Way back in 2002, fresh off a devastating Super Bowl loss to the upstart New England Patriots, the St. Louis Rams were in prime position to move from juggernaut to dynasty. Two Super Bowls, one Lombardi Trophy, and a staggering three first-round draft picks to supplement Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk & company.
Three. First. Round. Picks.
The Rams took Damione Lewis (12th), Adam Archuleta (20th) and Ryan Pickett (29th.) And less than four years later, not only were the Rams out of playoff contention, they were downright awful, paving the way for the eight-year playoff drought they're currently mired in. Lewis was an outright bust, Archuleta was a serviceable NFL player and Ryan Pickett flourished elsewhere. Toss in a little Trung Canidate (Oy.) from the year before and we can pretty much pinpoint how and why the late 90s and early 00s Rams were more flash in the pan than lasting foundation.
Earlier in the week, the Rams traded the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to the Washington Redskins for two extra 1st round picks and an extra 2nd round pick. They'll move from 2nd to 6th position in 2012. Anyone not a Redskins fan pretty much agrees that the Rams and new GM Les Snead fleeced the 'Skins in their haste to acquire Robert Griffin III. They'll have two first-rounders in 2013 and 2014, plus an extra-value 2nd round pick in 2012. All for moving four spots down in a draft.
Problem is, the Rams have a glorious history of screwing up the draft.
Robert Thomas anyone? Tye Hill perhaps? Could I interest you in a Jason Smith? A side of Alex Barron? Hell, I don't even have the energy to look up if I spelled Adam Carriker's name right. I hope that's how you spell it. It's an elite group of athletes. Elite insomuch as they're all millionaires who produced more angst and losses than football plays while in St. Louis.
From 2000 to 2011, the only 1st round picks worth their salt have been Steven Jackson and Chris Long. And let's be honest here, before last year, we were still kind of on the fence about Long. That's a crap average for the guys who have to be the building blocks of any good franchise in the NFL.
So while I raised an eyebrow at the haul the Rams brought in for RGIII, I can't get fully excited until I see some draft acumen at work. Because you can have all the picks in the 1st round you want; if you're bringing in the Jimmy Kennedy's of the world with them, it's not going to do jack.
Les Snead is off to a good start as Rams GM. He's cut a bunch of dead weight that got by far too long in St. Louis for no good reason. He's singed Cortland Finnegan to a reasonable contract to add some toughness to the secondary. His true litmus test, however, will be the men he selects next month in New York.
Start getting some foundation guys who are winners and I think the Rams are in good hands and primed to compete in the NFC West. Continue down the path of busts and the Rams are destined to be where they've been the past eight years: done before the postseason.
Things are looking up. But the true test is still ahead.