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Los Angeles Rams: Scouring the NFC West For Help In Free Agency

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Which NFC West Free Agents Could Make the Biggest Impact for the Los Angeles Rams?

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With the 2015-2016 NFL season in the books, coaching staffs and front office personnel head back to their headquarters in preparation of the offseason.  Whether it’s working to negotiate terms with their own free agents, looking at those scheduled to hit free agency elsewhere, or April’s draft, every team has their work cut out for them, and it can’t wait until mid-March when free agency begins.

For the Los Angeles Rams free agency looms large, with many key contributors/starters slated to test free agency; especially on the defensive side of the ball.  They’ll aim to keep many of them on board, in hopes of keeping the strongest part of their team intact.  But it’s the offense, as usual, that could use the most improvement.

Here’s a quick look at the Rams’ key free agents for 2016, as well as a quick note on any players who made Pro Football Focus’s top free agents list, by position:

Los Angeles Rams
Offense Defense/ST's
QB Case Keenum CB Janoris Jenkins
RB Benny Cunningham DT Nick Fairley
C Tim Barnes CB Trumaine Johnson
WR Brian Quick DE William Hayes
FB Cory Harkey LB/S Mark Barron
WR Wes Welker FS Rodney McLeod
DE Eugene Sims
K Greg Zuerlein

Trumaine Johnson [5th Ranked Cornerback]

Johnson is the lesser known of two free agent cornerbacks for the Rams, but he had his best season as a starter and ranked 19th at his position with an 82.2 overall player grade. Johnson allowed a 55.0 passer rating when targeted, second to only Norman this season among corners. He still needs to prove that he can sustain that level of play for more than one season, but the arrow seems to be pointing up for Johnson.

Janoris Jenkins [6th Ranked Cornerback]

We’ve come to expect big plays when quarterbacks target Janoris Jenkins, but those could be either good plays made by Jenkins, or big plays that he has allowed. Over his four-year career, Jenkins has allowed five or more touchdowns in every season (22 total), and missed 56 tackles in 60 games. However, Jenkins has also had 13 or more combined interceptions and pass defenses in three of his four seasons. He has improved over time, and is coming off his highest-graded season in coverage, where he ranked 30th among cornerbacks. Jenkins will make some impactful plays on defense, but he has shown over the last few years that he is susceptible to giving them up, as well.

Nick Fairley [4th Ranked Interior Defensive Lineman]

Once a player who looked on the verge of superstardom, Fairley (82.0) found himself far less attracted than many expected as a free agent last year. Still, a one-season stint in St. Louis with the Rams proved to be his best in the league so far. His worst season so far came when he was asked to play 693 snaps, so perhaps the key to getting the most out of Fairley is limiting his usage. It might not be ideal to bring in a free agent who is best-suited to around 500 snaps, but if he can do as he did last year and rack up 19 total pressures and 17 defensive stops, he would make a very smart addition to a lot of defensive lines around the league.

Williams Hayes [5th Ranked Edge Rusher]

There are only so many headlines to go around for any football team, let alone a defensive line as talented as the Rams’, but their most consistent performer over the last four years has been William Hayes. After hinting at his ability in Tennessee with up and down seasons, Hayes has been a consistent performer in a backup role for the Rams, topping 20 pressures every season and topping 40 pressures for the first time this season. Hayes has flourished in an expanded role in the last two seasons (554 snaps in 2014, 597 snaps in 2015) and will now seek the full-time starting role that has thus far eluded him in his career.


Odds are several of these players will be suiting up for another team in 2016, despite the Rams’ best efforts to retain them.  Players want to be paid.  And for that same reason - the NFL’s salary cap - setting out to acquire all of the league’s top free agents to solve yours woes is never a viable solution.  Neither is hoping to solve all the team’s problems solely through the NFL draft.  It takes a nice mix of both.

And while inking all the Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, and Robert Griffin III type players would be nice, it’s probably not in the cards for the Rams.  That said, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they showed serious interest in one, or all, of those players.

The other NFC West teams have their fair share of work to do this offseason, as well.  And while many of the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers free agents won’t sit atop the league’s list of most coveted players, there are several who could interest the Rams, and fill key positions where they may have a need.

Here’s a look at each NFC West team’s notable free agent players, as well as a quick note on any players who made Pro Football Focus’s top free agents list, by position:

Seattle Seahawks
Offense Defense/ST's
LT Russell Okung OLB Bruce Irvin
WR Jermaine Kearse NT Brandon Mebane
RB Christine Michael CB Jeremy Lane
C Patrick Lewis DT Demarcus Dobbs
OG J.R. Sweezy P Jon Ryan
QB Tarvaris Jackson
RB Fred Jackson
T/G Alvin Bailey

Tavaris Jackson [6th Ranked Quarterback]

Seemingly a regular on this list, Jackson is a solid backup quarterback, though he’s played only 75 snaps since 2011. He graded well that season at +7.6 overall (0.0 is average within cumulative grading) and he can be a dependable player if called upon as a backup.

