The Los Angeles Rams are set to embark on a new era with 30-year-old rookie head coach Sean McVay coming in to coach a team led by second-year QB Jared Goff, who by all accounts should head into 2017 as the starter. Todd Gurley will be looking to bounce back from a sophomore slump and the Rams will be looking to build some good will with the city of Los Angeles after the disastrous first season back in L.A.
The Rams have been irrelevant as a franchise since the days of the Greatest Show on Turf, save for a few good years from Marc Bulger. The Rams’ last playoff appearance was back in the 2004 sesason and since then, they’ve failed to record a winning season. Heck, they didn’t even have a winning season in 2004, squeaking into the playoffs at 8-8. The point is, the Rams have been the pushover of the NFC West for the last decade despite having some promising talent come through.
The main problem has been finding a franchise QB and adequate talent on offense. While the Jeff Fisher era produced some tremendous defensive players, particularly the front-seven, Fisher’s downfall was the same he had experienced in Tennessee; he couldn’t develop a QB and couldn’t build an adequate offense.
A team’s biggest mistakes are usually made on draft day, so with that here are the Rams’ 15 worst draft mistakes.
15. Claude Wroten
Not every mistake in the draft is made in the first round. While first round picks are the most scrutinized, part of building a championship team is finding contributing players in the mid-rounds. The Rams took a chance on Claude Wroten in 2006’s third round. Wroten had the talent to play in the NFL, but he was what NFL teams call a ‘troubled’ player due to his issues with substance abuse coming out of college.
After playing 13 games as a rookie, Wroten was suspended for four games to start the 2007 season, for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. That would be his last year in the NFL and he went on to play in the USFL and the CFL. Players available when Wroten was picked include Elvis Dumervil, Brandon Marshall and Leon Washington.
14. Brian Leonard
Fullbacks aren’t as valued as they used to be, but Brian Leonard was taken with the Rams’ second round pick back in 2007. In all liklihood, the Rams could have had him in the fourth round and could have used their second round pick to bolster some needs on their roster. Leonard was expected to open some holes for brusing tailback Steven Jackson, but Leonard lasted just two seasons with the team. Leonard would go on to have short stints with the Bengals and the Buccaneers. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise, as the fullback position is being phased out of football.
Some notable players the Rams could have taken include center Ryan Khalil, one of the most consistent NFL players of the last decade. Former Pro Bowler Jacoby Jones was also available, as was Marshal Yanda.
13. Donnie Avery
The Rams have been searching for a long time to find a receiver that could make fans have flashes of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, but receivers have come and gone for the Rams. One of their failures came at the draft in 2008. Donnie Avery was the first receiver taken in the 2008 draft, a class that was better known for running backs.
Avery came off the board at 33rd overall and while he wasn’t a bad NFL player, he was often injured and wasn’t a true no.1 in St. Louis. Like several picks on this list, he only lasted two seasons with the Rams.
Other receivers that were still available include DeSean Jackson and Jordy Nelson, who went to the Packers just three picks later.
12. Robert Thomas
The Rams were coming off their second Super Bowl appearance in three years, so the championship window was still open for the Rams. After their loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, they held the 31st overall pick and with it, they took linebacker Robert Thomas. Thomas had a pretty forgettable career in St. Louis. While he started 30 games in three seasons, he accumulated 136 total tackles and just two sacks. It’s hard to find a home run pick at 31st overall, but this was a time where the Rams at least needed a solid contributor on their team.
The Rams would miss the playoffs following their Super Bowl appearance in the 2002 season and have since only won one playoff game.
11. Aaron Cox
A Los Angeles native, Aaron Cox must have been very excited when his hometown Rams took him in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft at 20th overall. After a productive career at Arizona State, the Rams were hoping Cox could provide them with some solif offensive contribution as the team was transitioning in an era post Eric Dickerson.
Unfortunately, Cox’s most productive season was his rookie year, and that was just a 28-catch season with 590 yards and five touchdowns. Cox would play six seasons in the NFL and never lived up to his first round billing.
Instead of going receiver, the Rams could have drafted the heir to Dickerson and taken Thurman Thomas, who went to the Bills in the second round.
10. Tavon Austin
Going into the 2013 draft, the main problem with the Rams was that quarterback Sam Bradford had no offensive weapons, so the Rams took speedy playmaker Tavon Austin with their first round pick. It was thought that Austin could contribute to the offense in many ways, by making plays underneath for Bradford, running jet sweeps and returning kicks. While Austin has shown flashes of brilliance in the NFL, he is far from a complete wide receiver.
The 2013 draft wasn’t littered with high end talent, but there was a top receiver available later on. DeAndre Hopkins could have been exactly what the doctor ordered for the Rams, but he slipped all the way to the Texans at no.27. While Austin is still on the Rams’ roster and has made memorable plays, players like him are usually taken in the mid-rounds.
9. Barrett Jones
Barrett Jones was a decorated offensive lineman at Alabama. He was once thought to be a first round prospect, as he ended up winning three BCS National Championships and he was seen as versatile enough to play all positions on the line. Unfortunately, his draft status took a plummet after suffering a foot injury in the SEC Championship game in 2012. While he played through the injury, he had surgery for a Lisfranc injury after the season. He was unable to participate in the NFL Combine, so the slipped past the first three rounds.
The Rams took a flier on him, using their fourth round pick on him, but Jones’ injury troubles continued and he lasted just two seaons with the Rams. He has since bounced around several practice squads.
