Across all of SBN Nation NFL we’re getting hyped up for the 2017 season. Each of the team sites are covering the player they are most excited to see this year. For the Los Angeles Rams, I couldn’t limit myself to just one, so I’ve tabbed one veteran free agent signing and one rookie who will chart the course of the Sean McVay era in Year One.
LT Andrew Whitworth
No player on the Rams was more hyped in 2016 than RB Todd Gurley. Between magazine covers and ad campaigns, Gurley was the star of the team after winning the 2015 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
His 2016 season didn’t live up to the hype, and that’s being kind.
Gurley averaged just more than 55 yards per game at a less than 3.2 yards per carry rate. The reason why? A combination of two major factors. The ineptitude of the Rams’ offensive line and the malaise that the line play saw deteriorate Gurley’s individual running skill. The latter is relatively common. Running backs lose the confidence to hit a gap when week after week, their gap assignment is, instead of a huge hole to run through, a wall of bodies. The “dancing” that fans often assign to running backs as a fault is usually a result of offensive lines clogging gaps instead of opening them up. So to avoid that dancing, running backs will seek secondary avenues instead of their assigned one. Confidence ebbs, both in the running back’s self but also his line comrades. But the Rams’ line play? That was at the center of the problem. In 2016, Gurley ran for 1.59 yards per rush prior to contact. That was second-to-last in the entire NFL. He routinely had nowhere to run. It was both a factor of individual skill deficiency but also personnel management going back years.
The Rams largely avoided drafting offensive linemen in the early years under General Manager Les Snead and former Head Coach Jeff Fisher. In the first two drafts under Snisher, the Rams took two offensive linemen using a fifth-round and fourth-round pick. By Year 3, the need across the line had become overwhelming with every position needing a new starter. So in 2014, the Rams took Greg Robinson with the #2 overall pick. The next season, the Rams went all in on drafting new offensive linemen (the exact strategy they needed to avoid) taking five in the 2015 NFL Draft and even using a 2016 NFL Draft fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Supplemental Draft to take OT Isaiah Battle who played exactly 0 snaps in the last two seasons and is now a Kansas City Chief.
Suffice to say, the effort to build a competent offensive line has not worked. And now with the offensive focus firmly resting on QB Jared Goff in his second professional year, there’s perhaps no position unit more important than the offensive line for 2017.
So for the player I’m most excited to see in 2017, my first thought was new LT Andrew Whitworth.
Whitworth comes in to mop up the mess left by the failure in investing in Robinson with a #2 overall pick. Asking a 35-year old to protect your 22-year old franchise QB is generally a less than sound idea, but the Rams put themselves in this position. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The hope is that Whitworth can continue to play at the level he has for the last five years (in which he’s been to the Pro Bowl three times as one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles) for a season or two to both allow the Rams’ new coaching staff led by Head Coach Sean McVay to turn Goff into an acceptable product at the sports’ most important position and (b) allow the Rams time to find a version of Whitworth who is about 15 years younger in the next draft or two.
So, Whitworth is the Los Angeles Ram I’m most excited to see in 2017.
Well, one of them.
TE Gerald Everett
Since the Rams wrapped up their 2017 NFL Draft class, the majority of the hype has centered on third-round WR Cooper Kupp. I think Everett could have more of an impact on the offense, especially in the long term.
McVay’s history as a coach came climbing up the ladder as a tight ends coach. Before he was promoted to be the Washington Football Corporation’s offensive coordinator in the 2014 season, he was tasked with developing their tight ends in Chris Cooley, Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen and Jordan Reed. It was in Reed that McVay’s skill at coaching up the position became most apparent helping him to grow into one of the NFL’s most productive tight ends when healthy.
Much has been made of his penchant for exploiting matchup disparities with the position. The Rams are expected to use both Everett and second-year TE Tyler Higbee together frequently this season. As the first pick of the Rams’ rookie class, Everett offers the best overall skill set of any rookie on the roster.
I expect that to become apparent before the season starts. As for his production? We’ll have to see how things come together on offense between the quality of quarterback play, offensive line cohesion and how the running game takes pressure off of the pass, but I don’t know that anyone will have a bigger impact on the passing game downfield than Everett.
And that’s just as a rookie. As McVay, along with Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur and TE Coach Shane Waldron (who supported McVay as an offensive quality control specialist in Washington last season and spent the 2009 season as the New England Patriots TE Coach) go from coaching him up week-to-week to season-to-season, I think Everett could blossom as a central component of the Rams’ passing attack.
I’m eager to see that development begin in 2017 more than any other rookie.
It’s Year 1 for HC Sean McVay. There are plenty of candidates to get hyped up about on the LA Rams’ roster.
Who are you most excited to see this year?