Russell Okung [6th Ranked Offensive Tackle]

There was a time when Okung was close to being a top-10 tackle in the league, but it has been three years since his peak in 2012. He was a good run-blocker early in his career, but his cumulative run block grades of -7.2 and +1.0 the past two seasons have been considerably lower. He’s had just one above-average pass-blocking season in six years, but the Seahawks’ comparatively run-heavy offense has lessened that exposure. All that said, he has shown his potential in the past, and has put together small stretches of good play since then. If he can stay healthy, it’s certainly possible that he could reach that level again.

Patrick Lewis [5th Ranked Center]

Lewis has graded below average over the last two seasons in Seattle and struggled at the point of attack in the team’s two playoff games. He’s a young and likely cheap backup option who’s shown glimpses, with particularly solid performances in Weeks 11, 13, and 17.

Jermaine Kearse [5th Ranked Wide Receiver]

While there were better receiving options in Seattle, the Seahawks still had plenty of success when throwing Kearse the football. When Kearse was targeted, the Seahawks had a 126.1 NFL passer rating, which was the fourth-best for any wide receiver in the NFL. He started playing especially well late in the season. From Week 14 on, including the playoffs, his +7.4 cumulative grade was the seventh best for wide receivers. The receivers above him might have more upside, but over the last three years, Kearse has been more consistent.

Brandon Mebane [8th Ranked Interior Defensive Lineman]

It would be doing a disservice to Williams (85.6) to call him a poor man’s Damon Harrison, but the two are similar players, with the Jets nose tackle just taking it to another level. Williams is one of the best nose tackles in the league and finished the season strong, with huge performances against Cleveland and Cincinnati. Registering 38 total defensive stops, he’s a perfect fit for a team looking for a force in the middle of their defensive line.

Jon Ryan [7th Ranked Kicker/Punter]

After finished sixth among punters in overall punting grade in 2014, Ryan fell to 12th in 2015, with a net average of 37.6 yards per punt ranking as the third-worst in the league. Some of this can be attributed to his coverage units, however, which surrendered 382 return yards on just 29 returns (13.2 average), which was up from 196 yards on 16 returns in 2014 (12.25 average).

Arizona Cardinals
Offense Defense/ST's
RT Bobby Massie FS Rashad Johnson
C Lyle Sendlein FS Tony Jefferson
RB Chris Johnson CB Jerraud Powers
OG Ted Larsen OLB Dwight Freeney
WR Jaron Brown ILB Sean Weatherspoon
TE Jermaine Gresham SS D.J. Swearinger
QB Drew Stanton OLB LaMarr Woodley
DE Red Bryant
FS Chris Clemons

Bobby Massie [8th Ranked Offensive Tackle]

It’s tough to know what to expect from Bobby Massie. He was one of the worst pass-blocking tackles back in 2012, but he improved quite a bit after being given another chance in 2014. However, he couldn’t sustain the improvement last season. He regressed in pass protection, with particularly poor outings against the Seahawks’ and Rams’ good defensive lines. As for the run game, Massie has been a decent run-blocker in his three seasons as a starter. You won’t be sure which player you are getting by signing Massie, but at the least he could be a viable sixth offensive lineman.

Jermaine Gresham [7th Ranked Tight End]

Gresham is back on this list after playing one year in Arizona, where he was far less involved in the passing game than he’d been in Cincinnati. Last season he caught just 18 passes, down from an average of 58 over his first five years. Even with that production, Gresham still finished with a below average receiving grade in five of six seasons, although he consistently ranked among the most elusive tight ends with 56 broken tackles in his career. He graded much better as a blocker over that span, and maintained that consistency in 2015 with solid grades in screen and run blocking. Age is a factor as well – he’ll be 28 at the start of next season.

San Francisco 49ers
Offense Defense/ST's
OG Alex Boone NT Ian Williams
WR Anquan Boldin DE Tony Jerod-Eddie
RB Reggie Bush ILB Michael Wilhoite
RB Shaun Draughn K Phil Dawson
RB DuJuan Harris

Ian Williams [6th Ranked Interior Defensive Lineman]

It would be doing a disservice to Williams (85.6) to call him a poor man’s Damon Harrison, but the two are similar players, with the Jets nose tackle just taking it to another level. Williams is one of the best nose tackles in the league and finished the season strong, with huge performances against Cleveland and Cincinnati. Registering 38 total defensive stops, he’s a perfect fit for a team looking for a force in the middle of their defensive line.

Phil Dawson [6th Ranked Kicker/Punter]

Much like Vinatieri, Dawson didn’t handle his team’s kickoffs in 2015 (kicking off just nine times for -2.6 kickoff grade), suggesting age (41) could be a concern heading into free agency. However, he rebounded from a down year on field goals (80.6 field goal percentage) in 2014 to miss just four kicks in 2015 (88.9 percent), including one that was blocked.

*******

Plucking a free agent or two from divisional foes, even if simply for the intel, can’t hurt matters.  Surely the Rams could use at least ONE of the West’s best free agents.  Are there any that can help make an immediate, and drastic, impact for them?