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2020 Team Report: Los Angeles Rams

Last updated: Thu, Apr 8

Offensive Philosophy

Sean McVay was one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history when he took over the Rams in 2017, but that didn't stop him from engineering the biggest offensive turnaround the league had ever seen, taking Los Angeles from last to first in points scored. McVay didn't really invent anything new, but he repackaged older concepts into an effective whole. He built around the Zone Blocking concepts brought to the league by the Broncos in the 1990s, placed a heavy emphasis on play action passing, and called lots of quick snaps to keep the defense off balance. His biggest change was probably just lining his wide receivers in tight to the formation to facilitate pick plays and crossing routes while also leaving the sidelines vulnerable to outside runs. While the Rams' offense flummoxed the league and spawned a raft of copycats and teams looking to hire "the next Sean McVay", by the end of the 2018 season the league had seemingly caught up to the system and after averaging over 500 points in 2017 and 2018, the Rams couldn't even top 400 points in 2019. In an attempt to keep up with a league that had been keeping up with him, McVay transitioned late in the season to more 2-tight end sets with more inside runs and fewer wide receivers downfield. This offseason they traded the speedy Brandin Cooks and cut the versatile Todd Gurley, suggesting those heavier formations will continue to play a larger role going forward.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): John Wolford

Starting QB: In one of the bigger player moves of the offseason, Matthew Stafford was traded to the Rams. The older veteran has long been viewed as one of the more talented arm talents in the NFL while languishing on largely losing Detroit teams. Stafford has been above-average in nearly all secondary passing categories (touchdown rate, interception rate, adjusted yards-per-attempt for example) in recent seasons and has shown little age erosion through age 32. Stafford's arm talent offers untapped to Sean McVay's offense, which stalled in 2019 and 2020 after a strong two-year run previously. Stafford offers little in terms of tangible rushing production, last surprising even 200 yards in a season back in 2016.

Backup QB: As one of the lesser known backup quarterbacks in the NFL, John Wolford has bounced around between the Jets and Rams active and practice squads in his career. Wolford saw his first NFL action in 2020 with a late-season start for the Rams. His result mirrored that of his Wake Forest college career as an impactful rushing option but developmental as a passer. Wolford offered a mobile element not present with Jared Goff and now Matthew Stafford if pressed into action.

Running Backs

Starter: Cam Akers
Backup(s): Darrell Henderson
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: After an up-and-down first half of his rookie season, Cam Akers surged late in the year as the clear lead back in December and January. Akers posted two 100-yard games of the span and six straight active games of 15 or more carries to close the Rams' season. Akers had an elite metric profile entering the NFL Draft and slipped to the late second round in a historically strong running back class. While Akers has a sturdy receiving profile exiting Florida State, his lack of passing game usage last season is the biggest potential roadblock to a high-level breakout season. Akers had only 20% of the running back targets and the Rams were No.30 in the NFL with 50 running back receptions. Rushing volume and double-digit touchdowns are well within reach and expectation for Akers with receiving upside being the most glaring question mark.

Backup RBs: Darrell Henderson enters Year 3 as the projected primary backup to Cam Akers, who supplanted Henderson last offseason in draft pedigree. Henderson had an early-season run of quality usage with Akers' up-and-down seasonal start, but it vanished later in the season. On the promising side, the depth chart competition is minimal to Henderson, pointing to a clear lead back role if Cam Akers were to miss time. Also, Henderson nearly doubled Akers' target total last year and Malcolm Brown's departure this offseason leaves 46% of the running back targets available.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp
Backups: DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson

Starting WRs: Robert Woods led the Rams in targets in 2019 with a hearty 140 looks, including a dominant run of usage over the final six games. Woods was eighth overall among NFL receivers in targets and averaged more than a rushing attempt per game for the second straight season in the Rams offense. Woods was not a downfield weapon as his depth of throw shrunk from 2018 as he turned even more into a yards-after-catch-centric option. Also, Woods, despite his high-level of total targets, was No.43 among receivers in targets inside the 10-yard-line in 2019, converting only one of his meager four looks from close range. Touchdowns have been a limitation for Woods with only 13 over three seasons and 43 games with the Rams, marginally better than his frequency in his early career years with Buffalo. With Brandin Cooks gone, Woods floor is high for 2020 in terms of usage with the missing piece still finding the end zone more frequently. Cooper Kupp rivaled Robert Woods for the team led in targets in 2019 with a robust 134 looks. Kupp built on his quality 2018 per-game production but stayed healthy in 2019, doubling his half-season of games the previous year. Kupp logged career highs in all the major statistical categories and maintained a catch rate above 70%. Kupp, along with tight end Tyler Higbee, was a featured element near the end zone, ranking sixth among all receivers in targets inside the 10-yard-line and converting six of those opportunities into touchdowns, the most of any NFL receiver. Kupp's floor and ceiling of usage are stable with the Rams trading Brandin Cooks this offseason and a fixture of the Rams passing game.

