Depending on how you feel about people predicting the future, there is a slight bit of amusement in the fact that this very same panel had previously ranked the Rams No. 12 in 2014 and No. 17 in 2015, so a move to No. 30 in 2016 clearly means these polls should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, it’s still worth taking a look at what the experts are saying about the Rams’ long-term projections.
Projecting and predicting the future is a near impossible task. When it comes to the direction of a team, there are far too many factors involved to safely project anything. Things like unexpected retirements, legal issues, sudden fallouts with management, and player injuries can change the outlook of a team in an instant, thus projections like ESPN futures end up being more of a guide than guaranteed bet. It’s worth repeating that this very same measurement tool by ESPN had the Rams at No. 12 just two years ago, the fact that they’re now at No. 30 just highlights the inaccuracies of the science.
While the predictions may be an imperfect scientific measurement tool, that does not mean they are devoid of value. Throwing away the analysis because the predictions have been wrong is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In this year’s case, the analysis by ESPN’s three experts is certainly worth a brief discussion, so let’s hit them point by point, shall we?
First the ESPN breakdown, then my own analysis. (Note: the below excerpt is from behind the Insider paywall, to read the full article you must be a subscriber.)
High point: The Rams' highest grade comes at quarterback, but it isn't an overly strong endorsement. There are obvious traits to like in Jared Goff: His natural arm talent and accuracy are unquestioned. But there is always an element of major projection when it comes to a rookie quarterback and his early NFL career. Moreover, the Rams must immediately surround Goff with a stronger supporting cast. Todd Gurley can only do so much, after all. -- Field Yates
Low point: Jeff Fisher took over the Rams organization in 2012, and despite having multiple draft picks at his disposal and taking many deep dives into the free-agent market, his cumulative record over the past four years has been just 27-35-1. The Rams haven't finished a season at .500 or better in a single season under Fisher. The biggest culprit? The team's consistent misevaluation of the quarterback position. The Rams' short- and long-term future will hinge on whether they properly evaluated Goff, whom they gave up major draft capital to acquire with the No. 1 overall pick. This is a make-or-break season for Fisher and his staff. -- Louis Riddick
What could change: Will Fisher make it through the next three seasons as head coach? Fisher and the Rams have talked about extending his contract, which runs through the 2016 season. But realistically, the team must make a jump in the standings before that happens. In recent years, this team has been seen as having some of the best young talent in the league. Dropping the Rams all the way to No. 30 in the future rankings seems like an overreaction to quarterback-driven underachievement. -- Mike Sando
High Point Takeaways
Field Yates took the "high points" portion of the analysis and it should come as little surprise to anyone that quarterback Jared Goff was listed as the highest point of the Rams moving forward. This is, after all, what you expect when you mortgage the 2017 NFL Draft to move up a year earlier to acquire a player like Goff. But while Goff is listed as a high point, Yates takes care to note how quickly this could turn against the Rams depending on how they handle things moving forward.
As a talent, Jared Goff is capable of doing many things for the Rams so long as they surround him with playmakers. As Yates notes, running back Todd Gurley is only going to take the Rams so far. Eventually teams are going to force Goff to beat them using his arm, and right now Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher is talking about getting one of their more diminutive receivers 100+ catches. That same receiver, Tavon Austin, isn’t so sure that’s the wisest idea or that it will even happen. In other words, he’s saying the Rams need a primary target who can physically handle the toll of catching 100+ passes.
If the Rams are unable to bring a couple of their rookie players along, they may have to look at trading their way back into the early rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft to find a legitimate threat for Goff. Otherwise, he may end up going the way of so many other talented quarterbacks drafted onto a team with minimal interest in giving them the tools to succeed (see: Sam Bradford).
The defense has been there for the Rams, and it’s past time for the offense to catch up, but at least Goff and Gurley represent outstanding pieces for the future. Now the Rams just need to find Goff one or two studs at the receiver position and a worthy back to spell Gurley so as not to put needless miles on his tread.
