The stars aligned for Les Snead and the St. Louis Rams for the 2014 NFL Draft. After a disastrous season from the Washington Redskins, the Rams were rewarded with the 2nd overall pick in addition to the 13th overall pick thanks to the RGIII trade in 2012.
The 2014 draft class was loaded with talent and most of the seeds have already bore fruit. Ten of the first 17 picks have been selected to Pro Bowls. A handful of those guys are considered elite players in the NFL. Let’s take a look at how well Les Snead and company did in this draft.
Round 1, Pick 2 – St. Louis Rams select OT Greg Robinson, Auburn – F. After the Houston Texans took Jadeveon Clowney, the Rams had the chance to take any other player eligible for this draft class. They chose to select Auburn tackle Greg Robinson.
Here are the guys that were selected in between Robinson and the Rams 13th pick: Blake Bortles, Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, Jake Matthews, Mike Evans, Justin Gilbert, Anthony Barr, Eric Ebron, Taylor Lewan, and Odell Beckham Jr.
Two of those guys (Gilbert and Bortles) probably won’t make anymore waves in the league. Three of those players (Watkins, Matthews, Ebron) are very good players at their positions, although Ebron and Watkins have struggled staying on the field. And the other five are Pro Bowl players, all at positions the Rams could have desperately needed. This includes Odell Beckham Jr, the most exciting playmaking receiver in football, Mike Evans, who may be the best red zone receiver in the league today, and Khalil Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.
Oh, and what do the Rams have to show for the crown jewel of the RGIII trade? They have Greg Robinson, a player who has been so bad the Rams made him a healthy scratch at one point in the 2016 season. Robinson has been nothing short of atrocious during his three seasons with the Rams. Barring a miracle, Robinson will not be a Pro Bowler, and probably won’t even be an average starter. This is hands down the biggest whiff of the Les Snead era and a pick that somewhat ruins the true effect the RGIII could have had.
This pick isn’t the kind of F where you go “yeah, but I got a 60%, I was close!” This is the kind of F where you walk into Geometry class, look at the exam, and realize you spent the last two days studying Shakespeare. This is close to a 0.
Round 1, Pick 13 – St. Louis Rams select DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh – A+. To keep the exam analogy going, this pick was like a Madrid native taking an elementary Spanish test. Snead got plenty of extra credit for this one.
Defensive tackle was not a huge need for the Rams at the time, and some people were left scratching their heads when the Rams took Aaron Donald at 13. But Snead clearly did his homework on this pick. Aaron Donald won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, and has blossomed into arguably the best defensive player in the NFL. Had the Rams been a playoff team the last two years, Donald might have two Defensive Player of the Year awards under his belt. He’s been a Pro Bowler every season he’s been in the league and has been in Pro Football Focus’s top two overall players over the past two years. This is the best decision Les Snead has made with the Rams thus far. It may have even saved his job.
St. Louis Rams receive Buffalo Second Round Pick (41), Buffalo Bills receive St. Louis Second (44) and Fifth Round Picks (153)
Round 2, Pick 41 – St. Louis Rams select CB LaMarcus Joyner, Florida State – B-. Joyner has been an important part of the Rams defense since they drafted him, and has settled into the role of covering the opposing team’s slot receivers. The Rams turned a second and fifth round pick into a guy that has carved out a pivotal role for himself on the team. It’s a great pick, right?
The Tavon Austin question comes into play when talking about Joyner – was he really worth the price we paid for him? Joyner has clear flaws and he’s not as complete of a player as guys like Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins, two guys that the Rams selected with Day 2 draft picks in 2012. He’s a solid player in the slot but he can’t move out to the outside to cover bigger receivers. This was a clear problem in 2016 when the Rams suffered severe depth issues use to injuries and players leaving the team. This pick was fine. It’s B- work. It just left something to be desired.
Round 3, Pick 75 – St. Louis Rams select RB Tre Mason, Auburn – D. This pick seemed like a home run after the 2014 season. Mason put together a solid rookie campaign for the Rams, overtaking Zac Stacy for the starting job and showing plenty of promise as a dual threat back.
But then the Rams took Todd Gurley in the 2015 NFL Draft, and this set off something in Mason. He wasn’t the same player he was in 2015, albeit his playing time was much more scarce. Following the 2015 season, a series of strange and unfortunate events involving Mason happened off the field culminating in him reportedly missing in action as the Rams were set to enter training camp. At this point it remains to be seen if Mason will ever play football again.
