HOLLYWOOD HILLS, Calif. — The first day started with an incline, a nearly 45-degree-graded driveway that climbed up, up, up into the hills over the Sunset Strip and historically iconic Los Angeles spots such as the Viper Room and Whisky a Go Go.
This is where the Rams held operations through their 2022 NFL Draft — in the rooms and lounges of a multi-story house on a 67,000-foot lot with a view of Downtown Los Angeles on one side of the terraced backyard, a pool and a skate ramp on the other (first to try the ramp: assistant offensive line coach Zak Kromer. It did not go well).
Their entire staff of scouts, coaches, analysts and executives converged on the house for each day of this year’s draft. The official draft operations room, out of which general manager Les Snead, head coach Sean McVay, COO Kevin Demoff, vice president of business and administration Tony Pastoors and select analysts and advisors worked, was set up in the sprawling master bedroom on the second level of the house. The team had desks and screens brought in and hard-wired (just in case) and positioned a massive double-wide set of televisions with the official league-filing board, plus the Rams’ own intel on other teams’ boards running across it in tiny, neat layers. The other rooms, out of which assistant coaches and scouts could work as needed, were set up similarly (though at smaller scale).
Commissioned sculptures and paintings (including sculptures by Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama) accessorized the house; the draft ops room itself had NFT-style portraits of commissioner Roger Goodell hanging on two walls. The house didn’t come wired with stable Internet or telephone service (it is used for staging, productions, parties and the like). The IT staff actually built by hand an entire secure wiring and online system off-site and, piece by piece, installed it into the house for the duration of the Rams’ stay.
For the sixth consecutive draft, the Rams had no first-round selection. Snead joked that other general managers without first-round picks had called him — and not to offer trade proposals.
“(They) did ask for advice on what to do (while waiting),” he deadpanned. “I said, ‘if it’s not too late, rent a really, really, really cool house in the Hollywood Hills. Other than that, I don’t have any advice for you.”
The Athletic covered the Rams’ draft from inside the house, and got an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the weekend — complete with dramatic (sometimes hilarious) moments, insight into the team’s process and the strain of especially the third day, and extra intel on each of the Rams’ eight picks and their trade for cornerback Troy Hill.
Days 1 and 2
The first two days of the Rams’ draft — in which they only picked once, at No. 104 late in the third round — unfolded in rollicking fashion.
Families and friends of coaches and executives joined the staff for dinner and drinks on the first night as they explored and enjoyed the house. Heated debates broke out in pockets (defensive coordinator Raheem Morris staked out the large movie-theater room that was adjacent to the common space, and that became known as the “fun room” where coaches who went inside often had to walk back outside for a breather because of the intensity of the back-and-forth about the NBA happening inside). Scouts who hadn’t seen each other in person for months clustered together, slapping hands and showing each other pictures of their growing families.
Assistant coaches, some of them new additions who hadn’t yet spent time with others outside of meetings, chattered and opined as prospects came off the board through the first two rounds. Families brought their kids upstairs to take a look at the draft operations room, as the sounds of the broadcasted first round floated through the rooms in lieu of music. Kara, Snead’s wife, wore his old letterman jacket to the first night’s event. It was bright red, and had the words “O-G” patched on the side — Snead’s former position as a player, and, he said later, a clue as to which position the Rams were targeting with their first pick deep in the third round.
As the opening round drew to a close on Thursday night, the mood in the room hit its happy (albeit slightly blurry) peak. Snead and McVay sat in front of the handful of media in attendance for their nightly press conference and “shush”-ed the rest of the group, who then became a studio audience of sorts to the presser.
During that first press conference, the two went viral on social media, not knowing that 1. They were streaming live on the team website and social media account and 2. They had accidentally tipped the Patriots’ pick at No. 29 to the world, because they were watching the league filing board (which was about five minutes ahead of the television broadcast). The selection, guard/center Cole Strange, was a player the Rams really liked, and did a good deal of research on just in case he fell to their pick point — and as he was selected, McVay roasted Snead for the wasted time they had spent evaluating him. A short clip of that moment, posted instantly to Twitter off of the live feed, made it appear as though McVay was picking on the draft selection itself. McVay and Snead both addressed their comments the following day, and explained the situational context (Snead also praised Strange live, but that part didn’t make it into the video that had been shared out). McVay called Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Strange directly the next morning to explain and to clear the air.
The moment also had a third unintended consequence: McVay and Snead had also accidentally tipped the Rams’ own hand entering Day 2 — or at least, they hinted at the position group they were looking at for No. 104.