Low Point Takeaways
The "low points" portion was taken by Louis Riddick, who promptly grabbed the lowest-hanging fruit. In all actuality, he probably picked the fruit up off the ground because, frankly, it’s been the one thing every publication has highlighted as a weak spot time and time again -- HC Jeff Fisher.
Whether you’re judging Fisher on his 27-35-1 stint with the Rams or the fact that he hasn’t had a winning season as a head coach since Soulja Boy taught folks how to Crank That, it’s an unavoidable elephant in the Rams’ locker room.
There could be a million and a half things wrong with the Rams and the fact that Fisher has gone nearly TEN YEARS without a winning season would still be the biggest talking point for a good reason.
Reminder: Last Jeff Fisher playoff team: 2008. Last Jeff Fisher playoff victory: 2003. https://t.co/nYc7BLbfdd— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) July 12, 2016
It’s almost unfathomable to think that a head coach can win no more than seven games in season since taking over the job and still be offered an extension, but that’s exactly what the Rams’ front office is doing with Fisher. The Rams’ front office is surely aware -- much like the rest of us -- that this season will be a learning curve for Goff and expecting a winning season from him with an offense that last year ranked 29th in points may be placing too much on his shoulders.
To that end, it’s accepted that the Rams could suffer another losing season in the name of developing a young team. This basically means that the front office know Fisher could likely finish with another losing record and are still prepared to give him the chance to see out the development of this team.
It’s an uncommon practice in today’s NFL, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad approach.
If Goff, Gurley, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald are the start of a turnaround for the Rams, then owner Stan Kroenke’s patience will have been rewarded. If things continue as they are, then you basically have Arsenal, including the fourth-place finishes in the division.
Fisher needs to prove he can still win in today’s NFL and there are a growing number of Rams’ faithful who question whether or not he can or should be given the chance. He is the first head coach in the history of the NFL to have four straight losing seasons and be brought back for a fifth season.
What Could Change Takeaways
It’s the "what could change" portion of ESPN’s analysis that doesn’t fully jibe with me, but Mike Sando makes an excellent observation at the end that is worthy of being discussed further.
The issue I have with Sando’s analysis is that he thinks Fisher’s extension is dependent upon the Rams having success on the field. As I wrote for LA Rams Report, the way Kroenke runs his other major property -- Arsenal F.C. -- suggests that results are not as important to him as others might want to believe.
Fisher will get his extension based on what Kroenke deems to be most important. Period. Patterns across all of Kroenke’s properties suggest that things like consistency and development of youth are more important than winning. Having a strong working relationship with his coaches is also something that Kroenke values and the state of his union with Fisher is strong. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that Fisher will be given his extension if Goff’s development is consistently evident on a week-by-week basis. In other words, wins won’t be the ultimate decider of Fisher’s future. They haven’t thus far.
But the point Sando made at the end of his analysis is something that I hit on at the top of this piece and will close with in this section.
The Rams were dropped from No. 17 to No. 30 largely because it’s been one disaster after another at the quarterback position for the Rams, but that also neglects the fact that Sando and Riddick clearly missed on the three-year projection they laid back in 2013, when they had the Rams at No. 8 overall.
It’s a head-scratcher at the very least.
It makes it really difficult to place much stock in these things when the experts writing them up were saying the Rams were headed in the right direction a couple years ago, but are now headed in the wrong direction with guys like Gurley, Goff, and Donald. Most experts believe Donald is only going to get better and that Gurley will be a star in Los Angeles, but the only two teams who will be worse than them in three years’ time are the 49ers and the Browns? How are Rams fans supposed to juxtapose the praise and hype around their young players with the idea that they’re gonna be as bad as the Browns moving forward?
If you haven’t already gotten the point, I’ll spell it out for you in plain terms: the future is unknowable.
Three-year futures are an arbitrary measurement system. 66% of the Insider Experts have been wrong about the Rams for three years running, and you have to pay money to view this stuff like it’s actually going to be worth something.
If I were to put an overall score on the three-year futures of these rankings, it would be closer to zero than 100; much, much, much closer to zero.