Backup WRs: Josh Reynolds has been the ancillary receiver for the Rams in recent years to fill-in for injured players ahead of him on the depth chart when needed. Reynolds has been largely average in his production compared to his sporadic opportunities. Reynolds thin build is a concern dating back to his prospect days but his production record at Texas A&M and proving useful on a small sample size to-date point to being able to stick as an ancillary option. Van Jefferson was a Day 2 selection by the Rams in the 2020 NFL Draft. Out of Florida, Jefferson is viewed as one of the better route runners of the class. Jefferson was a middling-at-best producer in college and was unable to work out during the draft process due to a fracture in his foot found at the outset of the NFL Combine. Jefferson is expected to be ready for rookie season. The departure of Brandin Cooks opens the door for Reynolds or Jefferson to elevate into the weekly third receiver role and get into the 80+ target range.

Tight Ends

Starters: Tyler Higbee
Backups: Brycen Hopkins, Johnny Mundt

It was a tale of two partial seasons for Tyler Higbee in 2019. After being a non-factor for much of the first 11 weeks, Higbee surged to life as a feature element of the Rams passing offense over the final five weeks, including four straight games of at least 11 targets. Only Julio Jones and Michael Thomas had more targets than Higbee over the season's final month. Despite the strong volume and a career year (more than double his previous reception and yardage high marks) in 2019, touchdowns continued to elude Higbee as the missing link to a dominant stat line and the veteran tight end has only seven career scores on 129 receptions. Usage as not been an issue for Higbee near the end zone, however, as he saw the third-most targets inside the 10-yard-line for the position in 2019 and the most inside the five-yard-line. Gerald Everett has the metric profile and NFL Draft pedigree advantage over Tyler Higbee, but has yet to seize the lead job and solidify his standing with strong production. Everett was supplanted by a red-hot Higbee for the rest of the season and Everett remains a yet-to-peak move tight end battling inconsistency in his game. Everett's big plays have waned since his rookie season and the lead job is Higbee's to lose heading into the 2020 season. Brycen Hopkins slipped to Day 3 as TE9 off the 2020 NFL Draft board, projected as the third tight end for the Rams. Hopkins is one of the better combinations of size, athleticism, and college production among the incoming rookie tight ends with a poor man's Hunter Henry within his metric-driven comparable prospect spectrum.

Place Kicker

Sam Sloman (R): The Rams chose to not keep Greg Zuerlein and will instead break in a new kicker for the first time since 2012. The candidates are MacGinnis, who came from the XFL, Hajrullahu, who came from the CFL and was one of the best kickers north of the border and a two-time all-star with a Grey Cup winning kick under his belt, and Sloman, a 7th round pick who went 11 from 14 last year on field goal attempts from 40 or more yards at Miami (Ohio) last year. Sloman was the last man standing after final cuts.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Nsimba Walker, Darrell Henderson

With last year's top returner, JoJo Natson, no longer a Ram, Nsimba Walker is in line for an increased role on special teams. Walker is likely to handle punts and could handle kickoff returns as well, or could split those duties with Darrell Henderson.

Punt Returners: Nsimba Walker

With last year's top returner, JoJo Natson, no longer a Ram, Nsimba Walker is in line for an increased role on special teams. Walker is likely to handle punts and could handle kickoff returns as well, or could split those duties with Darrell Henderson.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Austin Blythe, C Brian Allen, RG David Edwards, RT Rob Havenstein
Key Backups: OT Bobby Evans, OL Austin Corbett, OT Joe Noteboom, OL Jamil Demby

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has maintained his former Pro Bowl form, and the team extended his contract this offseason. At right tackle, a battle could be shaping up between Bobby Evans and Rob Havenstein. Havenstein went to injured reserve last season, returned from it before the season ended, but did not regain his starting right tackle spot from Evans.

Team Defense

The once feared Rams defense was not nearly as imposing in 2019. Their cumulative stats (50 sacks, 24 takeaways, three defensive touchdowns) were still strong and relevant in fantasy leagues, but the unit was up and down and sometimes a liability when it came to wins and losses. They let Wade Phillips go in the offseason and hired Brandon Staley, who has some experience with Sean McVay, who expressed a desire to do more work with the defense this year. The team mortgaged the future to get Jalen Ramsey last year, and kept Michael Brockers after his deal fell through with Baltimore. A'Shawn Robinson was added to clog gaps up front, Leonard Floyd was reunited with Staley to replace Dante Fowler, who left for Atlanta, but the team still needs to replace Clay Matthews, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Cory Littleton. It is going to be a transition year, which could be an issue with a limited or no offseason. The Rams defense is going off of the board in the 7-10 range, which is a little rich considering all of the change coming to the unit.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Aaron Donald, DL A'Shawn Robinson (inj), DL Michael Brockers
Backups: NT Sebastian Joseph-Day, DL Greg Gaines, DE Tanzel Smart, DE Morgan Fox

Starting DL: The Rams spent big in the offseason to keep their starting defensive line strong under new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. First, they signed former Lions second round pick A'Shawn Robinson to a two-year, $17 million dollar deal, and then when the Ravens decided to back out of a deal with Michael Brockers, the Rams re-signed Brockers to a three-year, $24 million dollar deal. Robinson projects as the nose tackle, with Brockers as the end opposite Donald, who had another stellar season, including his fifth straight all-pro nod. Donald continues to be an elite defensive end in IDP leagues despite playing in a 3-4 defense. Robinson can also play end when the team decides to use Greg Gaines or Sebastian Joseph-Day at the nose. The team found a medical issue with Robinson at the open of camp. While they have said he will play at some point this year, it sounds like he will miss some regular season games as a precaution.

