2020 Los Angeles Rams Outlook
The change in coaching staff in Los Angeles was a big success in 2017 (11-5) with follow-through in 2018 (13-3 and a trip to the Super Bowl). Last year the Rams slipped to 9-7 due to a sharp decline in points scored (133 fewer pts) and an 11th-place ranking (384 points). The two previous seasons LA finished 1st (478) and 2nd (527) in scoring. They ended up seventh offensive yards in 2019.
Sean McVay went 33-15 in his three seasons as the head coach, helping the Rams to two postseason appearances with a Super Bowl berth in 2018. Over the previous three years, He worked as the offensive coordinator for the Redskins. McVay has ten seasons of experience in the NFL at age 33.
This year the Rams brought in Kevin O'Connell to run their offense. Last year he held the offensive coordinator job for Washington, which came after two seasons as their quarterback's coach. O'Connell has been a coach for four years while being a former player in the NFL from 2008 to 2012.
Aaron Kromer returns as the run game coordinator while Shane Waldron gets a second season as the pass game coordinator.
Kromer has 20 seasons on his resume in the NFL with a short stint as an interim coach for the Saints in 2012, where he went 2-4. In 2013 and 2014, he held the offensive coordinator job for the Bears. Waldron came through the Patriots' system with ties to McVay in Washington.
Los Angeles also made a switch at defensive coordinator in the offseason. Brandon Staley only has three years of experience in the NFL, which came in Chicago and Denver as their outside linebacker's coach. He'll have a massive step up in his job while entering 2020 at age 37.
Last season the Rams ranked 13th in yards allowed and 17th in points allowed (364).
After two great years, LA decided to release Todd Gurley in the offseason. They moved away from him in the passing game while not trusting the health of his knees.
Their defense lost LB Cory Littleton, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, DE Dante Fowler, DE Clay Matthews, S Eric Weddle, LB Bryce Hager, and S Marqui Christian.
Over the last two seasons, Littleton filled up the stat sheet (259 tackles, 7.5 sacks, five Ints, 22 defended passes, one TD, and four fumble recoveries). He has the look of a plus defender in pass coverage, but offenses will look his way on many pass attempts. Littleton will make plenty of tackles, but his play isn't ideal against the run.
Robey-Coleman wasn't an elite coverage player on the outside, but his game plays well out of the slot.
After four dull seasons after getting drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, Fowler set career-highs in tackles (58), sacks (11.5), and defended passes (6) for the Rams while also scoring his second career touchdown. His run defense was also improved, despite missing too many tackles.
They added DE Leonard Floyd and DT A'Shawn Robinson to their defense.
Floyd flashed upside in his rookie season (33 tackles and seven sacks), but his pass rush skill set declined in his next three years. He plays well against the run.
Robinson offers minimal value rushing the quarterback while never being a consistent edge in run support.
Los Angeles released QB Blake Bortles. K Greg Zuerlein signed with the Cowboys, and Mike Thomas landed on the Bengals as bench wide receiver.
At this year's combine, Akers graded well in speed (4.47 forty yard dash) and the bench press (20 reps of 225 lbs.). His short-area quickness isn't ideal. His free-flowing style works well in space while showing the vision to add yards at the second level of the defense if given open field to make plays. Akers will break free after the line of scrimmage with a feel for scoring in close.
Coming into the NFL, Jefferson gets high marks in his route running and understanding how to create space out of his breaks. He does not have the speed or explosiveness to be trusted as a consistent deep outside threat. His best value will come working over the short areas of the field, but I don't see the quickness of a Julian Edelman type receiver out of the slot. Jefferson will make plays in tight coverage, but his lack of top-end speed does allow a defender to sit on some of his moves.
Los Angeles picked up two defensive players (LB Terrell Lewis and S Terrell Burgess) in the third round.
Lewis comes to the NFL with an injury risk while not reaching his peak as far as bulk and strength. His vision grades well with the quickness to attack in the pass rush. Lewis needs to show that he can handle the fights in the trenches to be a factor in run support.
Burgess brings an intriguing combination of speed (4.46 forty) and strength (20 reps in the bench press). He plays with patience and vision while needing to improve his fight against the run. Burgess will help in coverage helped by his reads and decision making. His lack of experience is a concern.
In the fourth round, LA made a play for TE Brycen Hopkins. His route running is much better than his ability to catch the ball. He plays hard with some fight as a blocker. Hopkins needs to add more strength with plenty of work on improving his hands.
