Going into the Rams draft, it was abundantly clear that with their four day-two picks they were going to come away with some combination of the best offensive linemen, linebackers, or pass rushers available. They opted not to address any major positions of need until round three.
In round two they went with Florida State running back Cam Akers and Florida receiver Van Jefferson. Both picks were confusing at the moment especially because if they were going to go receiver/running back they didn’t even take the best ones available. Now, in a vacuum, both players have a lot of potential, but of course, the Rams draft does not exist in a vacuum. They had much bigger needs only one of which was addressed in round three and wouldn’t be addressed again until round seven. So what does this mean? Were the Rams delusional in thinking they were good or that the best players weren’t players of need? No, what they were doing was reloading while rebuilding.
The Rams draft confirmed that while they are looking to contend in what is a brutal NFC West, they’re also preparing for what looks to be a big 2021 season. They have some major decisions and their 2020 draft served to mostly cover themselves in case some of those decisions don’t go their way. The two big ones are the futures of Cooper Kupp and John Johnson.
Both seem like slam dunks but they’ll still be carrying some of the dead caps from Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks. Most of it will be gone and should allow them to have around $50 million in space. That sounds great except that their big priority is paying Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey saw the $82.5 million, $40 million guaranteed deal Byron Jones signed with Miami and had the same look on his face that Homer Simpson had when he realized there was money in grease. He’s likely to command more and has the leverage on the Rams since they traded two firsts for him and don’t want him to leave without anything to show for it.
What does that mean for Kupp and Johnson? Well, it means that both will also command large extensions and that $50 something million suddenly doesn’t look so robust. Jefferson was curiously compared favorably to Kupp during the draft and that could mean they’re preparing for a world where he wants Adam Thielen money and they can’t do it.
Johnson too stands to make a ton of money on the open market and it’s going to take some cap Kama Sutra to make that work with Ramsey.
For this season this also gives the Rams another capable possession receiver and Josh Reynolds who is also a free agent and likely expendable has a chance to slide into the Brandin Cooks’ role he served while Cooks was out last year.
For Johnson, the drafting of Terrell Burgess is hedging their bets while also giving their defense more options. Burgess is the classic “swiss army knife” guy so while he bolsters the safety depth, which they needed after Johnson got hurt, he can also fill the slot god role if David Long Jr. isn’t ready. If Johnson leaves, Burgess and Taylor Rapp still make up a great young safety tandem and if they can keep Johnson then Burgess becomes someone who can fill in anywhere and give the defense a variety of looks.
The other curious pick was taking tight end, Brycen Hopkins, out of Perdue. Why would they do that when they have Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, and Johnny Mundt? Mount Everett is up next season as well and while he’s a tremendous athlete and has had some big catches he hasn’t quite been able to supplant Higbee (who was extended last summer) for the starting job. Now, while they figure out if they want to keep Everett and or the Ballad of Johnny Mundt they can finally run all the crazy tight end packages Sean McVay ran in Washington.
When it comes to the Rams draft the most head-scratching pick was Cam Akers. Akers while a solid back at Florida State didn’t light it up. Now that can be attributed to an average line but it was still weird to take him at 52 given that there were better backs available and they traded picks last year to trade up for Darrell Henderson. Why did they do this? For one thing, if there was one thing to learn from Todd Gurley (besides don’t overpay a back with knee issues) it’s that the offense relied too much on one guy. Henderson and Akers have different skillsets with Akers being a more reliable receiver and that gives them more flexibility on offense. They no longer need to be married to the 11 personnel they ran to death last year.
The Rams draft was a tad perplexing but it makes sense when stepping back and looking to the future. They gave themselves an injection of good young players that give their new offensive and defensive coordinators in Kevin O’Connell and Brandon Staley enough options while also upgrading at key spots during their cap atonement period. The Rams are up against the wall cap-wise until 2023 and they need to ensure that if some stars have to leave they aren’t all of a sudden lacking talent.
Les Snead is one of the most confounding GMs in the league and the Rams draft history during his tenure shows that even when he’s drafting for the future he finds guys that end up contributing right away. It is dangerous to lean on that strategy and believe that first-round picks are for amateurs because eventually that stops happening but fans should be excited that the offense and defense will have a lot of different dimensions to it, so if some pain pills must be swallowed it won’t be like swallowing the jagged metal Krusty O that it could be.