Rams must address their growing needs without a first-round pick


Don’t expect much action from the Los Angeles Rams when the 2020 NFL draft begins Thursday. The trade for cornerback Jalen Ramsey in October made it likely that for the fourth consecutive year, the Rams and general manager Les Snead will not make a first-round selection.

But this year the Rams do own seven picks, including two in the second round (No. 52 and No. 57) and two in the third round (No. 84 and No. 104).

The Rams had plenty of needs entering the offseason, and that was before they released running back Todd Gurley and traded Brandin Cooks.

They solved some issues in free agency — mostly on the defensive line — with the return of Michael Brockers, who initially agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens before re-signing in L.A. The Rams also agreed to terms with tackle A’Shawn Robinson and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, though the team has yet to announce that either player has signed.

But several position groups remain in need of reinforcements, or perhaps even starting-caliber talent.

Here’s a look at several needs the Rams are expected to address in the draft.

Offensive line

The Rams re-signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard/center Austin Blythe in free agency. Their returns are paramount to maintain continuity as younger players continue their development.

Whitworth is 38 years old, however, and even though he signed a new three-year, $30 million deal, it’s uncertain how much longer he can play.

Joe Noteboom, a third-round pick in 2018 who was sidelined last year because of a season-ending knee injury, and Bobby Evans, a 2019 third-round pick, are internal candidates to eventually replace Whitworth, but Snead said the draft could also provide options.

“We would always probably ideally like to take a tackle and train that player at guard to not only give him versatility but an element of slightly more athleticism inside, but that doesn’t always necessarily work,” Snead said.

Running back

Gurley is gone, leaving a gaping hole in the Rams’ backfield.

Second-year player Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, a sixth-year pro, will shoulder the load.

But it’s also likely that the Rams will look to supplement the group through the draft as they potentially move toward a running-back-by-committee approach.

“It has been proven that many names, Hall of Famers, have come from the middle to the back of the draft and there’s obviously some really, really good names that come early in the draft,” said Snead of the running back position. “So I think like every position, maybe the spectrum of talent is a little different from a player drafted in the first round, second round versus the fourth, but with the running game it does require things other than talent, that you can be successful having maybe a lesser level of talent running the football, the key being figuring out how we want to run the ball, right?”

Receiver

Receiver did not appear to be a position of concern but one of strength when the Rams entered the offseason, given their depth with Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds.

But now Cooks is gone, having been traded to the Houston Texans in exchange for a second-round pick, and depth is thin in 2020 and looking ahead to 2021.

Reynolds and Cooks are entering the final season of their rookie contracts, and there are no proven reinforcements on the roster.

The Rams’ passing game is likely to evolve this season to include more from tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, but in a draft rich with receiver talent, the Rams should look to find young, inexpensive players.

Linebacker

Outside and inside linebacker are draft priorities following the departures of Dante Fowler Jr. and Cory Littleton in free agency. The Rams also released Clay Matthews.

“I don’t think you can have enough guys that can rush the passer on defense,” Rams coach Sean McVay said earlier this month.

Floyd eases some of the concern at outside linebacker, and the Rams also return Samson Ebukam and Ogbo Okoronkwo, but they must continue to build depth on the edge.

At inside linebacker, the Rams return Micah Kiser, Travin Howard, Kenny Young and Troy Reeder.

The Rams have expressed confidence in the young group but also have acknowledged that they lack experience and that reinforcements will be sought in the draft.

“Internally we have, let’s call it, solid to good to high hopes for this group and we got to do our best to develop them,” Snead said. “But also look in the draft to say, ‘Hey, can we add a complementary piece to go with the group?’”

Safety

John Johnson and Taylor Rapp will start at safety in 2020, but with Eric Weddle’s retirement and the departure of Marqui Christian in free agency, the Rams must draft for depth at the position.

“When you most likely lose your third safety, a guy that’s been a major contributor in a variety of ways, in Marqui Christian, you’re saying, ‘OK, what do you want to do to try to improve the depth behind John Johnson, behind Taylor Rapp?'” McVay said. “You look at, with Eric having retired, I think those are things that we’re looking to upgrade overall.”

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