ESPN recently put together power rankings based on how each NFL team is positioned for thee next three seasons. The Los Angeles Rams finished 28th. That is, um, not good. It's not good because, well, 28th is bad. It's really not good because of what the next three seasons represent for this franchise.
Thanks to heavy rainfall in a city that never experiences heavy rainfall, these next three years now constitute the buildup to the Rams -- and the Los Angeles Chargers -- moving into their vast, opulent $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California.
The Rams -- 13 years removed from their last playoff appearance, 14 years removed from their last winning season -- want to become legitimate contenders as quickly as possible. More specifically, they want to ensure they are a playoff-caliber franchise by the time they move into that new stadium. ESPN's Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates don't believe they will be -- at least not as currently constructed. The trio graded each team's roster, quarterback, draft, coaches and front office, and crunched the numbers to come up with a final score. The result: 27 of the 31 other teams are, in their minds, better positioned for success from 2017 through 2019.
The Rams can't have that. They can't have an uninterested fan base in the nation's second-largest media market, and they can't play second fiddle to the Chargers in a stadium they themselves are funding. Leading up to training camp, we're going to take a look at the five things that need to happen in order for the Rams to be a lot better than the 28th-best team at the conclusion of this three-year stretch.
No. 2: Draft better.
Three months ago, The Washington Post published an interesting breakdown that illustrated how each team fared in the draft during the 20-year stretch from 1996 to 2016. The Post took the cumulative approximate value for the first five seasons of each player selected and compared it to the expected approximate value for that player's respective draft slot. Each team was ranked with respect to the difference (the AV gap). Based on this measure, the Rams placed 16th from 2012 to '16, compiling an AV gap of plus-16.2 in the five drafts conducted by general manager Les Snead and former head coach Jeff Fisher.
They had some hits and they had some misses, and they needed to do better.
It's as simple as this: The Rams had five first-round picks from 2012 to '14, a total surpassed by only the Minnesota Vikings during that three-year stretch, and were unable to put together a winning team.
They hit on defensive players such as Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Alec Ogletree. But they whiffed on offensive players such as Greg Robinson and Brian Quick, and they're still waiting to find out how they did with Tavon Austin, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick who cost the Rams a first-round pick in 2017. There were a handful of late-round highlights like Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and T.J. McDonald, but some forgettable ones like Isaiah Pead and Barrett Jones. The Rams haven't drafted terribly; they just haven't drafted well enough. And with the latest collective bargaining agreement controlling rookie wages, a team's success is more tied to the draft now than it has ever been.
The Rams have built a solid defense but have been unable to construct an adequate offensive line or receiving corps despite burning some serious draft capital. In 2014 and '15, the Rams drafted seven offensive linemen, only one of whom, Rob Havenstein, has shown real promise. They then selected seven wide receivers and tight ends in 2016 and '17 and are now waiting for at least one player to separate himself from the pack.
This latest draft haul is an interesting one, because the Rams had only one pick within the first 68 slots and because it was the first one Snead conducted with rookie head coach Sean McVay.
"The sixth is my favorite -- concise, clear," Snead said after it was over. "It's a tribute to Sean. It really is."
For McVay and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Rams prioritized scheme fits over raw talent. They drafted an athletic tight end (Gerald Everett), a sure-handed slot receiver (Cooper Kupp), a versatile safety (John Johnson), a developing vertical threat (Josh Reynolds) and a gifted pass-rusher (Samson Ebukam) with their first five picks, caring very little about the popularity of their programs or where they fell on other draft boards. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Rams a C-minus, the lowest grade he distributed for the draft.
But that means very little right now. Nobody really knows how the Rams did in this draft just yet, not even the Rams themselves.
They just know they have to do better.