The Los Angeles Rams' draft board ... well, it's complicated.
For the first time since 1987 -- yes, 1987 -- the Rams do not have a first-round pick. An entire day will go by without them. By the time they make their first selection, sometime around 4:30 p.m. PT on Friday, 36 players will have come off the board. The draft begins 23 1/2 hours before that, at 5 p.m. PT on Thursday. When it does, the Rams will have very little idea of what to expect.
"It's going to be foggy on Thursday night when the bell rings," Rams general manager Les Snead told reporters from the team facility this week, "but it'll be a lot clearer when those 32 picks are made. We'll have plans. We'll sit here, I'm sure, a lot -- talk about what might occur, the scenarios, who's left."
The Rams have needs all over their roster, enough so that pinning it down to one position for this draft seems injudicious. They badly need more impact talent at wide receiver, but are also very thin at tight end. They need to find their center of the future, but can't forget about left tackle. Their secondary needs a lot more depth, but they can't really ignore their front seven, either.
Basically everything except quarterback and running back are prime targets heading into the 2017 draft, which will mark Snead's sixth as GM and Sean McVay's first as head coach. Snead called McVay "a very instinctive evaluator," and McVay credited Snead's assessment of players in helping him grow.
The 49ers' draft war room is named after McVay's grandfather, former coach and executive John McVay.
"With my grandfather being in a similar role, you have an appreciation of the dynamic that is vital to exist between the head coach and the general manager," McVay said. "Ultimately, it’s about us being on the same page. Once decisions are made, decisions are final and we’re all on board and moving in the same direction. That’s exactly how it’s felt ever since I was fortunate enough to get here."
How long Snead and McVay will work together remains to be seen. Jeff Fisher, the former head coach who arrived right around the time Snead was hired at the start of 2012, is gone. So are the vast majority of his coaches. This month, the Rams also let go of a handful of Snead's scouts, including Ran Carthon, their director of pro personnel. Snead is one of few who survived what has been an organization-wide reconstruction, and now there is increased pressure on him to get this right.
Under Snead from 2012 to '16, the Rams have had seven first-round picks, the most in the NFC West, and have gone only 31-48 in that five-year stretch -- the sixth-worst mark in the NFL during that time. But their overall draft success hasn't been terrible. They had 43 picks over the past five years, third-most in the division, and those picks have accumulated a weighted career approximate value of 360, second-highest in the group. Only the Seahawks -- approximate value of 372, with 48 picks but only two first-rounders -- have done better. The 49ers -- 51 picks, including six first-rounders, but an approximate value of only 202 -- have done a lot worse.
In back-to-back drafts, Snead selected the Defensive Rookie of the Year (defensive tackle Aaron Donald) and the Offensive Rookie of the Year (running back Todd Gurley). He also whiffed on his second overall pick from 2014, left tackle Greg Robinson, and his 33rd overall pick from 2012, wide receiver Brian Quick. In five years, the Rams have failed miserably to build an adequate receiving corps or offensive line. They found several talented defensive players -- Alec Ogletree, Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, E.J. Gaines and Maurice Alexander -- but none of them have been signed to a second contract. Two others, Janoris Jenkins and T.J. McDonald, left as free agents.
Which brings us to the key question of this year's draft: Do the Rams go heavy on receivers or defensive backs?
It's easy to make a case for both. The Rams need weapons for Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick from 2016, but they have young players like Tyler Higbee, Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas and Nelson Spruce that they can develop. They have talented defensive backs in Johnson, Joyner, Alexander and Gaines, but they could all be gone by this time next year.
The Rams have been linked to a bevy of receivers for that 37th overall pick, including East Carolina's Zay Jones, USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mississippi's Evan Engram, but their dream scenario would be that injury concerns cause Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross to fall into the second round. The draft is also deep at defensive back, and the likes of LSU's Tre'Davious White, Connecticut's Obi Melifonwu, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey and USC's Adoree' Jackson could emerge as Day 2 options.
The Rams have expressed interest in signing Johnson, their primary cornerback, to a long-term extension, but Snead said his pending situation is "not necessarily going to affect the draft at all."
"We'll try to rank the corners from top to bottom," he added. "You can always use more than one or two or three good corners."
As for the available receivers?
"It is a class with depth," Snead said. "Maybe not deep in terms of guys who just tilt the field and defensive coordinators are up at night. But I think where the depth goes is, 'Hey, this guy fits this role. This guy's, you know, slot. Outside guy. Go-deep guy.'"
The Rams, coming off a 4-12 showing in their first season back in Los Angeles, will still have eight picks, four of which will come within the first four rounds. On the left side of their war room, in bold, blue letters, is the word "explosive."
Heading into this draft, that might be the only real qualification.
"We want to be explosive; we want to attack people," McVay said. "You’re always looking for players that can play fast, especially skilled guys that can offer the opportunity to create big plays. Those guys with the ball in their hands that can make things happen are invaluable. I think defensively, the guys that can get to the quarterback and can cover are at a premium."