It goes without saying the Los Angeles Rams would’ve liked to have gotten more out of their 2016 NFL Draft class. It wouldn’t be unfair to call it altogether forgettable.
The blockbuster trade that got them into position to take QB Jared Goff with the first overall pick aside, the combined efforts of the rookie class amounted to very little in terms of combined statistical results. It - the draft crop - didn’t prove to add the components needed to get the organization over the seemingly ever-elusive .500 hurdle.
But this summer feels different. The changing of the guard at head coach from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay now provides the entire team with a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.
The Rams drafted six players last year. With the help of new, competent coaches someone is bound to step up in 2017. Which player(s) make the year two jump on their way to a breakout season?
QB Jared Goff
Round 1, 1st overall
7 Games Played, 7 Starts, 0 Wins
1,089 Yards, 5 TD’s, 7 INT’s, 63.6% QB Rating
If you’re going to root for one player from the 2016 draft class, Goff should easily top the short list. His success doesn’t simply impact the Rams 2017 season — given what it took to acquire him in terms of draft capital, the implications go well beyond the upcoming year.
The question for Goff is whether or not he’s able to learn an entirely new offense in one offseason. And by his estimation, he’s picking things up quickly. Here’s what he had to say on May 22nd when asked about learning his second offense in as many years:
It’s a way different offense. Personally, from my brief experience with it, I’ve had a quicker time learning it — easier time learning it. I don’t know whether that’s scheme or the way it’s taught or what not, but I’ve enjoyed spending time with the coaches and picking it up pretty quickly.
Time will tell if Goff truly has a grasp on the offense and can prove successful in the upcoming season. McVay and Co. have done a nice job of adding both protection and weapons for their starting QB. It’ll be up to him, come September, to prove he’s as comfortable in this offense as he stated a few months prior.
TE Tyler Higbee
Round 4, 110th Overall
16 Games Played, 6 Starts
11 Receptions, 84 Yards, 1 TD
Let’s face it...the jokes regarding the inability of Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks to hold onto a football had grown more frustrating than funny. So fans rejoiced when the Rams drafted this big-bodied, seam stretcher out of Western Kentucky.
A player who may have slid, in the eyes of some, as a result of an offseason altercation, the hope was that Higbee proved to be some form of “Gronk Lite” for the Rams — a large human who creates mismatch nightmares, and is an animal in the red zone.
Not the case. But one has to hope that McVay, a former TE’s coach, has more in store for Higbee in 2017 than the Rams did for him in the Dolphins game last year. He had three targets in that game. Here they are (videos will not appear for Google AMP/Apple News users):
By the sounds of it though, Higbee has been pleasantly surprising in camp. Offseason expectations/hype should always be tempered, but Higbee - who found himself ahead of rookie Gerald Everett on the team’s most recent depth chart - could very well be poised for a breakout second season in the NFL.
WR Pharoh Cooper
Round 4, 117th Overall
10 Games Played, 3 Starts
14 Receptions, 106 Yards, 0 TD’s
It was hard not to get excited about the Rams’ focus on offense at this point (in the draft) last April. They’d taken the Draft’s top QB (at least in their eyes), and with their next two picks provided him potential weapons. It made sense, given the team’s offensive woes.
But the question many wondered was: where exactly does (Pharoh) Cooper fit in the offense? Like any good rookie, Cooper offered to do anything he could to help the team. Was he going to step in and be a true slot receiver? What would the Rams do with Tavon Austin if that were the case? Was the plan to get him involved in special teams early, something he found success doing in South Carolina, and figure it out as the roster took form?
Who knows? At this point, I’m not entirely sure the coaching staff did.
And due to the exodus of the old regime, we may never really know what the initial plan was for the former Gamecock...but the same type of question(s) remain one year later.
McVay saw fit to add his own offensive playmakers in the most recent draft, and therefore Cooper’s fit in the offense moving forward appears a bit more unclear. The Rams currently employ 13 receivers. Assuming they stick to seven(ish), the battle for roster spots will be an intense one as the next four weeks unfold.
A potential positive, despite Tavon Austin and Mike Thomas being sidelined, Cooper stepped in - alongside Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp - as the team’s first three-receiver set in their recent joint practice against the Chargers.
A second year breakout season seems relatively unlikely for Cooper...but who knows? Provided the Rams’ starting wide receivers are healthy, it appears Pharoh will be buried on the depth chart behind Tavon, Kupp, Woods, and, when he returns from suspension in Week 5, fellow 2016 draft pick Mike Thomas. Throw a pair of tight ends into the mix, and it may prove difficult for Cooper to get many meaningful snaps on offense.
But if the Redskins’ propensity to run 11 personnel is any indication of how McVay intends on running his offense, Cooper could be one dinged up player away from strapping on his helmet in September.
