The LA Rams have not been frequent flyers in the first round of the most recent NFL Drafts. Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff was the last first-round pick selected by the LA Rams back in the 2016 NFL Draft. After compensatory selections are awarded, the Rams expect to have 10 total picks in this year’s draft. Unfortunately, all of the awarded picks will be Day 3 picks but will give the Rams four more picks to work with, beginning at the end of Round 4.
The Rams’ roster is a bit lopsided, as they have compensated their elite players with significant compensation. Such as? The Rams roster is financially top-heavy in that the team has committed over 30 percent of the projected 2023 salary cap to just three players. That makes the 2023 NFL Draft crucial for the LA Rams, and that all falls upon general manager Les Snead.
I don’t think anyone is going to argue with the offensive line topping the list of needs in the draft. Action in the trenches was atrocious for the Rams in 2022. According to ESPN, the Rams were the third-worst offensive line in the NFL with 59 sacks allowed compared to just 31 the previous season. A pass-reliant offense since the days of ex-Ram RB Todd Gurley II came to an end, the Rams could not rely on the pass this season.
The Rams ranked 28th in passing touchdowns and 27th in passing yards, reminding fans of the Jeff Fisher-coached teams. The key to turning the offense around in 2023 is mending the offensive line. I would expect the Rams to prioritize the offensive tackle position highly followed by the offensive center. The following are several NFL Draft prospects on the offensive line:
Anton Harrison, Oklahoma
A junior left tackle who broke into the starting lineup as a freshman. Credited for his ability to pass block, Harrison would fit into the offensive scheme of Sean McVay. The 6-foot-5, 309-pound big man is quick on his feet for his size. Watch him versus Nebraska in 2022, courtesy of DoaBarrowRoll on Youtube. Anton has started every game the previous two seasons at Oklahoma, except for opting out of this year’s Cheez-it Bowl. Harrison was named to the All-Big-12 First Team in 2022.
Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse
When watching the game film on Bergeron, also courtesy of DoaBarrowRoll on Youtube, you can see this guy can do it all. He is listed as an offensive tackle but could slide over to guard. He projects to be one of the safer OL selections in the draft, due to his longevity. A four-year starter at Syracuse, Bergeron could provide much-needed stability at either tackle or guard for the Rams. He excels in advancing to the second level of the defense during run plays. Some scouts say that he could improve some technical parts of his game, but has the instinctive ability to thrive in the NFL.
Midseason acquisition outside linebacker Von Miller was an integral part of the Rams’ pass rush and Super Bowl victory. The defense was missing a spark from the edge in 2022. The opposing team’s strategy was to eliminate LA Rams DE Aaron Donald with multiple blockers and attack the rest of the defense, and it worked.
Rams OLB Leonard Floyd led the Rams with 9.0 sacks, thanks to a late-season surge. And we can’t forget the heroics of Micheal Hoecht, who cross-trained and moved to the outside linebacker position late in the season, racking up 4.5 sacks in six games started. Aside from those two, the Rams did not get much pass rush from the outside. Who should the Rams target as an outside linebacker?
Andre Carter II, Army
Following a bill being passed through congress, Army OLB Andre Carter II is NFL Draft eligible. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound specimen had a down year in 2022, posting just 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks. In 2021 he wreaked havoc, recording 15.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Watch a video on Youtube of Carter, courtesy of “Prospects.” Although he had a down statistical year in 2022, the OLB’s stock could rise simply due to his potential. The Rams would have to use one of their 2nd or 3rd round picks on Carter.
Byron Young, Tennessee
An undersized linebacker, Byron Young gets it done no matter what. If Young was just an inch or two taller, he would be a Day 1 pick. Instead, he stands at 6-foot-3, 243 pounds, and wreaks havoc on the quarterback. He posted five sacks in 2021 and 5.5 in 2022. He is consistent and will only improve with more experience. Playing in the SEC is arguably the closest comparison to the NFL. There is no doubt that Young has the ability to come in and play right away for the Rams.
Les Snead has not drafted a QB since Jared Goff in 2017. Although Snead invested in Matthew Stafford last off-season, drafting a young signal caller to develop under the veteran makes complete sense. Baker Mayfield is not the new franchise quarterback. Using their 2nd or 3rd round selections seems unlikely to see a QB selected, but Les Snead has done crazier things. I would anticipate a late-round pick used to make an attempt to find a new backup QB. What are the options? Here are some of my suggestions:
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
A bit of a late bloomer, the Virginia Tech transfer changed the culture in Knoxville. In 2021 he posted 2,945 yards, 31 touchdowns, and three interceptions along with 620 yards on the ground. In his shortened 2022 campaign due to an ACL injury, Hooker compiled 3,135 yards, 27 touchdowns, and two interceptions. Hendon has all the physical tools to be an NFL quarterback at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, but needs to work on his pocket presence. The ACL injury could cause Hooker to fall a bit in the draft, possibly into the Rams’ hands.
Clayton Tune, Houston
Houston is one of the many college programs that run the air raid offense. QB Clayton Tune led the Cougars for the last three seasons, improving in each of them. In his final season, he threw for 3,845 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. The 6-foot-3 senior captured MVP honors in Houston’s win in the 2022 Independence Bowl over Louisiana. Tune is polished in all aspects of his game, the only question is the competition he faced in college.
Recent draft picks at the tight end position have yet to pan out for the Los Angeles Rams. Brycen Hopkins, a fourth-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has yet to carve out a consistent role in the offense. His teammate TE/WR Jacob Harris, also a fourth-round pick, has been playing tight for just over a year. Wide receiver Ben Skowronek saw action at the tight end position simply due to his strong ability to block.
Starting tight end Tyler Higbee’s volume went up over the course of the season simply because of his availability. The 29-year-old tight end started every game but continued his decline. Higbee posted a career-high in the number of targets despite a career low in yards per catch. Are Tyler’s days as a Ram short-lived? Could his replacement be found in the 2023 Draft? Here are some targets I like for the Rams at the tight end position:
Darnell Washington, Georgia
If it weren’t for Georgia TE Brock Bowers, backup Darnell Washington would be racking up numbers. Standing at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds tight end is built like a refrigerator. The big man posted 417 yards on 26 receptions and two touchdowns. Those numbers could have been almost double in just about any other situation. Washington is scary running down the field at that size. He could revolutionize the tight end position for the Rams.
Cameron Latu, Alabama
With good size and quickness, Latu projects as a capable NFL tight end. The Alabama product received an invite to the Senior Bowl because of his play at Alabama. In 2021 the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder compiled 26 receptions, 410 yards, and eight touchdowns. The tight end can find the end zone with regularity, the type of player the Rams are trying to find.
The 2023 NFL Draft is scheduled for Thursday, April 27th through Saturday, April 29th, and will be very important for the LA Rams roster for 2023 and beyond.