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2018 Team Report: Los Angeles Rams
Offensive PhilosophyUnder first-year coach Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Rams executed one of the most stunning offensive transformations in NFL history, more than doubling their output as they went from last in the league in scoring in 2016 to first in 2017. That improvement led by a power running game, a short passing game, and an massive amount of yards after the catch and contact. While the running game focused entirely on star Todd Gurley, the passing game spread the ball around to an incredible degree; despite throwing more than 500 passes, the Rams didn't have a single player receive 100 targets, and just 24 targets separated their #1 and #4 receivers.
QuarterbacksStarter: Jared Goff
Backup(s): Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen Starting QB: Jared Goff goes from bust conversation in the Jeff Fisher Rams iteration a year ago to a breakout performer with Sean McVay in 2017. Goff's numbers turned on their axis as a second-year starter including a 4-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and top-5 rankings in the NFL in interception rate, touchdown rate, yards-per-attempt, and passer rating among other categories. In short, Goff lived up to his No.1 overall selection in 2016 as the Rams turned efficient on offense. Goff's lone statistic of average status was completion rate. Brandin Cooks was added via trade to replace the departed Sammy Watkins and Todd Gurley was one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL in 2017. Goff is more of a point guard under center than elite 'raise the tide of the offense' quarterback, but with Sean McVay running the show and strong surrounding talent, Goff is a strong candidate to continue performing at a high level. Backup QB: The backup situation for the Rams at quarterback is unchanged from 2017. Sean Mannion represents one of the lower-level primary backup quarterbacks in the NFL. The former third round pick three years ago has thrown 50 career passes to-date, finally getting a start in 2017. 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. With the Rams turning into one of the best offenses in the NFL, the rising tide aids Mannion's chances of being viable if pushed into duty.
Running BacksStarter: Todd Gurley
Backup(s): Malcolm Brown, Justin Davis, John Kelly [R]
Fullback(s): Starting RB: Like Jared Goff and the passing game, what a difference a year made for Todd Gurley. The former No.10 overall draft pick nearly doubled his total yardage from 2016 and posted an NFL-high 13 rushing touchdowns, adding 64 receptions. The overall efficiency of the offense was a significant boost to Gurley's touchdown chances as Gurley had only 10 rushes inside the five-yard-line in 2016, which ballooned to 22 carries in 2017. No other NFL back had more than 18 such carries. Gurley was at his best in space and his receiving prowess was featured by the Rams offense. His receiving numbers - a gaudy 12.3 yards-per-catch and six touchdowns - are on the regression hot list for 2018 as historically unsustainable. Gurley is one of the few foundation running backs still in his prime age window in the NFL. Backup RBs: Malcolm Brown and Justin Davis remain as the Rams No.2 and No.3 depth chart options in 2018, but they could be threatened by the team's sixth-round pick, John Kelly. Brown has flashed lead back potential over his three seasons with prototypical size and as a quality mover. Durability and consistency have been the two areas of concern for Brown dating back to his time at Texas after being an elite high school recruit. Justin Davis is a thinner and less intriguing option firmly on the NFL roster fringe without plus athleticism or college production after a non-descript rookie season. Kelly is a very good pass catcher and he runs with excellent balance and ability to gain yards after contact. Fullback:
Wide ReceiversStarters: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods
Backups: Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas Starting WRs: Brandin Cooks is new to the Rams depth chart for 2018, the third team in as many seasons for the former first round selection. With the departure of Sammy Watkins, the vertical role in the offense is open for Cooks, who has averaged 14.1 yards-per-catch over his career and has three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Cooks has a thick frame for his height and the ability to make contested plays on intermediate routes. One area of concern is the overall volume of the Rams passing game (24th in pass attempts) and the deep reservoir of targets between wide receivers and Todd Gurley. Cooks has seen at least 110 targets in each of the past three seasons while no Rams target saw more than 94 in 2017 with their well-balanced attack. While missing multiple games for the fourth time in five NFL seasons, Robert Woods had a career-best year including five touchdowns and nearly 800 yards despite only 85 targets. Woods has been the prototypical ancillary receiver in his career, rarely seeing time as the lead option. With Brandin Cooks' addition this offseason, Woods' familiar role seeing secondary coverage will remain in effect. Backup WRs: Cooper Kupp was tabbed as one of the most ready rookie receivers to contribute immediately. Kupp did not disappoint as he had 11-of-15 games with at least six targets and showed his route-running savvy on a regular basis within the Rams scheme designed to get receivers in space. Kupp is a limited athlete in terms of speed or outright explosion, but offers steadiest as an ancillary option, which is his role with Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks also in the mix. Josh Reynolds sparsely played as a rookie down the Rams' wide receiver depth chart. Reynolds' strength as a prospect has his rangy, albeit inconsistent, ball skills above the rim. However, his thin frame and lack of strong throttle-down ability at his route stem were troublesome projections from the college ranks. He's also recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Cooper could play some of the Tavon Austin role after Austin was shipped to Dallas, and Thomas has hung around the roster for two years after being selected in the 2016 sixth round, but will have to improve to make the roster this year.
