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2021 Team Report: Los Angeles Rams

Last updated: Wed, Sep 1

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. When that still wasn't enough to get the offense back over 400 points, he traded quarterback Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford, betting that better quarterback play in 2021 will push his team back over the top.

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 surpassing 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: Darrell Henderson
Backup(s): Sony Michel, Jake Funk [R]
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Cam Akers was set to take over this backfield before tearing an achilles before training camp, and he will miss the 2021 season. Darrell Henderson was thought to be Todd Gurley's successor with Henderson's drafting on Day 2 in 2019. Cam Akers' addition in Round 2, plus a late-season surge to a foundation back role last season pointed towards Henderson needing an Akers injury for a meaningful backfield role, and now with Akers down for the year, he will get the lead back role. It's not known if the coaching staff will trust Henderson to carry as big a load as Akers with Henderson's spotty injury history, but he should easily lead the backfield in touches. On the positive side, Henderson was the preferred receiving option compared to Akers for much of 2020 and he could be even more involved in the passing game than Akers was expected to be this year. The team could still sign or trade for a veteran to add more experience to the depth chart and cloud Henderson's outlook.

Backup RBs: Sony Michel joins the depth chart as a result of a late-August trade with New England. Michel has been more of a modest workload runner than a true dual-threat option to-date in his career and largely a Round 1 disappointment considering his draft pedigree. Michel and Darrell Henderson both have spotty records to-date, forming a tough-to-predict committee on a promising Rams offense otherwise. Jake Funk makes the final roster as a later-Day 3 rookie out of Maryland with a dual-threat profile and quality agility and short-area burst to elevate in involvement if Henderson or Michel should miss time.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp
Backups: DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell [R], Ben Skowronek [R]

Starting WRs: Robert Woods has been one of the more underrated NFL wide receivers in recent seasons, especially the past three years with the Rams. Woods has missed only one game over the span and has 86, 90, and 90 receptions respectively. Woods has led the Rams in targets in each of those seasons. The biggest limitation for Woods hitting a higher stratosphere of production has been his touchdown rate. Woods has surpassed the NFL average for wide receivers in only one of his seasons. With Matthew Stafford's addition and turnover on the depth chart beyond Woods and Cooper Kupp, 2021 is poised to challenge Woods' career high numbers across the board. Cooper Kupp has nearly matched running mate Robert Woods in targets over the past two seasons and was on pace for another hearty total in 2018 before a midseason injury derailed his opportunity. Unlike Woods, Kupp has been a strong touchdown rate receiver in his career outside of 2020 at a paltry 3.3%. Kupp is one of the strongest touchdown rate positive regression candidates in the NFL for 2021, in a subset where they historically double or triple their rate from the previous season. Kupp has been the ideal fit for the Rams offense, working the middle of the field and digesting holes in the secondary for after-the-catch exploitation. With Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett's departures this offseason, Woods and Kupp will be an emphasis of the Rams passing game even more than recent seasons.

Backup WRs: With Josh Reynolds gone in free agency, the Rams turn to DeSean Jackson as their notable veteran addition to the offense. Jackson, one of the premiere deep threats in the NFL for his prime, is not in his mid-30s and two seasons removed from his last time playing more than a handful of games in a season. In fact, Jackson's last time catching more than four touchdown passes was 2014. Jackson can still threaten a defense, but durability and availability have been his watchwords since his late 20s. Reynolds collected 81 targets for the Rams last season and Jackson would need his healthiest season in four years to approach the total. Skowronek, a seventh-round pick this year, has a chance to make the team because of special teams contributions and flexibility to play fullback or possibly tight end. Van Jefferson was drafted in the second round by the Rams in 2020. Buried on the depth chart as a rookie, Jefferson was seventh of the team in targets (31) and that included eight (26%) in Week 17 alone. Jefferson was one of the weakest metric prospects drafted on Day 2 in recent classes but has a golden opportunity with Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett departed (142 vacated targets) and minimal competition (only DeSean Jackson) on the WR3/4 spectrum of the depth chart. Tutu Atwell was added on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Rams. Labeling Atwell as sub-sized is an understate with his roughly 150-pound frame. Atwell has quality ball skills downfield, regardless of the matchup and has game-breaking ability with the ball in his hands. With the creative mind of Sean McVay, Atwell offers a weekly contribution even if a handful of designed plays and opportunities as the wildcard of the wide receiver depth chart.

