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Rams don't have picks in first two rounds of NFL draft, but many a star has emerged from Round 3

It felt like something of a slight to Jackie Slater.

The offensive lineman from Jackson State had been led by some to believe he might be selected in the first round of the 1976 NFL draft.

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But he was not selected until the third round, when the Rams chose him with the 86th pick.

"I was very excited about it," Slater said, "but I adopted the mentality of having a chip on my shoulder, relative to wanting to show people I should have been picked higher."

Slater played his entire 20-year career with the Rams and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is not the only third-round pick with a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.

Joe Montana, Dan Fouts, Terrell Owens, Jason Taylor, Mel Blount and Art Shell are among other Hall of Famers who were third-round picks.

Current stars chosen in the third round include Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

"It's naïve," Slater said, "to conclude that you can't find a top-shelf, top-quality guy in the third round."

Giants linebacker Brian Kelly is brought down by Rams offensive lineman Jackie Slater after intercepting a pass during a game in October of 1979.
Giants linebacker Brian Kelly is brought down by Rams offensive lineman Jackie Slater after intercepting a pass during a game in October of 1979. (Andy Hayt / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams intend to prove that again this week when the draft is held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Rams gave up their first-round pick — the No. 23 selection — in a trade for receiver Brandin Cooks a few weeks ago. They sent their second-round pick to the Buffalo Bills last summer in a trade for receiver Sammy Watkins, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in March.

So, barring a trade that enables them to move higher, the Rams will monitor Thursday's first round, track Friday's second round, and then choose a player later that day in the third round with the 87th overall pick.

The Rams also have three fourth-round picks and four sixth-round picks.

"We're going to give up all our sixes for somebody's first," general manager Les Snead joked.

This is the second consecutive year the Rams will not have a first-round pick. They gave the Tennessee Titans their pick in 2017 as part of the 2016 trade that enabled the Rams to move to the top of the draft to select quarterback Jared Goff.

Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees, from left, Mike Munchak, Nick Buoniconti, Jackie Slater, Lynn Swann, Ron Yary, Jack Youngblood and Marv Levy stand with their busts in 2001.
Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees, from left, Mike Munchak, Nick Buoniconti, Jackie Slater, Lynn Swann, Ron Yary, Jack Youngblood and Marv Levy stand with their busts in 2001. (David Maxwell / Getty Images)

Last year the Rams chose receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson in the third round with the Nos. 69 and 91 picks, respectively. Both contributed from the start of the season and were starters by its end.

The Rams did not have a third-round pick in 2016 — another byproduct of the Goff trade. The year before, they selected offensive lineman Jamon Brown in the third round with the 72nd pick. Brown started 16 games at right guard last season.

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Gil Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboys executive and longtime draft analyst, said the Rams proved in the last few drafts that they can identify talent in the third round and beyond. That should serve the Rams well in a year when they will watch 86 players come off the board before they make their pick.

"It's a draft where almost up to [the first] 100 guys that you're going to get a good pick," Brandt said.

Taylor Morton, the Rams' senior personnel advisor, said regardless of where a team picks, scouts evaluate all prospects. He recalled in 2011, when he was with the Atlanta Falcons, the team made a draft-day trade to move from No. 27 to No. 6 to select receiver Julio Jones.

"You scout everybody the same," he said, "and then you get into April draft meetings and you're prepared no matter what happens."

The Rams are seemingly set at quarterback with Goff, who ascended into a top-10 passer last season under coach Sean McVay. But Rams scouts watched and turned in reports on USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen and other quarterbacks in this year's class.

"In four or five years, we can use that information," Morton said, "particularly with the background and character in terms of free agency."

Without a first-round pick last year, the scouting department was eager for an opportunity to contribute input this year, "to get the first round right," said Brad Holmes, the Rams' director of college scouting.

At the end of the season, the Rams' most pressing draft need appeared to be cornerback. That focus shifted after Snead traded for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and signed free agent Sam Shields. It changed again when the Rams sent their first-round pick to the New England Patriots for Cooks.

Now the Rams must watch other teams choose more than seven dozen players ahead of them.

"It actually made it a lot more fun — but even more challenging," Holmes said. "For the competitor in everybody … to dial in to those third-, fourth- and sixth-rounders, even undrafted free agents.

"It forces you to deep-dive and scrutinize it even more than ever."

And there is always the possibility of more surprises.

"There's stuff that happens the day of the draft, there's stuff that happens the day before the draft — you just don't know what's going to happen," Holmes said. "Guys start falling and you're like, 'Whoa, I wasn't expecting that.'

"You just never know."

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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