2018 NFL Offseason: Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles Rams (Last Year: 11-5)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, ILB Ramik Wilson, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, CB Sam Shields.
Early Draft Picks:
OT Joseph Noteboom, C Brian Allen, DE John Franklin-Myers, LB Micah Kiser, DE Ogbo Okoronkwo, RB John Kelly. Rams Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Sammy Watkins, TE Derek Carrier, DE Robert Quinn, DE Connor Barwin, LB Alec Ogletree, CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Kayvon Webster, S Cody Lewis.

2018 Los Angeles Rams Offense:
Everyone seems focused on what the Rams obtained this offseason, yet barely anyone is paying attention to what they lost. There were two primary reasons why Jared Goff improved tremendously from 2016 to 2017, and the first would be his coaching staff. New head coach Sean McVay did a great job of assembling a stellar staff, which included quarterbacks guru Greg Olson and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. Both were very instrumental in Goff’s development, particularly Olson, who was responsible for Marc Bulger’s best season ever and Josh Freeman’s Pro Bowl appearance. Quarterbacks have struggled after being separated from Olson – Freeman was quickly run out of the league – and Goff could follow this pattern now that Olson and LaFleur are coordinating the Raiders and Titans, respectively.

Goff is not expected to regress to the inept signal-caller who struggled mightily as a rookie. However, it would be a mistake not to expect him to take a step backward. Goff was not making pre-snap reads last year, which has to be considered a red flag of sorts.

The second reason why Goff showed rapid improvement is the offensive line. There were some fear that the Rams would lose a couple of blockers to free agency, but that did not happen. The entire front is returning completely intact, which is great news. However, there is some minor concern. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan, both outstanding blockers, will be 37 and 33, respectively, by season’s end. There’s some possibility for regression, particularly from Whitworth.

Two of the remaining three blockers should be stout. Left guard Rodger Saffold and right tackle Rob Havenstein were both solid last year. Saffold being healthy was very key, as he played every single game for the first time since 2014. Saffold has endured numerous injury issues in the past, so perhaps he has overcome those. Meanwhile, right guard Jamon Brown needed to be upgraded, but that did not happen. Still, the Rams can survive with one weak link on the front line, as long as no one gets hurt.

The improved blocking is obviously why Todd Gurley improved as well. Gurley’s yards-per-carry average soared from 3.2 to 4.7. He rushed for 1,305 yards, scored 19 total touchdowns, and caught 64 passes for 788 receiving yards. It could be argued that Gurley is the best player at his position in the entire league.

Between Gurley and Goff’s upgraded play, and the offensive line being bolstered, it seemed as though everything went right for the Rams on this side of the ball. The one exclusion is that Goff never developed any sort of chemistry with his No. 1 receiver Sammy Watkins. Goff actually preferred throwing to Robert Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp, who performed very well in his first year outside of some crucial drops. Watkins is gone, so Goff will continue to focus on targeting those two wideouts, as well as his two athletic tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee. Newly acquired Brandin Cooks, meanwhile, will attempt to be everything Watkins wasn’t. Obtained for the 23rd-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Cooks is a very talented, speedy threat who has the potential to take the Rams to the next level. However, this will be Cooks’ third team in three years, which is an indication that NFL teams don’t value him as much as the stats indicate.

2018 Los Angeles Rams Defense:
The Rams made a big splash this offseason, as referenced earlier. They added just one key piece on offense in Brandin Cooks, so most of their major acquisitions occurred on this side of the ball.

The biggest name, and player, was Ndamukong Suh. The dominant defensive tackle wore out his welcome in Miami, prompting his release. Suh aspired to join the Rams so he could combine with Aaron Donald, arguably the best player in the NFL right now, and Michael Brockers, another stout lineman, to form the best three-man front the league has seen in a long time. All three players are supremely talented, and there’s key depth in Dominique Easley, but it remains to be seen how Suh will play nose tackle in a 3-4. Also, there’s a reason the Dolphins were so willing to discard Suh. They weren’t pleased with his attitude in the locker room, so if the Rams get off to a slow start, this could be an issue.

The two other prominent defenders the Rams acquired both bolstered the secondary. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib were obtained from the Chiefs and Broncos, respectively. Talib should do well with the Rams, despite his age (32), as he has experience in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme. Peters is very talented, but his fit isn’t nearly as clear. Peters, like Suh, was sent packing from his former team because of attitude problems. If he struggles, the Rams could try former Packer Sam Shields, who returns from a hiatus in 2017. Shields is an extremely talented cornerback, but his career was seen to be in jeopardy because of multiple concussions. He has been cleared to return to action, so he’ll be a key piece of the Rams’ defense if he can avoid further head injuries. Meanwhile, the one returning member of Los Angeles’ cornerback group, Nickell Robey-Coleman, should continue to perform well in the slot.

