyone in his position is supposed to say but his hiring cycle at least signals that he’s trying to recalibrate.

It’s not clear if Les Snead is recalibrating. Sure, he’s purging the roster of his mistakes, and like with Gurley, Alec Ogletree, Jared Goff, etc. he’s digging himself into a deep dead cap hole. But he’s done this before. The Rams stand to have around $60 million(ish) in cap space in order to make one last run before Aaron Donald retires. For that space to matter at all, he needs to fill as many holes as he can this season.

The Rams are a regular punchline around draft day because they haven’t had a first-round pick since Goff in 2016. Since most of the coverage is lazily centered on round one, of course, it seems laughable the Rams keep trading their picks. The dunking got especially loud when their first-rounder this year is a sixth overall now belonging to the Lions. That said, their model hinges entirely on finding diamonds in the rough or less obvious blue chip guys to compliment their stars.

The problem with that model comes when those diamonds are suddenly up for their second contracts. The Rams routinely lose draft-day gems such as Greg Gaines, John Johnson, Nick Scott, etc. This year not only saw the complimentary guys go but with Jalen Ramsey being traded they now only have Aaron Donald as the lone marquee guy on defense. Ernest Jones perhaps is the closest second. No offense to Jones but that’s a massive chasm.

Offensively, the Rams aren’t in any better shape. Yes, they have a healthy Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, along with a reinvigorated Cam Akers, but last year’s offensive line injuries highlighted the Rams’ lack of investment at the position. Beyond Kupp, they have Van Jefferson in a contract year and then not much else at receiver. Kyren Williams is an exciting second-year player but he’s still not a proven commodity, and beyond Tyler Higbee (coming off a rough season) they don’t have anything at tight end.

Les Snead And 2024

Snead has a ton of holes to fill and he must fill most of them if that 2024 money and replenished picks are going to matter. Despite the dire straits the Rams appear to be in, they’re not going to pull a “Faileb for Caleb”.

For one, they’re not going to waste a prime Kupp/Donald season to lose double-digit games again. Two, McVay wouldn’t sign off on a tank job. And three even if they did, they’re too deep into Matthew Stafford to warrant that as they’re not going to pay him $31M, $27M, and $26M to not play and they’re not going to stash Caleb Williams until 2027. Nope, they are going to try and be as competitive as possible and that starts Friday during the draft.

Look no further than Seattle last year. After they traded Russell Wilson‘s corpse to Denver, many (author included) left them for dead in a ditch. A rebuilding team that will circle the NFC West drain for a few years while they rebuild using the picks Denver erroneously gave them. That didn’t happen. Why? Well, despite having Geno Smith at quarterback they hit on enough draft picks to complement the good players they already had and were able to cobble together enough wins to make the playoffs.

Was some of it luck? Sure, but they were able to replenish their well and make the wild card.

Snead can do that. If the Rams are healthy, their young guys make a leap, and they hit on several of their draft picks there’s no reason they can’t rebound after the karma police seemed to go all Judge Dredd on them.

Again, to do that, Les Snead needs to learn his lessons. During an interview, Brad Holmes described Les Snead’s draft strategy as one that drafted for need rather than taking the best player available. This tracks and it’s something that absolutely needs to change. He also can’t get cute and have another Tutu Atwell over Creed Humphrey situation nor can he repeatedly trade down. They need talent and they need talent NOW. Could he be cute and trade up? Sure, as long as he doesn’t do it for another Tavon Austin.

The point is, if McVay is willing to learn and recalibrate his approach so should Snead. The benefit of the doubt is eroding and while McVay might make it to 2026, Snead might not.

2023 is all about refurbishing the team and injecting youth into an aging top-heavy team before the picks return and the dead money goes away. It’s absolutely crucial Snead crushes the draft and uses the summer to responsibly fill out the margins, perhaps even making a deadline move but an irresponsibly desperate move like he tried to make last year with Brian Burns or Christian McCaffrey.

The window is closing but to avoid the rest of the house collapsing once it does, and that starts with this draft. Les Snead did the hard part and cleared out most of the rot in the foundation even if it cost some of the nicer parts of the house to do it. These next few years will determine his legacy.

Which Walter White ending does he get? Does he have the last hurrah where his trunk machine gun saves Jesse and he goes out in a blaze of glory? Or does he freeze to death alone in a car? The answer will reveal itself starting with pick 36 and Les Snead is on the clock.