For the Los Angeles Rams, the 2017 season brought a revival for the franchise and the end to their twelve-season playoff drought. But to an organization trying to win over a city, fill a luxurious new stadium, and win big with a quarterback balling-out on a rookie deal; a division title was clearly only step one. During the offseason the Rams continued their remake, shuffling the deck as few teams have done before. Gone were familiar faces like Trumaine Johnson, Robert Quinn, and Alec Ogletree. In some cases, the Rams found new starters who were already on the roster, in others they were able to bring in some top shelf talent like Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib. Some of last year’s starters have remained on the roster to provide quality depth.
Clearly things have gone well for the Rams so far in 2018, as they are the only undefeated team left. But specifically, how have this season’s new starters faired compared to last season’s starters, albeit with only a six game sample size?
The offense largely remained in intact and has become even more effective largely based on the maturation of Jared Goff and continuity on the offensive line with a boost from right guard Austin Blythe. The one major difference is the addition of former New England Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks, who will take the place of recently departed Sammy Watkins at the “X” receiver spot.
Brandin Cooks vs. Sammy Watkins
In 2017, Sammy Watkins gave the Rams 39 receptions for 593 yards and 8 touchdowns. This season, Brandin Cooks is on pace to catch 74 passes for 1,346 yards and 2 or 3 touchdowns.
* Watkins is having a decent year with the Kansas City Chiefs, and is currently on pace to nab 58 passes for 725 yards.
Watkins 2018 PFF grade: 67.7
Cooks 2018 PFF grade: 78.9
Verdict: Upgrade Rams
Austin Blythe vs. Jamon Brown
The Rams didn’t intend to change starting right guards, it just kinda happened, and it was love. When Brown was suspended for for the first two games due to a substance violation , Blythe played so well that the team just couldn’t pull him from the starting lineup, where he has remained for the first five games. Brown has handled the role swap admirably, like a true and patient “We Not Me” disciple. We’ll see what the future holds for soon-to-be free agent Brown.
Brown 2017 PFF grade: 51.2
Blythe 2018 PFF grade: 78.3
Verdict: Upgrade or else Brown would have been given his stating job back. It will be interesting to see how Brown plays when he gets another shot, whether that’s in L.A. or on a new team.
In an effort to find the right players to elevate Wade Phillips defense, the Rams made several radical personnel decisions on defense. Due to injuries the verdict is still out for their new cornerback duo, but we can take a look at how some of our old friends are fairing on new teams and how some of their replacements have done so far in LA.
Samson Ebukam vs. Robert Quinn
Last season the Rams asked Robert Quinn to convert from a traditional 4-3 defensive end to a stand up EDGE in a Wade Phillips style 3-4. That transition was tough for Quinn, though he seemed to be more comfortable by the end of 2017. This season, he clearly seems to be happy playing his old position for the Miami Dolphins. So far, his replacement, Samson Ebukam has played a slightly more well-rounded game than Quinn gave the Rams last year, but his sack totals remain too low in the early going. Both Ebukam and Quinn have a single sack so far, but Quinn has five quarterback hits and Ebukam has only three. Worth noting, is that the Rams are paying Ebukam $10m less than Quinn received last season, so there’s that…
Quinn 2017 PFF grade: 58.1 ; 2018 PFF grade: 77.0
Ebukam 2018 PFF grade: 69.3
Verdict: Evenish, maybe a slight drop off. Massively better value against the cap though.
Matt Longacre vs. Connor Barwin
Connor Barwin provided great leadership for a 2017 squad that needed leaders to help transform a losing culture. However, Barwin had minimal production on the field, and was actually out-sacked by then-backup Matt Longacre. So the Rams gave Longacre the job. Longacre has been battling through injuries, but has yet to provide the defense with much more than Barwin did a year ago. Barwin has moved on to the New York Giants.
Barwin 2018 PFF grade: 51.8
Longacre 2018 PFF grade: 68.7
Verdict: Um, slight upgrade, I guess, according the gods at PFF.
Marcus Peters vs. Trumaine Johnson
Here’s the big move. The Rams decided not to fork over big money to retain cornerback Trumaine Johnson and then traded for the Kansas City Chiefs star cornerback Marcus Peters, who is still playing out his rookie deal and will play for significantly less than Johnson through 2019. So far, Peters has been inconsistent as he tries to play his way through a calf injury, so it would be premature to make any sort of conclusion about how he will end up fitting into in the Rams defense. His talent should work things out over time.
Johnson 2018 PFF grade: 67.0
Peters 2018 PFF grade: 48.4
Verdict: So far, downgrade due largely to Peters’ injuries. Stay tuned though, Peters should turn it around, and if he does he’ll be doing it for $8m less than Johnson this season, and $3m less next season.
Cory Littleton vs. Alec Ogletree
The Rams were 28th in the league against the run last season, so they looked to upgrade the “mike” linebacker position and traded Alec Ogletree to the Giants. They stayed in house, and promoted former backup and special teams standout Cory Littleton to take Ogletree’s spot on the cheap. So far, the Rams are 14th against the run, but are still giving up far to many yards per carry.
Littleton 2018 PFF grade: 70.9
Ogletree 2018 PFF grade: 57.2
Verdict: Upgrade, especially with Littleton’s cap number.
Aqib Talib & Troy Hill vs. Kayvon Webster & Troy Hill
The Rams brought in Talib to play the corner position opposite Peters, and early on he looked like a wonderful leader and player. However, he injured his ankle in Week 3 and won’t be back until the last quarter of the season. He would have, and will replace Hill, who turns in solid games occasionally, but on the other occasions (like against the Denver Broncos last week) he drives Rams fans absolutely nuts.
The Rams started last season with Webster starting opposite Johnson. Webster was eventually let go following a ruptured Achilles and has landed in Houston where he finally played his first snap for the Texans last week. His PFF grade?
Webster 2018 PFF grade: 90.4 (ELITE! Okay, it was 1 game, 2 snaps, and 1 tackle. There’s a slight chance Kay’s grade won’t remain at “elite” when he gets more playing time, like three snaps. But that pace though!)
Hill 2018 PFF grade: 80.1... heading into Denver, now it’s 58.5. Yowzers!
Talib 2018 PFF Grade: 77.7
Verdict: Upgrade when Talib gets back. And Kayvon, make ‘em smile in Texas.
Ndamukong Suh vs. Ethan Westbrooks, Jonathan Franklin Myers, & Co.
Last year the Rams platooned a number of defensive lineman into the games to play alongside the line’s two pillars, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. Most of the snaps were divided up between Morgan Fox, Ethan Westbrooks, Tanzel Smart, and Tyrunn Walker. That rotation played well for the most part last season, but this season Ndamukong Suh has played like Ndamukong Suh, so the upgrade has been pretty apparent. Since Fox hasn’t played, and Walker is gone, we’ll match Suh’s production vs Westbrooks’ and rookie Jonathan Franklin-Myers’ production, since those two would be to likely gobble up Suh’s minutes if he weren’t in L.A.
Of course, they’re all in the same Mob Squad, and it’s a luxury to have Franklin-Myers and Westbrooks to provide quality depth on the line.
Suh 2018 PFF grade: 84.5
Westbrooks 2018 PFF grade: 48.8
Franklin-Myers 2018 PFF grade: 62.8
Verdict: Yeah, it’s nice having Ndamukong in horns, for as long as he decides to stick around.