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2017 Team Report: Los Angeles Rams

Offensive Philosophy

With an inefficient running game and an inexperienced quarterback, the Rams ran the second-fewest offensive plays in the league last year. Sean McVay was brought in to turn around those stalled drives and try to develop Jared Goff. In Washington, McVay helped turn Kirk Cousins into a pro bowler with an aggressive downfield passing offense. While his former team didn't rely much on its running backs, the presence of Todd Gurley suggests McVay will lean a bit more towards the run in 2017.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jared Goff
Backup(s): Sean Mannion

Starting QB: After aggressively moving up to No.1 overall for Jared Goff, his rookie year mirrored the Rams overall struggles. Goff played in eight games, looking overwhelmed a vast majority of the time. He completed 54% of his passes with more interceptions than touchdowns and just 5.3 yards-per-attempt. While rookie quarterbacks are historically slow starters, Goff was well below baseline for the average long-term success at the position. The complete overhaul of the Rams coaching staff offers potential optimism as Sean McVay logged three successful seasons as Washington's offensive coordinator, including their ranks in the top-3 of a myriad of offensive categories with Kirk Cousins under the center. McVay as the head coach offers experience with Matt LaFleur in his first year as offensive coordinator after working with Matt Ryan in Atlanta as the quarterbacks coach for two seasons. McVay and LaFleur are the biggest reasons for optimism with Goff in Year 2 as the weapons are lacking overall with 2016 lead receiver, Kenny Britt, departed from free agency.

Backup QB: Sean Mannion represents one of the lower-level primary backup quarterbacks in the NFL. The former third round pick two years ago has thrown 13 career passes to-date. Mannion's evaluation exiting Oregon State as a prospect centered around being a complimentary quarterback in a run-oriented and play-action-centric NFL offense. The Rams run game turning around would offer Mannion an opportunity for success if pushing into action.

Running Backs

Starter: Todd Gurley
Backup(s): Lance Dunbar, Malcolm Brown
Fullback(s): Sam Rogers [R]

Starting RB: After a promising rookie season in 2015, averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry and 10 touchdowns over 13 games, Todd Gurley's sophomore season was a trainwreck in 2016. Gurley posted a single game of more than 80 yards rushing on the season and just one game above 4.0 yards-per-rush. Goal line opportunities were few and far between and Gurley consistently was met in the backfield and did not take advantage of his few open field chances with long runs. The Rams' offensive line added to Gurley's struggles as one of the worst run-blocking units in the NFL. On the positive side, Gurley had 58 targets, a hearty total as he averaged more than 20 yards-per-game through the air. The combination of line play and not seeing the few holes present from week-to-week, Gurley's 2016 season can be summed up as a lost year. The addition of Andrew Whitworth at tackle through free agency and improved health from tackle Rob Havenstein (played through a foot injury) will go a long way towards the Rams offensive line helping, instead of hurting, Gurley's chances for a bounce-back season.

Backup RBs: Lance Dunbar, healthy from his late-season ACL, MCL, and patellar tendon injury in 2015 with Dallas, will replace Benny Cunningham as the receiving back of choice for the Rams. His running back coach is Skip Peete, his former positional coach in Dallas, now reunited with the Rams. Dunbar offers limited upside beyond situational pass-catching duties as a later-career player, an under-sized frame, and coming off his lowest yards-per-carry season of his career (3.4) and second-lowest per-reception total (7.6). Malcolm Brown was an 18-year-old phenom (and elite recruit) at University of Texas and has been a marginal player since. Brown has prototypical size and quality movement skills, pointing to potential upside. With Lance Dunbar lacking the size to be an early down grinder, Brown is the projected handcuff to starter Todd Gurley to open the season.

Fullback: The Rams drafted a versatile fullback this year in Rogers. The sixth-round pick can be an H-Back with good hands and some running ability and solid play as a pass protector and run blocker.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Tavon Austin, Robert Woods
Backups: Pharoh Cooper, Cooper Kupp [R], Josh Reynolds [R], Bradley Marquez, Mike Thomas

Starting WRs: Kenny Britt left in free agency, leaving a glaring hole as the lead perimeter receiver for the Rams in 2017. Tavon Austin signed a big-money contract to stay with the Rams, a questionable investment considering Austin's role to-date on offense. Austin is an unquestionable impact athlete, with explosion, long speed, and lateral agility to rival any playmaker in the league. However, his usage downfield and as more than a situational offensive weapon, has been fleeting. After 104 offensive touches in 2015, Austin simmered back to 86 touches and four touchdowns last season, including a career-low 5.7 yards-per-carry. Robert Woods was the major free agent addition of the offseason. The former Buffalo receiver and second round pick played second fiddle to Sammy Watkins for most of his time with the Bills, occasionally with cameo lead receiver time when Watkins was out of the lineup. Woods fits the possession role for an NFL receiver prototype well with average size and lagging athleticism for his build. His technical skills as a route runner are his best trait, offering consistency on short to intermediate routes, a welcome sight for a young quarterback in Jared Goff.

Backup WRs: Pharoh Cooper offers a similar profile to Robert Woods - an average-sized receiver with strong collegiate production but lagging athletic traits for his build. Averaging just 7.6 yards-per-reception as a rookie, Cooper projects in the No.3 role on a limited passing offense. This combination does not possess a high historical ceiling. Cooper Kupp was one of the most productive college receivers in the 2017 class, showing well at the Senior Bowl and ultimately being drafted on Day 2 by the Rams. Kupp offers return ability in addition to strong route-running on the perimeter and in the slot. Kupp has nuanced positional skills of a mid-career receiver entering the NFL. Josh Reynolds offers more high-pointing ball skills than Kupp with his large catching radius and deep target penchant. While his hands are inconsistent at times, Reynolds offers the most jump ball potential on the depth chart with the departure of Kenny Britt to free agency. Bradley Marquez was a role player in Tampa Bay and sports above-average change-of-direction.

