Preseason - 2021 Los Angeles Rams Outlook
Los Angeles Rams Outlook
In his first four seasons, Sean McVay was 43-21 as the head coach, helping the Rams to three 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 11 seasons of experience in the NFL at age 35.
Kevin O'Connell returns for a second season as the Rams offensive coordinator. In 2019, he held the same position for Washington, which came after two seasons as their quarterback's coach. O'Connell has been a coach for six years while being a former player in the NFL from 2008 to 2012.
Los Angeles regressed in the scoring department over the past three seasons. They finished 22nd in points (372), which was well off their success in 2017 (478) and 2018 (527). The Rams also slipped to 11th offensive yards (seventh in 2019 and second in 2018).
The defense is now in the hands of Raheem Morris, who worked in the Falcons' system for six seasons with various jobs. His NFL coaching career started in 2002 as their defensive back coach, leading to the Bucs' head coaching job for three seasons (17-31). Morris had his first defensive coordinator job in Atlanta in 2020 while finishing the season with the interim coaching position (4-7).
The Rams made the jump to the top of the league in points (296) and yards allowed. They gave up 68 fewer points than 2019 (364). Over their previous 18 seasons, Los Angeles never had a top 10 defense in points allowed.
Their defense lost S John Johnson and CB Troy Hill to the Browns.
Johnson delivered over 100 tackles in his last two full seasons with the Rams while also being on a productive pace in 2019 (51 over six games). His play in coverage graded well thanks to Los Angeles having a dominating pass-rusher (Aaron Donald) and a talented secondary.
Hill saw his game improve after making a switch to slot corner for the Rams. His challenge comes when asked to cover elite physical receivers on the outside.
They signed WR DeSean Jackson, who missed most of the past two seasons with injuries. His best days are well behind him, but he does still offer speed. Jackson enters this season at the age of 34.
Los Angeles didn't re-sign WR Josh Reynolds, TE Gerald Everett, and C Austin Blythe.
Reynolds worked as the 3rd/4th wide receiver for the Rams over the last four seasons. His catch rate (50.8) over his first three seasons. Last year, Los Angeles gave him more chances close to the line of scrimmage, leading to a bump in his overall production (52/618/2).
Everett improved in each season with the Rams while setting a career-high in catches (41), receiving yards (417), and target (62) in 2020, but he failed to seize the starting tight end job. Los Angeles drafted him in the second round in 2017.
Blythe has been up and down in his play over the past few seasons. His pass blocking continues to move in the wrong direction while playing well in the run game in 2018 and 2020.
The only other change in free agency came with DE Samson Ebukam moving on to the 49ers. His playing time faded over the previous two years as he has settled into being a rotational pass rusher. Ebukam picked up 4.5 sacks in both 2019 and 2020.
The Rams' most significant move in the offseason was the trade of QB Jared Goff to the Lions for QB Matthew Stafford. Goff went 42-27 in his career with Los Angeles after starting his career with no wins in seven starts in his rookie season.
With no first-round selection this season, the Rams invested in WR Tutu Atwell with the 25th pick in the second round. He brings speed to burn with an explosive feel after the catch. Atwell checks in at 5'9" and 155 lbs., inviting questions about his durability and his ability to win contested balls in tight quarters. He will test a defense deep while adding explosive daylight plays close to the line of scrimmage.
The Rams addressed their defense with their next three choices – LB Ernest Jones (3.40), DT Bobby Brown (4.12), and CB Robert Rochell (4.25).
Jones lacks elite speed, setting a limited range to his success. However, he reads plays well with the willingness to fire in run support. His patience puts him on time on many assignments, but Jones can't make up for a false step in traffic. As a result, he won't factor in the pass rush or coverage, pointing to an early-down role.
Brown won't factor in rushing the quarterback early in his career. He has more of a stand the line feel with time needed to develop his technique and footwork. His vision helps his reaction window after the snap, allowing him to find gaps against the run or dismantle passes behind the line of scrimmage.
Rochell offers the tools to be a difference-maker in coverage if he works hard to develop his technique mirroring wide receivers. His speed projects as an edge while coming into the league with the talent to play up close and personal with wide receivers. When in close quarters to the ball, Rochell owns an edge, and he will get his share of interceptions. His ability to connect to wideouts will come with trust and instincts while losing the thinking cap, which leads to missed steps and loss of aggression on some pass plays.