Before the second round began on Friday, the house filled ever-so-slightly with tension. To break it, Snead and some of the scouts and personnel assistants started up a game of catch across the pool. The group even lost a ball up on the roof, because the game expanded to the people standing on the upper-level patio outside the draft ops room.
Rams staying loose with a long way to their first pick pic.twitter.com/vfJs6CmPyG
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) April 29, 2022
Senior personnel executive Brian Xanders, known as “X”, spent the hours prior to his arrival at the draft house that afternoon researching and hand-writing out every single trade at No. 104 (or second-to-last in the third round) in NFL history, plus the results and ultimate player development at those picks. This was something the Rams had already covered in detail and their data lived in one of their databases, but writing them out helped Xanders personally quiet his mind.
Even with so much time to kill, the Rams knew who their top targets were and would spend most of the night board-watching and pacing through the house with the hope that Wisconsin guard Logan Bruss would fall to them. If Bruss got to them at No. 104, the Rams wouldn’t trade back. They even made a couple of calls to the teams ahead of them about moving up for Bruss — this was at the suggestion of now-retired left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was in the draft operations room as the Rams got closer to their pick point. Those teams declined, said Snead.
Both Snead and McVay said that Bruss had an asterisk next to his name as one of the top gettable players on their board. They felt that the 6-5, 309-pound Bruss is as plug-and-play an offensive lineman that existed (especially at their pick point, in this draft class), a source later told The Athletic, and ultimately a no-brainer.
But he had to fall to them that late in the round — and as other offensive linemen were selected by other teams, position coach Kevin Carberry started getting antsy and had to turn his back to the filing board downstairs from time to time. As the picks ran into the 90s, Carberry — a quintessential offensive lineman to the end — grabbed one more plate before sprinting upstairs to hang outside the draft room, preparing to be called in to talk with Bruss on the phone if the board kept falling the team’s way. Around pick No. 97, Rams owner Stan Kroenke arrived at the house and was shuttled upstairs by Pastoors — a sign they wouldn’t be trading out of No. 104. When Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal went at No. 103, loud cheers erupted from upstairs and downstairs, the staff huddled around the filing board. The Rams were getting their guy.
If Bruss indeed fell to No. 104, quiet Midwest scout
After the Rams picked Bruss, Snead muttered to McVay what Hill had promised in their meetings that week. McVay started shouting — and it was over for Hill, who made his way downstairs inside a gaggle of hollering scouts and coaches. He pulled his shoes off as his colleagues pulled out their phones, and he jumped into the pool.
“I’m glad I could make that happen,” said Bruss via video call a few minutes later from his home in Kimberly, Wis. “This was kinda the place I was dreaming of coming to play. For this to happen is a dream come true.”
Late that evening, Snead walked downstairs from the draft room and stopped at the still-open bar — but not for a drink. Instead, he grabbed a handful of long black plastic straws. He’d chew his way through the handful by the time the draft ended.
The Rams picked seven times on the third day of the draft; all understood that this was the most important day for the team throughout the entire weekend. In fact, while the scouts and analysts had spent literal years on their evaluations of the players the Rams had on their board, the staff as a whole spent two entire months simply on Day 3 strategy (where the board might fall, plans of attack in each scenario, pivots as needed, etc.).
They also had to agree to terms with a full class of undrafted free agents by the end of that Saturday. Position groups were sectioned off into the house’s many rooms, with a landline phone and hardwired computer monitor set up just in case cell service was spotty while the assistant coaches and scouts recruited their guys. In this group, the Rams wanted to add more special-teamers, at least one more quarterback as a camp arm who could compete with third-stringer Bryce Perkins and play in the preseason, plus some depth at inside and outside linebacker. Those calls started around the fifth and sixth rounds (although staff had been in contact with these players previously), and escalated through the end of the draft itself as financial agreements were negotiated and reached with their current UDFA class.
The catering staff arrived at the draft house early Saturday, and started preparing dozens of pounds of bacon and eggs. Brief panic ensued when, as coaches began to arrive, the kitchen momentarily ran out of coffee (this was rectified by support staff with almost comical urgency, and met with mass relief by the Rams).
