Rams coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead were talking with reporters near the end of the NFL draft’s first round on Thursday when the latest pick popped up on a screen across the room.
“Cole Strange just went!” McVay exclaimed as the guard/center from a second-tier school in Tennessee was taken by the New England Patriots with the 29th choice.
“Oh my! UT Chattanooga to the first round!” Snead said.
“How about that?” McVay said. “And to think we wasted our time watching him, thinking he’d (available) be at (pick number) 104.”
So went the first night of the NFL draft for the Rams, who had no first-round pick for the sixth draft in a row and aren’t scheduled to make a selection until the 104th, near the end of the third round on Friday.
Coaches, executives and staffers socialized at the Rams’ “draft house” headquarters in the Hollywood Hills, with a view of Los Angeles at their feet.
With the exception of the Pats grabbing Strange earlier than imagined, other teams’ decisions Thursday had little effect on the Rams’ plans for their eight scheduled picks in rounds 3 through 7.
“I think we’ve got some time to sort itself out,” McVay said.
Snead and McVay said they’ll start to pay rapt attention during the third round. That’s when it could become clear if any teams want to trade two or three lower-round picks for the Rams’ lone third-rounder. If the Rams do trade down, they won’t enter the draft until the final day on Saturday.
Then we’ll see if the Rams lead off by drafting to add oomph to their offense, as they usually do, or to dial up depth for their defense. That could come down to which prospects are still available. So strange things – or further Strange things – could occur.
A year ago, the Rams were expected to start by shoring up the defense, which had said goodbye to several leaders there, unless they chose an offensive lineman, to make up for losing a starting center.
Naturally, they did neither with their first selection, instead picking a wisp of a wide receiver, Tutu Atwell, in the second round with the 57th overall pick, then concentrated on defensive prospects without ever addressing the offensive line.
This time, cases can be made for prioritizing the offensive line, after the departures of starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Austin Corbett, or the defense, now minus outside linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Darious Williams.
Earlier in the week, McVay called the pass rush “an important thing,” as the Rams showed by sacking the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow a Super Bowl-record seven times.
“But there’s certainly needs that we have on both sides of the football,” McVay said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of players that we’ve identified that we think will be there at 104, 142, and some of our other picks that we feel can help this squad.”
If the Rams go heavy on offensive line picks, it won’t be to get immediate replacements for Whitworth, who retired, or Corbett, who signed with the Carolina Panthers. They re-signed Joe Noteboom to step in for Whitworth. Coleman Shelton, Tremayne Anchrum and Bobby Evans are candidates to step up at guard.
“I think we’ve got some guys that we’ve invested in that we think have tremendous upside, that we’re looking forward to watching compete,” McVay said Tuesday. “But those are always important positions to develop depth at, because you’re probably going to have to rely on them at some point in the season to be able to win key, critical games.”
Since 2017, when the offense-oriented McVay became head coach and the Rams started their streak of trading away first-round picks, they’ve used their first selection on an offensive player in four out of five years, getting tight end Gerald Everett (third round, 2017), tackle Joe Noteboom (third, 2018), running back Cam Akers (second, 2020) and Atwell.
But that’s not just a McVay thing. The first five years after Snead became GM in 2012 also saw the Rams’ top pick go for offense four times, the first-round selections including running back Todd Gurley (2015) and quarterback Jared Goff (2016).
The defensive top picks were well-spent: defensive end Michael Brockers (second round, 2012) and safety Taylor Rapp (second, 2019).
The Rams like versatile offensive linemen, which is why they might have been drawn to Cole Strange, a college guard whose NFL future could be at center.
“It’s going to be an exciting next couple of days, that’s for sure,” McVay said Thursday. “But there’s a lot of guys that we like, and we’re going to find players that are going to help us this year.”
RAMS DRAFT PICKS
The Rams have eight picks in the NFL draft. The first round was Thursday, the second and third rounds are Friday, and rounds 4-7 are Saturday.
1st round: No pick
2nd round: No pick
3rd round: 104th overall pick
4th round: 142nd overall pick
5th round: 175th overall pick
6th round: 211th, 212th and 218th overall picks
7th round: 238th and 253rd overall picks