When looking at the 2014 NFL Draft, a modern-day Gold Rush is the only way to describe the amount of talent the league inherited once all seven rounds concluded that year. Most notable in this introduction of names that became league mainstays are Khalil Mack, OBJ, Mike Evans, Taylor Lewan, and more.
A retrospective analysis of Les Snead’s 2014 draft can be considered either his best or most confusing. Whether it’s known for the diminishing returns that resulted from choosing Gr*g Robinson (censorship required for all ailing Rams fans AKA the fanbase) at pick no. 2, or the year that the Rams stood through the heat produced by the NFL’s then-lack of focus on social progress and picked Michael Sam in the seventh round, it ultimately became the moment when Les Snead selected Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald that changed the organization’s trajectory. The generational talent acquired that day has and continues to produce a career that will give Rams fans of the next generation a true sense of FOMO during this period of dominance from the DT.
What If The Rams Never Selected Aaron Donald? Looking Back On The 2014 NFL Draft
While a solid query could be made of how the draft could have been better for the Rams with a different second overall pick instead of the unfortunate trajectory of Gr*g Robinson, the larger question revolves around a time when the Rams didn’t have the second coming of Lawrence Taylor on their defensive line.
6x Pro Bowler. 2x Defensive Player of the Year. Voted the best player in the league according to the NFL’s Top 100 of 2019. Rarely replicated in history and an impact player whose effect on the outcome of a game is that of a quarterback’s.
The pick was far from a no-brainer going into the 2014 draft. The Rams easily could have devalued Donald based on their established defensive front at the time with 1stTeam All-Pro defensive end Robert Quinn (accounted for 19 sacks the previous season), Michael Brockers, and a dependable Chris Long; the Rams would not have been in the wrong to address problem positions like S and WR at the No. 13 pick.
It may seem enticing to picture Odell Beckham Jr. in a Rams jersey (assuming the Giants made the right pick and chose Donald at pick no. 12) after a lackluster sophomore year by Chris Givens and rookie Tavon Austin, but Odell would have been a spark in an offense that required a gallon of gasoline and a burning match. The QB carousel that would ensue post-Bradford was a paper-thin offense set up to prepare, package, and ship OBJ to a different destination where the pen would hit paper before the Rams could schedule the first meeting.
The position at the time demanded a high-ceiling, developing player similar to Davante Adams instead of the trajectory-fueled, global name like Odell Beckham Jr. His potential in those years of the organization’s history mirrors the potential of the girl you know you can take for a meaningful date one night and expect to get sent to voicemail every day after. It’s crushing, wasted time, and my therapist appreciates how far I’ve come.
The question then turns to safety. Available for the Rams at the 13th pick were top prospects Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jimmie Ward — the former a Pro Bowler in 2016 and the latter a fitting piece in the bullish potential of the San Francisco 49ers defense. While I believe Jimmie Ward could have garnered a second contract from the Rams and Clinton-Dix could ultimately average out to be an…average safety, it’s Les Snead’s keen eye for the second-round value of Lamarcus Joyner that provided the temporary band-aid best available from a draft that produced an overall weak safety class.
Despite not being sought after as much as the aforementioned positions of need, there are still several intriguing players that came shortly after the Donald pick. C.J. Mosley could have been the perfect heir to the growing void at the linebacker position left by Alec Ogletree.
Zack Martin is a majority vote for the top guard in the league and with the impact of an elite lineman at the talent level of Martin’s, the potential stability of a Rams O-Line could have been a ripple effect on the turnover at the quarterback position. Joe Thomas can read that line and beg to differ.
The defense built on the shoulders of Aaron Donald will keep the Los Angeles Rams afloat in the midst of a stacked NFC West that would swallow any other organization.
So how did the 2014 NFL Draft pay off for the Rams? Fast forward to today, the Los Angeles Rams have an elite foundation of receivers that balance each other out with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds, a versatile cover strong safety with John Johnson III, and the crown jewel of NFL defensive talent, Aaron Donald.
Think of the inherent fear behind the size, strength, and speed that bears possess as apex predators in the wild. Quite frankly, that’s how quarterbacks see Donald. Using the formidable DT as the foundation for his stout defense, Les Snead has been able to fortify the group with the addition of Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, and draft budding talent like Taylor Rapp to create a high ceiling for the Rams as the McVay offense finds its groove.
Even the harshest skeptic of Les Snead’s drafting history has to have an ounce of admiration for the best pick in Rams’ history at a time when it wasn’t necessarily the smartest pick. I meant that literally, every skeptic has to have an ounce.
Gr*g Robinson and all, Les Snead made the perfect pick when it mattered the most, and it’s arguable why the Rams have retained their identity as a playoff/Super Bowl caliber team — even as they develop a proper scheme for Jared Goff and the offense.
The defense built on the shoulders of Aaron Donald will keep the Los Angeles Rams afloat in the midst of a stacked NFC West that would swallow any organization. The perfect draft has yet to exist, but the 2014 draft can be deemed a true success. Looking back on the value acquired with the No. 13 pick can only be likened to the cream cheese frosting that makes every carrot cake worth its salt. You may not be able to stomach the rest, but that sole element is just that damn good.