Ah, Super Bowl Sunday. Two teams and two fan bases remain: the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots. These two organizations have put everything they could into their rosters to get to this point, and their performances on the field throughout the regular season in the playoffs has earned them this right and this feeling to be playing for it all on the final Sunday of football this season.
Must be nice, huh?
When it comes to building a Super Bowl contender, there are a lot of factors that go into play. The longer I cover this business, the more I learn that it truly has to be a top-down, unified mentality and philosophy of winning to get it done. From the owner(s) to the front office to the coaching staff and then the players, they all not only have to be bought in but bought in on the same path.
Once the mentality is in place you certainly need the talent to be present as well. There are a multitude of difference positions that you can prioritize with which ones you want to be stronger than others, but for the most part there are four key positions where talent must be strong in order to win consistently: quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher, cornerback.
But this isn’t a secret, and every team in the NFL is looking to upgrade in these areas every offseason, if they can, regardless of what they might already have. They know that the stronger they are in those areas, the better chance they have to being in this final game when it’s all said and done. With such high demand for these positions, they are often hard to temp away in free agency and the ones worth acquiring often have a price tag far too high for a trade.
That’s where the draft comes in.
We have talked about how the draft can represent hope for all 32 teams any given year, and the reason is because each offseason every team has at least a chance to pick a difference maker — or more — in those four key positions. If they can do that, perhaps that is the missing piece to put them over the top or the catalysts for a turnaround.
For the Rams, that’s exactly what they’ve done. Their quarterback, Jared Goff, was bought at the price of a No. 1 overall pick by the team back in 2016. Anytime you have a No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback, that’s the highest capital you could possibly invest. As for their left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, he may not have been drafted by the Rams, but he was a second round pick when he was drafted in 2006, and has been well worth that price for his entire career. I don’t need to remind you who their main pass rusher is as Aaron Donald, selected by the Rams No. 13 overall in 2014, has already been named Defensive Player of the Year twice, and has been a true difference maker. Heck, even on the edge the Rams have the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dante Fowler. And at cornerback, though they were not drafted by the Rams themselves, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib were both former first round picks.
So it’s no wonder why the Rams are here. They have an organization that has all bought in around their young and aspiring coach, Sean McVay, and they have first round pick talent at all four of the core positions other than left tackle, but Whitworth would have gone in the first if you would have known what his career was going to be back then.
As for the Patriots, they and their dynasty remain one of the most unique, against-the-grain, unicorn-like sustained levels of success football has ever seen.
At quarterback — you all know his story — is Tom Brady, the former No. 199 overall, sixth round pick in 2000 NFL Draft. Protecting him and his blindside is Trenton Brown, a former seventh round pick back in 2015. At pass rusher, Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise were both fourth round picks, one in 2015 and one in 2017. And finally at cornerback, Jason McCourty was drafted in the sixth round back in 2009, and Stephon Gilmore represents the only first round pick the Patriots boast at any of the core four positions, as he was the tenth overall pick back in 2012, but not even drafted by New England. So not only do the Patriots not have a single first round pick that they drafted at any of the core four positions in the first round, they don’t even have one drafted before Day 3!
All of that to say this: there will never — ever — be another team in NFL history that has the kind of success the Patriots have had while neglecting top draft capital on the core positions of football like the Patriots have had over the last half of their dynasty. For the most part, it is the teams that draft well and keep their drafted players at the most important positions that make it to the final game.
The draft holds the key to getting the Lombardi trophy within your grasp, and in a few short months every team in the league will have their best chance to get their next big difference maker when they go on the clock.