The Rams added S Jordan Fuller and LB Clay Johnston in the sixth and seventh rounds.
Fuller is an attacking player vs. the run, but he could be a significant problem in coverage. Los Angeles will use him well off the ball as a high safety to help hide his risk in the passing game. His speed (4.67 forty) ranks below the desired value needed at the safety position.
Johnston is a second player that was discounted in the draft due to an injury (knee) in 2019. He projects as a hard-hitting linebacker with his best value coming in run support. His feel for play flow grades well while offering the vision to be in the right place at the right time. Johnston has a lot to prove based on his injury history.
K Sam Sloman came via the Rams second pick in the seventh round. His legs improved in his college career while finally adding length to his field goals in 2019 (4-for-5 over 50 yards). Sloman has a big leg, but his mechanics can break down at times.
The last flier in the seventh round went to G Tremayne Anchrum. In his college career, he played right tackle. His knock in the draft comes from his size (6'2" and 314 lbs.), which is why the expected position switch. He fires after the snap while showcasing the ability to gain an early edge in run blocking. Anchrum offers range and a winning foundation in pass protection. His challenge will come versus power, and his hands need to land quicker to slow down attacking defenders.
The Rams fell to 26th in rushing yards (1,499) with 20 TDs and eight runs over 20 yards. Their rushers gained only 43.7 yards per carry while averaging 25.1 attempts per game.
The fade in the run game led to LA relying more on the pass (4,669) with 22 TDs and 17 Ints. They completed 73 passes over 20 yards with six catches gaining 40 yards or more. Overall, the Rams gained 7.4 yards per pass attempt. Their offensive line allowed 22 sacks and 79 QB hits.
LT Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth has been a great left tackle over the last 14 years in the NFL. Last year he allowed minimal sacks, but his play took a significant step back in run blocking. His failure may or may not have been a direct result of regression play at the running back position. Whitworth starts the year at age 38 with his best asset coming in pass blocking in his career.
LG Austin Corbett
With Joe Noteboom coming off a bad knee injury (torn ACL), Corbett should open up as the starting option at left guard. Over seven starts with the Rams after a trade with Cleveland, he came up short in run blocking while doing a nice job minimizing the pressure on Jared Goff. Corbett was a second-round draft pick in 2018.
Noteboom has a chance to be ready for the start of the season. He struggled in all areas in his first six career starts for Los Angeles last year, but Noteboom didn't allow a sack.
C Austin Blythe
After a successful 2018 at right guard in his first year with starting snaps, Blythe struggled last season in both run and pass blocking while splitting time between center and right guard. He'll battle Brian Allen for the starting job in 2020. Allen missed the second half of last year with an MCL issue.
RG David Edwards
Los Angeles gave Edwards the final ten starts in his rookie season after the Rams had a couple of injuries on the offensive line. He finished as a neutral run blocker while needing some work in pass protection.
Edwards is a former QB who offers quickness and athletic ability. His game is better positioned to handle pass protection than run blocking until he gets stronger and improves his technique. He needs growth in his hands and his plan vs. power.
RT Rob Havenstein
Havenstein played well over his first four seasons in the NFL after getting drafted in the second round in 2015. His play was exceptional in 2018, especially as a run blocker. Last year he lost his way while seeing his season cut short after nine starts due to a battle with a knee injury. Havenstein will allow sacks and pressure at times during the season.
Offensive Line Outlook
Even with a low number of sacks allowed last year, this offensive line looks to be boarding on disaster downside. They have talent at both tackles, but age and injuries will lead to regression in play. The other options on the line project below the league average. Los Angeles scored rushing touchdowns in close last year while losing their explosive in the run game. The question comes from whether it was a running back issue or the offensive line. This offensive line has a lot to prove in 2020.
QB Jared Goff, DET - Quality Backup
The downgrade in production by Todd Gurley led to the Rams trying to win games with Goff's right arm. He tied league lead in passing attempts (626 – about a ten percent increase over 2018), but Goff had a regression in his yards per pass attempt (7.4 – 8.4 in 2018) and TD production (22 – 32 in 2018).
His only game with over two passing TDs came in Week 17 (319/3). He passed for over 300 yards in six contests, highlighted in two outings (517/2 and 424/2). This year LA needs to bring back the RB to the passing game (37/260/2 in 2019 – last in the NFL in RB production) while finding another big play WR to replace Brandin Cooks.
