THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams will be packed with star power in 2021, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
But whether the Rams appear in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in February could depend on how well Rams general manager Les Snead supplements their top-tier talent with mid-to-late round selections in the upcoming NFL draft.
For a fifth consecutive year, the Rams will not make a first-round pick. Their 2021 first-round pick (along with a 2020 first-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round selection) was used as part of a package sent to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire Ramsey ahead of the 2019 trade deadline.
The Rams own six picks going into the April 29 draft:
Round 2, No. 57 overall
Round 3, No. 88
Round 3, No. 103 (Compensatory pick)
Round 4, No. 141 (Compensatory pick)
Round 6, No. 209
Round 7, No. 252
Despite not owning a first-round pick, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said it remains possible to have a standout draft class, while adding that in many aspects making a first-round selection can be overrated.
"I don't care how you build [a team], the bottom line is to be able to build a team that is a Super Bowl champion, that's what this whole exercise is about," said Kiper Jr. "It's not about just building a bunch of names and worried about collecting draft picks, or whatever, it's about building a personnel base that can get you to a Super Bowl and if they can do that, it doesn't matter how many draft choice you have in the first round."
Several position groups need reinforcement after the Rams, along with the rest of the NFL, were forced to navigate an unprecedented drop in the salary cap -- from $198.2 million to $182.5 million -- ahead of free agency.
With limited cap space and cash available, the Rams-re signed free agent outside linebacker Leonard Floyd to a four-year, $64 million contract and also added wide receiver DeSean Jackson on a one-year, $4.5 million deal but were unable to address any other position needs -- such as center, defensive back and inside linebacker.
Kiper predicts that, despite the addition of Jackson to a group that also includes Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson, the Rams will target a wide receiver with their first selection in the draft, adding that several promising prospects are expected to remain available late into the second round.
Some receivers Kiper said should be monitored when the Rams make their pick include Auburn's Anthony Schwartz, Louisville's Tutu Atwell, Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge, Jaelon Darden from North Texas and Florida State's Tamorrion Terry.
Here's a look at other position needs the Rams must address:
It's not a flashy position and wouldn't generate buzz, but the Rams need a center. After stabilizing the position the past two seasons, Austin Blythe signed in free agency with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving the Rams with Brian Allen and Coleman Shelton. Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2019 and did not play last season and some degree of uncertainty remains regarding how his surgically-repaired knee will endure. An undrafted free agent in 2018, Shelton has no NFL experience at the position.
The Rams were thin at the position last season, and will remain so in 2021 unless it's addressed. Micah Kiser and Kenny Young return are expected to start, but both are in the final season of their contracts and Kiser was sidelined for seven games last season because a knee injury. Travin Howard and Troy Reeder can provide backup, but Howard missed last season because of a knee injury and also is in the final season of his contract.
Floyd's return was key to maintain an established pass rush, but the sixth-year pro needs a counterpart to also apply pressure from the edge. The Rams selected Terrell Lewis in the third round last year with the hope that he would remain healthy and capitalize on what some considered first-round talent. However, Lewis was slowed throughout training camp and at times during the season because of injury issues. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Justin Hollins remain as reinforcements, but have not proven that they can provide consistent pressure.
Ramsey and Darious Williams, who is coming off a breakout season, will again seek to wreak havoc at cornerback, but the departure of Troy Hill leaves a hole in the slot. David Long Jr., a third-round pick in 2019, will have the opportunity to step up, but depth is needed. At safety, Taylor Rapp is expected to return as a full-time starter following John Johnson III's departure, and will play alongside Jordan Fuller. Terrell Burgess, who broke his ankle as a rookie last season, also will compete for time, but again, the Rams could benefit from more depth at the position.
Donald will anchor a group that also includes Sebastian Joseph-Day, A'Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines, but depth must be built after the departures of Michael Brockers -- Donald's long-time counterpart, and Morgan Fox -- who provided a dependable spark off the bench.