It was reported that the Los Angeles Rams’ 2018 NFL Draft class was one of the worst in the NFL. Not a single starter came from Les Snead’s 2018 haul. Many of them were inactive throughout the season. But Snead used his first and second round picks on Brandin Cooks and Sammy Watkins respectively. Cooks was a key contributor in the Rams going 15-4 during the regular and postseason run. NFL.com rated the Rams’ 2018 picks as the worst in the league, giving them an overall D grade. Not a good way to continue the recent success of Sean McVay right? But let’s take a deeper look and analyze the 2018 NFL Draft class a little closer.
Trades were made
For starters, the Rams didn’t have a first or second round pick as a result of trades that were made. The trade for Watkins at face value looks terrible. Snead used a second round pick on a guy who was an underwhelming one-year rental. However, look closer and you realize that it was a calculated move. Sure we lost a pick, but we are getting a compensatory third round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
All we lost was a round in an attempt to find Jared Goff a reliable speed receiver. Cooks was acquired from the New England Patriots and quickly became a reliable weapon down the field for Goff. The speedy receiver went for 99 receptions, for 1,496 yards, 5 touchdowns and averaging 15.1 yards/reception through 18 games. I think that makes the trade well worth it.
Now let’s get into the actual 2018 picks. The Rams didn’t pick until the 89th overall pick in the third round. Once on the clock, the Rams selected Joseph Noteboom, an offensive tackle out of TCU. Noteboom offers versatility with an ability to play every position on the offensive line besides center. With Andrew Whitworth, Roger Saffold, John Sullivan, Austin Blythe and Rob Havenstein manning the line, Noteboom didn’t have much of a chance to see the field. The line was healthy the entire season, which is pretty rare in the NFL.
Noteboom served a backup role and got the opportunity to learn from one of the best in Whitworth. In his limited snaps (211 including preseason, mostly at left tackle) Noteboom gave up 0 sacks, 0 hits, 0 hurries and 0 pressures. He graded well in pass protection. Noteboom looked like the heir to Whitworth. He also showed his versatility receiving snaps at right guard (23), left guard (5), and right tackle (13). With Whitworth returning for the final year of his contract, Noteboom has a chance to earn a spot as a guard in 2019. He could then take over as the team’s left tackle in 2020.
The Rams next pick came at 111th overall in the fourth round, selecting Michigan State center Brian Allen. Allen is best as a center. However, he offers some versatility at guard as well. Sitting behind Sullivan gave Allen an opportunity to learn from a guy who has played in the NFL at a high level for a long time. Allen didn’t see much action past the preseason, but he logged 144 snaps during the preseason, notching snaps at left guard (13), right guard (21) and center (110).
He graded well in the run game and in pass protection, giving up two hurries and two pressures, but was able to log zeros in the sacks and hits columns. He also was not called for a single penalty during his limited opportunities. Allen provides depth that rarely needed to be utilized. However, with Sullivan’s option declined, Allen has the opportunity to earn a starting gig.
At 135th overall, another fourth round pick, the Rams chose John Franklin-Myers or “JFM” from Stephen F. Austin. JFM was a reserve defensive end/edge for the Rams. Totaling 371 snaps, he combined for 11 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 hits, 22 hurries, 1 batted pass and 2 forced fumbles. JFM earned the Carroll Rosenbloom Memorial Award, given to the Rams’ rookie of the year. He played well given his limited snaps playing behind an all-star cast of defensive lineman.
In 276 total pass rush snaps, JFM scored an 8.9 pass rush grade. Providing quality defensive line depth. JFM has a chance to earn an even bigger role next season. It’s possible Michael Brockers gets cut by the Rams due to his $11 million dollar cap hit. Brockers struggled to generate a pass rush in 2018. Even if Brockers is retained, JFM will get more opportunities as a pass rusher from here on out.
In the fifth round with the 148th overall pick, the Rams selected inside linebacker Micah Kiser from Virginia. Kiser is a tough run defender who also excels at blitzing. He quickly earned a spot on special teams, logging 392 special teams snaps. He really showed what he was capable of as a linebacker during the preseason. Kiser flew around the football field, posting 179 snaps during those four weeks and putting up 22 tackles, a sack and 6 hurries. Some were left wondering why he didn’t get more opportunities when the games really counted.
