When Jeff Fisher was fired towards the end of the 2016 season, many Rams fans assumed -and hoped- that Les Snead would be shown the door not too long after. Instead, Snead was kept on by owner Stan Kroenke for another season and he hasn’t just silenced the doubters, he’s turned many of them into believers. Over the past year, he’s made shrewd moves in free agency and the draft and earned near-universal praise for his bold decision to hire the NFL’s youngest head coach, Sean McVay. To begin grading Snead’s performance as the architect of the roster and coaching staff, it’s important to dive into all three major phases:
Due to the trade up to number one overall last year to select Jared Goff, the Rams were left without a 2017 first round pick. Making due with limited draft capital, Snead still managed to have a very productive draft. While his first selection, tight end Gerald Everett, had a quiet rookie year, most rookie tight ends do. The real judgement of the Everett pick can’t come until he’s had a couple years in the league to try and adapt to the pro game.
Snead’s next two picks easily look like his best of the draft. With a pair of third rounders, Snead took receiver Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington and safety John Johnson from Boston College. Rams fans know all about Kupp already, as he had a monster rookie season in which he led all NFL rookie receivers in yards despite being taken well behind a slew of highly drafted receivers. The Kupp pick at 69th overall was great value but so too was the Johnson pick at 91st overall. While Johnson flew more under the radar than Kupp, he quietly had a very good rookie season as well. He made 75 tackles and had 11 pass breakups while earning the tenth best grade from Pro Football Focus among all rookie players. The late third rounder has turned into an asset for Wade Phillips’ defense and is another impressive hit for Snead’s draft resume.
The rest of Snead’s draft picks played sparingly in their rookie season’s, but that’s to be expected from late round picks. While he didn’t get many opportunities buried in a deep receiving corp, fourth-round wideout Josh Reynolds showed promise at times, as did fourth-round rookie linebacker Samson Ebukam. Evensixth-roundd defensive tackle Tanzel Smart got a decent amount of playing time. If just one of those later round guys can turn into a solid contributor, it will go a long way towards making this a draft class to remember.
DRAFT GRADE: B+
After hiring McVay, Snead continued the trend of making bold decisions by going out and making a splash in free agency. He went out and made immediate improvements to the offense, most notably the offensive line. He signed veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth to shore up Goff’s blindside protection and made a risky but ultimately wise move to bring in the very talented but injury-plagued John Sullivan to play center. Sullivan was able to stay healthy and turn in a solid season playing the pivot, and Whitworth played like one of the best tackles in the league.
With those two moves on the offensive line, Snead turned what had been a glaring weakness into a strength. He didn’t stop there, he also signed Robert Woods to be a new weapon for Goff. Talented but often under-utilized in Buffalo, Woods quickly emerged as the Rams’ number one passing threat and looked like a real number one receiver for the first time in his career. Despite playing in just ten games, Woods set a new career high with 703 yards, hauling in four touchdowns. By locking him up with a five-year deal at an affordable rate, Snead ensured Woods will be under team control for as long as they want him.
Snead also made a big effort to upgrade the defense, particularly the secondary. He signed cornerbacks Kayvon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman, both of whom became immediate contributors. Both played very well, with Robey-Coleman having a breakout season which few saw coming. Webster went down with a torn achilles towards the end of the season and his absence was sorely felt.
Overall, it was an impressive free agent class from Snead, adding numerous starters and showing he isn’t afraid to spend to win. Most importantly he didn’t saddle the Rams with any bad contracts. None of the contracts he gave out proved to be major busts or will cause the Rams any salary cap problems going forward. Avoiding giving out bad contracts is just as important as giving out good ones, and Snead accomplished both this offseason.
Free Agency Grade: A-
The area where Snead may deserve the most credit is in his assembling of a top-notch coaching staff. The decision to hire the 31-year old coordinator turned coach of the year candidate McVay is well documented, but the rest of the staff is nearly as impressive. Obviously, McVay deserves a fair amount of credit too for assembling his assistants, but it’s Snead who ultimately signed off on them. Snead also correctly realized the importance of keeping special teams coordinator John Fassel on staff. Fassel, one of the very few holdovers from Fisher’s staff, is an excellent coach whose unit was by far the best in the league this season. Keeping Fassel aboard is a major plus for Snead, as some regimes would’ve been tempted to clean house completely after the Fisher era.
Many of them were McVay’s choices, but Snead still deserves props for closing deals for Phillips, young offensive coordinator Matt Lafleur, and many others.
Coaching Staff Grade: A
The Bottom Line
Overall, Snead is worthy of a B+ grade. While there is still lots of work to be done and a few holes on the roster, the front office undeniably helped the team take a huge step forward. Snead deserves the respect of Rams fans for a remarkable turnaround after it seemed he was all but finished in Los Angeles.
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