Los Angeles swung back to their offense with three of their following four selections – WR Jacob Harris, RB Jake Funk, and WR Ben Skowronek.
Harris owns an edge in size (6'5" and 220 lbs.) while offering much better speed than expected. His route running and hands aren't where they need to be while lacking short-area quickness. The Rams will use him to extend the field and possibly on jump balls at the goal line.
Funk comes to the NFL with a questionable first gear, but his running gains momentum in space and over the long field. He looks the part of an upside running back, highlighted by his speed in the 40-yard dash (4.4). Funk creates separation out of breaks in the passing game. He projects well on special teams while having a pair of ACL injuries on the same knee college.
Skowronek offers size (6'3" and 220 lbs.) and route running, but his release, quickness, and overall speed rank below the top players in the NFL. He handles himself well in the blocking game, and his hands grade well. The Rams' vision with Skowronek could help push the run game forward while bringing sneaky pass-catching value late in games when playing from the lead.
With their final choice in the seventh round, LA added DE Chris Garrett. His small school experience led to production in sacks and tackles for losses. He earned honors from explosiveness off the edge on the outside, with the ability to shift to the inside when given daylight. His early challenge comes from developing his strength and proving he can beat NFL-caliber blockers.
The Rams climbed to 11th in rushing yards (2,018) with 19 touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards. Their rushers gained only 4.3 yards per carry while averaging 29.6 attempts per game.
Los Angeles ranked 15th in passing yards (4,183) with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. They gained 7.1 yards per pass attempt with 50 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line gave up 25 sacks.
LT Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth has been a great left tackle over his 15 years in the NFL. Last year he allowed minimal sacks while regaining his strength in run blocking. A knee injury led to six missed games. Whitworth starts the year at age 39, with his best asset coming in pass blocking over his long career.
LG David Edwards
After seeing time at right guard in his rookie season, Edwards moved to left tackle while making 15 starts. His run blocking pushed over the league average with improvement in pass protection.
Edwards is a former QB who offers quickness and athletic ability. However, his game looks 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.
C Brian Allen
Allen is a power player with the most upside in the run game. However, he has limitations in his blocking area due to minimal quickness. His play has some risk in pass protection when defenders beat him outside his blocking window. A knee injury in 2019 and a Covid issue led to him missing all of last season.
RG Austin Corbett
In his third year after getting drafted in the second in 2018, Corbett made an entire season of starts. He played well in run blocking while allowing minimal sacks and some pressure. Corbett has an excellent feel for the game with an edge in knowledge. His hands create a winning window after the snap in both run and pass games, but he'll need to add more strength to continues.
RT Rob Havenstein
After missing seven games in 2019, Havenstein regained his form over 18 starts, highlighted by his success in run blocking. He continues to allow too many sacks with defenders creating some pressure on the quarterback. Havenstein projects to be an asset in all areas.
The center position has the potential to be a glaring liability. The Rams have one edge lineman, but he's coming off a knee injury and near the end of his professional career. The other three options look to be about league average, with the most questions coming in pass protection.
The Rams regained their running game in 2020. They ran the ball 44.4 percent of the time while averaging 36.9 passes. A change at quarterback points to a redefined offense while focusing on the run in the red zone.
QB Matthew Stafford, LAR - Quality Backup
Over the past five seasons, Stafford only played at a high level in 2019 (2,499 passing yards and 19 touchdowns) while missing eight games. Last year, he passed for 4,084 yards and 26 touchdowns. His best success came in Week 8 (336/3) and Week 13 (402/3). Stafford finished with one touchdown or fewer in nine games.
The Rams threw the ball 10.5 percent more than Detroit, leading to 4,182 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Stafford has a 74-90-1 career record with three appearances in the postseason (0-3). His completion rate (65.6) improved over the past six years with 151 touchdowns and 59 interceptions over 88 games.
Fantasy Outlook: After finishing 15th in quarterback scoring (312.70 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues, Stafford comes of the board as the 11th quarterback drafted in the 12-team high-stakes market. The Rams have two top wide receivers with pass-catching talent at running back and tight end. With a bump of 600 passing attempts, Stafford looks to be on a path for 4,500 yards while beating the league average in passing touchdowns.
