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2016 Team Report: Los Angeles Rams
QuarterbacksStarter: Case Keenum
Backup(s): Jared Goff [R] Starting QB: The Rams aggressively move up to No.1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft to upgrade their quarterback depth chart, but Goff has not seemed ready for prime time and will sit behind Case Keenum to open the season. Keenum was a part of a mini resurgence for the offense last December under new offensive coordinator Rob Boras. He should be a game manager with the offense running through Todd Gurley as long as the score is close. Backup QB: Goff has been undergoing a transition to the pros that has been rough. The Rams have to keep their fingers crossed that Keenum can stay healthy, because 2015 third-round Sean Mannion isn't looking any more ready for regular season NFL action than Goff right now.
Running BacksStarter: Todd Gurley
Backup(s): Benny Cunningham, Malcolm Brown
Fullback(s): Starting RB: Todd Gurley had a prominent role as expected once healthy and a game day active as a 2015 rookie. Gurley is a true three-down workhorse as the NFL moves to more backfield committees by the season. Gurley had at least 20 touches in 8-of-13 games in 2015. His combination of power and speed ranks among the NFL elite. One limitation worth monitoring is his passing game usage as Benny Cunningham saw multiple targets in 11 games, tempering Gurley's upside through the air with only seven targets over the final seven games of the season. Gurley will be the centerpiece of a Rams offense with rookie Jared Goff under center. Backup RBs: Benny Cunningham was resigned to a one-year contract as a pass-catching specialist behind Todd Gurley. Cunningham has excelled in the role, along with work as a kick-off returner the last three years. Malcolm Brown has been a preseason star with rugged running between the tackles, and he should move into the spot vacated by Tre Mason while he is mired with troubling off-field mental health issues. Fullback:
Wide ReceiversStarters: Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin
Backups: Brian Quick, Pharoh Cooper [R], Michael Thomas [R] Starting WRs: Kenny Britt has been the de facto primary outside receiver for the Rams lackluster passing game the past two seasons. The once dynamic Round 1 drafted receiver is running out of opportunities as 2016 marks his final year of a low-money contract. The Rams brought in a host of potential replacements from the 2016 rookie class, making Britt a veteran placeholder and auditioning for a new contract in 2017. Tavon Austin enters the final year of his rookie contract. After barely 100 targets his first two seasons combined, Austin was used more regularly in 2015 with 87 targets, 104 touches, and nine offensive touchdowns. Austin has yet to round out his passing tree as a traditional wide receiver but remains one of the few playmakers in the NFL every time he touches the ball. Backup WRs: Brian Quick, like teammate Kenny Britt, is running out of time in the NFL. Quick is on a one-year contract and will face heavy competition for playing time from the host of incoming 2016 rookies. Quick is a big-bodied but average-at-best athlete who has yet to see 40 targets in a season. Pharoh Cooper was the top-drafted wide receivers as the Rams were aggressive in stockpiling pass-catchers in the 2016 NFL Draft. Cooper is a thick and productive prospect from South Carolina. Cooper could be a poor man's Tavon Austin replacement if Austin leaves in free agency after 2016. Michael Thomas has quality tape out of Southern Mississippi, flashing body control, strong hands, and ball skills. Thomas was a strong producer over two seasons and projects as an outside NFL receiver with starter upside.
Tight EndsStarters: Lance Kendricks
Backups: Tyler Higbee [R] After a promising rookie season, Lance Kendricks has played second fiddle to Jared Cook in the Rams tight end passing game pecking order for three years. Now with Jared Cook gone and a new contract, Kendricks has an opportunity to expand on his strong red zone acumen on minimal targets. Kendricks is a strong athlete and a potential security blanket for the Rams' rookie quarterback, Jared Goff. Tyler Higbee is the projected backup, a talented rookie pass-catcher out of Western Kentucky. Higbee was a highly-ranked prospect, slipping to Day 3 of the NFL Draft due to a late-season knee injury and an off-field legal issue leading up to the draft.