In reality, Kiser may only be a two-down linebacker in the NFL. He has been stuck behind Mark Barron and an emerging Cory Littleton. Barron just became a cap casualty which gives Kiser the opportunity to show the Rams that he can take over the middle of the Rams defense. Although some have said he’s a limited athlete, he graded out pretty well for an inside linebacker. Coverage is not his strong suit but lining up next to Littelton may mask some of that. It is clear that he would offer pure instincts and tackling ability to a linebacker core that often seems to lack both. Kiser definitely has an opportunity to earn more playing time in the upcoming season.
Another fifth round pick, coming in at 160th overall, the Rams selected an edge rusher many didn’t think would fall out of round three in Ogbonnia Okoronkwo or “Obo.” Unfortunately Obo suffered a foot injury in the Spring and never got the chance to see live game action. He did practice with the team towards the end of the year. However, in his time at Oklahoma, Obo saw 781 pass rush snaps and notched 52 sacks and 134 pressures giving him a pass rush grade of 4.9. Obo spent the season learning the ins and outs of Wade Phillips’s defense and getting healthy.
The biggest contribution he made in his rookie year came after the Rams acquired Dante Fowler. Reports are that Obo helped Fowler get up to speed learning the defense. This led to Fowler being comfortable in the defense and helped the Rams make the Super Bowl. With Obo coming back healthy with a full grasp of the defense, it wouldn’t surprise me if he receives solid snaps in Phillips’s defense. He has a chance to earn a starting spot at outside linebacker. He at least has a shot getting into the rotation as a situational rusher.
Next, the Rams selected John Kelly, running back from Tennessee with the 176th overall pick in the sixth round. Kelly’s opportunities came in the preseason and he looked like he might take Malcolm Brown’s job as Todd Gurley’s backup. However, Brown held him off. Kelly was mostly inactive for the Rams in regular season action. Kelly ran for 197 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 4.3 yards/carry in three preseason games. He also logged 6 receptions for 18 yards. Kelly needs to work on his blocking, but he offers solid depth should the Rams need him to take on a larger role.
Another sixth round pick and 192nd overall, the Rams grabbed Jamil Demby, a versatile offensive lineman from Maine. Demby, a college tackle who fits best as a guard in the NFL, never saw regular season action. He was stolen from the practice squad by the Detroit Lions. Demby quickly signed back with the Rams when the Lions decided to part ways.
Demby saw 178 snaps in preseason with the Rams, he had 69 snaps at left/right guard. He showed versatility and athleticism getting 109 snaps at left/right tackle as well. Demby could develop into a starter someday but for now is just depth on a quality offensive line.
Sebastian Joseph-Day or “SJD” was selected with the 195th overall pick in the sixth round. SJD was inactive for the regular season. He did get 147 snaps during the preseason. In that time he logged 5 tackles. SJD is a developmental prospect right now. However, he could carve out a reserve role in 2019.
The last sixth round pick for the Rams was 205th overall. The Rams elected to select Trevon Young an edge rusher out of Louisville. Young saw 101 snaps in preseason. Young has a chance to earn a role as a depth player. He likely ends up on the practice squad again. He’s a developmental prospect right now.
In the seventh round at 231st overall, the Rams selected a linebacker from TCU, Travin Howard. Howard, a linebacker/safety tweener, much like Mark Barron, was a force at TCU. His role for the NFL may be special teams and occasional package plays on defense. Howard graded well against the run and was solid in coverage in his 48 preseason snaps. Howard provides value as a scout team guy to give you different looks in practice.
Finally with their last pick in the seventh round, the Rams took Justin Lawler with the 244th overall pick. Lawler an edge rusher from SMU, saw limited regular season action as a reserve player. He totaled four tackles in 35 snaps. He showed a little more in preseason where in 90 snaps he recorded 12 tackles and 2 sacks. Lawler is a depth player on the Rams but offers another guy to develop for the defense.
Playing the long game
So yes, the Rams didn’t acquire any starters in the 2018 NFL Draft. Rams rookies only accounted for 613 total regular season snaps, the lowest in the NFL. The New England Patriots came in 2nd with 893. For reference, the NFL average was 2580 snaps. The Rams had a talented roster that didn’t require rookies to add a lot of juice.
The Rams’ 2018 NFL Draft strategy was always about the long haul. Finding quality depth and guys they could develop was the ultimate goal. The 2018 NFL Draft was about managing their cap space through cheap rookie contracts. Keeping cost low at positions like offensive tackle and edge rusher is important. The 2018 class’s time will come soon enough and then we’ll see what grade they get.
Sources: Pro Football Reference