Day 3 at the draft house – Rams will start with seven picks and a shitload of bacon pic.twitter.com/mK41TSehyU
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) April 30, 2022
With drafting beginning at 9 a.m. PT, the Rams’ staff piled their plates high (just a stack of bacon alone for special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis) and several went upstairs while others took up places around the filing board in the living room. DeCamillis and senior scouting consultant Ray Farmer took their same seats opposite the league filing board — the rest of the group knew better than to steal the comfortable chairs after the two well-respected NFL veterans sat in them at the start of the draft — and other assistant coaches began strategizing the calls they’d make to undrafted free agents later in the day. At times, coaches shouted over the upstairs railings toward each other, inquiring into the flexibility of offer amounts between each other or updating the status of “their guys”.
Round 4, pick No. 142: Cornerback Decobie Durant; Troy Hill trade
In the span of about five minutes, the Rams added a veteran and a rookie cornerback to their roster. As they were filing their pick for Durant, a position-versatile player out of HBCU South Carolina State, they also were on the phone with Cleveland finalizing the trade for Hill.
Durant was one of Snead’s favorite prospects in the entire draft. He appreciated Durant’s resilience and tenacity despite his size as well as his ball skills. Durant, who is 5-9 and just 180 pounds (he will put on weight in his development process with the Rams), especially stood out to Snead via his tape from playing Clemson last year. Durant gave up a touchdown, but went on to record four pass breakups and two interceptions.
“I feel like my playing style is just being a gnat to the ball,” Durant said. “Whenever the ball is in the air, it’s mine and nobody else’s.”
The Browns had selected cornerback Martin Emerson at pick No. 68 the day before. Previously, Snead and Browns general manager Andrew Berry had discussed a potential trade for Hill, a former Ram who projects in their “star” position as well as outside, dependent on the game plan for Jalen Ramsey.
That trade possibility had actually been floated internally as far back as early March, when the Rams were evaluating their options in the eventual second wave of free agency. Once Berry selected Emerson, the Rams got back on the phone and eventually sealed their move for Hill the next day, sending a 2023 fifth-round pick to Cleveland. A beaming Morris and receivers coach Eric Yarber wandered through the house on Facetime with Hill (after he had hung up with assistant secondary coach Jonathan Cooley), and they all celebrated poolside. Hill was happy to be returning to Los Angeles, but the move held other feelings, too.
“I was already motivated from last season, but just me getting traded, especially for a fifth-round pick, I feel some type of way, I feel disrespected,” Hill said this week. “I’m definitely motivated being able to come out and show what I can do and prove people wrong. I’m definitely coming out and playing with a chip on my shoulder.”
The Rams received a 2022 sixth-round compensatory pick because of Hill’s departure in free agency last spring. All three of their sixth-rounders were comp picks; so, the team essentially traded a future fifth in exchange for Hill, plus added at least one more player via that comp pick (they stood pat at Nos. 211 and 212, but if the Hill comp pick was No. 218, they added two more players plus got Hill back).
Round 5, pick No. 164 (via trade with Raiders of Nos. 175 and 238): RB Kyren Williams
The Rams entered this year’s draft knowing that their board would skew toward defensive players — logical, considering team needs, the top-heaviness of their offensive depth chart, the strength of this year’s defensive draft class and their own “redshirt” class from 2021 that features many offensive players who were injured through last season. They would “strategically target” especially defensive backs, Snead said, and wanted to create a full and highly-competitive room that would in itself be a catalyst for players’ development.
But they definitely wanted a running back — lead backs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson both have an injury history, and Henderson is entering a contract year — and felt the fifth round would be a good place to find an early contributor in complement to the other two. They had also matched Williams via his Top-30 visits to a couple of other teams who they felt might pick him before he fell to the Rams’ original selection that round (No. 175), so decided to make the move up to get him.
Williams, a St. Louis, Mo., native and lifelong Rams fan who even used to attend legendary running back Steven Jackson’s camps and dressed up as him for Halloween, was far from a sentimental pick. When his name showed up on the league filing board following the Rams’ trade up to No. 164, a few of the coaches downstairs said, in unison, “pass pro.”
His ability in pass-protection and in diagnosing and picking up blitzes is a trait Williams is especially proud of. It’s also one of the hardest learning curves to hit for a running back who is making the jump from the college level to the NFL.
“I think the biggest thing, as a running back in general in pass-pro, is having a mindset,” he said. “You can’t have a mindset of being shy or timid. You have to deliver the blow first to the linebacker. That’s something I’ve always been taught, growing up. My dad always made me play linebacker on his defense. I had to go stick — go hit — some people.”
The Rams felt Williams’ readiness here, plus his football and off-field intelligence, all bode well for his development in their system.