The Rams didn’t make upgrades at safety, but that’s because they didn’t need to. Lamarcus Joyner is an exceptional player, while John Johnson showed tremendous promise as a third-round rookie in 2017. Despite the upgrades the Rams made at cornerback, there is less concern at safety.

While Los Angeles acquired numerous talented defenders, the team still has some question marks on defense. The primary one is the edge rush. Robert Quinn was dealt to the Dolphins this offseason, leaving a slew of journeymen and inexperienced players to compete for the two outside linebacker jobs. Matt Longacre is the favorite to secure one of those spots; he had 5.5 sacks as a part-time player last year, but is coming off back surgery. Samson Ebukam is a fourth-rounder from 2017 whom the Rams like. Meanwhile, fifth-round rookie Ogbo Okoronkwo has some potential. These are the top three options the Rams have at outside linebacker.

Inside linebacker is a big question mark as well. Alec Ogletree was traded to the Giants, and yet the Rams barely did anything to upgrade the situation. Mark Barron and Corey Littleton will return as the presumptive starters, which is not a good sign. Barron, a mediocre player to begin with, is coming off shoulder surgery. Littleton, meanwhile, saw action at the end of last season, but was atrocious. Ramik Wilson was signed, but barely played for the Chiefs in 2017. Fifth-round rookie Micah Kiser might have a chance to win one of the starting jobs, which is far from ideal.

2018 Los Angeles Rams Schedule and Intangibles:
It’s no surprise that Los Angeles has been a horrible home-field advantage for the Rams. When the team played in Los Angeles previously, Steve Young would actually have to tell his teammates to be quiet in the huddle, since the stadium was so silent that the opposing team could hear what they were saying. It’s no surprise the Rams were 3-5 at home last year while being 7-1 on the road. In the city of heavy traffic, high taxes and insufferable celebrities who think they know what’s best for everyone else, there aren’t many people who care about professional football.

Greg Zuerlein’s nickname is “Greg the Leg” because of his massive kicking power. He lived up to his nickname last year, hitting 38-of-40 tries, including 6-of-7 from beyond 50.

Johnny Hekker maintained the highest net-punting average at 44.2 in 2013, 43.7 in 2015 and 46.0 in 2016. He was second in 2017, only behind Tennessee’s Brett Kern.

For the second year in a row, the Rams outgained the opposition in both kickoff and punt returns.

The Rams have an extremely difficult stretch in their schedule where they play three consecutive road games at Seattle, Denver and San Francisco, then play the Packers and Saints.

2018 Los Angeles Rams Rookies:
Go here for the Rams Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2018 Los Angeles Rams Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Los Angeles Rams Analysis: Expectations are sky high for the Rams. This is a dangerous thing, as this Los Angeles group has no history of success in the playoffs. There have been many instances of teams with no experience failing to meet great expectations, whether it was the 2017 Raiders or the “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles from 2011. Many of the key players the Rams acquired were cast-offs from other organizations, so if those teams didn’t want them, why would they suddenly all succeed all together? The Rams are suddenly one of the prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl, but there’s a good chance they’ll disappoint.

Projection: 9-7 (2nd in NFC West)

2017 Projection: 3-13. 2016 Actual Result: 11-5.
2016 Projection: 3-13. 2016 Actual Result: 4-12.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Rams traded the 23rd pick to the Patriots for Brandin Cooks, so they don’t get to select until No. 87. They don’t have many needs, so they can focus on taking the best players available. Also, they have three fourth-round choices, so they can afford to trade up.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I thought that just taking the best player available, regardless of position, was the right strategy for the Rams. For a while, however, it seemed as though they were taking the worst player available.

The first choice was a decent one, as Joseph Noteboom is an athletic tackle who could one day replace Andrew Whitworth. However, the next two picks, center Brian Allen and defensive end John Franklin-Myers, were both major reaches. Franklin-Myers wasn’t even considered to be anything more than a seventh-round prospect by some teams, yet the Rams selected him in the fourth frame.

Things seemed pretty dubious for the Rams, but they began making some solid choices. Linebacker Micah Kiser, running back John Kelly and guard Jamil Demby were all quality value selections who filled needs. The best pick was arguably edge rusher Ogbo Okoronkwo, a third-round prospect who fell to No. 160 overall. The edge rush was the Rams’ greatest need heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, and Okoronkwo could compete for a starting role as a rookie.