TE Temarrick Hemingway
Round 6, 177th Overall
8 Games Played, 0 Starts
0 Receptions, 0 Yards, 0 TD’s
No better way to put Cook and Kendricks on notice than to double down on tight ends, right?
Hemingway, a freak athlete, was a complete non-factor on offense in 2016. And while he’s currently penciled in as the team’s TE3, I personally don’t expect much to change in the upcoming year.
The Rams will work quickly to get rookie Gerald Everett up to speed and on the field. As aforementioned, Tyler Higbee looks like he’s got a stronghold on the TE1 spot, and is in prime position to excel in 2017.
QB-turned-TE Travis Wilson, who’s a massive 6’7” tall, has made a little bit of noise in camp, but I’d temper expectations on him surpassing Hemingway or Cory Harkey on the depth chart — or even earning a spot on the final 53 for that matter.
Hemingway is bound to see a bump in offensive production this year. A breakout candidate, however, he is not.
LB Josh Forrest
6th Round, 190th Overall
10 Games Played, 4 Starts
3 Tackles, 1 Pass Defensed, 1 Fumble Recovery
Forrest, the only defensive player the Rams selected in the 2016 draft, got just about what you expected out of most 6th round picks in their first season in the league: not much.
To highlight his impact as a rookie (and for comparison sakes), in Gregg Williams’ 4-3 defense last season, Josh Forrest played 90 snaps. Fellow ILB’s Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron played 1,089 and 1,086 snaps, respectively.
Bryce Hager, a valuable member of the special team’s unit, is penciled in ahead of him on the team’s initial depth chart.
Do I think Forrest makes the team? Sure. Do I think he’s a candidate, amongst the rest, to be the breakout candidate? Not as much as the Rams’ final pick of 2016.
WR Mike Thomas
Round 6, 206th Overall
15 Games Played, 0 Starts
3 Receptions, 37 Yards, 0 TD’s, 1 Fumble, 1 Unforgettable Drop
DISCLAIMER: I am a big Mike Thomas fan. And I will not allow you to slander him (P.S.: I cannot stop you).
That said, it’s only fair we start with this (WARNING: Not for the faint at heart)...
Unforgiveable. He’s making that big balla’s 6th round paycheck and drops a what appears to be a sure-touchdown pass against those disgusting Seahawks.
But I’ll ask that you give him another chance in 2017, despite the fact that he’ll miss four games for a violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
I’m really asking a lot of you here.
The fact of the matter, though, is that it appears he’s doing something this offseason that’s garnered the right kind of attention from McVay and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
So much so that you’ll be seeing Thomas suit up this weekend against the Dallas Cowboys in their first preseason game. ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez provided this quote from McVay in regards to Thomas’ participation this Saturday and beyond:
You still want to get him that work knowing that he's part of our plans for the season if things go the way we anticipate and getting him back Week 5. It's a delicate balance of making sure that he gets the work that he can, but you're also mindful that you're not going to have him for the first part of the season.
So here’s the deal. The worst, potentially only, memory you have of Mike Thomas is him dropping that pass against the Seahawks...in a primetime game on Thursday night. You don’t even have to be a Rams’ fan to have seen him Rams that play all up.
But there’s no denying that he’s part of the team’s plans in 2017. And if he is, one has to assume it’s at the “X” position, which makes him (crosses fingers) a deep threat for the team. And his primary competition for that spot, realistically, appears to be a) Tavon Austin, assuming you think he’s going to become DeSean Jackson, or b) rookie Josh Reynolds — who could potentially take advantage of Thomas’ missed time and solidify his role as the team’s deep threat.
Both seem relatively unlikely, but neither are out of the realm of possibility.
You won’t see Mike Thomas in Week’s 1-4 this season. It’s true. He messed up, and he knows it.
#Rams WR Mike Thomas on suspension: "I just knew it was coming so I had to take full responsibility of it and learn from my mistakes."— Gary Klein (@LATimesklein) August 8, 2017
But what’s the harm in harnessing a little bit of the excitement from the 2016 draft and hoping that he excels in the four preseason games that lead up to kickoff of the regular season?
Worst case scenario, you’re right. More dropped passes...he’s nothing impressive...and he’s gone before the season starts.
Best case scenario, he shows out enough this preseason and you’re excited about the prospect of him returning to the team after missed time...like Sean McVay.
I thought he did a great job this offseason demonstrating his ability. He’s a guy that can go down the field and then also contribute in the intermediate game and underneath. When the ball is in his hands, good things happened this offseason. I thought his confidence grew, and this is something that we’ll navigate through together, but when he’s back we’ll be excited to have him.
Which Rams' Player Is the Most Likely Year 2 Breakout Candidate?
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