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Rams' No. 1 priority in NFL draft could be finding gems in later rounds again

Rams' No. 1 priority in NFL draft could be finding gems in later rounds again
The logo for the 2019 NFL draft is seen with a cowboy boot in Nashville. (Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

This year, at least, there will be suspense for the Rams.

They hold the 31st pick in the first round of the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Nashville. They must decide whether to use the pick, trade back for more picks or — far more unlikely because of their lack of draft capital — attempt to trade up.

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Those are three options general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay could not even consider during the last two drafts because the Rams did not have a first-round pick. They traded their 2017 pick to Tennessee as part of the 2016 deal that enabled them to draft quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick. About a month before last year’s draft, they sent the 23rd pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks.

After being denied the opportunity in his first two seasons with the Rams, is McVay eager to experience making a first-round pick?

“I don’t think so,” he deadpanned this week.

The Rams have done just fine without one during McVay’s tenure, winning consecutive NFC West titles and advancing to the Super Bowl. Last year they did not have a second-round pick, either.

But in the last two drafts they still netted players such as tight end Gerald Everett, receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds, safety John Johnson, linebacker Samson Ebukam, offensive linemen Joseph Noteboom and Brian Kelly, linebacker Micah Kiser and defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers.

So now they have the 31st pick, the second-to-last pick in the first round. Barring a major slide by a top prospect, it’s a spot to find what is generally regarded as second-round talent rather than first.

Snead said he recently joked with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips that not having a first-round pick the last two years was tough but it forced the Rams to focus on the later rounds of the draft, where premium talent is not as obvious. The Rams have six picks in Rounds 3 through 7.

“We’ve been swimming in these waters,” Snead said. “That’s the benefit of the last two years.”

This is a draft that is regarded as deep in defensive line and passing-rushing talent. That could work in favor of the Rams, who are in need of defensive linemen to help replace Ndamukong Suh.

There is only so much depth to be mined, however, in the 30 picks ahead of the Rams’.

“It could get really thin,” Snead said. “So, there’s some good and bad to being a deep defensive line class.”

The Rams also will be looking to add offensive linemen. Two selected last year — Noteboom and Kelly — apprenticed as reserves in 2018 and are on track to start in the upcoming season.

“We’d love to be able to do that once again,” Snead said.

A talented cornerback that slides to 31 would intrigue the Rams. So too might a player such as Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, a top prospect who could drop because he is coming off February knee surgery.

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Snead said the Rams would be prepared for all scenarios as players come off the board.

“I don’t think I’m smart enough to figure out who falls to 31,” he said, “so you could be guns a blazing to trade back, but somebody falls to 31 that maybe puts a governor on that thought.

“I think it will be, if you pick at 31 … you’ll get a quality player.”

McVay is not overly concerned.

“There’s going to a lot of quality players that we find in this draft, like the last couple, that are going to be key contributors,” he said. “Once they get in the building for us, if they’re a caliber of player that we expect to contribute, that’s the most important thing.”

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