Considering the Rams didn’t have a pick in the first two rounds, they did relatively well. I hated two of their initial three picks, but their third-day drafting was strong.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

87. Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU B+ Grade
This is a solid, logical pick. The Rams wanted to find an heir for Andrew Whitworth, and Joseph Noteboom has the potential to one day become a starting blind-side protector. Noteboom has solid athleticism, but needs to improve his strength to be a better linebacker. He’ll be able to sit for a couple of years.

111. Brian Allen, C, Michigan State C- Grade
The Rams needed a center for the future, but there were some better prospects available at the position. Allen seemed like a late-round prospect to me. I don’t hate taking him here, but the Rams may have been able to get him a round later.

135. John Franklin-Myers, DE, Stephen F. Austin D Grade
The Rams reach once again. John Franklin-Myers is at least a draftable prospect, but a questionable one at that. He was a seventh-round prospect at best, but he at least fills a big need.

147. Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia B+ Grade
I had Micah Kiser slotted to the Rams in this same exact spot (except, 11 picks earlier, since they didn’t have this selection originally.) I thought it made a lot of sense because the Rams needed help at linebacker in the wake of the Alec Ogletree departure, and Kiser is a late-fourth, early-fifth prospect.

160. Ogbo Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma A Grade
I should note very quickly that the Rams just traded Tavon Austin to the Cowboys. I’ll have a grade on that after the draft. As for this pick, I love this a lot more than the Rams’ earlier selections. I think Ogbo Okoronkwo could have gone in the third round, or definitely the fourth frame. He fills a huge need on the edge with Robert Quinn gone.

176. John Kelly, RB, Tennessee B Grade
The Rams were looking to provide better depth behind Todd Gurley, and John Kelly has the potential to be the No. 2 back as soon as 2018. Kelly has some off-the-field concerns, but the Rams have thrived with those sorts of players in the past.

192. Jamil Demby, G, Maine B+ Grade
Jamil Demby is one of the least-athletic players in the NFL, but he has strength and could push for a starting job in a couple of years if he sticks around. I had Demby late in the fifth round, so the Rams are getting some solid value with him.

195. Sebastian Joseph, DT, Rutgers C- Grade
Like a typical spider, the Rams have used lots of reach in the draft. This is another player they took too early, as Sebastian Joseph was a UDFA prospect. With all the defensive line talent the Rams have, I’m not convinced he makes the final roster.

205. Trevon Young, DE/OLB, Louisville B Grade
Trevon Young was very disappointing in 2017, though that could have been attributed to an injury. There have been lots of excuses made for Young’s inability to live up to his potential, but perhaps the Rams will get something out of him. Late in the sixth, they could’ve done worse.

231. Travin Howard, LB, TCU C Grade
Travin Howard was productive at TCU prior to the second half of 2017, but had some injury problems this past season. I can’t imagine Howard being anything much beyond a special-teamer. He’s a safety/linebacker tweener otherwise.

244. Justin Lawler, DE, SMU B- Grade
Justin Lawler has nice size for an edge rusher (6-4, 264) but his testing numbers were atrocious at his pro day, as he ran slower than five seconds in the 40. Lawler was productive at SMU, but he’s just too limited athletically.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Rams were one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2016, but Sean McVay and his outstanding coaching staff turned things around, getting the most out of Jared Goff. A first-round playoff exit wasn’t expected, but the Rams at least have a solid foundation in place.

Offseason Moves:
  • Rams cut CB Kayvon Webster
  • Rams sign DT Ndamukong Suh
  • Rams sign CB Sam Shields
  • Rams acquire CB Aqib Talib from Broncos
  • Giants acquire LB Alec Ogletree from Rams
  • Dolphins acquire DE Robert Quinn from Rams
  • Rams acquire CB Marcus Peters from Chiefs

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Cornerbacks: The secondary is projected to be the weakest part of the Rams’ roster in 2018. The team simply has way too many impending free agents at the position. At cornerback, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Trumaine Johnson are set to hit the open market. Acquired Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib; re-signed Nickell Robey-Coleman

    2. Two Edge Rushers: The Rams needed to find a potent bookend across from Robert Quinn before he was dealt to Miami.

    3. Safety: Los Angeles also has two safeties who have expiring contracts, Lamarcus Joyner and Cody Davis. Only one needs to be retained, thanks to the emergence of John Johnson.

    4. Linebacker: The Rams traded Alec Ogletree, so a replacement will be needed. Signed Ramik Wilson

    5. Right Guard: The one hole the Rams had on their offensive line in 2017 was at right guard. Jamon Brown was the weak link, and he should be upgraded.

