Les Snead understands why the narrative surrounding his Super Bowl-bound Rams focuses on the stars. The Los Angeles general manager just wishes the field of view stretched wider. “The shallow story would be the free agents, the stars,” Snead said Wednesday. “And I get it—we’re in the entertainment business. So I understand why that is interesting content.”
The narrative has remained in the shallow end because it’s tough to ignore who’s occupying it. Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp, and Von Miller make up a fittingly star-studded cast for an NFL franchise based just outside of Hollywood. But while their contributions to getting the Rams back to the Super Bowl won’t go overstated, Snead knows how integral homegrown players have been for this team.
“It’s probably not talked about enough,” Snead said. “[I] totally understand why, but we couldn’t do what we do without those type of players—whether they were drafted early, mid-[round], late, signed as a college free agent, [or] claimed off waivers—‘being their best when their best was required,’ in the good old tone of our head coach Sean McVay.”
The Rams would not be in the Super Bowl without the play of their stars. But they wouldn’t be there without everyone else, either. L.A. has established its foundation and supplemented it with strong drafting. Snead might have a reputation for not caring about picks, but hardly anyone else has maximized theirs the way that Snead and the Rams have been able to in recent years.
As Sharp Football’s Dan Pizzuta recently broke down, the Rams have drafted 14 players outside of the first round who have notched a career Weighted Approximate Value of 10 points or more since 2017. Only the Colts have matched that many in the same span, and no other franchise boasts more than 10 such players. Several of those players started for the Rams this season, such as offensive linemen David Edwards and Brian Allen, defensive linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day, and safety Jordan Fuller.
The Rams may not pick until the third round of the 2022 draft, but the narrative that they don’t care about the draft doesn’t line up. Still, that hasn’t stopped Snead from leaning into the jokes. Earlier this week, he was asked how he spent the time leading up to the Super Bowl. He explained that the best way to prepare for the game was to prepare for the draft.
“The draft is very important,” Snead said. “We couldn’t do what we do, we couldn’t have the team that we have without the draft and those young players [playing well] at different times.”
Late in the season, several of those players filled key roles or made big plays. Former third-round pick Joseph Noteboom filled in as a starter at left tackle in the Rams’ divisional-round victory over Tampa Bay. In the NFC championship, 2018 seventh-round pick Travin Howard made a crucial interception to seal the win over the 49ers. The Rams have even managed to maximize a former undrafted free agent in tight end Kendall Blanton, who started the NFC championship in place of an injured Tyler Higbee and recorded five catches for 57 yards. Those performances are the visions Snead and McVay have coming to life.
“There’s buy-in,” McVay said. “I think those players feel appreciated. They feel like we want to do everything to help them reach their highest potential. And confidence and belief is a powerful thing, even in pro sports. And people feeling believed in, people feeling like everybody’s in their corner, they’re willing to put their arm around them, even when they’re going through some adversity.”
Last week McVay explained how good of a job Snead has done in identifying players who fit the Rams, shaping their roster with a clear vision “for every player that we onboard.” The collaboration between Snead, the Rams front office and their coaching staff has fostered an environment where players’ contributions can be maximized. Snead can’t say enough good things about his partnership with McVay.
“This is an imperfect ecosystem, in terms of trying to come up with perfection,” Snead said. “But he’s definitely the perfect partner for myself for many reasons.”
McVay’s teaching ability is what stands out. Rams scouting department members can sit in meetings, observe McVay install gameplans and gauge exactly what kinds of players are needed or what they bring to the table. As a result, players don’t have to have complete skill sets and can instead fill specialized roles that highlight their strengths and compliment the star players.
“I’ve learned a lot from Les and his group and his ability to collaborate with our coaches and really have a vision for different avenues for acquiring players,” McVay said. “Whether that be through undrafted free agency or this comp formula to pick up extra picks, identifying the guys that really fit and fill out the roster based on some of the voids and vacancies if players have left or if we’re moving on from somebody. And it puts—I don’t want to say it puts pressure. You do end up being a little bit top-heavy, but it is about the team. I think the best thing about a lot of those guys that are in those significant roles, they elevate everybody around them … they fully embrace that opportunity.”
Snead approaches building the roster every year with the intent of constructing a contending group that plays its best football at the right time. He says that the Rams have the core to contend “not only this year, not only next year, but into some years to come.” They’re here because they’ve been able to of course identify top-level talent. But their ability to consistently hit on players in later rounds who fill roles is why the Rams have the staying power that they do. The methods might be deemed unconventional, but as McVay noted, “There’s been a lot of good decisions that have been stacked on one another.”
“Certainly they haven’t all been perfect,” he added. “But I think there’s been more good decisions than there have been bad. And you’re betting on the people and our players and coaches and personnel. We’re all pushing and pulling that rope in the same direction and I think that’s critical for any sort of team. I’m just grateful to be back in this position with an opportunity to try to finish it out the right way.”