Place KickerGreg Zuerlein, Taylor Bertolet [R]: Zuerlein signed a one-year deal for a modest 1.25 million dollars after a stinker of a season. He was 20-for-30 on field goals, although six of those misses were from 50+. Still, 14-for-18 from 30-49 isn't exactly stellar, and head coach Jeff Fisher expressed the desire for Zuerlein to have competition. Fortunately for Zuerlein, so far the team has only signed UDFA Taylor Bertolet, who wasn't even that accurate in college, missing six extra points and never topping 72% in field goals. The Rams could still look to sign a cut from another team before the season starts if Zuerlein doesn't improve. Stay away from this situation in drafts.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Benny Cunningham, Michael Thomas Since making the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Benny Cunningham has held on to the role of the Rams' top kick returner, a role he looks to retain in 2016. Rookie WR Michael Thomas has also been getting reps at the position this offseason. Punt Returners: Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper A threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball, Tavon Austin has a punt return touchdown in each of his three seasons in the NFL. With a near-lock on the job heading into 2016, he will look to become the second player in history-- after Eric Metcalf-- to return a punt for a score in four straight years.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Greg Robinson, LG Rodger Saffold, C Tim Barnes, RG Jamon Brown, RT Rob Havenstein
Key Backups: Isaiah Battle, Garrett Reynolds, Cody Wichmann, Andrew Donnal Despite not adding anyone in the draft, the Rams' offensive line will again be one of the younger units in the game. Their 2015 crop is led by left tackle Greg Robinson, who showed signs of improvement as the season progressed. Robinson has all the physical skills to be an elite player, and has to just settle into the position before that can happen. Left guard Rodger Saffold is often hurt, but while healthy can be a good player. Saffold should be pushed by Andrew Donnal and Cody Wichmann, but the team guaranteed Saffold's salary prior to the season. Both right side players, right guard Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein, looked promising last year before succumbing to season ending injuries. The center position is manned by local product Tim Barnes and he will be looked toward for veteran leadership. The bench includes Garrett Reynolds, who always seems to be starting football games, and athletic but super raw former supplemental draftee from Clemson, Isaiah Battle. Overall, the Rams' line has talent but it needs to gain experience and prove it can avoid injuries. Tier Ranking: Low Tier.
Team DefenseThe Rams were expected to score among the top fantasy D/ST's in 2015, but they failed to deliver on the draft capital invested. They were middle of the road in most defensive statistics except for forced fumbles. The team lost Janoris Jenkins and Chris Long in free agency, but if Robert Quinn can bounce back and rookie #1 overall pick Jared Goff makes the passing game respectable, the Rams might control more games with Todd Gurley and allow their aggressive front seven to tee off. Los Angeles is usually one of the last D/ST's drafted and they open facing the woeful 49ers offense in Santa Clara, so spending a pick in one of the last two rounds on the Rams D/ST isn't a half-bad plan.
Defensive LineStarters: Starters: Robert Quinn DE, William Hayes DE, DT Aaron Donald, DT Michael Brockers
Backups: Eugene Sims DE, Ethan Westbrooks DE, Dominique Easley DT, Louis Trinca-Pasat Starting DL: Quinn may be the most talented pass rushing 4-3 DE in the game when healthy, but fell off from 19 sacks in 2013 to 10.5 sacks in 2014, and was pacing for about the same (5 sacks in eight games) before a season ending back injury last year. A former South Carolina 3 X state champ heavyweight wrestler as a prep, the 26 year old #14 overall pick in the 2011 draft and 2 X Pro Bowler is an explosive playmaker and underrated in run support (combined 12 FFs and 89 solo tackles in 2013-2014). Quinn is currently rehabbing from back surgery, and is in the third year of a six year extension through 2019. Hayes outplayed the oft-injured and since departed Chris Long since 2014 as a reserve and in a part time starter role (9.5 sacks and 69 solo tackles). The 31 year old ex-Titan fourth rounder just signed a three year extension worth $17.5 million ($10 million guaranteed). Donald has been called by one ratings service the best player in the NFL. The 25 year old 2014 #13 overall pick is already a 2 X All-Pro, with a combined 20 sacks, 81 solo tackles and 35 assists in his first two seasons. Donald fell in the draft for lacking prototypical size, but is one of the fastest interior defensive linemen in league history, explodes off the snap count with cat-quick reflexes (a 285 lb. cat), a technician when it comes to the hand to hand combat needed to defeat blocking, has an advanced array of pass rush moves, the ability to string them together and rare instincts to find the ball. Brockers is another #14 overall pick that turns 26 in 2016, like Quinn. The Rams picked up his fifth year option this season as a potential overture to a long term extension. The 6'5", 325 lb. man mountain Brockers is invaluable for his thankless work in the trenches eating blocks and collapsing the pocket, enabling his more high profile teammates to make plays. He plays an integral role on and helps complete one of the best DLs in the game today. Backup DL: Sims just signed a three year extension, and represents solid depth on one of the best pass rushing DLs in the league. Easley was a NE first round pick in 2014 (giving the Rams five on their DL), but consecutive early exits and December IR designations doomed his future with the Pats, leading to his release after just two seasons. He signed for a third year vet minimum of $600,000 with no guaranteed money.
