The 2015 season marked the fourth year of the Fisher/Snead era. Little progress had been made during the first three years, but the roster had potential. The Rams had an elite defense and a brand new quarterback in Nick Foles. Les Snead chose to make offense a big focus of the 2015 NFL Draft to varying results.
It may be a bit to early for this one, but here are my grades for the 2015 NFL Draft just two years later.
Round 1, Pick 10 – St. Louis Rams select RB Todd Gurley, Georgia – A. The Les Snead drafts developed a pattern of running back selections that culminated in this pick:
- 2012: Rams draft Daryl Richardson in the seventh round, has promising rookie season, looks to be the incoming starter in 2013.
- 2013: Rams draft Zac Stacy in the fifth round, has promising rookie season, looks to be the incoming starter in 2014.
- 2014: Rams draft Tre Mason in the third round, has promising rookie season, looks to be the incoming starter in 2015.
And of course, in 2015 the Rams draft Todd Gurley in the first round, but his rookie season is more than promising: it’s outstanding. Gurley ran for over 1,000 yards despite just 12 starts on the year. He was named a second team All-Pro, won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and was named to the Pro Bowl. While the pick effectively rendered the Tre Mason pick worthless, it was worth it. Gurley looked like a generational running back talent that only slipped to 10 because of an injury. His rookie year did not disappoint.
However, Gurley’s sophomore year did disappoint. In fact, he looked like a shell of his rookie self. Who’s to blame for this has been a subject of debate among commentators from around the league, whether it be the fault of the play calling, the offensive line, the lack of a passing game, or the way Gurley was running the football. In reality, it was a combination of all of those factors. But the sophomore slump is a real thing in the NFL, and many players bounce back from it to have stellar careers. Gurley should return to being a dominant force on the Rams offense in 2017, and remind everyone why this was one of the best draft picks of the Snead era.
St. Louis Rams receive Carolina Second (59), Third (89), and Sixth (201) round picks, Carolina Panthers receive St. Louis Second Round Pick (41)
Round 2, Pick 59 – St. Louis Rams select OT Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin – A+. The Rams not only made a great selection with Rob Havenstein, they got free picks to do it, including a valuable third round selection. Havenstein produced a sensational rookie season, not allowing a sack and being named to numerous All-Rookie teams. He suffered a slight slump in 2016, but he was still very solid and reliable, and one of the few linemen on the roster that looked like he belonged as a starter in this league. Havenstein should be a starter on this team for years to come.
Round 3, Pick 72 – St. Louis Rams select OT Jamon Brown, Louisville – C. Snead chose to draft offensive lineman with back-to-back picks, likely hoping one of them would pan out. Brown has not had the early success that Havenstein has. He’s appeared in 20 games during his two seasons with the Rams and has started in 14 of them. Brown hasn’t flashed the skills that Havenstein has and will likely be competing with Greg Robinson and anyone else the Rams add in the 2017 NFL Draft for a starting job. The jury isn’t out yet on Brown, but his future in the NFL is doubtful.
Round 3, Pick 89 – St. Louis Rams select QB Sean Mannion, Oregon State – D+. The Sean Mannion/Jared Goff situation isn’t a situation that is new to the NFL, but I think it needs to be talked about. Let’s examine the Carolina Panthers quarterback situation earlier in the decade:
The Panthers selected Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen with the 48th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Clausen was a polarizing prospect at the time, but there was no doubt he had the potential to be a starter in the NFL. The Panthers started Clausen in 10 games during his rookie season, and the result was a poor record and the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. They had a choice. Do they select another top quarterback prospect in Cam Newton, or take a different player and roll the dice with their investment in Jimmy Clausen? Is it worth taking Newton and just viewing the second round pick of Clausen as a bust?
We know the answer was undeniably yes for Carolina. This can be used an argument for the Rams taking Jared Goff in the 2016 NFL Draft and effectively making their third round pick either a career backup if that.
But here’s the difference between the situations. Mannion may have not been the prospect that Clausen was, but we also never got to see what he could do during his rookie year. And the Rams weren’t in a rush at quarterback. They had a placeholder in Case Keenum, who ended up being the opening day starter in 2016. On top of that, Jared Goff isn’t nearly the prospect that Cam Newton was, and the Rams gave up multiple valuable draft picks to get him.
Either way, Snead made a bad pick here. Either Mannion will be a career backup or cut from the roster without ever making an impact, or Goff will bust, Mannion will takeover and become the Rams quarterback of the future. Or in the absolute worst case, neither guy will ever produce in a Rams uniform. Only time will tell.
Note: The Rams traded their fourth and sixth round draft picks to Tampa Bay in exchange for Mark Barron during the 2014 season. They later regained a fourth round pick from Philadelphia as part of the Nick Foles trade, but also gave up a sixth round pick in this trade.
Round 4, Pick 119 – St. Louis Rams select OT Andrew Donnal, Iowa – C. The Rams chose to take a third offensive lineman in Iowa offensive tackle Andrew Donnal. Donnal has seen time with the Rams, appearing in every game in 2016, but only starting in four. He’s in a similar situation to Jamon Brown. He hasn’t impressed much and likely won’t be starting in 2017. Snead wanted to use a couple picks on linemen in this draft and just see what works. A lot of it hasn’t worked much. This pick did little to make the team better.
Round 7, Pick 224 – St. Louis Rams select ILB Bryce Hager, Baylor – B+. Hager has made an impact on special teams with the Rams and has played in every game since joining the team. How much more can you ask out of a seventh round pick?
Round 7, Pick 227 – St. Louis Rams select DE Martin Ifedi, Memphis – F. Ifedi didn’t make the roster.
Undrafted Free Agents – D. The most notable guy was Bradley Marquez. Not the best haul for Snead, who has usually done a good job finding guys after the draft.
Overall Draft Grade – B+.
Highs: Snead nailed the first two rounds of the draft, grabbing a blue chip running back in Todd Gurley and a long-term starter in Rob Havenstein. Trading back in the second round was low-key one of the best draft day moves Snead has made.
Lows: The only other positive of this draft was taking Bryce Hager in the seventh round.
This draft was only two years ago, so if one of Brown, Mannion, or Donnal ends up being a long-term starter for the Rams, this draft is easily an A. But does anybody really see that happening? Snead managed to grab extra draft picks in the Havenstein trade and the Foles trade earlier in the year, but failed to capitalize on those picks. There was still needed talent on the board in the third and fourth rounds. Can you imagine how much better we’d feel about our linebacking core if we took Kwon Alexander instead of Andrew Donnal in the fourth?
But the most important round of the draft is the first, followed by the second and so on. Snead hit home runs in the first two rounds … at least we hope. Todd Gurley needs to remind us why we he was heralded as the second coming of Adrian Peterson following his rookie year. He can’t bust can he? When’s the last time a rookie running back drafted in the top 10 had one good season only to completely fall off in production and never be a productive NFL back again?
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.