It’s hard to fault this pick since the situation was out of Snead’s hands, but with the benefit of hindsight we do know that Snead took a player in the third round and replaced him with a first round pick in the following draft. And this wouldn’t be the last time this happened, either.
Round 4, Pick 110 – St. Louis Rams select S Maurice Alexander, Utah State – B+. After a slow rookie season Alexander has emerged as a decent NFL safety. He started all 14 games he played in during the 2016 season and played well during this stretch. This pick could easily improve as Alexander continues to improve. If the Rams found a starting safety in the fourth round, this pick is an A. But I’m not ready to anoint Alexander as the next big thing in the Rams secondary after just one season of starting on a fairly bad defense.
Round 6, Pick 188 – St. Louis Rams select CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri – A. Gaines was the biggest surprise of this Rams draft class, emerging as a starting caliber corner during his rookie season with the team before missing the entire 2015 season due to injury. You have to imagine that the Rams faith in Gaines was a big part of their decision to not pursue bringing back Janoris Jenkins. Gaines didn’t look the same in 2016, but I’m willing to give him time to recover. If he resembles his 2014 self in 2017 than this pick is an A+. You don’t often find good starters in the sixth round. Tom Brady’s don’t grow on trees.
Round 6, Pick 214 – St. Louis Rams select QB Garrett Gilbert, SMU – F.
Round 7, Pick 226 – St. Louis Rams select OT Mitchell Van Dyk, Portland State – F. Neither Gilbert or Van Dyk played a down in the NFL as of the 2016 season. Late round misses aren’t the end of the world.
Round 7, Pick 241 – St. Louis Rams select FS Christian Bryant, Ohio State – D-. Bryant found himself floating between the practice squad and the active roster for two years on the Rams. Any player that manages to get onto the roster as a seventh round pick doesn’t warrant an F grade. Bryant was a 64.5.
Round 7, Pick 249 – St. Louis Rams select DE Michael Sam, Missouri – F. This pick was bigger than football and I’m proud that it was the Rams who made this selection. On top of that, it’s not everyday you can get a unanimous All-American late in the seventh round. Taking a flyer on Michael Sam this late in the draft was a no brainer. But Sam wasn’t able to impress enough in training camp to make the Rams, and he never played a down in the NFL.
This draft pick was a landmark moment in the history of professional sports. But in terms of on the field production, this pick is the same as the Gilbert and Van Dyk picks. Meaningless.
Round 7, Pick 250 – St. Louis Rams select C Demetrius Rhaney, Tennessee State – C. Rhaney hasn’t had much production with the Rams, but the team apparently likes him enough to keep him on the roster for three seasons. That’s at least a C for being taken this late in the draft. We’ll see if he has any impact with the team in the future or if he’s even wearing horns in 2017.
Undrafted Free Agents – D+. The Rams added defensive end Ethan Westbrooks here, who has turned out to be a decent player off the bench. That’s all we have to take away from the UDFAs in this class.
Overall Draft Grade – B+
Highs: There’s a good chance that four of the Rams defensive starters in 2017 came from this draft. Did I mention that one of them is Aaron Donald, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL?
Lows: The Rams don’t have Khalil Mack, or Sammy Watkins, or Mike Evans, or Anthony Barr, or even Jake Matthews. We’ve got Greg Robinson. And with the benefit of hindsight, we essentially just threw away a third round pick on Tre Mason.
I want to hate this draft. I want to give it a bad grade. But let’s take Day 1 of this draft out of the equation when we calculate the final grade, since we had a home run and a strike out there. We can even take out Day 2, since we drafted a starter and a bust in Joyner and Mason. Just looking at Day 3, the Rams may have taken two long term defensive starters in Alexander and Gaines, depending on how the next few years shake out. That’s a pretty good haul on Day 3. That kind of boosts this grade up a little bit.
And on top of that, even with the Greg Robinson bust, the Rams had the guts to take Aaron Donald at 13. He wasn’t a player the team needed. But he was the best player on the board and Snead made the call to add him to the roster. This draft would probably get a B- on Donald alone. The rest is kind of a bonus.
It’s still a bit too early to call this draft since we need to see what happens with Gaines, Alexander, Joyner, and maybe even Robinson over the next few years. But for now the grade is favorable. Next week, we’ll take a look at the 2015 NFL Draft just two years removed from it.
Steve Rebeiro is a staff writer and podcast host for Rams Talk. He graduated from Marquette University in 2016. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here or check out his podcast Tejas and Lil Stevie.