MMQB’s head man Peter King dropped the bottom half of his NFL Power Rankings as we trudge through Phase III of the 2017 NFL Offseason Schedule with the Los Angeles Rams holding their first organized team activity today.
Not surprisingly, the Rams make his cut in the bottom 16. What might be surprising isn’t where they’re ranked, but his general assessment of the team and in particular QB Jared Goff:
#29 - Los Angeles Rams
Additions: Quite a few. The best two: LT Andrew Whitworth (Cincinnati) and edge defender Connor Barwin (Philadelphia) in free agency … Rams hope Whitworth (36 in December) and vet C John Sullivan can give a beleaguered line two quality seasons, at least … WR Robert Woods (Buffalo) is likely just roster filler … Rams are very high on second- and third-round picks, TE Gerald Everett and glue-fingered WR Cooper Kupp.
Subtractions: The Rams have lost 159 receptions and 10 touchdowns from Kenny Britt, Brian Quick and Lance Kendricks, all gone (kicked out the door?) in free agency … With Case Keenum gone, either Sean Mannion or Aaron Murray had better be good enough to back up Jared Goff … DE William Hayes was dealt to Miami. Hayes-for-Barwin is probably an even swap.
Key coaching/front-office moves: A new head coach, Sean McVay, is change enough, but how about importing a totally different approach on defense, with folksy Wade Phillips brought in to replace one of the hardest-edged coaches in the league, Gregg Williams, at defensive coordinator … New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s unproven and mostly unknown, but look for McVay to handle most of the heavy lifting on offense … Mildly surprising: Owner Stan Kroenke and COO Kevin Demoff chose to keep GM Les Snead. Everett and Kupp need to be good in year one to help Snead’s long-term architecture chances here.
Decisive schedule span: Three-game September stretch. The Rams have to start 2-1 at worst against Indianapolis (home), Washington (home) and San Francisco (away), or this is going to be a long year.
Why I have the Rams 29th: A combination of two things: the youngest head coach in NFL history (McVay is 31) learning on the job, and the total unknown that is Jared Goff. I remember when I was talking to one veteran front-office man about what he’d do if the Rams offered him the job as long-term architect. “Trade Goff and start over at quarterback,” he said. The best thing for Goff, though, is a young and energetic coach like McVay who has bought into making him a good player. We’ll see if McVay can. I’m bullish on McVay’s overall chances because coaches like Mike Tomlin believe so strongly in his youthful intelligence. But transitioning so many green players—Goff, Everett, Kupp—to be really good early is problematic. The best thing that can happen to the Rams this year is riding a strong defense to a few wins while developing Goff for 2018 and beyond.
Most important factor to this team this year: Finding out if Goff can play, pure and simple. Imagine if he has a 2016 Blake Bortles kind of year, a truly disappointing one, and the Rams exit 2017 with major questions about Goff. And imagine if Washington doesn’t franchise-tag Kirk Cousins next winter. That just might put two California teams with coaches who love Cousins, the Rams and Niners (Kyle Shanahan), in the business of fighting over Cousins in free agency.
Rams prediction of 10 words or less: A Goff implosion more likely than Goff winning six games.
In terms of his roster evaluation at the beginning, I don’t see anything to quibble with. His schedule span thing seems a bit awkward given that the Rams started 3-1 last year and it was still a “long year.”
I completely agree with his “The best thing that can happen to the Rams” assessment, bleak as it might be. And his factor, of course, is on point. This year is going to be about roster evaluation and Goff is at the top of that heap.
That being said, I guess I have to cop to a bit of a pro-Rams bias. I’m currently predicting them to go 6-9-1 and the staff all vary around that mark to a degree. So King’s prediction of an implosion being more likely than a six-win season (though I guess you could merit Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole’s report of a coaching staff that’s offering praise for backup QB Sean Mannion possibly taking over to lead the Rams to a six-win season record) isn’t going to have massive support here at a Rams blog.
Nonetheless, it’s another notable prediction to throw on the pile. With Football Outsiders giving us a mean projection of 8.2 wins (that’s the mathematical mean, not the rude one) while we’re odds-on underdogs in every game this year to go along with King’s assessment, one thing’s clear: it’s very, very hard to get a good sense of the 2017 LA Rams right now. Between the youngest head coach in NFL history in Sean McVay, a second-year QB who will start in his first season opener this year after going 0-7 last year while leading the NFL’s worst offense to a talented defense set to go a massive schematic reconstruction, 2017 is a huge question mark for the Rams.
Given how 2016 went, that’s probably not a bad thing.