Les Snead is a good General Manager. By all accounts, he has taken the Los Angeles Rams to another level by hiring Head Coach Sean McVay in 2017 and building a roster to take the team to the Super Bowl in 2018 and continue to be a contender ever since. A big part of building that roster has been trading away NFL draft picks (a lot of draft picks) for veteran players, but this continues to happen year after year, which is a rarity even for high end contending teams. So, why do they do it?
First, some context. The Rams have not had a first round selection since Sean McVay started as their head coach, a trend that will last through the 2023 draft. Those 7 straight years will be the longest a team has gone in NFL history without a first round selection. 2 of those 7 years, they did not have a 2nd round selection either. Finally, in 2022, the Rams draft won’t start until the 5th round. This streak with Snead & McVay will entail the least high end draft capital a team in the NFL has ever had.
The easiest explanation is they are in “win now” mode and trading for high end (usually disgruntled) talent helps them more than the picks would. Plus the signings of players like Odell Beckham seem to lend to this. It makes sense, but also begs the question, why don’t other teams do this if it is so effective?
Look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. Signing Tom Brady seemed to indicate a focus on winning now in 2020 despite picking 14th in the NFL Draft. Instead of moving their first round pick for a veteran, they moved up one pick to take Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs, who was a key blocker for Brady and the Bucs Super Bowl offense. In Round 2, they drafted another starter in Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Both were pieces in that Super Bowl run.
NFL Draft Trade History
Most contending teams aren’t trading their first round pick, let alone near whole drafts away, even for top players. So, what is different about the Rams? Are they just better at trading assets for high quality players? Here is who they have obtained with these picks so far:
2017: Picks used to trade up and take Jared Goff in 2016
2019: Moved down in the draft and traded their 2nd and 4th round picks for CB Marcus Peters
2020: Traded their 1st for CB Jalen Ramsey
2021: This 1st and 4th were included in the Jalen Ramsey trade
2023: Traded their 1st in the deal for QB Matthew Stafford
The Rams have traded away 8 straight 1st round picks, but only two of the players they traded for are on the team (Jalen Ramsey and Matthew Stafford). They are clearly a contender and those two players are top tier at their position, but has it brought them closer to a Super Bowl than spending all of those picks? Or at least most of them?
Are they not good at drafting?
That brings us to another reason thrown around for why they are trading away their picks: that Snead and company simply aren’t good at drafting. Here are Snead’s first round picks before he started trading them away:
2012: Michael Brockers, DL, LSU
2014: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn & Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh
2015: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
2016: Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Looking at the list, it isn’t outstanding. Obviously taking the best defensive player in the NFL in Donald boosts this, but top ten selections on Austin, Robinson, Gurley, and Goff range from outright busts to poor longevity.
Day 2 NFL Draft Picks
What about non-first round picks?
In the McVay era, here have been the Day 2 picks for the Rams:
2017: Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama & Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
2018: Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU
Honestly, these picks have been pretty solid. Everett is starting in Seattle now, but players like Kupp, Rapp, Henderson, and Akers have been difference makers for the Rams. Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell were overdrafted and haven’t met expectations, but as a whole the hit rate on Day 2 has been better than most.
The reason for trading for vets doesn’t seem to squarely be that Les Snead is bad at drafting or that it is “better” for a potential Super Bowl than making good picks, especially when most of the players they traded for aren’t even on the team anymore.
The upgrade at QB to Stafford is understandable, but utilizing some of these picks for longer term pieces may have paid more dividends. The moves seem short sighted in nature, and not just short sighted to “win a Super Bowl” but short sighted in a better way to build a complete team than through the draft.
I’m bias as a dratnik, and maybe this can sustain a year or two for the Rams (and they can achieve that Super Bowl goal as I predicted in a previous article), but there is a long term dropoff coming at some point that will force a full fledged rebuild earlier than it should.