Tight Ends

Starters: Tyler Higbee
Backups: Brycen Hopkins, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris [R]

Tyler Higbee's 2019 late-season surge did not materialize into a full-fledged 2020 breakout season. Higbee was back in a committee with Gerald Everett, splitting their 121 combined targets nearly in half. Higbee sheds Everett, however, in 2021 with Everett gone to Seattle in free agency. With Josh Reynolds and Everett departures accounting for 142 vacated targets, Higbee has his best situation to-date for 100 or more targets and being a clear priority in the passing game. Brycen Hopkins was a strong tight end prospect who slipped to Day 3 for the Rams in their 2020 NFL Draft haul. Hopkins had a strong combination of physical traits and production out of Purdue, pointing to a potential NFL starter. Hopkins did not see a target in five games of rookie season action, but with Gerald Everett's departure Hopkins has available targets if the sturdy secondary tight end to Tyler Higbee's projected starter status. Johnny Mundt enters his fifth season with the Rams, seeing a mere 12 targets over the span. With minimal pedigree and struggling to carve a role yet, Mundt is projected to need at least one injury for meaningful snaps and targets. Jacob Harris is a size/speed WR/TE tweener who was announced as a tight end when the Rams selected him, so we should be tracking him as a high upside prospect for fantasy purposes.

Place Kicker

Matt Gay, Austin MacGinnis: The Rams went through multiple kickers last year, moving on from rookie camp competition winner Sam Sloman halfway through the season and briefly using journeyman Kai Forbath before Matt Gay won the job. Gay failed as the Bucs kicker in a previous incarnation, but hit 14 of 16 field goal attempts, including 7 of 8 from 40+ yards, and all 16 of his extra point attempts in seven games. He is going undrafted in fantasy leagues, but Gay will face only symbolic competition from practice squad kicker Austin MacGinnis, and his field goal opportunity from last year expanded over a whole season would give him ample opportunity to be a top 10 kicker. Consider his a preferred option if you are one of the last teams to take a kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Raymond Calais (inj)

Nsimba Webster was a two-way returner for the Rams last year, but was released before training camp. The job is open, with Raymond Calais serving there last year but by no means a lock to make the final roster.

Punt Returners: Cooper Kupp

Nsimba Webster was the team's top punt returner last year, but Cooper Kupp filled in as his backup when necessary and with Webster released, that might be more necessary than it was last year. Kupp is too important on offense to take over top duties, but could add a handful of punt returns again this year, with the team likely looking for another primary punt returner.

Offensive Line

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

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth took a pay-cut to return for his twelfth season. He and Rob Havenstein are among the league's better pairs, with Bobby Evans providing capable swing depth. Joe Noteboom and David Edwards can both play left guard, while Austin Corbett does a decent job at right guard. The uncertain spot is center, where Brian Allen and Coleman Shelton should compete. There is also some buzz that Corbett could move to center. As long as Whitworth stays healthy, this line grades above average.

Team Defense

The Rams defense was loaded last season and see many of their playmakers return again this year. Aaron Donald is the reigning defensive player of the year and led the team to finish 2nd overall in the NFL with 53 sacks. Losing Brandon Staley as defensive coordinator will be a small hiccup as this was the most dominant defense in the regular season last year. They held teams to 18.5 points per game and opposing offenses converted just 35% of 3rd down plays. The secondary should remain one of the best in the game led by Jalen Ramsey and a deep set of safeties including Jordan fuller and Taylor Rapp. They still have the majority of their young guys locked into small deals and they added key rookies at corner, nose tackle, and linebacker via the draft. This defense got younger and faster across the board and should finish as a top 5 defense in the regular season again this year.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Aaron Donald, DE Sebestian Joseph-Day, NT A'Shawn Robinson
Backups: DE Michael Hoecht, NT Bobby Brown[R], DL Earnest Brown [R] DL Eric Banks, DE Jonah Williams

Starting DL: This was a big strength for the Rams last season. They finished second in the NFL with 53 sacks and Aaron Donald took home another defensive player of the year award. The biggest issue here is lack of depth. Michael Brockers was included in the trade for Matthew Stafford to the Lions and played a big role in the success of this front unit last season. A'Shawn Robinson has moved to the inside and will be pushed by rookie Bobby Brown for playing time this year. The Rams will look to keep a healthy rotation of linemen to support Donald. This unit is still one of the biggest strengths on the defense solely because of Donald and they should rank in the top 5 for sacks again this season.