The "Sean McVay is an offensive genius" left the building in the Rams' Super Bowl loss against the Patriots. There's some possible upside, but Goff starts the draft season a mid-tier QB2. Los Angeles did add another pass-catching option at running back (Cam Akers) in this year's draft.
I have Goff projected for 4,376 yards with 27 TDs and 14 Ints in early July. Fantasy owners have him priced as the 16th best option at quarterback with an ADP of 115.
RB Cam Akers, LAR - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over three seasons in college, Akers gained 3,361 combined yards with 34 touchdowns and 69 catches on 655 touches. His highlight season came in 2019 (1,369 combined yards with 18 TDs and 30 catches).
He'll make plays in the passing game, but his pass protection skills may be below par even with strength as an asset. His path to running back came via the quarterback position, which helps his play-making ability. The Rams now have two players to help fill the void created by the decline and release of Todd Gurley. Akers will be an attractive backend RB in the fantasy market who should gain momentum in training camp.
The early view on the value of Akers in 2020 in the high-stakes market is that he will be the top running back option for the Rams. He has an ADP of 60 as the 28th running back drafted.
I have him projected for 898 combined yards with six TDs and 26 catches after my first run of the projections. I expect his outlook to improve as the training camp news is released over the summer.
RB Darrell Henderson, LAR - Quality Backup
The Rams cleared the path for Henderson to have a massive step up in opportunity 2019. Last year he struggled over his 13 games with his best showing in Week 8 (69 combined yards with two TDs).
Henderson turned in an impressive season in 2018 (2,204 combined yards with 25 TDs and 19 catches) for Memphis despite only receiving 233 touches. He gained 8.9 yards per rush and 15.5 yards per catch, which was supported by his success in 2017 (8.9 and 9.4).
In his college career, Henderson caught 63 passes for 758 yards and eight TDs.
He runs with power and home run ability while consistently breaking arm tackles. His vision graded well while offering subtle movements to create big yardage on what looks like small windows at the point of attack.
In 2020, Henderson could be in a dead heat with RB Cam Akers for touches. Coin flip with upside while waiting for the summer news to get a better update on his opportunity. His season ended last year with an ankle issue.
I have him projected for 1,019 combined yards with six TDs and 38 catches, which gives Henderson more overall fantasy value than Cam Akers after my initial look at the Rams' offense in 2020. His ADP (118) looks favorable. Henderson is the 44th running back off the board in early July.
RB Malcolm Brown, --- - Low Potential
Other than a pair of touchdowns in Week 1 at the expense of RB Todd Gurley, Brown failed to rush for over 40 yards in any other contest.
He missed three games with an ankle injury. His peak in touches (11) came in two games.
Over five seasons in the NFL, Brown gained only 3.9 yards per rush.
In 2019, the Rams' RB combined for 1,728 yards with 20 TDs and 37 catches. Just another name that doesn't have the star power or resume to keep a starting job long-term.
RB John Kelly, CLE - Dynasty Only
Over three seasons at Tennessee, Kelly gained 1,923 combined yards with 15 TDs and 43 catches. His best success came in his junior year when John had 1,077 combined yards with nine TDs and 37 catches despite gaining only 4.1 yards per rush. Kelly fits into the grinder mode, with power being his best asset.
Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Kelly gained only 110 combined yards with two catches over eight games of action. A dynasty lottery ticket who needs an injury or two ahead of him.
WR Cooper Kupp, LAR - Stud (low risk)
Despite ranking fourth in WR scoring (270.70) in PPR leagues, Kupp left fantasy owners with an empty feeling over the second half of the year.
He came into the year with questions about his recovery from a torn ACL in his left knee.
Kupp dominated in five (5/120, 11/101/2, 9/121/1, 9/117/1, and 7/220/1) over his first eight games. After a goose egg in Week 10 on four targets, he failed to gain over 100 yards over his final seven contests (36/369/5), but he did end the year with a TD in five straight games.
Over his last 24 games, Kupp has 134 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 TDs on 189 targets. His success breaks down to 16.78 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, which would rank in the top ten in fantasy points at wide receiver in each of the past three seasons.
The structure of Rams' offense is in transition at running back, but they should continue to throw a high number of passes.
My early bar is 87 catches for 1,166 yards and nine TDs. Kupp has an ADP of 34 in 12-team PPR leagues as the 11th wide receiver drafted.