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2019 Team Report: Los Angeles Rams

Offensive Philosophy

Head coach Sean McVay comes from a West Coast Offense background, coaching under Jon Gruden, Jay Gruden, Mike Shanahan, and Kyle Shanahan over his career. He's taken that basic foundation and ramped up the amount of misdirection, (play action, bubble screens, etc.), to keep the defense off-balance trying to set up deep shots down the field-- while simultaneously using the threat of the deep shots down the field to keep the defense off-balance and susceptible to the misdirection.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jared Goff
Backup(s): Blake Bortles

Starting QB: Jared Goff's breakout 2017 along with the rest of the Sean McVay-designed Rams offense saw a firm confirmation in 2018 as the third-year quarterback nearly matched his touchdown rate and hit a new career high in yards-per-attempt and completion rate on higher volume last season. Goff and company were silenced in the Super Bowl, and tepid in the playoffs overall, but it was a second straight outstanding regular season for Goff. His interception rate, while still on the lower side, did uptick in 2018. Goff's interceptions were centered around his deep passing, where he had five interceptions, among the most in the NFL. With a strong returning trio of wide receivers (including Cooper Kupp from injury) and infrastructure with Sean McVay, Goff is one of the high-floor quarterback projections for 2019.

Backup QB: After more than 2,500 career passes in Jacksonville, Blake Bortles turns to a backup quarterback in the NFL behind Jared Goff. Bortles devolved into his worst statistical season since his rookie year in 2018 with accuracy and small window throws continuing to elude the rushing-centric quarterback. Bortles, while one of the weakest NFL starters in recent years, is now one of the more established and better NFL backups in a strong Rams offensive system.

Running Backs

Starter: Todd Gurley
Backup(s): Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson [R], John Kelly
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Todd Gurley's electric two-year run of production between 2017 and 2018 is clouded by his quizzical end to the regular season and lack of usage in the postseason as the Rams ultimately lost in the Super Bowl. Gurley amassed 40 total touchdowns over the two seasons and averaged more than 125 yards-per-game as the centerpiece to arguably the most dynamic offense in the NFL. While putting up eye-popping two-way production, including more than 1,300 receiving yards, Gurley's workload was not at historically high levels at 22-23 per game. Gurley's knee injury was managed late in the year but still limited his usage in the Super Bowl despite logging the fastest measure speed of any player in the pinnacle game. Gurley's single concern is how his knee may or may not affect him in 2019. C.J. Anderson, Gurley's notable replacement, left in free agency, leaving returning Malcolm Brown (also from injury) and sparsely-used Justin Davis and John Kelly as depth options.

Backup RBs: Malcolm Brown returns to the Rams as the presumed secondary running back. Brown has impressed in his ancillary duty over four seasons, especially in 2018 with his career high 4.9 yards-per-carry. Brown was unfortunately injured when Todd Gurley missed time later in 2018, Brown's greatest opportunity for extended playing time to-date through four seasons. Brown offers plus power and quality feet for a bigger back to be a potential high-volume option if called upon. Darrell Henderson is a highly productive third-round selection from Memphis selected by the Rams in the 2019 NFL Draft. Henderson was a big-play machine and elite two-way producer who can challenge Brown for the primary backup role this season. John Kelly slipped to late Day 3 in the NFL Draft in 2018 and sparsely played as a rookie, struggling to beat out low-level veteran placeholder Justin Davis. Kelly enters a critical Year 2 to carve a role and move up the depth chart.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods
Backups: Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds

Starting WRs: On his third high-level offense in as many seasons, Brandin Cooks logged a similar stat line in 2018 with Sean McVay and Jared Goff as with the Patriots and Saints in previous seasons. Cooks was the speed to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods' short and intermediate acumen as Cooks hit a career high 1,204 yards last season. Cooks had a single drop, which was the lowest total for any receiver with more than 60 receptions and he was one of the best deep targets in the NFL with nearly 400 yards coming on passes at least 20 yards in length. Cooks was the primary outside receiver for the Rams, even when Cooper Kupp missed a chunk of the season, as Robert Woods was the primary slot option in Kupp's absence with Cooks sticking to the outside. Cooks has yet to see elite volume in his career, but durability (four straight seasons without missing a game) and a high floor (four straight 1,000-yard seasons) are cornerstone traits for the mid-career receiver. Robert Woods enjoyed a career year in 2018, his second with the Rams' high-flying offense. Cooper Kupp missed nearly half the season, but Woods' usage was stable regardless of the shift in the top of the depth chart for the Rams. All three of the Rams' receivers were efficient on a per-route basis, including Woods, who saw an expanded slot role in Kupp's absence than his primarily outside role when all three were healthy. Woods had a minimal downfield presence and excelled on short-to-intermediate routes and after-the-catch opportunities. A missing link for an even-higher ceiling for Woods has been his low touchdown rate to-date, even on the explosive Rams' offense, with 11 touchdowns over two seasons and 142 receptions as Woods has not be a feature element near the end zone.

