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The Rams are in ‘Super Bowl or bust’ mode. So how will they approach the 2018 NFL Draft?

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The Rams aren’t eschewing their future entirely, but they are doubling (and tripling) down on 2018.

Wild Card Round - Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Everything the Los Angeles Rams have done this offseason has made it clear that no year is more important than 2018. They have been the most active team so far, and it’s not even close.

But, when the 2018 NFL Draft arrives, the Rams will likely be one of more inactive teams —at least until Day 3. Their moves this (and last) offseason have left them without any picks in the first two rounds, and with none of their original picks except for the 87th overall in the third round.

After five huge trades this offseason — acquiring Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib, while sending away Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree — the Rams have eight draft picks this year, none of which are in the first, second, fifth, or seventh rounds. So can they still get quality players — and how?

How the Rams ended up with their 2018 picks

Navigating the wide array of moves the Rams have made is a tall task, so let’s break it up into parts. First, here’s what they did with all of their original 2018 draft picks:

  • Traded own first-round pick to Patriots for Cooks
  • Traded own second-round pick to Bills for Sammy Watkins
  • Still possess own third-round pick (No. 87 overall)
  • Traded own fourth-round pick to Chiefs for Peters
  • Traded own fifth-round pick to Broncos for Talib
  • Traded own sixth-round pick to Patriots in Cooks trade
  • Traded own seventh-round pick to Washington for Derek Carrier

And now, how they landed their other seven picks from other teams:

  • Acquired fourth- and sixth-round picks from Dolphins (111th and 183rd overall) for Quinn
  • Acquired fourth- and sixth-round picks from Giants (135th and 176th overall) for Ogletree
  • Acquired fourth-round pick from Patriots (136th overall) in Cooks trade
  • Acquired sixth-round pick from Lions (194th overall) for Greg Robinson
  • Acquired sixth-round pick from Bills (195th overall) in Watkins trade

The Rams can still find value in the later rounds — again

The Rams have done some good work in the first round in recent history, despite a few misses like Greg Robinson and Tavon Austin. Since 2014, their top picks have included Aaron Donald (2017 Defensive Player of the Year), Todd Gurley (2017 Offensive Player of the Year), and quarterback Jared Goff.

Last year, they didn’t pick anybody in the first round, due to moving up to select Goff in 2016. There’s value all over the place, though, and they’ve managed to take advantage of that the past few years. Out of the Rams’ eight selections in 2017, the first six played at least 15 games, and all but one of those players were picked in the third round or later.

Cooper Kupp was one of the best value picks in last year’s draft. The third-round receiver out of Eastern Washington emerged as Jared Goff’s favorite target, leading the team with 869 receiver yards as a rookie. John Johnson, who was chosen 22 picks after Kupp in the third round, ended up as a starting safety.

In 2016, they found starting tight end Tyler Higbee and All-Pro returner Pharoh Cooper in the fourth round. The year before, they landed another starter, right guard Jamon Brown, in the third round.

The Rams should be able to find immediate contributors this year too, if they pick smartly. This draft isn’t top-heavy on pass rushers or offensive tackles, two positions the Rams should address. They also need inside linebacker help. But there are some notable players in the later rounds. Kemoko Turay, Duke Ejiofor, and, if either slips, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo or Arden Key can likely fulfill an edge-rushing need.

The Rams are taking some big risks this offseason

Other than the potential for losing out on top players in this year’s draft, the Rams’ risks this year revolve around the locker room and the salary cap. Right now, Spotrac projects the Rams to have $68 million in cap space for 2019, though Donald, Gurley, Goff, Peters, Talib, Cooks, Lamarcus Joyner, and Ndamukong Suh all either have contracts that are up next year or they are due for a raise.

Donald is the main focus. He’s deserving of a new deal at or near the biggest contract for any defensive player in the league. He’s not attending the team’s voluntary workouts, and though the Rams publicly say they’re optimistic about getting a deal done, it’s going to be a concern until the deal is signed. Donald is a must-keep, and has legitimate claim to being the best player in the NFL, period.

The locker room is the other important bit to keep an eye on, and it’s the hardest one to predict.

Peters has had blowups in the locker room, on the sidelines, and was suspended for a game last season after throwing a flag into the stands and leaving the field. He was once kicked off his college team, too. But Peters is one of the best corners in the game, with 21 interceptions since he entered the league in 2015, seven more than the next-closest player (Reggie Nelson). The Chiefs still traded him, though, which speaks volumes.

Talib has had feuds with opposing players on the field that have drawn team-hurting penalties and has been suspended several times in his career, most recently after an altercation with Michael Crabtree. Suh has received multiple penalties and fines for late and dirty hits over the course of his career, in addition to a supension. Cooks has a history of being dissatisfied with his role in offenses, and the Patriots didn’t see him as being worth an investment.

Sean McVay believes he and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can handle any locker room, but there’s no doubt they added some larger-than-life personalities this offseason.

So why is this the year the Rams are going all in?

Elsewhere in the division, the Seahawks have shedded about as many big names as the Rams have added this offseason, and the Cardinals are a non-factor. The 49ers might be a threat, but the Rams took the NFC West in 2017 and will be favored to do it again in 2018.

But the No. 1 reason they are going all-in right now is because they have Goff on a rookie contract. The rookie wage scale makes any young starting quarterback underpaid to mitigate the risk of drafting one high. In the case of Goff, the Rams believe he is their franchise quarterback for the next decade and then some.

He’ll get a sizable payday soon, but for now, without having to commit $20 million-plus to him each season, the Rams are in a great position. It’s the same situation the Philadelphia Eagles had last year with Carson Wentz’s rookie deal, and similar to what the Seahawks did in 2013 with Russell Wilson’s. Both of those teams won the Super Bowl.

The Rams are doing what those teams did — acquiring and retaining every impact player they can — just on an even larger scale.

Every move they have made has been splashy and calculated, despite the risks. They know they have a small draft arsenal when it comes to pick value, and Rams fans probably shouldn’t expect a ton of headlines about their team this week.

Unless, of course, the Rams make another trade or two during the draft.