The Rams have historically been a hit-and-miss team when it comes to making the right draft picks. In 2004, the last time the Rams made the playoffs, they selected Steven Jackson with their first round pick. Since the Jackson pick, we’ve seen a wide variety of results from the Rams’ draft selections. Here’s a look at the team’s first round picks since 2005:
DT Aaron Donald, 2014, 13th overall – When the Rams decided to select an undersized defensive tackle in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the pick was a bit questionable. Defensive line help was literally the last thing the team needed. Two years later, Aaron Donald has established himself as one of the most valuable players in the entire league. He’s made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons and was named as the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014. Donald was also named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 by Pro Football Focus and was the runner up for the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He should not only be the anchor of the Rams defense for years to come, but he could potentially be the best defensive lineman in the league next to J.J. Watt.
DE Robert Quinn, 2011, 14th overall – Quinn was a bit of a risk when he was drafted. Not only was the 2011 draft class one of the best in recent history, Quinn had been suspended for the entire 2010 season due to a scandal surrounding the North Carolina football program. The Rams took a chance on Quinn, and he turned out to be an absolute force on the defensive line. Quinn had his breakout season in 2013; he set a new Rams’ record with 19 sacks while earning First Team All-Pro and the PFWA’s Defensive Player of the Year honors. Quinn made the Pro Bowl the following season before suffering an injury-riddled 2015 campaign. With more and more attention being thrown at Aaron Donald by the opposing team, expect big things from Quinn in 2016.
DE Chris Long, 2008, 2nd Overall – The Rams selected the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long with the second pick in 2008, and Long has not disappointed. He has recorded 54.5 career sacks and played in every single game from the moment he was drafted up until the 2014 season. Long may have not been the second-best player in a draft featuring a few studs such as Jamaal Charles and DeSean Jackson, but the Rams can’t complain about drafting Long. They should be grateful they drafted a good player and a great leader that gave his heart to the team for eight seasons. The Rams decided to cut Long in a cost-cutting move following the 2015 season.
RB Todd Gurley, 2015, 10th Overall – This is a cautionary ranking. If Gurley has a season similar to his rookie campaign in 2016, he’ll jump Chris Long and probably Robert Quinn as well. Gurley was an absolute monster as a rookie. He finished third in rushing despite only starting 12 games. He carried a dismal Rams offense that had little to no passing attack most games. He won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award, earned a Pro Bowl selection, and was named Second Team All-Pro. All signs point to Gurley following in the footsteps of Dickerson, Faulk, and Jackson and becoming the next great running back to don the horns.
WR Tavon Austin, 2013, 8th Overall – Austin silenced all doubts that he was just a great return man in 2015. He proved to be a dangerous offensive weapon who was a threat to score whenever he got the ball with room to move. And like I said earlier, he’s a great return man. This pick wasn’t perfect – the Rams traded up for Austin even though they could have waited and taken DeAndre Hopkins later in the first round. Austin needs a strong first option receiver to join the Rams offense before he can unlock his full potential. For now, the Rams should be satisfied that they drafted a solid playmaker.
OLB Alec Ogletree, 2013, 30th Overall – The Rams were looking for an athletic and versatile player at outside linebacker, and Ogletree delivered. He recorded 117 tackles in his rookie season, which led the team and placed him third most among rookies in 2013. He also tied for third in the league and first among rookies with six forced fumbles. Ogletree capped his solid rookie campaign by earning a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie team.
Ogletree followed up his rookie season with a stellar 2014, putting up similar numbers to his rookie season. He appeared in just four games in 2015 before a season-ending injury. Rams fans should be excited for Ogletree’s future. He’s a talented player that could become great if he polishes his game and fixes some of his flaws. There’s a good chance he moves up on this list before his career with the Rams is over.
DT Michael Brockers, 2012, 14th Overall – The Rams traded down twice in the 2012 draft and ended up taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who has been stellar since joining the team. Since Aaron Donald arrived in 2014, the pressure has come off Brockers to be an anchor on the defensive line, and he’s provided solid and consistent play over the course of his career. Brockers is an integral part of the Rams front four and should continue to be if the Rams choose to resign him following the 2016 season. There’s nothing to complain about with Brockers.