    6. Center: Speaking of the blocking unit, center John Sullivan was solid in his first year as a Ram, but he’ll be hitting free agency in March. Re-signed John Sullivan

    7. Wide Receiver: Sammy Watkins was a disappointment after being acquired from Buffalo, and he’s an impending free agent anyway.

    8. Defensive Tackle Depth: The Rams seemed to have strong backups behind Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers entering the season, but Dominique Easley was lost for the year. Now, he’s an impending free agent. Signed Ndamukong Suh; re-signed Dominique Easley

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Dolphins. Age: 31.
      Signed with Rams (1 year, $14 million)

      The Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh to a 6-year, $114 million contract with $60 million in guarantees three offseasons ago. It was argued that it was too much money for a single defensive player, and that turned out to be the case because Miami was just 22-26 with Suh. That pedestrian record isn’t Suh’s fault, as he played great in most of his games, but it just goes to show that a contract like that should only be reserved for quarterbacks. Suh is still a dominant force, but it’s unclear how long that will last. He just turned 31, so he could play on a high level for one or two more years before falling off.

    2. Sam Shields, CB, Packers. Age: 30.
      Signed with Rams

      Sam Shields is difficult to rate. He was considered the Packers’ top cornerback heading into 2016, and while that wasn’t saying much, he’s worth a four-star rating at least under normal circumstances. Shields, however, missed all but one game in 2016 with a concussion, and then was out for all of 2017. Shields has finally been cleared, but another concussion could knock him out for good. He should retire, but he can still probably play well.

    3. Ramik Wilson (RFA), ILB, Chiefs. Age: 26. — Signed with Rams

    Los Angeles Rams Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Lamarcus Joyner, S, Rams. Age: 27.
      Franchised by Rams

      Lamarcus Joyner, a second-round pick in 2014, has improved each season in the NFL. He has evolved into one of the elite safeties in the NFL, and at just 27, he has at least five more terrific years remaining in his career.

    2. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Rams. Age: 28.
      Signed with Jets

      Trumaine Johnson suffered some sort of leg injury in Week 2 this season, and he was never really the same afterward. This past season was Johnson’s worst in a while, but he’s very talented and can rebound in 2018.

    3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams. Age: 25.
      Signed with Chiefs

      Sammy Watkins was a huge disappointment in 2017. Despite the Rams’ offense setting franchise records, Watkins caught just 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns. Watkins is extremely talented, however, and he’s still young (25 in June), so I expect him to dominate elsewhere in the near future, assuming he can stay healthy.

    4. Dominique Easley, DT, Rams. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Rams

      With all the Rams’ success in 2017, it’s easy to forget that they missed Dominique Easley for the entire season with a torn ACL. Easley is extremely talented, but has a long injury history; he’s missed 26 games in four NFL seasons.

    5. John Sullivan, C, Rams. Age: 33.
      Re-signed with Rams (2 years)

      John Sullivan was once a very skilled center for the Vikings. He was a backup for a while after that for some reason, but the Rams gave him a chance to start, and it paid off. Sullivan had a strong 2017 campaign, but he’s 33 and bound to regress at some point in the next 2-3 years.

    6. Kayvon Webster, CB, Rams. Age: 27.
      Kayvon Webster is a talented cornerback, but is coming off a torn Achilles that could put him on the PUP list to begin the 2018 campaign. Still, Webster is just 27, so he still has some good years ahead of him.

    7. Cody Davis, S, Rams. Age: 29.
      Signed with Jaguars

      Cody Davis missed nine games this past season with a thigh injury. He’s solid in coverage, but misses too many tackles.

    8. Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB, Rams. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Rams (3 years, $15.75 million)

      Nickell Robey-Coleman was stellar as the Rams’ slot corner in 2017. However, he’s not rated as high as his level of play this past season because he’s been terribly inconsistent throughout his career. Still, Robey-Coleman is just 26, so perhaps his struggling days are over.

    9. Matt Longacre (RFA), DE/OLB, Rams. Age: 26.
      Tendered by Rams (original round)

      Matt Longacre did well as a rotational edge rusher in Wade Phillips’ defense this past season, logging 5.5 sacks in limited snaps. Longacre will be able to earn a starting job in the near future.

    10. Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Rams. Age: 31.
      Connor Barwin can still get to the quarterback – he had five sacks in 2017 – but he is a regressing player, as he’ll turn 32 in October.

    11. Derek Carrier, TE, Rams. Age: 28. — Signed with Raiders (3 years)
    12. Cornelius Lucas, OT, Rams. Age: 27.
    13. Tyrunn Walker, DT, Rams. Age: 28.
    14. Darrell Williams, OT, Rams. Age: 25.
    15. Lance Dunbar, RB, Rams. Age: 28.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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