Cooper Kupp is best example of how Rams have hit it big in third round of NFL drafts
No first-round pick. No second-round pick.
That is the mindset among the Super Bowl champion Rams’ front office on the eve of the three-day NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Las Vegas.
The Rams have valid reason not to fret.
During the Sean McVay era, which began in 2017, the third round has proved bountiful for a franchise that aggressively signs or trades for star players and then surrounds them with mid- to late-round contributors.
A quarter of the NFL teams don’t have a draft pick in first round, but that doesn’t worry the champion Rams or the other seven teams with alternate plans.
Eight players on the roster for the Super Bowl LVI victory over the Cincinnati Bengals were selected by the Rams in the third round of the last five drafts, including star receiver Cooper Kupp, the NFL offensive player of the year.
“Sometimes it’s a little, maybe not easier, but refreshing in that when you’re picking earlier, you’re often trying to find a freak, something freakish, something wow,” Rams general manager Les Snead said. “Where usually when you get into the second, third, fourth rounds, you’re just, ‘Hey, let’s find players that can play good football for us.’ ”
Barring a trade to move into the first round, the Rams will not be active during opening night. The Rams have not selected a player in the first round since 2016, when they traded up 14 spots to pick quarterback Jared Goff. They gave up this year’s first-round pick as part of the January 2021 trade that sent Goff to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The Rams also lack a second-round pick, courtesy of October’s trade with the Denver Broncos that netted outside linebacker Von Miller, who has since signed a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills.
McVay, Snead and the personnel staff will spend much of early Friday evening preparing to ramp into high gear when the third round begins.
The Rams’ don’t have a pick in the NFL draft until Round 3, but they didn’t have a top pick last season either and ended up with a championship.
The Rams have eight picks, including one in the third round (No. 103), one in the fourth (No. 142), one in the fifth (No. 175), three in the sixth (Nos. 211, 212 and 218) and two in the seventh (Nos. 238 and 253).
Examining the players the Rams have selected in the third round since 2017:
Players selected: Receiver Cooper Kupp (No. 69) and safety John Johnson (No. 91).
How they fared: Kupp has become the poster boy for third-round draft picks.
As a rookie, he teamed with veteran receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins to give the team a potent passing attack that complemented star running back Todd Gurley and helped the Rams make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
In 2018, a midseason knee injury sidelined Kupp for the Rams’ Super Bowl run but he amassed more than 1,100 yards receiving in 2019. Kupp signed an extension before the 2020 season and emerged as a star in 2021, winning the league’s offensive player of the year award. He is due for an extension that could make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers.
Johnson became a starter early in his rookie season. In Year 2, his interception against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game set up a game-winning field goal that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl. In March 2021, Johnson signed a massive free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns.
Player selected: Offensive lineman Joe Noteboom (No. 89).
How he fared: Selected as the heir apparent to left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Noteboom showed his versality during a four-year apprenticeship.
In 2019, Noteboom started at guard before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He played as a reserve tackle the last two seasons, and also was utilized as an extra tight end in so-called heavy formations.
Reporters who cover their teams on a daily basis predict how the first round of the 2022 NFL draft will unfold in The Times’ beat writers’ mock draft.
In March, just before Whitworth announced his retirement, Noteboom signed a three-year contract that included $25 million in guarantees and could be worth as much as $40 million.
Players selected: Running back Darrell Henderson (No. 70), cornerback David Long Jr. (No. 79) and offensive lineman Bobby Evans (No. 97).
How they fared: Henderson ostensibly was drafted as a potential change-of-pace back to complement Gurley. Henderson has been prone to injuries but has been productive when physically sound.
Long began last season as a starter and intercepted a pass in the opener against the Chicago Bears but lost his job after struggling in a defeat against the Arizona Cardinals. Long kept working, reemerged as a valuable contributor late in the season and started in the Super Bowl.
As a rookie, Evans stepped in for injured right tackle Rob Havenstein and started seven games. He also has played guard.
Players selected: Outside linebacker Terrell Lewis (No. 84) and safety Terrell Burgess (No. 104).
How they fared: At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds Lewis looks the part of an elite edge rusher. But a knee issue slowed him for most of his rookie season, and in 2021 he struggled to crack a depth chart that in the second half included Miller, Obo Okoronkwo and Justin Hollins. Lewis still finished with three sacks. The departures of Miller and Okoronkwo could provide him with an opportunity to fulfill his potential.
Burgess was coming on as a rookie before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Last season, he was a rotational player on defense and a special teams mainstay.
Other than his first pick as Chargers general manager, Tom Telesco has done very well with first-round selections. The rest has been hit and miss, as with the rest of the NFL.
Player selected: Linebacker Ernest Jones (No. 103).
How he fared: Jones’ quick development was one reason the Rams traded linebacker Kenny Young near midseason.
Jones intercepted a pass against the Houston Texans in his first start and played well before suffering a late-season ankle injury that sidelined him for the last two regular-season games and the first two games of the playoffs.
With the addition of six-time All-Pro inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, Jones has a premiere mentor.
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