Other Options: John, Bryce Perkins, Delvin Hodges
RB Darrell Henderson, LAR - Solid/Safe Pick
The Rams regained some of their lost bounce in the running game in 2020 (416/1,864/16). But for the second season, their backs had a low-volume opportunity in the passing game (50/440/2 on 72 targets). Over the past three years under Sean McVay, Los Angeles scored 64 touchdowns from the running back position.
After a minimal opportunity in Week 1 (three rushes for six yards), the Rams gave Henderson the lead opportunity at running back for six games. He gained 514 combined yards with four touchdowns and nine catches while averaging 15.5 touches. His best two showings came in Week 2 (121 combined yards with one touchdown and two catches) and Week 3 (120 combined yards with one score and one catch).
Over his final seven games, Henderson gained 205 combined yards with two touchdowns and six catches with only seven touches per game. His season ended in Week 17 due to a left ankle injury.
Henderson turned in an impressive season in 2018 (2,204 combined yards with 25 touchdowns and 19 catches) for Memphis despite only receiving 233 touches. He gained 8.9 yards per rush and 15.5 yards per catch, supported by his success in 2017 (8.9 and 9.4). In his college career, Henderson caught 63 passes for 758 yards and eight scores.
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.
RB Xavier Jones, LAR - Bye Week Fill-in
An undrafted free agent out of SMU, Jones rushed for over 1,300 yards and 23 scores in his final season for the Mustangs and has drawn rave reviews out of the club's training camp. Jones and seventh-round rooke Jake Funk are the favorites to emerge as the options behind Henderson, who will now serve as Sean McVay's featured back.
Keep an eye on both Jones and Funk as potential late-round value picks to consider in the waning rounds of fantasy football drafts
Other Options: Raymond Calais, Jake Funk, Otis AndersonInjury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Cooper Kupp, LAR - Solid/Safe Pick
Despite catching over 90 passes for a second straight year, Kupp ended last with a disappointing feel. He lost his edge in scoring (three touchdowns – 10 in 2019) while also fading in his yards per catch (10.6). Kupp gained over 20 yards on 12 plays with a rebound in his catch rate (74.2).
Last year, he finished with three games with over 100 yards receiving (9/107/1, 11/110, and 11/145). Kupp scored 10.00 fantasy points or more in 12 of his 16 games played (including playoffs). Over his final six starts, he caught 32 passes for 330 yards and one touchdown on 42 targets. Unfortunately, a Covid issue cost him Week 17, and his season ended with a knee injury.
Fantasy Outlook: I've been a fan of Kupp since he arrived in the NFL. He runs excellent routes with the hands to make tough catches. His ADP (55) priced him as the 21st wide receiver. In 2019, he finished fourth in wide receiver scoring (94/1,161/1) in PPR leagues while sliding to 26th last season (209.90 fantasy points). His foundation skill set points to 105-plus catches for 1,250 yards with a bounce back in scoring.
WR Van Jefferson, LAR - Deep-league Only
After getting drafted in the second round in 2020, Jefferson caught 19 of his 31 targets for 220 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season. He finished with four catches or more in four matchups (4/45, 4/27, 4/50, and 6/46/1).
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.
Jefferson failed to deliver an impact season in his four years at Florida and Mississippi (175/2159/16). He caught 49 passes in 2016 and 2019, with the best value in yards (657) coming in his senior year. Over his final 12 games, Jefferson caught 12 touchdowns.Fantasy Outlook: His father (Shawn Jefferson) was a long-time player in the NFL who now works for the New York Jets. Jefferson knows the game and works hard. He is a possession-type wide receiver with a chance at 50 to 60 catches for about 650 yards and short touchdowns once Jefferson earns a WR3 opportunity.
WR DeSean Jackson, LVR - Gamble (high risk)
The excitement of Jackson returning to Philly after a five-season vacation lasted a whole 67 plays in 2019 (abdomen injury) while creating a buzz after dominating in Week 1 (8/154/2). Last year, he only saw the field in five games (ankle and hamstring issues), leading to 14 catches for 236 yards and one touchdown.
Over his previous seven years in the NFL, Jackson averaged over 17.5 yards per catch in five different seasons. His last season of value came in 2016 (56/1,005/4).