“Tested poorly, but didn’t play that way on film,” a source later said of Williams. “Ultra productive, and a playmaker. Really good third-down back potential.”
Round 6, pick Nos. 211, 212: Safety Quentin Lake, cornerback Derion Kendrick
After the Rams picked Lake and Kendrick back-to-back, celebrating could be heard from the group upstairs. Lake was especially a favorite of secondary assistant Chris Shula, who (alongside Cooley) got on the phone with the prospects shortly after they were selected.
“Jordan Fuller 2.0,” said a source of Lake — a very high compliment, as Fuller, a former sixth-round pick, started at safety for the Rams in his rookie season and became a team captain last year. Lake is a hometown player through and through. He attended Mater Dei High School before playing at UCLA, and his dad is Carnell Lake, a former All-Decade defensive back who played for the Steelers in the 1990s.
Similar to Williams, the Rams saw that Kendrick was much quicker into position on film than his mediocre athletic testing would indicate and Snead said he sees the game with “safety”-like vision, meaning he processes the entire field (a plus-trait for the Rams, who pattern-match routes). They also said they did a good deal of background work on Kendrick, who had some disciplinary issues while at Clemson that led to his removal from the program and then his transfer to Georgia, and some legal issues that were resolved.
Area scouts had already gotten to know Kendrick, but two weeks before the draft, Rams director of player affairs Jacques McClendon and head of security Steve Miller journeyed to Athens, Ga., to sit for hours with Kendrick over breakfast. Kendrick said they hardly discussed any football; McClendon and Miller wanted to get an honest sense of who he was, instead.
“The process for me, I would say it was different from others’ because, really, the situation I’d been through,” Kendrick said. “It didn’t surprise me, I already knew it was coming. I just had to face it, own up to it and be truthful.
“It was really good letting teams know who I truly am, and how I will be in the future if they took a chance on me.”
Round 7, pick Nos. 235 (via trade with Tampa Bay), 253 and 261: edge Daniel Hardy, safety Russ Yeast, tackle A.J. Arcuri
Outside linebackers coach Thad Bogardus paced around the house as the seventh round began, and soon, it was clear why: Hardy, an undersized pass-rusher out of Montana State, showed elite athletic testing and higher-level production albeit at a smaller school (the Rams utilized a similar evaluation process for Hardy that they did for Durant earlier in the draft, as well as up-and-coming outside linebacker Chris Garrett in 2021). DeCamillis and assistant special teams coach Jeremy Springer were also excited to get Hardy, as he has the ability to immediately contribute on special teams.
“The one thing I have going for me is I am absolutely relentless. I am humble, I don’t have a single issue playing special teams,” Hardy said. “I am just ready to go in there and do whatever the coaches ask of me and ball out.”
Daniel Hardy was drafted with pick 235 of round 7 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.34 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 161 out of 2419 LB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/U2bKA92lFX #RAS #Rams pic.twitter.com/gE4HOsGrAf
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2022
The Rams saw several comparables in Yeast to Nick Scott, another former seventh-round pick who may actually start for them in 2022 after beginning his career as a special teams contributor. Meanwhile, Arcuri, they felt, was the best available remaining prospect who also has left/right side versatility and demonstrated intriguing athleticism despite his 6-7, 310-pound frame. The hope is that Arcuri develops into the Bobby Evans reserve-tackle role as time passes.
“It was surreal,” Arcuri said of getting drafted. “I’m fired up about this opportunity. It’s something you dream about as a child, so just having my name called, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The Rams personnel people who were up in the draft room applauded each other and exchanged hugs and back-slaps as they finished selecting, but the work wasn’t over just yet. Snead and McVay held one final press conference out on the lower patio, squinting into the late-afternoon sunlight as assistants and scouts finished sealing their deals with undrafted free agents.
“It’s fascinating, when you look at that board, and a lot of things are happening fast and a lot of players are leaving it,” said Snead, “but you really appreciate that even though we had eight picks — plus Troy Hill, the bonus — each one of those picks, there’s a lot of man-hours from a lot of different people who aren’t just in coaching and scouting. We’re jacked to have them. … I got a gut feeling there’s a lot of these eight guys who are gonna be playing football for us on Sunday at some point next year.”
As the house slowly emptied, scouting strategy director James Gladstone and pro scouting director John McKay ran the table in the lawn game “bags”; the Rams-themed boards thumping loudly over the rest of the group’s dwindling, exhausted voices.
Most of them stayed long enough to catch one last sunset over Los Angeles.
(Top photo: Los Angeles Rams)