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Rams are back in the first round of the NFL draft ... for now

Rams are back in the first round of the NFL draft ... for now
Rams coach Sean McVay speaks to the media at the NFL's annual league meeting in Phoenix on March 26. (Matt York / Associated Press)

Going into his third NFL draft as coach of the Rams, Sean McVay could experience a first.

The Rams own the 31st pick, the first time during McVay’s tenure that they hold a first-round pick this close to the start of the draft, which begins Thursday in Nashville.

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“It’ll be fun,” McVay said when the Rams opened offseason workouts last week.

But there is no guarantee that the Rams will use the opportunity to pick in the first round — something they have not done since selecting quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick in 2016.

The Rams did not have a first-round pick in 2017, part of the price for trading up to No. 1 to select Goff the year before. They had the 23rd pick last year, but about a month before the draft they traded it to the New England Patriots for receiver Brandin Cooks.

On Thursday, with the second-to-last pick in the first round and without a second-round pick — the Rams traded it to the Kansas City Chiefs in a 2018 deal for cornerback Marcus Peters — the Rams might be inclined to trade back for more picks.

Asked if he anticipated trading out of the first round, McVay grinned.

“You never know,” he said.

During their last 10 years in St. Louis, the Rams’ poor to middling finishes made them a mainstay in the top half of the draft’s first round.

General manager Les Snead does not miss those days.

“Not at all,” he said.

In 2016 — coming off a 7-9 season in St. Louis — the newly relocated Rams made a splash in their return to Los Angeles. They traded up 14 spots and acquired the No. 1 pick from the Tennessee Titans to draft Goff.

Goff struggled as a rookie under former coach Jeff Fisher’s staff, but he has flourished under McVay. During two Pro Bowl seasons, Goff led the Rams to consecutive NFC West titles and to the Super Bowl last season.

Nearly every move the Rams made during the last two offseasons was to take advantage of the window of opportunity afforded by having a young and productive starting quarterback at a manageable salary.

In 2017, Goff carried a salary-cap number of $6.3 million. It was $7.6 million last season, and he is scheduled to have an $8.9 million cap number this season. The Seattle Seahawks signed quarterback Russell Wilson last week to a four-year $140-million contract extension with $107 million in guarantees, per overthecap.com.

Trading for the chance to select Goff — and surrounding him with talent — cost the Rams first-round picks in the last two drafts. But they have not suffered. Instead, they prospered by drafting effectively in lower rounds.

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In 2017, they selected tight end Gerald Everett in the second round, receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson in the third, and receiver Josh Reynolds and linebacker Samson Ebukam in the fourth. All played pivotal roles and made big plays the last two seasons.

Last year, the Rams did not have a second-round pick because they had traded it to the Buffalo Bills in a 2017 training-camp deal for receiver Sammy Watkins. They chose offensive lineman Joseph Noteboom in the third round, offensive lineman Brian Allen and defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers in the fourth and linebacker Micah Kiser in the fifth.

Noteboom is scheduled to start at left guard, Allen at center, Kiser possibly at inside linebacker, and Franklin-Myers could challenge to replace Ndamukong Suh.

As with all NFL teams, the Rams have spent the last year evaluating prospects during college practices and games, at college all-star games and the NFL scouting combine, and during pro days and individual team workouts.

With or without a first-round pick, the process has not changed, Snead said.

“Ever since we had that No. 1 overall pick, we’ve been kind of in this type of preparation,” he said of the 2016 selection. “So it feels the same.”

It could be different for McVay come draft day if the Rams select a player in the first round.

“We’re going to continue to trim that focus as we get closer and closer to that draft date,” he said. “Like anything else, the more experience you have with something, the better served you are to handle the inevitable things that do come up.”

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