It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Rams had a surprisingly stellar 2017 season. In Sean McVay’s first year as head coach he took the league’s worst offense and transformed them into one of the league’s best on their way to winning the division crown.
Over at ESPN, Bill Barnwell publishes his annual “best and worst arsenal” rankings. In doing so, he looks at each team’s set of offensive weapons, to include running backs, tight ends, and receivers. Or, as he puts it, “these rankings are attempting to consider a team’s skill-position talent without including the impact of the quarterback, offensive line or scheme.”
Following a typically brutal season with Jeff Fisher at the helm - and despite the coaching turnover - Barnwell had the Rams heading into the 2017 season well down his list, dropping in at No. 29. Here’s what he had to say:
The Rams are a weird stack of skill-position talent. Todd Gurley should be better, but they have a block-first wide receiver (Robert Woods), a hands-first tight end (second-round pick Gerald Everett, a former basketball player) and a weapon who isn’t actually a weapon in Tavon Austin. The former eighth overall pick finished dead last in receiving DVOA and averaged just 4.85 yards per target, last among wideouts by a comfortable margin. The depth chart behind Gurley is also perilously thin.
To be fair, the Rams were horrible...and had been horribly coached. Barnwell admits he whiffed on the Rams last year in his updated rankings for 2018 where the Rams have now skyrocketed up among the top of the league (ranking 6th):
I grossly underestimated the Rams’ weapons last year. Running back Todd Gurley looked stuck in mud during his second season with Jeff Fisher, then subsequently led the league in fantasy points in 2017. Robert Woods, who had been a more notable blocker than pass-catcher in Buffalo, averaged just over 65 receiving yards per game. Cooper Kupp was the second-most productive rookie wideout in the league. Sammy Watkins had a middling year, and it didn’t even really matter. The Rams were a joy to watch for most of last season, and they upgraded on Watkins by trading a first-round pick for Brandin Cooks, who has averaged 1,131 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Excitingly for Rams fans, this is a young group of weapons. Jared Goff’s top six targets will all be 26 or younger in 2018. (Somehow, Cooks is younger than Kupp.) If everyone produces at the same level from a year ago and they swap out Watkins for Cooks, this could be the best group in football. My one concern is that Gurley is more likely to be very good than transcendent. Here are the most recent backs who paced all rushers in fantasy scoring over the past 10 years and where each ranked among their brethren the following season:
David Johnson is obviously the outlier because of his injury, but recent history suggests that Gurley is more likely to be something like the seventh-best running back in football than repeat as the league’s most productive halfback.
Just ahead of the Rams, Barnwell lists:
How do you feel about Barnwell’s assessment of the Rams, and where would you have them ranking among the rest of the league?