Re-grading the LA Rams' 2023 NFL Draft class after one season

2023 NFL Draft, LA Rams, The Pick is In
2023 NFL Draft, LA Rams, The Pick is In / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

After the LA Rams failed to make the 2022 NFL playoffs, or even to mount a winning season, the team's 5-12 finish seemed to trigger a series of events that were originally assessed as plans to rebuild for the future. The front office shed multiple massive contracts, whether by firesale trades or outright release, and entered the 2023 NFL Draft with a shopping list that covered, well, every position on the team.

The initial grades for the team's 2023 draft class were warm, but not nearly as high as other draft classes that proved to be far inferior after just one season.

GM Les Snead needed to hit on multiple draft picks in the draft. Thankfully, he was armed with multiple picks, the best falling early in Round 2 as the 36th overall. Ultimately, the front office had two goals: First - Select at least three starting caliber prospects from the 2023 NFL Draft. Secondly, the team has to find a way to fill in the hole between early in Round 3 to late in Round 5.

They did far more than that. The personnel, scouting, and data analytics team combined for a rout in the 2023 NFL Draft. Led by Snead, the Rams emerged with multiple starters on both days from the draft, and reestablished the team that almost all NFL pundits, insiders, analysts, and sportscasters had written off for dead. They almost proved to be correct when the team stumbled into their Week 10 BYE with a disappoint 3-6 record.

But this was no ordinary team. Fueled by passion for the game, they burst back onto the scene in Week 11, finishing off the season with a red-hot 7-1 run.

There is no guesswork for 2024. The LA Rams are poised to compete in the postseason and have realistic aspirations of competing in and winning Super Bowl LIX.

When grading the class, we factored in production, performance, and value. Hint: The LA Rams hit the jackpot twice by drafting NT Kobie Turner in Round 3 as well as WR Puka Nacua in Round 5.

Handing out grades for Rams 2023 draft class one year later

Round 2 (36): Steve Avila, IOL

The team had to make a statement with their 36th overall pick of the draft, and did so instantly be adding a very physical interior offensive lineman out of TCU named Steve Avila. Avila was a powerhouse road grader whose versatility allows him to line up anywhere between the offensive tackles. His arrival marked a new era of the Rams offensive line, one that seemed to be a high priority for the entire football team.

Avila was incredible. He did not miss a single snap all season. In the end, the rookie left guard played 1,148 offensive snaps, and only allowed two quarterback sacks, and committed just two penalties. The Rams could not have asked for more

Grade: A

Round 3 (77): Byron Young, OLB

Not many draft analysts were warmed to the selection of Tennessee outside linebacker Byron Young with the 77th overall pick. While nobody protested over his potential, many cited his age at 25 as too old to make an impact as a rookie, while others nagged about his size at 6-foot-2 and 250-pound weight. Funny thing is, they could not have been more wrong.

Young was a cornerstone of the Rams revitalized defense, playing 969 defensive snaps, and recording 61 tackles, 8.0 quarterback sacks, and generating 19 quarterback hits. Those numbers were good enough to lead all rookie edge rushers. Young was a Day 1 starter and proved to deserve that honor time and time again.

And he will undoubtedly prove to be even stronger in 2024.

Grade: A+

Round 3 (89): Kobie Turner, NT

It's amazing that rookie nose tackle Kobie Turner's reception by analysts and fans was so cool. You see, he tied Aaron Donald's rookie quarterback sack total with 9.0 sacks for the Rams in his first NFL season. And before you dishonor Turner by proclaiming that he benefited from offensive linemen double-teaming Donald, statistics prove that Turner was double-teamed 71 percent of the time in 2023 to Donald's 63 percent.

Turner stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 288 pounds. That led many fans and analysts to view his selection in Round 3 as a reach, because he was considered to be too small to be effective as an NFL nose tackle and not physical and agile enough to play the 3-tech or 5-tech role. In the end, "The Conductor" led all rookies with 9.0 quarterback sacks, adding 57 tackles and 16 quarterback hits as well.

Whether or not you believe him to be up to the challenge, he is the undisputed heir to Aaron Donald's role in 2024.

Grade: A+ (even that seems low)

Round 4 (128): Stetson Bennett, QB

It's tough to get a good read on backup quarterback Stetson Bennett, with so much mystery surrounding his noticeable absence from the team throughout his rookie season. He certainly seemed to be making a very positive impression on the coaching staff throughout OTAs and training camp, frequently being named in positive periodic updates. and the fact is that he put up a very impressive performance in his first preseason game.

For whatever reason he was absent from the team, he has been noted by multiple sources to be working very hard to return to the team and compete for a spot once more in 2024. Except for not being present to lead the offense in Week 9 during Matthew Stafford's injury, his absence was to be expected. I weighed the option of grading him in several ways, but he is back on the roster to compete once more in 2024.

Grade: C-

Round 5 (161): Nick Hampton, OLB

Nick Hampton was the second of three outside linebackers added to the roster in the 2023 NFL Draft. Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 235 pounds, the former Appalachian State edge rusher had a lot to prove in his rookie season. Still, out of 66 defensive snaps in what amounted to the final five games of the 2023 NFL season, he did manage to show up in the box scores.

Hampton ended the year recording four tackles. But he did manage to break up one of two passes thrown at his receiver, ending the year with a 50 percent completion rate. The team will likely look for more production and a larger role out of Hampton in 2024 and I believe that he can deliver and perhaps even exceed those expectations.

Grade: C

Round 5 (174): Warren McClendon, OT

When the LA Rams added offensive tackle Warren McClendon, the move was designed to be a depth addition. His presence proved to be valuable, as he managed to see action on 32 offensive snaps. He rested starting RT Rob Havenstein for 26 plays in Week 18, ensuring that Havenstein would be healthy and rested for the NFL playoffs.

Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 300 pounds, McClendon is a strategic backup who can slide into either offensive tackle position for the team. Now, having earned some starting playing time last season, McClendon will be able to make significant strides toward competing for even more playing time this season.

Grade: B-

Round 5 (175): Davis Allen, TE

The addition of TE Davis Allen was most likely an effort to pre-arm the roster with an additional tight end to compensate for the anticipated loss of Brycen Hopkins at the end of the 2023 NFL season. The presence of Allen initially seemed to be overkill, as the team already had a crowded tight end room with Tyler Higbee, Hunter Long, and Brycen Hopkins already vying for playing time.

Unfortunately, Hunter Long struggled to stay healthy all season long. Perhaps even more frustrating is the face that Brycen Hopkins could not earn playing time even in his contract season. That meant that rookie Davis Allen saw action in 192 offensive plays.

Grade: B

Round 5 (177): Puka Nacua, WR

There has never been a rookie wide receiver like Puka Nacua in the history of the NFL. That's not homerism. That simply reading and understanding the NFL history annals. Nacua's 105 receptions and 1,486 receiving yards as an NFL rookie are both All-Time NFL records. Toss in another 89 rushing yards and six receiving touchdowns and you see why the Rams are so excited about what the future will bring.

Nacua is a powerful and physical wide receiver, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 202 pounds. He followed up his record setting rookie season by putting up an even more impressive encore in the 2024 NFL Playoffs. Against a pretty good Lions defense, Nacua caught nine of ten passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.

He was the 177th player selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, in Round 5. He is a record setter who is getting better.

Grade: A+ (Even that grade seems way too low)

Round 6 (182): Tre'vius Hodges-Tomlinson (a.k.a. Tre Tomlinson), CB

Tre Tomlinson had a very productive college career as a cornerback for TCU. But his size at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds persuaded teams to steer clear of him. The Rams finally selected him in Round 6. Tomlinson earned a roster spot, and was eased into the defense. Unfortunately, he appeared to be overmatched in his rookie season. He was primarily a special teams player, but did manage to see some action on defense.

In coverage, he allowed five of six passes to find their mark, including one pass for a touchdown. He did manage to put up 13 tackles, but more than half of those occured on special teams. Tomlinson has more work to do, which is as expected. But if he can learn from veteran DB Darious Williams in 2024, he could improve his game rapidly.

Grade: C+

Round 6 (189): Ochaun Mathis, OLB

Despite the late selection, there was plenty of positive energy when the team added former Nebraska outside linebacker Ochaun Mathis. The team needed immediate depth at the position, and Mathis felt like a competitor who could earn a roster spot and perhaps contribute some quarterback pressure. Mathis did earn a roster spot.

Unfortunately, an early season injury derailed his progress. He appeared in just eight games for the team, and played 74 defensive snaps. He managed two tackles, one quarterback pressure and one quarterback knock down in 2023. But he remains a powerful force off the edge at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, and he is expected to contribute much more in 2024.

Grade: C+

Round 6 (215): Zach Evans, RB

Despite his late selection, there was a lot of hope that running back Zach Evans might prove to be a rotational player in the team's quest to churn out yards on the ground in 2024. Unfortunately, even though the team's top two rushers fell to injury simultaneously, Evans struggled for playing time. He has all of the makings of a competent NFL running, standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 202 pounds. But even after the team traded away RB Cam Akers, and lost both Kyren Williams and Ronnie Rivers to injury, the team signed former RB Darrell Henderson Jr. off the street and started him over Evans.

Still, Evans is back with the team, and just one of three running backs on the roster. If he simply needs more time to get up to speed, he will show up this season. But with 16 offensive snaps, nine rushes, and just 19 rushing yards, Evans will need to show more to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster this season.

Grade: C-

Round 7 (223): Ethan Evans, P

When the team drafted punter Ethan Evans in Round 7, they added one of the most intriguing punters in the NFL. You see, not only does Evans punt the football with his powerful leg, but he also handles all of the kickoff duties as well. That may be a bit unorthodox, but it does give the team an added bonus out of the starting punter role.

Despite his first season in the NFL, Evans's leg powered the Rams to the eighth-ranked punting average of 49.2 yards per punt. With his first season underway, he will have another round of OTAs and training camp to improve the speed at which he gets the punt off, as well as increasing his hang time to help out the coverage unit.

Grade: A

Round 7 (234): Jason Taylor II, S

The team added vital depth to the secondary with the selection of safety Jason Taylor II. While his role was very limited due to an early season injury, he did manage to see limited action on defense, while playing a larger role on special team coverage units. Standing 6-foot-0 and weighing 204 pounds, Taylor's role will likely grow in 2024, as he will return for his second season on the team.

Taylor even appeared in the 2024 NFL Playoffs, evidence that he had earned the trust of the coaching staff for more responsibility. He finished the season and postseason with six tackles on just 42 defensive snaps.

Grade: B-

Round 7 (259): Desjuan Johnson, DL

While the LA Rams version of Mr. Irrelevant did not quarterback them to the NFL Championship Game (as did San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy), Defensive lineman Desjuan Johnson was a pleasant surprise for the team when he had his chance on defense. Despite a limited role (only 102 defensive snaps) in his rookie season, Johnson appeared in 11 games, putting up nine tackles, 2.0 quarterback sacks, two tackles for a loss, and two quarterback hits.

It may be that the team was so impressed with Johnson that they did not make an effort to extend starting DE Jonah Williams. It's clear that Johnson will have the opportunity to play a much larger role on the defense in 2024.

Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A+

Looking back, the Rams not only landed more starters than expected, but a number of other rookies are poised to play a much larger role in their second seasons.

As always, thanks for reading.