LA Rams experiment drafting athletic rookies in 2021 failed

2022 NFL Draft - Red Carpet
2022 NFL Draft - Red Carpet / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

When the LA Rams entered the 2021 NFL Draft, the team was filled with positive momentum. After all, the team had rebounded from a disappointing 2019 season with a record of 9-7 to finish with a record of 10-6, despite parting ways with veteran RB Todd Gurley and trading veteran WR Brandin Cooks. And despite a late injury to starting quarterback Jared Goff, the Rams competed up to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, only falling short when the team had to travel to Lambeau field to face the Green Bay Packers.

When the Rams entered the 2021 NFL Draft, the needs for the Rams roster was more about depth than Day 1 starters, and the team's draft strategy reflected that, particularly in the selection of so many incredibly athletic but very raw rookie prospects. Like who?

2021 NFL Draft results

So how did the LA Rams do in terms of matching elite athleticism to the Rams roster needs? Here are the results of the 2021 NFL Draft, with the prospects' RAS scores:

  1. Round 2 - WR Tutu Atwell, RAS score 6.26
  2. Round 3 - ILB Ernest Jones, RAS score 6.4
  3. Round 4 - DT Bobby Brown, RAS score 9.82
  4. Round 4 - DB Robert Rochell, RAS score 9.65
  5. Round 4 - TE/WR Jacob Harris, RAS score 9.28
  6. Round 5 - DE Earnest Brown IV, RAS score 4.7
  7. Round 7 - RB Jake Funk, RAS Score 9.76
  8. Round 7 - WR Ben Skowronek, RAS Score undetermined
  9. Round 7 - OLB Chris Garrett, RAS Score 6.6

So what is RAS? RAS is the anacronym that stands for Relative Athletic Score. Developed by Kent Lee Platte, RAS is a comparative metric that takes all of a player's NFL Combine measurables — height, weight, wingspan, hand size, athletics, and drill results — and distills all measurements into a single relative index on a scale of 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest). The index also factors in the NFL positional group, to ensure that players are compared to other players that play the same position. Relative in the name suggests that the value holds no independent value or meaning. Rather, it is simply a numeric score used to rank players, or this player relative to other players of this positional group.

As you can see by the table above, the LA Rams selected four players whose RAS score exceeded 9.2, meaning that they were among the top 10 percent of athletes who played at their position group. But how did these players do when put to the test in an NFL roster?

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LA Rams should not draft on athleticism alone

Two of the players have already been released just two seasons later: TE/WR Jacob Harris and RB Jake Funk. And of the other two athletes, DB Robert Rochell and DT Bobby Brown, neither has earned enough playing time to consider either a success just yet.

While I don't believe that this small sample eliminates athleticism of a rookie prospect to be considered in the final tally of who to draft, it certainly weighs heavily against relying upon a rookie's overall athleticsim to determine the potential success of that player's NFL career. Of the team's four 'elite athletes' chosen in 2021, two have been abandoned by the Rams less than two years later.

It's clear from this small sample that athleticism plays only a small role in the ultimate determination of whether or not a rookie will succeed in the NFL. While it is too late to go back in time and re-do the results of the 2021 NFL Draft, the LA Rams could and should use that experience to ensure not to weigh a rookies Relative Athletic Score (RAS) too heavily in their analysis and assessment process.

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Ultimately, it appears that the greatest influences over a rookie prospect's chances of success in the NFL come down to coaching and opportunity. And that has not changed for a very long time.