Backup DL: The Rams have developed Joseph-Day after they took him in the sixth round in 2018. He should continue to be a strong presence in the rotation despite the team's big investment in players that should get more snaps than him. Gaines was a fourth round pick last year and he got more action as the season went on. Both are best playing at nose tackle and won't be big producers, but their contributions could help others generate stats. Smart is a 2017 sixth-round pick who has played less and less as his career has gone on. The team could keep him if they decide to have six defensive linemen at the expense of another position.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Leonard Floyd, ILB Micah Kiser, ILB Travin Howard, OLB Samson Ebukam
Backups: ILB Kenny Young, ILB Clay Johnston [R], ILB Troy Reeder, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB Terrell Lewis [R], OLB Jachai Polite, OLB Justin Lawler

Starting LBs: The Rams will have a new look linebacker group this year. Cory Littleton was the clear leader of the insider linebacker group. He's gone to Las Vegas in free agency. Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews were second and third on the team in sacks. Fowler signed with Atlanta in free agency and Matthews was released. The team signed Leonard Floyd in free agency to fill one of the outside linebacker spots. He has been disappointing with Chicago since they took him in the top 10 of the 2016 draft. Floyd reunites with new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who was once his position coach in Chicago. Samson Ebukam, best known for his contributions to the epic 54-51 win over the Chiefs in 2018, will likely man the other outside spot, although the team took a very talented edge rusher in the third round, Terrell Lewis, who could push him with a good camp. The inside linebackers will be inexperienced no matter who wins the jobs in camp. A 2018 seventh round pick, Travin Howard is line to replace Littleton, and a 2018 fifth round pick, Micah Kiser, is the favorite to start at the other inside spot. Kiser was on track to start last year before missing the season with a chest injury. There will competition at both spots and the winners could be unstable over the course of the season as IDP options, especially with safety Taylor Rapp likely to get a lot of nickel linebacker snaps.

Backup LBs: The Rams backup linebackers could easily be starters with a good summer. Young came over in the Marcus Peters trade and is an unknown quantity. He was a fourth-round pick in 2018 for Baltimore on the basis of his athleticism, but his play strength and instincts need work. Johnston was a seventh round pick this year and should stick as a special teamer, but could be an option if the players ahead of him falter. Reeder started eight games last year but looked overwhelmed. He's an emergency option. The team will be looking for more contribution from Okoronkwo, a 2018 fifth-round pick whose development has been slowed by injuries. Lewis, a third round pick this year, has first-round talent but had trouble staying on the field at Alabama because of numerous injuries, including an ACL tear in 2018. Polite is a fascinating name. He was projected as a first round pick by some last year. The Jets took him in the third round, but he was released before the season. After spending a few weeks on the Seahawks practice squad, he landed with the Rams on their practice squad and stuck. Lawler was a 2018 seventh round pick, but spent last year on injured reserve with a foot injury. He and Polite might be competing for one spot.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jalen Ramsey, CB Troy Hill, CB David Long, S Taylor Rapp, S John Johnson
Backups: S Terrell Burgess [R], CB Darious Williams, CB Donte Deayon, S Jordan Fuller [R], S Nick Scott

Starting DBs: The secondary will be anchored by Ramsey, who they gave up two first-round picks for during the 2019 season. He is in the last year of his contract and will need to be signed to a new deal soon. Hill played well enough to keep his job after the team traded Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib during the 2019 season. Nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman is gone to Philadelphia in free agency. 2019 third-round pick David Long will be a big part of the competition to replace Coleman, but he can also provide depth on the outside if he doesn't win the nickel job. Eric Weddle retired in the offseason, but the team was ahead of that when they took Rapp in the second round last year. He ended up starting 10 games last year when the other starting safety, John Johnson, went down with a shoulder injury and looked up to the task.

Backup DBs: Williams started three games last year and his roster spot should be safe as corner depth and a potential starting slot corner. Deayon has been on the team's practice squad or roster since late 2018 and he was retained even though they didn't tender him an original round offer as a restricted free agent. He should also figure into the team's picture at slot corner. Burgess, a third round pick, is likely to get a lot of play as a rookie because of the amount that the team uses three safeties. He can also play slot cornerback and could end up starting there. The team chose to not bring back their fourth safety, Marqui Christian, so Fuller, a sixth-round pick from Ohio State who can also contribute on special teams, and Scott, a 2019 seventh-rounder who was converted from running back and played a core special teams role, will compete for that spot. Both could make the team as the Rams need depth at safety, especially if Burgess is tapped to play corner at times.