8. The 2001 NFL Draft
The Rams had a disapppointing 2000 season, going 10-6 following their Super Bowl win and losing in the wild card round. Despite having a winning record, the Rams had somehow accumulated three first round picks in the 2001 draft, through several trades. The Rams had acquired Kansas City’s first rounder after trading Trent Green, and the Titans’ first round pick after trading Kevin Carter.
The Rams were expected to use these picks to re-tool for another Super Bowl run. With their three picks, the Rams took Damione Lewis, Adam Archuleta and Ryan Pickett.
Among the players the Rams missed out on include Reggie Wayne, Steve Hutchinson, Chad Johnson, Kris Jenkins and Steve Smith Sr. While they were already deep at receiver, Wayne or Smith could have been a great heir apparent to Isaac Bruce.
7. Sam Bradford
After Marc Bulger’s career had begun to fizzle out due to injuries, the Rams finally decided in 2010 that it was time to take a quarterback. With the first overall pick, the Rams took Sam Bradford out of Oklahoma, despite Bradford suffering a pair of serious shoulder injuries with the Sooners. The Rams then gave him the most guaranteed money any rookie had ever received at $50 million so the expectations only grew.
Sometimes though, team needs cloud the judgment of management. While it’s important to take a franchise QB, it’s also important not to reach. Whether Bradford was no.1 on the Rams’ draft board is a mystery, but it’s clear Bradford proved to be a huge disappointment in St. Louis. He had injury trouble, tearing his ACL twice and couldn’t build any consistency. The Rams eventually traded Braford for Nick Foles prior to the 2015 season, ending an era that resulted in no playoff appearances.
6. Trung Canidate
It’s a mystery as to why the Rams felt the need to take a running back with their first round pick after coming off their Super Bowl win. Marshall Faulk was still tearing up the league and any running back coming in would have to play second fiddle to Faulk for several years. Perhaps the Rams felt Canidate’s upside was too good to pass on, so they took him with the final pick of the first round. The former Arizona star lasted just three seasons with the team and rushed for just 495 yards and six TDs. He would finish out his career in Washington.
The Rams could have easily plugged a hole on their roster, rather than looking for a luxury they didn’t need by taking a running back.
5. Selling The Farm For Jared Goff
I’m not prepared to call Jared Goff a draft bust, but I am prepared to say the Rams made a terrible mistake by giving up so much to draft a QB who is far from a slam dunk. The Rams moved up from the no.8 spot to take Goff first overall, trading its 1st round, a pair of second-rounders, and a 3rd round selection in 2016, as well as their first and third round picks in 2017. The Rams in turn received the first overall pick from Tennessee, as well as a fourth and sixth rounder.
Without a first round pick this year, the Rams will be unable to find help for Goff in the first round, and the fact that Goff couldn’t beat out Case Keenum for the starting job in training camp was a troubling sign. Goff has time to turn it around, but it’s always tough for a young QB to already be with his second head coach in Year 2.
4. Greg Robinson
The Rams had gotten this first round pick (2nd overall) from their trade with the Washington Redskins two years prior (RG3 trade). That made this pick important, as the Rams had to make this pick count for that trade to be a steal. You can accumulate as many picks as you want, but they have to pan out for it to be worthwhile. Well, so far Greg Robinson looks like a bust, as he was scratched from the Rams’ lineup several times these last couple of seasons.
What’s also troubling for the Rams is that other first round picks at offensive tackle in 2014 like Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan have both gone on to become some of the best young tackles in the game today. The Rams are back at square one in finding protection for their QB and opening up running lanes for Todd Gurley.
3. Jason Smith
We come to another tackle who was taken with the second overall pick and we have yet another disappointment for the Rams. Jason Smith was expected to play left tackle and protect Marc Bulger. Smith suffered a concussion in his rookie season. He was expected to bounce back in 2010 but he was beaten out for the left tackle job by Roger Saffold and was moved to right tackle. Smith couldn’t make it last there either, and the Rams traded him to the New York Jets in 2012.
In truth, the Rams’ era in St. Louis produced a lot of first round disappointments other than Orlando Pace, Torry Holt and Steven Jackson. A better choice for an offensive tackle in this draft would have been Eugene Monroe, who had some very productive years in Jacksonville and Baltimore.
2. Gaston Green
Gaston Green was part of the horrendous draft class of 1988 for the Rams that essentially killed their tenure in Los Angeles. Gaston Green was taken in the hopes that he would make fans forget all about Eric Dickerson, who had been traded to the Colts. Well, Green lasted just three seasons with the Rams, rushing for 117, 73 and 261 yards in his three years in L.A. He scored no rushing touchdowns, with his only score coming off a reception in his third season.
We already mentioned how the Rams passed on Thurman Thomas, and it makes it all the more frustrating for Rams fans that they passed on him not once, but twice!
Green would go on to have the most productive season of his career with the Denver Broncos in 1991, rushing for 1,037 yards.
1. Lawrence Phillips
Lawrence Phillips had all the talent in the world, but he was an extremely troubled young man coming into the NFL. The Rams took a huge gamble by taking him sixth overall in the 1996 draft. His character concerns were soon validated when head coach Dick Vermeil took away his starting job due to his inability to stay out of trouble. After being demoted, Phillips stormed out of the Rams’ facility and coach Vermeil was in tears saying Phillips was the most talented running back he ever coached.
The Rams cut him in his second season, ending a very troubling tenure in St. Louis.
Instead, the Rams had a plethora of talent available in the ’96 draft but the most painful miss had to be Ray Lewis who went to the Ravens with the 26th overall pick.
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