Tight EndsStarters: Tyler Higbee
Backups: Gerald Everett, Henry Krieger-Coble The Rams are one of the weakest teams in the NFL at the tight end position. Tyler Higbee was the de facto starter in 2017 but had seven games with two or fewer targets. Gerald Everett is the more dynamic athlete of the depth chart and the Rams invested a second round pick in Everett in last year's strong tight end draft class. Everett had the expected low-level impact for a rookie tight end, but did flash on a handful of designed targets to get him into the open field. Everett's limitation comes with his build, in the move-tight end frame as opposed to a traditional two-way option to dominate snaps. With a strong wide receiver depth chart, Everett needs to beat out Higbee for the lead job to begin showing his strong athletic profile in earnest.
Place KickerGreg Zuerlein: Just like the rest of the Rams offense, Greg Zuerlein was a big winner after the team rebuilt their coaching staff. He led the league in kicker scoring despite missing two games, made 38 of 40 field goal attempts, including 12-12 from 40-49 yards and 6-7 from 50+ and was also third in the league in extra point attempts. The Rams offense shouldn't miss a beat this year, keeping him near the top of the league in scoring opportunity, and making Zuerlein a reasonable choice as the first kicker off of the board.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Pharoh Cooper After giving a big contract extension to Tavon Austin only to see him struggle on offense, the Rams contented themselves that at least he contributed on special teams. 2017 changed that, as Pharoh Cooper ripped away the return specialist job and ran with it, earning first-team All Pro honors in the process. Punt Returners: Pharoh Cooper After giving a big contract extension to Tavon Austin only to see him struggle on offense, the Rams contented themselves that at least he contributed on special teams. 2017 changed that, as Pharoh Cooper ripped away the return specialist job and ran with it, earning first-team All Pro honors in the process.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Rodger Saffold, C John Sullivan, RG Jamon Brown, RT Rob Havenstein
Key Backups: Cornelius Lucas, Joe Noteboom, Jamil Demby, Austin Blythe, Darrell Williams Both left tackle Andrew Whitworth and left guard Rodger Saffold are coming off of All-Pro seasons. They, along with center John Sullivan, are veteran players but have been playing lock down football. The right side of Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein is not as dominant, but both should be pushed by draft picks Jamil Demby and Joe Noteboom. Cornelius Lucas is a good swing tackle option. Headed into the season the Rams' offensive line grades out as a top-tier option.
Team DefenseNo defense had a more eventful offseason than the Rams, who added a pair of corners in trades that fit the Wade Phillips defense like a glove in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, traded away Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn, let Trumaine Johnson walk and sign with the Jets, and in the final master stroke, added Ndamukong Suh to the defensive line in free agency. Suh and Donald are a pair of defensive tackles like the league has never seen, and while the Rams lack impact edge rushers without Quinn, they might not need them with Suh and Donald (and Michael Brockers) disrupting passing games with interior pressure. The team will have to break in a new starter in Ogletree's spot, but they have a tremendous pair of young safeties in John Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner, and they also brought back on the best nickel corners in the league, Nickell Robey-Coleman. There's enough firepower here to justify taking the Rams D/ST after the Jaguars go off of the board, and they shouldn't fall out of the top five in any event.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Aaron Donald, NT Ndamukong Suh, DE Michael Brockers
Backups: DE John Franklin-Myers [R], DL Sebastian Joseph [R], DE Dominique Easley, DE Ethan Westbrooks, DE Morgan Fox (inj), DE Tanzel Smart, NT Omarius Bryant Starting DL: It's fair to say that Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald might be the two best talents to line up next to each other on a defensive line in this era of the NFL. The Rams were able to woo Suh in free agency with a one year, 14 million dollar deal after the Dolphins released him to assemble along with Donald and Michael Brockers the best 3-4 defensive line in the league by a large margin. The move will allow Brockers to stay at defensive end after the team moved him there from nose tackle during last season. Donald's quickness, Suh's size and strength, and Brockers' size and athleticism will give offensive lines all they can handle. This should be one of the most productive defensive lines in the league despite all playing inside the offensive tackles and it will expose flaws in opponent's guard and center play immediately. Backup DL: In addition to a strong starting trio, the Rams have a myriad of players to compete for the spots on the bench. John Franklin-Myers (Stephen F Austin) was drafted in the fourth round, so the team clearly plans on keeping him, but he's a raw small school talent who will need time to develop. Sixth-round pick Sebastian Joseph (Rutgers) could project as nose, but is less of a sure thing to make the roster and could be headed for the practice squad. Dominique Easley tore an ACL in training camp last year and his history of knee injuries is worrisome, but at his best, he is a similar type of interior penetrator as Donald, albeit not nearly to his level of dominance. Ethan Westbrooks had four sacks last year and can be productive in a limited role. Tanzel Smart contributed snaps last year at defensive end, but might be on the outside looking in with the additions in the draft and free agency, and Easley's return from injury. Omarius Bryant was a 2017 UDFA and practice squad player and has the size to backup Suh at nose tackle. Morgan Fox was in line for some rotational snaps at end and outside linebacker, but suffered a torn ACL in OTAs.
