View Original Notice ? Whicker: Von Miller trade shows how Rams avoid getting swept up in draft
There’s a misconception that Les Snead, the Cody Bellinger of NFL general managers, doesn’t like draft choices. On the contrary, he loves them deeply enough to set them free.
He also has studied this stuff enough to know that if draft choices were gold, Jacksonville would be El Dorado.
Beginning in 2012 the Jaguars have had the fifth pick, the second, the third, the third, the fifth, the fourth, the second, the seventh, the ninth and the first. They remain a developmental squad for the rest of the NFL.
Snead’s Rams, who already donated their first-round pick in 2022 to Detroit for quarterback Matthew Stafford, gave Denver their second- and third-round picks in exchange for 32-year-old pass rusher and former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.
One might think those picks will be playing football long after Miller has left to analyze, coach or design clothes. Maybe, maybe not.
If Miller finds enough quarterbacks in the playoffs, or if he creates enough single-team matchups for Leonard Floyd on the other side, Snead really won’t care what the picks become. Just as long as they’re happy.
As we all know, roster-building is the proverbial three-legged stool. There’s the draft, there’s trading, and there’s free agency.
It’s easy to declare that you’re building through the draft because it is a plea for patience, from fans and ownership. It makes you look seriously meticulous.
But the draft is a wickedly inexact science, and unless your No. 1 overall pick coincides with the emergence of Joe Burrow or Myles Garrett, he will be an inevitable disappointment. Combine that with a rookie contract that only lasts four years, and time closes in on those long-term dreams.
The current iteration of the Cleveland Browns came into being in 1999 and they have picked eighth or higher 12 times in their first 19 drafts. It hasn’t gotten them anywhere yet, even though Garrett (2017) and Baker Mayfield (2018) are two of their No. 1 overall picks.
Meanwhile, the New England Patriots’ 15th pick of the 2021 first round was their highest since 2008. They took Alabama’s Mac Jones, so they might not need to pick another QB until 2031.
At the moment, Thousand Oaks will not be the nerve center of the 2022 draft. The Rams did get an extra third-rounder as compensation for Brad Holmes, who left to become Detroit’s general manager. Snead points out that the Rams will be compensated for players lost in free agency and predicts they’ll have eight picks in 2022, or thereabouts.
In 2023 they lose their first and fourth-round picks as part of the Stafford and Sony Michel deals but still have their second- and third-rounders, at this writing anyway.
Snead has been burned by this, but it leaves him as unafraid as a strikeout leaves Bellinger.
He gave Tennessee six picks so he could draft Jared Goff No. 1 overall in 2016. One of them became two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry. The Rams could also have used wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith. And, sure, they could have solved their QB needs by using Pick No. 76 on Rayne Dakota Prescott of Mississippi State.
But it says here that Goff quarterbacked the Rams in a Super Bowl, which the Titans watched on TV.
Snead also plucked Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville in exchange for two first-rounders and a fourth. The two firsts are edge rusher K’lavon Chiasson and running back Travis Etienne, and the fourth is edge rusher Jordan Smith.
Etienne is out for the year and Chiasson has one sack and two tackles for loss, and Smith is third on the depth chart behind Chiasson.
In 2017 Snead picked up Dante Fowler from Jacksonville, for a third-round pick in 2019 and a fifth-rounder in 2020. They became linebacker Quincy Williams and receiver Collin Johnson, now with the New York Jets and New York Giants, respectively.
Fowler hit New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in overtime of the NFC championship game and forced an interception, by John Johnson, that set up the winning field goal. That made it worthwhile. That’s all Miller has to do.
What’s overlooked is how Snead’s own second- and third-day drafting formed the underpinnings of the current Rams.
This year he got linebacker Ernest Jones. In 2020 he got receiver Van Jefferson, running back Cam Akers and defensive captain Jordan Fuller.
In 2019 he got safety Taylor Rapp, running back Darrell Henderson, defensive tackle Greg Gaines and offensive lineman David Edwards between rounds two through five. In 2017 he got Gerald Everett, a useful tight end now with Seattle, in the second round, and then swiped Cooper Kupp, the NFL’s yardage leader among receivers, in the third.
In the words of the late, great basketball coach John Chaney, “You go with the known and you leave the unknown alone.” Snead will keep swinging for the fences until there’s a celebration at home plate. He’ll let you keep the foul balls.