With the Rams’ season complete, we can now officially close the book on 2017 and begin to looking forward to what’s next. That means beginning to take a look at some of the prospects analysts think Los Angeles may select in this spring’s NFL Draft.
It’s still quite early in the offseason, but there are still plenty of analysts who have put out mock drafts. The Rams will select No. 23 in the first round this season, after shipping last year’s first-round pick to Tennessee in 2016 as part of the trade to draft quarterback Jared Goff.
Los Angeles excelled in different ways both offensively and defensively in 2017 in order to win the NFC West. But many analysts in this first edition of the roundup are thinking the Rams will go with defense in the first round of this particular draft.
So without further ado, let’s get to the picks.
With Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman slated to hit the market as an unrestricted free agents, plus Kayvon Webster recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury, the vast majority of analysts have the Rams selecting a cornerback at No. 23.
Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson appeared on a few of these early offseason mocks, with three analysts putting him on their lists.
“The Rams’ secondary has benefited from a talented pass rush that consistently keeps quarterbacks off balance as they attack downfield. It makes sense that they would target a ball-hawking defender who can capitalize on interception opportunities, as Jackson finished the season with the most interceptions in the country,” wrote Eric Galko of Sporting News.
“If Trumaine Johnson leaves in free agency, a player like Jackson would be a natural replacement,” wrote Dan Kadar of SB Nation.
“The Rams may be in need of cornerback reinforcement this offseason if Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman aren’t retained. Jackson is an impressive cover man who wins with plus agility, ball skills, and techniquem,” wrote Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Jackson led the country with eight interceptions, recording three of them in Iowa’s dominant victory over Ohio State. He also had a penchant for big plays, returning a pair of picks for touchdowns against Wisconsin this season. He also led the nation with 26 passes defensed in 2017.
Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward was also a popular Rams pick among analysts.
While Luke Easterling of USA Today filled out his mock draft just before the start of postseason play, he still had L.A. selecting the cornerback late in the first round.
“If Trumaine Johnson doesn’t return, the Rams will have to invest premium resources in finding his replacement. What Ward lacks in ideal size, he makes up for in just about every other area of his game, giving the Buckeyes another first-round talent out of a secondary that produced three last year,” Easterling wrote.
“[F]inding a replacement at corner will be a focus in the draft for a Rams team just a few plays away from mounting a legit Super Bowl run. Ward is a polished prospect and could slide in for Johnson not long after getting picked in the first round,” wrote Bryan Fisher of Athlon Sports.
Ward has played extensive snaps over the last two seasons, though he was not technically a starter until 2017. After Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, and Gareon Conley all left for the pros, Ward stepped in and played well for the OSU secondary this season, recording a pair of interceptions and 15 pass breakups.
Over at Bleacher Report, Matt Miller has the Rams selecting Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver.
“Why a cornerback? It’s pretty simple. Trumaine Johnson will be a free agent, and the opposite cornerback spot is wide open. Regardless of what happens in free agency, corner is the Los Angeles Rams’ top need,” Miller wrote. “Isaiah Oliver is a little under the radar compared to Denzel Ward or Josh Jackson, but he should be recognized as a first-round talent after how well he played for Colorado in 2017. Oliver has size (6’0″, 190 lbs) and runs exceptionally well. Watch his tape against UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and you’ll see an NFL playmaker who reminds me of Desmond Trufant.”
Oliver recorded two interceptions and 13 pass breakups for Colorado in 2017. This season was also his first as a full-time starter, though he’s contributed on defense and special teams since his freshman season in 2015.
For a little variety, ESPN’s Todd McShay had the Rams adding a piece on offense in the first round (insider subscription required — $$$). McShay’s first mock, however, came out Dec. 13, which means the Rams’ draft position wasn’t quite locked in.
Nevertheless, McShay writes, “A plug-and-play starter, Price will help an improved Rams offense line on the inside. A four-year starter, Price is playing center for the Buckeyes this season, but I see him at guard for Los Angeles. He should be a steady starter.”
Price won the Rimington Trophy — awarded to the nation’s top center — in 2017. He set an OSU record with 55 consecutive starts over the course of his collegiate career.