Backup DL: The backups for the Rams this season will look entirely different than a year ago. Bobby brown was drafted in the 4th round out of Texas A&M and registered 5.5 sacks last season. He will push for playing time right away at nose tackle and should see a healthy portion of the rotation. Earnest Brown was drafted in the 5th round out of Northwestern but does not project to much of a starting role early this season. Playing opposite of Aaron Donald will give every back up a chance at notching some sacks as he draws the 2 on 1 from the offensive line. Look for this to be one of the more productive supporting casts in the NFL this season.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Leonard Floyd, ILB Micah Kiser, ILB Kenny Young, OLB Justin Hollins OLB Leonard Floyd, ILB Micah Kiser, ILB Troy Reeder, OLB Terrell Lewis
Backups: OLB Terrell Lewis, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, ILB Ernest Jones [R], ILB Troy Reeder, ILB Travin Howard, OLB Chris Garrett [R],OLB Justin Lawler ILB Ernest Jones [R], OLB Justin Hollins, OLB Obo Okoronkwo, ILB Kenny Young, OLB Chris Garrett [R], ILB Travin Howard

Starting LBs: The Rams made a big signing by bringing Floyd back into the mix at four years, $64 million. There was speculation he would be a cap casualty and that the Rams would have to search for linebacker help in the draft or free agency. The deal solidifies a very productive unit. The spot opposite Floyd will probably be manned by a rotation, with hope that 2020 second-round pick Terrell Lewis can stay healthy. Micah Kiser had a very productive season with 77 total tackles, 3 interceptions, and a pass breakup but he could not stay healthy and missed extensive time. Troy Reeder played great in his absence and earned a bigger role coming into this season and should push Kenny Young for playing time, with third round pick Ernest Jones also having a shot to win the job next to Kiser. This unit got exposed in the NFC Divisional Round by Green Bay who racked up 188 rushing yards and attacked the outside. This unit could use a little more speed and better pursuit angles to the outside.

Backup LBs: The backups got some extensive playing time last season with the injury to Kiser. Troy Reeder was a run stopping machine and should push for more playing time this season. This defense held teams to just 5.8 points in the second half of games last year and are coming back largely intact. Okoronakwo is a lock as a backup and Travin Howard may have to fight to secure a final roster spot. Ernest Jones was drafted in the 3rd round out of South Carolina and has a chance to see playing time right away. The starting unit struggled to stay on the field last season and that could allow for more of a rotation with health in mind and or simply more playing time due to injury. Jones was a big addition to an already strong core of linebackers

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jalen Ramsey, CB Darious Williams, SS Taylor Rapp, FS Jordan Fuller
Backups: CB David Long, CB Robert Rochell [R], SS Terrell Burgess, FS Nick Scott

Starting DBs: The Rams suffered some losses to the secondary but should still be considered a top unit coming into 2021. John Johnson and Troy Hill both now play for the Cleveland Browns. Darious Williams is currently slated to take over for Hill and has some big shoes to fill opposite of Ramsey. Teams throw opposite of Ramsey as much as they can and that will lead to big tackle numbers for whoever lines up opposite of him. Jordan Fuller will hold down one of the safety positions. 2020 third-round pick Terrell Burgess was ticketed for a big role before getting hurt last year. He'll be in on subpackages at least with his ability to also play nickel corner. Taylor Rapp got extensive playing time last year due to injuries in the secondary and he will compete with Burgess to take the spot of Johnson in the starting lineup.

Backup DBs: This is the weakest group on the entire defense. The Rams went out and grabbed Robert Rochell out of Central Arkansas in the 4th round. He will sit behind Jalen Ramsey and could slide in as the starting nickel corner in certain packages. This was the position group with the least amount of depth and the Rams wanted to make sure they added someone who could make a difference and fill in sooner rather than later. Ramsey is the leader of this defense and Rochell will have one of the best cover corners in the league to learn from. Long could play slot corner and will be injury depth at worst, and Scott could be playing more in subpackages and less on special teams this year.