LinebackersStarters: Mark Barron WLB, Alec Ogletree MLB, Akeem Ayers SLB
Backups: Bryce Hager MLB, Josh Forrest SLB [R] Starting LBs: Barron is a former TB 2012 #7 overall pick traded for fourth and sixth round picks in 2014, and even on a roster loaded with not only first round picks but from the top half of the stanza, his pedigree stands out as best on the defense and third highest overall on the roster. A gifted athlete, he was a prep champion in the long and triple jumps as well as shot put and discus. While Barron has limitations in coverage, he was among the national leaders with 7 INTs as an Alabama soph All-American. After failing to crack the starting lineup at safety and playing a lot of big nickel, a season-ending broken leg to WLB Alec Ogletree thrust him into the starting lineup, where he paced for near 100 solo tackles in the last 2/3 of the 2015 season (with a sack and 3 FFs). With Ogletree shunted to MLB after the release of Laurinaitis, the Rams signed Barron to a five year, $45 million extension with $20 million guranteed, making him the second highest paid WLB in the game after Lavonte David of TB (five/$50/$25). Ogletree was drafted #30 overall in 2013, giving LA seven first rounders in their front seven, and like Barron, has safety in his background as well as the highest SEC level of competition (Georgia). He is an explosive playmaker, and before his injury last year, in both his rookie and second seasons was top 10 in tackles among LBs, as well as one of the overall league leaders with 10 FFs. While the positional switch to the inside is somewhat of an experiment for Ogletree, not known for taking on and shedding blockers, he has the athleticism and talent (with Barron), to be a future Pro Bowler - the Rams just exercised their 2017 fifth year option. Ayers is a former high second round pick by LA pipeline TEN, but was on the field less than 50% of the time in 2015. Backup LBs: Hager was a seventh round pick in the 2015 draft, a product of the troubled Baylor program. If Ogletree were to miss any length of time, it would represent a precipitous drop off in talent on the inside. Forrest was one of three picks in the sixth round, and their sole defensive selection from the class of 2016. He offers an intriguing blend of size (6'3", 255 lbs.) and athleticism, as a former WR positional conversion. Forrest didn't test exceptionally, including plodding, lineman-like 4.7-4.8 40 times and severely lacking explosiveness (30.5" VJ), but plays faster than his sub-optimal measurables might indicate. He was first team all-state as a Kentucky prodigy, honorable mention in his first season playing the sport as a junior, as well as his first sport, basketball. His relatively late start (similar to Clemson/TEN DE/LB Kevin Dodd) could give him upside once he learns some more positional nuances with NFL caliber coaching.
Defensive BacksStarters: Trumaine Johnson CB, E.J. Gaines CB, Maurice Alexander FS, T.J. McDonald SS
Backups: Lamarcus Joyner CB/FS, Coty Sensabaugh CB, Marcus Roberson CB, Cody Davis FS, Christian Bryant FS Starting DBs: Johnson is coming off a career year in 2015, and was rewarded with the franchise designation in 2016. The 2012 high third rounder set or tied career marks nearly across the board, with 13 games started, 58 solo tackles, 13 assists, 7 sacks, 17 PD, 1 FR and 1 TD. Johnson's expected long term extenion looms larger with the defection of former starting CB Janoris Jenkins to the Giants in free agency, and he offers better length and size than his ex-bookend. He missed the equivalent of a half season in 2014-2015 combined, and hasn't been as resilient as Jenkins. If Johnson answers that one lingering question in his resume, he will be in line for a massive payday. 2014 sixth rounder Gaines had a brilliant rookie season and was arguably the steadiest and most consistent member of the secondary in 2014. He is a more than competent and capable replacement in the starting lineup if fully recovered from a Lis-franc mid-foot sprain that cost his entire 2015 campaign (early reports have been encouraging). McDonald is a 2013 third rounder in a contract season. The son of Cardinal/49er serial All-Pro SS Tim (fellow USC alumni, with HC Fisher, they return to familiar stomping grounds in the Los Angeles Coliseum), the mirror-images sport near WLB-size at 6'2", 215-220 lbs. and are/were physical, hard-nosed, punishing tacklers in run support. T.J. is an explosive athlete (40" vertical and 10'11" broad jumps), but not as fluid changing direction and stiffer in coverage than his more accomplished and higher profile father. Alexander could replace departed starting FS Rodney McLeod (along with Cody Davis and Christian Bryant, promising UFA Brian Randolph suffered a torn ACL in training camp), though he has a more natural SS skill set, and is much more comfortable moving forward in run support than backwards in coverage. Backup DBs: Joyner is expected to stay put in an increasingly extremely important role league-wide, with the Rams situationally matching up with a nickel defense variant 60% to 70% of the time in some games. At 5'8", 185 lbs., the former prep USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 second rounder has been called a mashup of ARI FS/CB and borderline Defensive Player of the Year Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, former IND SS DPOY Bob "The Hitman" Sanders and ex-MIN CB and one of the greatest pound-for-pound tacklers of his era, Antoine Winfield (albeit not as explosive an athlete). He makes up for lack of stature with outstanding instincts, an evident natural feel for the game, physical toughness and intensity. Sensabaugh is another in a litany of former Titans riding the free agent express westbound to the Rams (now with a further destination to LA). He could compete to start opposite Johnson, or upgrade depth. Like McLeod, Davis is a former UFA (as well as a plus athlete - 6'1", 205 lbs., Texas Tech pro day 4.41 40, 6.77 3-cone drill and 41.5" VJ). Last modified: 2016-08-31 19:46:47