Tight Ends

Starters: Tyler Higbee
Backups: Gerald Everett, Temarrick Hemingway

With long-time incumbent Lance Kendricks gone to Green Bay in free agency, 2016 rookie tight end Tyler Higbee moves up to the projected starting spot for the Rams. Higbee has quality size and a strong production track record from Western Kentucky, but his athletic profile is limited. His rookie stat line parallels his prospect profile, averaging just 7.7 yards-per-catch in 2016. While the wide receiver corps of limited upside points to an opportunity for strong tight end production, historically the equation mandates high-level quarterback play to achieve top-shelf status. Higbee is the favorite to be the Week 1 starter with his upside hingeing on progression from Jared Goff. Gerald Everett is a classic move tight end in profile and highly productive fueling a Round 2 selection this offseason. Everett offers early-route separation more than Higbee and was one of the most athletic tight ends in the 2017 draft class. Temarrick Hemingway is also entering his second NFL season. Hemingway offers athletic potential from his prospect profile, but produced little at South Carolina State, making him a boom-bust projection with low odds to turn his physical attributes into sustainable NFL production.

Place Kicker

Greg Zuerlein: Greg "the leg" Zuerlein's stats were brought down with the rest of the Rams offense in 2016, but that didn't stop the team from signing him to a three-year deal this offseason. He got 2.375 million guaranteed, so he would have to implode to lose the job. Zuerlein made 19 of 22 field goal attempts last year, but only had eight attempts from over 40 yards, making five of them. The Rams offense is still unlikely to support a fantasy kicker to relevance even in deep leagues, so despite the job security, Zuerlein should be off of your draft board.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Pharoh Cooper, Mike Williams

Despite Tavon Austin's reputation as a return specialist, he hasn't regularly returned kickoffs since his rookie year, and for good reason- of the 71 players with at least 20 returns since 2013, Austin ranks last in yards per return. Instead, last year's kickoff returns were handled by a rotation of Benny Cunningham, Pharoh Cooper, and Mike Williams. In 2017, Cunningham is gone but the other two remain.

Punt Returners: Tavon Austin

The Rams' highly-drafted, highly-paid receiver has frequently disappointed on offense, but he's been a fixture on special teams his entire career and likely has the punt return job locked down for a while to come.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Rodger Saffold, C John Sullivan, RG Rob Havenstein, RT Jamon Brown
Key Backups: Demetrius Rhaney, Andrew Donnal, Cody Wichmann, Pace Murphy

The Rams' offensive line improved greatly when it signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth in free agency. Whitworth is a current Pro Bowl performer and will play next to Rodger Saffold at left guard. Saffold has been a rock for this unit and while that left side doesn't have a ton of future upside, it could be excellent this year. Rob Havenstein is moving in from right tackle to right guard and he has the potential to be an impact blocker but struggles with durability. The team also signed veteran John Sullivan to start at center. It is not clear if Sullivan is still a starter, and Demetrius Rheney could win this job again this preseason. Jamon Brown, Andrew Donnal and Pace Murphy played well enough this offseason that the team felt comfortable trading Greg Robinson to the Lions. Brown should be the starter but the team also likes Donnal. On paper this is a much improved and certainly more experienced unit but these players have not played together and some have not even played these positions before. The uncertainty holds the grade down and until these positions become less volatile, the Rams grade out as a mid or possibly low tier line.

Team Defense

Not all that long ago, the Rams D/ST was a premium unit with the potential to go off and win a week for you when you needed it the most. 2016 saw a massive dropoff to the bottom ten as the franchise languished under the weight of yet another subpar offense and the loss of Robert Quinn for half of the season. After losing Janoris Jenkins last year, the team kept Trumaine Johnson with the franchise tag, and added Kayvon Webster to compete to start on the other side. The best hope for a defensive resurgence came in the form of Wade Phillips, who was hired to stoke the aggressiveness of this unit in his 3-4 attacking scheme. Aaron Donald is still a marquee playmaker up front, but the team needs Quinn to regain form to justify the ADP putting them in the 10-15 range. Tavon Austin's return abilities help make the case for this team, but in a transition year, temper your expectations.

Defensive Line

Starters: Aaron Donald DE, Dominique Easley DE, Michael Brockers NT
Backups: Tyrunn Walker DE, Louis Trinca-Pasat DE, Matt Longacre DE, Tanzel Smart DT [R], Ethan Westbrooks DL

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.

Linebackers

Starters: Alec Ogletree ILB, Mark Barron ILB, Robert Quinn OLB, Connor Barwin OLB
Backups: Corey Littleton ILB, Bryce Hager ILB, Josh Forrest ILB, Ethan Westbrooks OLB, Samson Ebukam OLB [R], Ejuan Price OLB [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 guaranteed, 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 Backs

Starters: Trumaine Johnson CB, Nickell Robey-Coleman CB, Lamarcus Joyner FS/CB, Maurice Alexander SS
Backups: E.J. Gaines CB, Kayvon Webster CB, Marqui Christian CB, Cody Davis FS, John Johnson FS [R], CB Troy Hill (susp)

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: 2017-06-20 11:09:59