Backup WRs: After an impressive rookie season in 2017 with 869 yards and a handful of touchdowns, Kupp was off to an even better start to 2018 (566 yards, six touchdowns) in eight games before a mid-season ACL injury ended his season. Kupp was one of the best slot receivers in the NFL before injury. His recovery is the biggest question mark entering 2019 as he was a lagging measured athlete relying on sharp route running to separate. The Rams' wide receiver remains unchanged at the top from last season with Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Kupp all central figures without a strong tight end presence. Josh Reynolds saw extended playing time with Cooper Kupp missing a chunk of 2018. With the role, Reynolds impressed with three games of more than 50 yards and six touchdowns as an ancillary option. Reynolds has range to his catching radius but his thin frame is a concern. Reynolds stands to benefit from an injury to any of the Rams' trio of receivers higher on the depth chart.

Tight Ends

Starters: Gerald Everett
Backups: Tyler Higbee

Gerald Everett has been set on simmer for two seasons after being a strong metric prospect and Round 2 NFL Draft pick in 2017. Everett has been used as a split-out receiver frequently and in the red zone, but with mixed results. The strong measured athlete has yet to show the difference-making physical traits at the NFL level. Tyler Higbee is more of the blocker on the depth chart compared to Everett, but a serviceable receiver, largely benefitting from being at best the fourth option on a given play in the passing game. Higbee profiles as a quality NFL backup and a de facto starter if pushed into a larger role like he has with the Rams.

Place Kicker

Greg Zuerlein: Greg Zuerlein set a pace to surpass his outstanding 2017 campaign as a scorer but he missed five games with a groin injury early in the season. He would have been far and away the #1 scoring kicker if he had played 16 games. Zuerlein missed four field attempts out of 31 last year after going 38-for-40 in 2017, but he made all of his field goal attempts from 39 or fewer yards and only missed one of 36 extra point attempts. He's the #1 kicker off of the board in fantasy drafts and deserves that designation.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: JoJo Natson

The tiny (5'7", 153 pound) JoJo Natson caused a bit of a stir last year when an injury to All Pro returner Pharoh Cooper helped him make the Rams final 53-man roster, and his strong play after that helped ensure Cooper never got his job back. The Rams preferred to rotate other players with Natson on kickoff returns last year, but currently there aren't a lot of strong candidates on their roster; training camps should give a clue as to who else Los Angeles is looking at for the role.

Punt Returners: JoJo Natson

The tiny (5'7", 153 pound) JoJo Natson caused a bit of a stir last year when an injury to All Pro returner Pharoh Cooper helped him make the Rams final 53-man roster, and his strong play after that helped ensure Cooper never got his job back. Unlike on kickoff returns (where the team preferred to rotate several players), Natson handled the lion's share of the team's punt returns without issue.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Andrew Whitworth, Joseph Noteboom, Austin Blythe, Kyle Murphy, Rob Havenstein
Key Backups: David Edwards [R], Jamil Demby, Brian Allen, Darrell Williams

The tackles on this line are solid, with left side manned by Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Rob Havenstein being given a contract extension last season. Still, last year's number one ranked line has seen a huge amount of change in the offseason after the Super Bowl. Left guard Rodger Saffold departed in free agency, and center John Sullivan retired, leaving two jobs up for grabs. Austin Blythe and Joseph Noteboom will get opportunities to win these jobs and the team also added second round tackle David Edwards from Wisconsin via the draft. Brian Allen, Kyle Murphy, Jamil Demby also could factor into the lineup. Overall, this is a low-tier line and should be considered a rebuilding project going into the season. But they have young talent and once the lineup clarifies, they can again rise in the rankings.

Team Defense

The Rams finished as a top three fantasy team defense, mostly on the strength of the matchups against the 49ers without Jimmy Garoppolo and the epic defensive big plays against the Chiefs in the game of the year. They started strong against the Raiders, Cardinals, and Chargers, and were useful even when they weren't putting up big weeks. Lamarcus Joyner and Ndamukong Suh are gone, but Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle have been added, and the team still has Aaron Donald. They remain a top three fantasy defense, and they could be considered as an every week play at a time when streaming is viable, although it will cost a pick as the second fantasy defense off of the board in almost every draft. They will draw a potentially rusty Cam Newton Week 1, but don't have many gimme matchups this year.

Defensive Line

Starters: DL Michael Brockers, DL Aaron Donald, NT Tanzel Smart
Backups: NT Greg Gaines [R], DE John Franklin-Myers, DL Sebastian Joseph-Day, DE Morgan Fox (inj)

Starting DL: The Rams are set at end in Wade Phillips 3-4 scheme with Brockers and Donald. Donald is one of the five best defensive players in the game and you won't get much push back if you say he's the best. He has to be accounted for on every play and can't be single-blocked by most NFL offensive linemen.m Brockers can also play at nose tackle, but the team will likely prefer to keep him at end and first turn to third-year pro Tanzel Smart to man the nose. Smart played a lot more as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2017 than he did last year. They also have 2018 sixth-round pick Sebastian Joseph-Day and the team moved up to take Greg Gaines in the fourth round this year. Both are good run stuffers but might not play much of a role on passing downs.