QB Sam Bradford, 2010, 1st Overall – I originally wrote about Sam Bradford following the 2013 season and I thought it would be interesting to include those thoughts here, since circumstances have obviously changed since…“Sam Bradford has done enough to never be considered a bust under normal circumstances, but his circumstances are different due to three factors. He’s a quarterback who was selected first overall, he was the last top pick to be signed under the old unbalanced rookie pay scale, and there were franchise changing defensive players such as Ndamukong Suh, Joe Haden, and Earl Thomas selected after him. Bradford won the 2010 Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he hasn’t improved enough to be deemed as “franchise quarterback.” He was having the best year of his career before being injured in 2013. Yet it wasn’t enough to convince the Rams to open talks on a long-term extension. In fairness, Bradford has never had any real offensive threats around him, with the exception of Jackson. Danny Amendola is the best receiver he’s played with as a Ram, and that isn’t saying much. If Bradford has another average season in 2014, he will likely be labeled as a bust, and the Rams will likely move on.”
I’ve documented my thoughts on why I believed Sam Bradford didn’t work out in St. Louis. The Rams had an opportunity to shed some cap space and trade their injury-riddled quarterback for another young quarterback on a much better contract with a lot of potential. And on top of that, the Eagles threw in some picks. It was an offer the Rams simply couldn’t refuse. Had this trade not happened, I firmly believe Bradford would have been the Rams starting quarterback in 2015. Injuries derailed Bradford’s chances to succeed with the Rams. It’s as simple as that.
DT Adam Carriker, 2007, 13th Overall – The Rams selected Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker in 2007 with the intention of switching him to defensive tackle. Carriker started every game during his promising rookie season and was selected as Rams’ Rookie of the Year. He experienced a sophomore slump in 2008, before missing the entire 2009 season with an injury. He was traded to the Redskins in 2010 for the right to swap fifth round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, ending his disappointing career with the Rams.The Redskins moved Carriker back to defensive end, and he played the best years of his career before being cut following the 2013 season. Carriker’s situation leaves a lot of what ifs. If the Rams played to Carriker’s strengths, would he have made more of an impact with the team? There’s also what happened with the pick after the Rams’ selection. The New York Jets selected Darrelle Revis, a player who would have dramatically improved the Rams defense. Oh what could have been?
OT Alex Barron, 2005, 19th Overall – Alex Barron was a starter on the Rams offensive line for his entire career with the team. Barron was a mediocre offensive tackle with an attitude problem, and it showed with his on-field performance. He was the most penalized player in the NFL during his five years with the Rams. The team eventually became fed up with Barron’s behavior and traded him.
CB Tye Hill, 2006, 15th Overall – Looking to address their need at cornerback, the Rams selected Tye Hill over players such as Antonio Cromartie and Jonathan Joseph in the 2006 NFL draft. Although Hill was one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory, he didn’t play as poorly as people remember. Hill played in every game during his rookie season, recording three interceptions and 47 tackles. He was even selected to the PFWA All-Rookie team and looked like he could have a promising career following a solid rookie season. Injuries were Hill’s downfall. He was on pace to increase his total tackles in each of his next two seasons with the Rams, but each season ended with him on the injured reserve. He played in only 12 games during the next two seasons before getting traded to the Atlanta Falcons for a seventh round pick just before the 2009 season started. Hill floated around the league for a few years following his time with the Rams, but he is currently out of the NFL.
OT Jason Smith, 2009, 2nd Overall – The 2009 draft is one of the worst in recent history, including busts such as Aaron Curry, Aaron Maybin, Mark Sanchez and Jason Smith. The Rams selected Smith with the second pick in hopes of finding a franchise tackle. Instead, they got a player who was woefully unprepared for the NFL game. Smith started most of his games during his three years with the Rams, but he was dealt to the Jets before the 2012 season because the team felt more confident playing 2008 sixth-round draft pick Barry Richardson. Smith never started for the Jets and was out of the league in 2013. A lot of picks became busts, because they were drafted into the wrong situation, got in trouble with the law or were plagued by injuries. As for Jason Smith, he simply wasn’t a good football player.