In one hectic, scrambling offseason, Rams general manager Les Snead and his crew found a way to help the team drastically reshuffle a roster that was one of the oldest in the league into the youngest. They also helped in a makeover that saw the Rams go from two wins in 2011 to 2012.
Imagine what they could have done had they actually had time to sit down, get to know each other get all of their ducks in a row.
Welcome to 2013, a place where Snead has the staff he wants in place and nearly a full calendar year of working with the scouts and his personnel lieutenants’ fine tuning the details.
“What happens when you come to a new team, usually you are going to focus on those big rocks,” Snead said. “You are not going to worry about the chaos that comes with the first day of school. I think you like it now in that ‘OK, we are teed up and into segments.’
Last year at this time, Snead was still more than a month from being named to his new post after spending the previous three seasons as Atlanta’s director of player personnel and nearly two decades in the front office of the Falcons and Jaguars.
Upon his hiring on Valentine’s Day last year, Snead hit the ground running knowing full well there wouldn’t be enough time to implement his system and still find a way to maintain efficiency.
Snead was already up to speed in terms of the players in the draft and free agency since he was preparing to go through another offseason with the Falcons.
Instead of trying to force a large group to learn a new system, Snead opted to go with something of a role reversal that would allow him to find a common ground with the previous system of evaluating and procuring talent.
“It’s easier for me to come in and learn their system than teach a lot of people my system,” Snead said. “So what I did was ‘OK, let me see their system and see what’s similar there to my system.’ You then kind of put theirs in yours. That’s when the meetings become important. You have to discuss and get out of those guys, ask the questions you want answered and then see if you have to dig a little further. I think that’s the pros of coming in. It’s new, it’s a different set of eyes, let me ask the questions I would normally ask in Atlanta and get out of the guys what you are trying to get out of them.”
With little time to come up for air, Snead engineered one of the biggest draft related trades in Rams’ history, dealing the No. 2 pick to Washington in exchange for first-round choices in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and an additional second-round pick last year.
When all was said and done, Snead moved back again and had the Rams drafting four players in the top 50 and 10 players overall. That was in addition to a busy offseason in which the Rams landed big ticket free agents such as cornerback
Helping ease the transition was the placement of a pair of up and comers in the personnel world that came with Snead from Atlanta in pro personnel director Ran Carthon and college scouting director Taylor Morton.
With the draft complete, the process of getting Snead’s process in place as soon as possible became the top priority.
“One of the reasons you hire them, besides you think they are good at what they do, they can help you because those guys knew the system,” Snead said. “We bring them in and they help us implement the details. The thing to do is ‘Here’s our normal system that I’m used to’ and let’s mesh it, let’s have a mixture of all three. It’s a good way to do it. I thought that was neat and fun and gives you energy to kind of get everybody on the same page.”
Right after last year’s draft, Snead wanted his scouts to immediately begin the process of evaluating rising juniors who were about to become seniors. Hours of filmwork and evaluation goes into that but the idea is that when the scouts hit the road to see those guys play as seniors, they have a base of knowledge to see how much improvement a player might make from one season to the next.
The scouts are also dispatched to their various areas to begin interviewing support staff at various schools to collect intel on players and start drawing conclusions on some of the more intangible characteristics the Rams want in a player.
And though Snead has earned his way into the big chair, he still likes to get his hands dirty and be out on the road looking at players. For most of the 2012 season, Snead would not travel with the Rams to away games because he was on some college campus looking at another player before flying to wherever the Rams were playing that weekend.
It’s something Snead would likely do anyway but he says with four first-round picks over the next couple of years, there’s added importance to turning over every rock along the way.
“I said coming into this if we have got four No. 1 picks in two years, we are stealing two picks,” Snead said. “Usually it takes four years to get four No. 1s so I think in this job you have got to focus on some of the bigger decisions the organization is going to make. Those four picks in two years are big so you definitely want to get out and see what you are going to invest in.”
At the end of the season, all of the regional and national scouts returned to St. Louis for December meetings where they sit down with Morton begin sharing player grades. It’s in those meetings that the groundwork for the first phase of the offseason is put in place.
“The big thing there is, ‘Here’s all the grades we have on the player,’ this is going to be our Ram grade moving forward,” Snead said. “The No. 1 thing about those meetings is determining what questions do we have to answer moving forward? Each player has a set of questions so now we have got it outlined and we have to answer these questions on each guy.”
Knowing what those questions are is paramount as the Rams go into what Snead calls the “All Star” phase of the offseason. The all star phase consists of a number of all star games all over the country.
While games like the Senior Bowl draw the most notoriety, they are far from the only places to find players. Snead actually places a little more value on some of the lesser known all star games because hidden gems can be found there.
In fact, Snead makes it a point to send his most experienced scouts to those lesser all star games because of their established eye for finding talent in some of the most unknown places.
“Those guys have seen who can and can’t perform,” Snead said. “Even though you may not be looking at a lot of draftables, you also know if a guy can be a college free agent. We’ve had some success with some of those guys. So that’s what’s kind of neat about where we are at now.”
During the all star phase, Snead wants to start answering those questions that were pre-determined in the December meetings. Initial player interviews can be done and players can be evaluated in a more competitive setting than they may have participated in at their schools.
That is followed by a cross check phase where scouts look at different positions and multiple opinions on players are formed.
When it’s over, the Rams head to the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis for another round of interviews and medical information gathering before returning to St. Louis to recalibrate and prep for any final questions that might need answering at pro days or the top 30 visits.
“Each step of the way it’s about what questions need to be asked and let’s go answer them,” Snead said. “Sometimes it’s ability, sometimes it’s intangible, sometimes it’s medical.”
As Snead embarks on his second offseason and first full cycle as general manager, he sees only opportunity for the process to evolve, improve and eventually thrive.
At the end of the day, all that goes into player personnel adds up to a number of final choices. As the years go by, Snead only expects that the method in place now will ultimately make those selections that much easier.
“I think what will happen, this is year two, year three is when you iron out the wrinkles,” Snead said. “Year one, you come in and uh oh, it’s make decisions. Year two, roll out your way of doing things but still making decisions. Year three, iron out the wrinkles, really refine it and still make decisions. But the key in those three stages is still making the right decisions.”