Backup DL: Gaines and Joseph-Day are projected as backups, but either could be the Week 1 starter at nose tackle. While the nose tackle group in inexperienced, having three players who can play directly over the center and be responsible for two gaps will give them a good competition and depth in the mission to replace Ndamukong Suh. Franklin-Myers was a fourth-round pick last year and played almost 30 percent of the team's defensive snaps. He made a few splash plays in 2018 and had 21 hurries. He can contribute at end and as an edge rusher at outside linebacker and looks like a hit after the team took him in the fourth round last year. Fox was projected to play a big role last year but tore an ACL last May. He can play at end and outside linebacker and will be looking to regain the momentum he had before the injury.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Dante Fowler, OLB Clay Matthews, ILB Cory Littleton, ILB Micah Kiser, OLB Samson Ebukam
Backups: ILB Bryce Hager, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB Trevon Young, OLB Justin Lawler, ILB Dakota Allen [R], LB Josh Carraway, LB Travin Howard

Starting LBs: It's not quite clear how the Rams starting linebackers will shake out beyond Dante Fowler starting outside and Cory Littleton starting inside. The Rams traded a third-round pick this year and fifth next year for Fowler, who they then re-signed to a one year, 12 million dollar deal in free agency. Littleton had a breakout season in 2018 and is the signal-caller for the defense. He got a second-round tender in restricted free agency this year and will make a little over three million dollars. Samson Ebukam won out to start last year and made an impact as an outside linebacker, including key plays in the win over the Chiefs in the game of the year. He had knee surgery in the offseason and might miss some activities. Ebukam could take a back seat to Clay Matthews, who signed a two-year, 9.25 million dollar deal in the offseason. Matthews has some inside/outside versatility, although the team likely signed him to bolster the pass rush. They have a hole at inside linebacker after releasing Mark Barron, so Matthews could end up being the best option there, but the team will probably try 2018 fifth-rounder Micah Kiser there first. Kiser is a good run defender and installing him would help with the offseason priority of improving run defense.

Backup LBs: The Rams will have decent depth at outside linebacker with the possibility of Ebukam starting the season on the bench, or alternatively if Matthews plays primarily at inside linebacker, Kiser will give them quality depth inside. They also brought back special teams ace and Week 17 starting inside linebacker Bryce Hager. The rest of the depth chart with come from a youthful group. A trio of 2018 draft picks will vie for a spot or two at outside linebacker. Fifth rounder Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, sixth rounder Trevon Young, and seventh rounder Justin Lawler will compete through the summer to catch the coaching staff's eye and win a spot on the final roster. None got significant experience last year and Okoronkwo was injured for half of the season. At inside linebacker, this year's seventh round pick Dakota Allen could make the team with special teams contributions and a great story overcoming problems off of the field. 2018 seventh-round pick and safety/linebacker tweener Travin Howard spent the year on the practice squad and will push to make the team this year with a logjam at the position ahead of him.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, S John Johnson, S Eric Weddle, NCB Nickell Robey-Coleman
Backups: CB Troy Hill, S Taylor Rapp [R], CB David Long [R]. CB Dominique Hatfield, S Nick Scott [R], S Marqui Christian, CB Kevin Peterson

Starting DBs: The Rams will return four of five starters in the secondary from 2018. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib will continue to hold down the outside corner positions with their physical brand of play that is more effective when the pass rush gets home. John Johnson was one of the best safeties in the league at times last year and will only get better in his third year. Nickell Robey-Coleman will be remembered for his non-penalty in the NFC Championship Game, but is still one of the best nickel corners in the game. Lamarcus Joyner left to play for the Raiders on a huge contract, so the team brought in veteran Eric Weddle on a two-year, 10.5 million dollar deal after the Ravens moved on from him. Weddle might have lost a step or two, but he is an intelligent, battle-tested player who should take to his role in Wade Phillips defense.

Backup DBs: Troy Hill returns as the top backup corner after signing an original round RFA tender that is worth a little over two million dollars. The team made a big investment in the secondary in the draft, taking versatile safety Taylor Rapp in the second round and potential 2020 starting corner David Long in the second. They'll compete for early playing time with returning backups Marqui Christian and Dominique Hatfield, who are both core special teams contributors. Rapp should be Weddle's understudy and might even replace him next year. Long is an excellent speed/quickness/explosion prospect who was avoided by quarterbacks in the Big Ten last year. With both Talib and Peters playing on expiring contracts, the plan appears to be for Long to be ready to start by next year. 2019 seventh-round pick Nick Scott could replace Blake Countess as a core special teamer and safety depth piece. Kevin Peterson was coming on with two interceptions in the season finale against Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017, but he went down with a torn ACL last summer.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:42:54