“Success starts at the top” is one of the biggest cliches in football but ahead of the Rams-Packers clash Sunday, it is as true as ever.
In football, the “top” is the general manager, who oversees personnel moves with both players and coaches.
One of the underrated story lines to this week’s game is the comparison of general managers in Ted Thompson and Billy Devaney, who work every day to build the teams we see on the field.
Thompson has fielded a Super Bowl winning team, looking like a genius after taking the reins away from Brett Favre and handing over responsibility to Aaron Rodgers while building depth from top to bottom.
Devaney had less to work with when he arrived, but is now in his third season and has won only 10 games with razor thin depth at several positions.
Devaney wasn’t in charge of the Rams personnel until 2008 but the difference between the two GM’s since then paints a clear picture of why one team is in the NFC elite and the other is in the NFC basement.
Excluding the 2011 draft and starting with the 2008 draft, the Rams struck gold with Chris Long and netted contributors in Justin King and Chris Chamberlain but the rest of the picks included Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, John Greco and Roy Scheuning.
The Packers nabbed Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Josh Sitton and Matt Flynn, finding an elite tight end in the third round and valuable depth in Nelson, Sitton and Flynn.
In 2009, the Rams grabbed defensive leader James Laurinaitis and potential star corner Bradley Fletcher, but also wasted picks on Brooks Foster, Keith Null, Chris Ogbonnaya. This draft also featured the pick of Jason Smith second overall, who is looking like more of a bust with each passing day.
Thompson struck gold with his two first round picks, drafting B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews along with more depth in T.J. Lang, Jarius Wynn and Brad Jones.
The 2010 draft is still subject to review because the players have only had one full season but it’s relatively clear at this point that the Rams hit on Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Jerome Murphy and Illinois Mike. However, St. Louis has also cut Mardy Gilyard, Hall Davis and George Selvie.
The Packers drafted Bryan Bulaga, James Starks, Sam Shields and Frank Zombo. In fact, each of the nine players Green Bay took in 2010 are still on the team.
Overall, the Rams have only 16 of 27 drafted or undrafted free agents left on the team from 2008 to 2010, an ugly 59 percent success rate.
The Packers still have 20 of 27 players, a much higher 74 percent draft success rate.
The point is, Devaney can no longer use the Zygmunt regime that ruined the Rams roster as an excuse, as his fingerprints are all over this year’s disappointing winless team.
The reason the Rams have been exposed can be attributed to poor play and coaching, but Devaney’s hands are just as dirty evidenced by his own draft and personnel decisions.
The Rams have a chance to upset the Packers coming off a bye, but there is no doubt who will be fielding the deeper and more talented team from top to bottom.
It's a tough comparison for Devaney, as he has had to rebuild the roster from the ground up, but you bring up plenty of fair points. The failure rate among those mid-to-later round picks is something that is beginning to haunt this team, and from a durability perspective I wonder how long we'll be able to count Hoomanawanui as a "win." (He was plagued with injury problems in college as well.)
When you talk about the lack of depth, obviously cornerback springs to mind, but the offensive line is close behind. And aside from John Greco, Devaney has not spent any of those late round picks on interior beef, which is usually a pretty good way to build cheaply and effectively inside.
I give Devaney a ton of credit for overhauling a broken organization, but achieving mediocrity is not a success, in and of itself. So far, that's the very best we can say about these early returns.