LinebackersStarters: OLB Matt Longacre, ILB Mark Barron, ILB Cory Littleton, OLB Samson Ebukam
Backups: ILB Bryce Hager, ILB Ramik Wilson, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo [R], OLB Trevon Young [R], ILB Micah Kiser [R] Starting LBs: The Rams will have turnover at outside linebacker in 2018. Robert Quinn was traded to the Dolphins and Connor Barwin was allowed to leave in free agency. 2017 fourth-round pick Samson Ebukam had two sacks and some flashes during his rookie year, and Matt Longacre contributed 5.5 sacks before going on injured reserve with a back injury. They should open the season as the starters outside and have a lot of opportunity to create pressure and make plays with the defensive line of wrecking balls that will playing between them. At inside linebacker, the Rams made another trade and sent Alec Ogletree to the Giants, opening up the starting spot next to Mark Barron. Barron has been a good fit at linebacker since coming over from the Bucs in 2014, but his IDP production was down in 2017. That could change with Cory Littleton likely lined up next to him. Littleton had a few big plays in limited duty during 2017, but was more of a special teams contributor than player tabbed to be a future starter, and he could face competition in camp or lose his job during the season if someone emerges. Backup LBs: With three of the four linebacker spots filled by underwhelming players, depth is going to be important for the Rams, and it's possible that backups could be promoted before the end of the season. On the outside, fifth-round pick Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma) is the best candidate to poach playing time. He was highly productive in college at a big program, but lacked the size and athletic traits teams covet at the position when they are looking for early-round picks. Sixth-round pick Trevon Young (Louisville) is trying to come all the way from a devastating hip injury in 2015 and could surprise if his growth during 2017 continues through the summer. Carlos Thompson, Ejuan Price, and Garrett Sickels all have pedestrian pedigrees and have 87 NFL snaps between them, so depth behind Longacre and Ebukam could be a problem and something the team shores up with a veteran signing. At inside linebacker, Bryce Hager and former Chiefs starter Ramik Wilson offer more experience than the outside linebacker group, although one of them could be pushed out of a roster spot by fifth-round pick Micah Kiser (Virginia), who is best against the run, seventh-round pick Travin Howard (TCU), a safety/linebacker tweener, and UDFA Tegray Scales (Indiana) an undersized player who was graded as draftable in the mid-rounds by more than one analyst.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Aqib Talib, S Lamarcus Joyner, S John Johnson, CB Marcus Peters, NCB Nickell Robey-Coleman
Backups: CB Sam Shields, CB Troy Hill, DB Dominique Hatfield, DB Blake Countess, S Marqui Christian, S/LB Travin Howard [R] Starting DBs: The Rams overhauled their outside cornerback group in the offseason and ended with two aggressive, physical-imposing ballhawks who should capitalize on the chaos created by the impossible to block defensive line. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib were acquired in trades for a 2019 second and bump from 2018 sixth to fourth round, and a 2018 fifth round pick, respectively. Peters' price was reduced because of off-field concerns and Talib was discounted because of age (32) and an 11 million dollar price tag. The loss of Trumaine Johnson in free agency to the Jets will barely be felt after these moves were made. The team also brought back excellent nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman on a very reasonable three-year, 15.675 million dollar deal to give opposing wide receiver groups no clear matchup to target. At safety, they have one of the best young duos in the league. The team decided to franchise tag Lamarcus Joyner, who blossomed in 2017 after the move from nickel corner to free safety, instead of Sammy Watkins (and later traded their first-round pick for Brandin Cooks to replace Watkins). Next to him, 2017 third-round pick John Johnson was an instant hit and should only build on his success in his second year. Backup DBs: The Rams might be as strong as anyone at #4 and #5 corner. They signed one-time Packers standout Sam Shields to a contract hoping he can shake the concussion worries that sidelined his career, and he would be among their top backups if he can make the roster. Troy Hill was solid when he was forced into the starting lineup last year and is assured of a spot on the roster as long as he avoids trouble off of the field. With the weakness at linebacker and quality at corner, the Rams may elect to keep only five corners on the roster. If Shields' concussion problems resurface or the team elects to keep a sixth corner, Dominique Hatfield has the ability to play the slot and Blake Countess can fit at corner or safety. Kevin Peterson also spent some time on the active roster in 2017 and could figure into the roster battle. At safety, Marqui Christian has the inside track for a backup roster spot, with seventh-round pick Travin Howard and Countess both offering position versatility to increase their chances at making the final 53. Last modified: 2018-06-17 11:55:36