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Rams and Chargers have hit it big in the NFL draft, but that hasn’t always been the case

Ryan Leaf
San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf looks on during a game against the Buffalo Bills in September 1998.
(Todd Warshaw / Getty Images)

The Rams and Chargers wasted little time transforming into winning teams upon their return to Los Angeles.

In their second year back in L.A., the Rams went all the way to the Super Bowl. They did this with the help of several homegrown players they acquired via the NFL draft, which included Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald.

The Chargers rose to prominence in 2018, narrowly missing out on the AFC West title while making their first playoff appearance since 2013.

The cores of the Rams and Chargers were built via the draft. Over the last few seasons, the two franchises have leaned heavily on drafted talent, but that wasn’t true until just before they made their respective moves to Los Angeles. Over the last two decades, the two teams have had mixed results when it comes to their draft hauls.

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Using a stat called Approximate Value, we can determine how much the Rams and Chargers draft picks have contributed to each team’s success since 1998. The number, which was developed by profootballreference.com, attempts to rate the value of a player at any position from any season with a single number while utilizing several statistics. The top players in the metric typically have values between 270 and 240.

For every draft day since 1998, we took the picks they made and added the AV for how long they stayed with each team, and subtracted any additional AV draft picks earned with other teams.

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(Rahul Mukherjee / Los Angeles Times)

During the early 2000s, the Rams were drafting well and retaining good players. During the mid-2000s, they ended up trading a lot of that talent. The Chargers have mostly had average drafts since 1998 but have had a marked improvement under general manager Tom Telesco since 2013.

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Although the Chargers have had a few good drafts, the team’s adjusted value figures in the draft were adversely affected by the team trading away Eli Manning and Drew Brees. They’ve turned it around in the last few years with draft picks such as Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon.

The Rams had little success in the draft after the “Greatest Show on Turf” era featuring Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk in St. Louis. They spiked up between 2014 and 2016 with MVP-caliber candidates like Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley.

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(Rahul Mukherjee / Los Angeles Times)

Both franchises fumbled with franchise quarterbacks. The Chargers were affected mostly with Eli Manning demanding a trade on draft day, and Brees performing better with the Saints. The Rams don’t have as many notorious draft pick losses, with Ryan Fitzpatrick being the biggest draft pick they’ve lost.

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(Rahul Mukherjee / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams have struggled with drafting guards, and the Chargers haven’t had much success with tight ends outside of Antonio Gates. The Rams’ AV loss in guards mostly comes from Richie Incognito, who was waived by the Rams before earning four Pro Bowl selections between the Dolphins and Bills. Charger’s loss in AV via tight ends is split between Scott Chandler and Steve Heiden, who went on to have successful careers with the Bills and Browns, respectively.

Both teams haven’t had much success drafting quarterbacks, but each found a franchise passer — it just took some misses. The Chargers traded No. 1 pick Eli Manning to the Giants after the quarterback told team ownership before the 2004 draft he didn’t want to play for them. Later, they let Drew Brees walk in free agency after a shoulder injury almost derailed his prolific career. Plus, they had Philip Rivers to take his place.

As for the Rams, the team missed on Sam Bradford as the No. 1 pick in 2010. It wasn’t until Goff’s arrival that they rediscovered stability at the position.

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The Chargers and Rams have improved on their draft picks since 1998. Several of their best players are ones they selected in the draft. It remains to be seen home much their 2019 draft classes will play in helping them achieve success in the years ahead.


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