Without first-round pick since Jared Goff in 2016, Rams aim low, shoot high

Rams coach Sean McVay (left) and general manager Les Snead will be running their fourth NFL draft together.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Panning his computer camera around his home office, Sean McVay revealed a bank of newly installed monitors. The Rams’ coach was giving a virtual tour of the team’s “command center” for the NFL’s first virtual draft.

“It looks like I can set off a spaceship at this thing,” McVay said Tuesday during a video conference with reporters.

McVay and general manager Les Snead have been preparing in earnest for the draft almost from the moment the Rams completed a disappointing 9-7 season and missed the playoffs.


Much has changed in the world since December because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NFL, however, did not postpone the start of free agency in March, and the draft will go on as scheduled Thursday through Saturday, albeit via computers and phone lines from the homes of NFL coaches, general managers and other team and league executives.

McVay, Snead, chief operating officer Kevin Demoff and vice president Tony Pastoors have had their homes outfitted by Rams information technology personnel.

The Rams do not have a pick in the first round Thursday — they traded their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars for cornerback Jalen Ramsey last October — but have two picks in the second round, two in the third and one in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds.

The 2020 NFL draft is on Thursday, and NFL team beat writers have made their first-round picks in The Times’ annual reporters mock draft.

April 17, 2020

“We’ve got a nice opportunity to be patient on Thursday, and then Friday will be an exciting chance for us to get four picks off the board,” McVay said. “But you know Les Snead. He’s a wheeler and dealer, you never know.”

Snead, general manager since 2012, never has been shy about trading up in the draft to fill a need. In 2016, the Rams moved up a record 14 spots to take quarterback Jared Goff with the first pick. The Rams have not chosen a player in the first round since.

On Tuesday, Snead did not rule out trading into the first round, but a more probable scenario would have the Rams trading the 52nd and/or 57th picks to move back and acquire more picks.

The 57th pick came courtesy of the April 9 trade that sent receiver Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans.


So in a draft regarded as extremely deep in receiver talent, the Rams might look to bolster a corps that includes Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. Kupp and Reynolds are in the final year of their rookie contracts.

Clemson's Tee Higgins makes a catch against Virginia's Nick Grant.
With so much wide receiver talent in the NFL draft, could Clemson’s Tee Higgins fall to the second round?
(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

Barring a trade, top receiver prospects such as Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Louisiana State’s Justin Jefferson, Clemson’s Tee Higgins and others are not expected to be available when the Rams make their first pick.

“It’s imperative for us, our scouting staff working with our coaching staff, to maybe get beyond some of the household names that make this draft deep, that are probably going to go in the top 32 and find some of those players that have a skill set that can fit into Sean’s offense,” Snead said.

The Rams also could be looking for edge rushers, offensive linemen and cornerbacks, among other positions.

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

April 17, 2020

Since their return to Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016, Snead has proven adept at finding productive players in the lower rounds. Players such as Kupp, a third-round pick, and tight end Gerald Everett, a second-round pick, cemented their predraft standing with the Rams during private workouts.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NFL prevented team personnel from traveling to evaluate prospects in private workouts.

“Those are really beneficial things to get that up close and feel, most importantly for the human being,” McVay said. “But then also some of the physical things that you’re looking for. That’s where you get a little bit minimized.”


In the aftermath of last week’s revelation that offensive lineman Brian Allen had tested positive for COVID-19, McVay was asked if any other player or member of the organization has tested positive. “Not that I know of,” he said. ... Backup quarterback John Wolford is “more than capable of continuing to ascend and develop,” McVay said. “You never know exactly how this thing sorts itself out, but if you said, ‘We’re going into a season and John Wolford’s the backup, and God forbid something happened to Jared, do you think he can come in operate and have you function as an offense?’ The answer is absolutely.”