Whether pertaining to their draft status, their 2016 stat lines, or the size of their paycheck, there are a few Los Angeles Rams players who will be under the microscope in 2017 — both by the fan base and by new Head Coach Sean McVay and his new coaching staff. The first three that come to mind easily check off the “draft status” box, and one, in particular, certainly receives a paycheck that far exceeds on-field production.
QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and WR Tavon Austin will all endure heavy scrutiny come September. And while all three have solidified their roles as starters, the new head coach won’t be making any guarantees for future employment.
Players won’t be able to hide behind their draft status (feel free to ask former OL Greg Robinson), and having a bloated contract that you don’t live up to is probably the quickest way to find yourself in free agency in 2018. “We Not Me” is the foundation for how the Rams will operate moving forward, but it’s “put up or shut up” time for a few guys.
Will all three of the aforementioned players ball out in 2017 and prove to their new coach(es) that they’re worth future investment? Will rumors of nabbing Washington QB Kirk Cousins in free agency intensify as the season wears on? Can 2015’s Offensive Rookie of the Year bounce back after suffering a sophomore slump? And can the $42MM man live up to a contract that demands Top 5 production from a wide receiver?
The Turf Show Times’ staff make their prognostications for which player falls out of coach’s favor first in the upcoming season...
I’m going to go Tavon. Even if Goff struggles this year, it will be his first year in the offense and depending on how well/poorly the team does, they may not be in position to draft one of the big 3. Meanwhile, Austin’s contract is much more moveable after this year and McVay has never used a player like Austin in his offense. If Austin doesn’t catch on as a receiver, something he hasn’t done up to this point in his career, dont be surprised if the Rams try to find a suitable trade partner.
Tavon Austin is the most likely to fall out of the initial training camp starting lineup. Not only is he nursing an injury which may limit his reps, but the Rams did draft plenty of new offensive weapons. Combine that with the opportunity to exit out of his contract relatively cheaply after this season, the Rams may be better off to find/develop a true wide receiver rather than the ultimate gadget player that Les Snead and Jeff Fisher cut up two years of rookie contract to give him top 5 wide receiver money (which they won't do for Aaron Donald apparently).
Tavon. I have a hard time thinking that someone who has been in the league as long as he has will change his stripes. He already got paid.
Easy answer, Tavon. The new staff (and sheepish Rams fans) will soon see Austin is not DeSean Jackson lite. He cannot run a crisp route to save his life, and on top of that, dude can barely catch a tennis ball.
I can also see Gurley's touches diminish. He will not completely lose his "starter" tag but I can see Lance Dunbar receiving 40+ percent of the snaps if Gurley struggles. Shit, who knows, McVay's offense can be set to where Dunbar is receiving 40+ percent of the touches.
Tavon Austin. I don't think there's going to be a role for him. The Rams found a nice slot weapon. He has had a chance to play on the outside and nothing impressive happened. The hope is that the Rams will use him right and it could happen. But it's going to be painless to release him (trade) in 2018. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. I would personally like the Rams to use him more like Ty Montgomery.
Todd Gurley will be the first to fall out of favor. His role was inflated from Fisherball and he's not going to be used to playing second fiddle in the offense. McVay has hinted that he wants to use Tavon in the 'DeSean Jackson role' in his offense. I doubt that Rams brass would let McVay dump Goff either. There will be pressure from the top (much like there was in Washington with RG3) to play Goff. McVay knows how toxic that environment can be and isn't likely to repeat the Washington saga in LA.
Tavon. This becomes a result of a player picked extremely high in the draft, and not just that, but one that was traded up for by Les Snead and company. That being the first pillar, and not the last. Secondly, Tavon has not developed into anything that was imagined when the Rams spent the #8 pick on him. Thirdly, he is being paid outrageous money for a guy who to this point in his career has been a punt returner and gadget player. Hopefully he can turn things around, but history suggests that the Rams will once again rely on Tavon becoming something he's not, and will once again be disappointed with the outcome.
This is hard.
All of them struggled to execute their responsibilities in the offense last year under former Head Coach Jeff Fisher and former Offensive Coordinator Rob Boras. For Austin and Gurley, their struggles extend further into the past than the 2016 season whereas Goff’s career is just seven games wide as it stands.
The easy answer is Austin by process of elimination. The limitations of the position render Gurley’s production to be largely a factor of nearby success or failures while Goff’s nascent career gives him a level of tolerance the other two don’t enjoy.
Despite that, I’m going to go with Goff the same reason I can’t go with Gurley. The position is simply too demanding.
If the Rams struggle out of the gate, fans are naturally going to assign much of the responsibility for that to Goff. If the offense is anywhere near the historic ineptitude of last season, the crowd that agrees with Eric Dickerson that Sean Mannion should be the starting quarterback is going to grow.
It comes with the job. You want to be a quarterback or a head coach? You have to own the overall results.
Sean McVay was hired to turn the team around. He’s been given more than the 2017 season to do so. Should things sour this year, I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see a fourth consecutive season with a mid-season change at quarterback.
And I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see a majority of Rams fans support it.
Bearing in mind that the question is based more on disappointing play than it is the size of one’s contract (and for the sake of not agreeing with the masses on this one), I’ll say Jared Goff.
Sure, Tavon Austin makes way too much money. And I don’t see any feasible way that he lives up to the numbers his contract dictates. But that, to me, isn’t a consideration of “falling out of favor.” He’s got to hold onto the ball, though. I reserve the right to quickly change my answer if drops are alive and well in September. But maybe, just maybe, a pair of offensive-minded coaches can find a way to scavenge something out of a player once deemed the most electric in all of college football.
Todd Gurley will hopefully find himself in a situation where he’s not being blown up as he’s handed the ball this season. And if the Rams are able to form any semblance of an effective offense in 2017, I think things open up for him both as a rusher and pass-catcher. Seeing how successful McVay - along new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur - were in creatively utilizing RB’s out of the backfield in Washington and Atlanta has to have fans excited at the prospect of a bounceback year for the Rams’ top back.
Put simply, Goff has the most to prove and the most opportunities to either a) quiet the critics, or b) instill (further) doubt that he was worthy of being the draft’s top pick last year. Being a star NFL QB doesn’t come easy. It’s not made any easier when you’re learning a new offense for the second straight year. Sprinkle in some potentially shaky offensive line play, and it’s easy to see how Goff could struggle in the early goings.
I don’t want to be right about Goff. Of the three players mentioned, his performance has the most impact on the team’s success. But if the start of 2017 looks anything like the end of 2016, I feel it’ll be the signal caller who’s garnering the wrong kind of attention.