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2018 ESPN Future Power Rankings put Los Angeles Rams into top 10, reinforce how strong McVay effect has been

After two years in the bottom tier of the rankings, the Rams’ future now looks undeniably bright.

Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff runs off the field after a win against the Tennessee Titans in Week 16, Dec. 24, 2017.
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff runs off the field after a win against the Tennessee Titans in Week 16, Dec. 24, 2017.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

For years, ESPN’s annual future power rankings were a perfect correlation for the Jeff Fisher era for the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams.

Early on in his tenure, they reflected the promise and potential of a young roster and the boon of the RGIII trade from the 2012 NFL Draft that not only loaded up the roster immediately but offered two additional first-round picks in successive years. But as time wore on, the promise of the roster never translated into results on the field and the potential never materialized.

Enter new Rams Head Coach Sean McVay. In 2017, he turned things around on the field and rescued what was looking like a decimated roster. And now, things look quite different for the Rams’ future.

Here’s how ESPN’s Future Power Rankings had things looking since four years ago:

It was simply a correlation with the Fisher era. And now, we have a new correlation with the McVay era as things look very, very bright for the future.

So this year, ESPN has the Rams ranked 7th (insider subscription required):

To project which NFL franchises are in the best shape for the next three seasons, we asked our panel of experts -- Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates -- to rate each team’s roster (excluding quarterback), quarterback, draft, front office and coaching using this scale:

100: A+ (Elite)
90: A (Great)
80: B (Very good)
70: C (Average)
60: D (Very bad)
50: F (Disastrous)
40: F- (The worst thing imaginable)

After averaging the results from the panelists, each of the five categories was weighted to create the overall score -- roster (30 percent), quarterback (20 percent), draft (15 percent), front office (15 percent) and coaching (20 percent). The result is a comprehensive ranking based on how well each team is positioned for the future.

Why they’re here: When your quarterback is an established player but still on a rookie contract, it’s time to strike. The Rams have done exactly that, acquiring a litany of Pro Bowl-caliber talent this offseason to augment a roster already filled with dominant players such as Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley. Coach Sean McVay will soon establish himself as one of the league’s best (he’s rapidly on the track), which matters in a major way, as finding a way to fit all of the top-tier talent under the salary cap will be a chore for L.A. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Rarely do all-in approaches to unrestricted free agency turn out the way you plan them when it comes to professional football. Having personally been through this kind of thing, I speak from experience. McVay will have to be the best version of himself in order to handle a roster that has some of the most “explosive” personalities in the NFL on it, particularly on defense, and I don’t mean that in a universally good way. If the Rams win early and often, all will be well. If they start to lose and expectations are not met, this could turn very ugly in a hurry. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: It’s hard to envision the Rams being better in actuality than they appear on paper after collecting high-profile veterans such as Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks. But if the Rams are to outperform already high expectations, it’ll likely be because quarterback Jared Goff takes another giant step forward in his development. Goff does seem to have the talent to make that happen. -- Sando

I know Rams fans will likely bristle at that score for the QB, but I’d likely wonder why the front office is scored so high given how poorly they’ve managed contractual negotiations throughout the tenure of Vice President/Chief Operating Office Kevin Demoff, Special Assistant Tony Pastoors and General Manager Les Snead, ESPECIALLY given how important that aspect of team management will be over the timeframe these rankings are assessing.

The Rams have done a fine job acquiring talents through the draft and through trades in the last two seasons. And because they have Goff and Donald on their rookie deals (and to a much lesser degree Gurley), they have a ton of salary cap room to use this year and next which they’ve done by bringing in, chiefly, Talib and DL Ndamukong Suh. But we are already seeing the cost of having so much talent on the roster and the inevitable confrontations that it will bring to the table.

S Lamarcus Joyner is pretty much a lock to hit free agency next year after his franchise tag, which fully went into effect yesterday, expires. Suh of course will join him.

But it’s the full weight of the quantity of decisions that the Rams face over the next two years, let alone that third year in the near future, that loom so large.

Next year’s group alone includes Donald, Cooks, and a trio of offensive linemen in LG Rodger Saffold, RG Jamon Brown and RT Rob Havenstein. The 2020 offseason will include decisions on Gurley, Peters, Goff (though he’s all but certain to have his fifth-year option applied for 2020), Talib, DT Michael Brockers, LT Andrew Whitworth, C John Sullivan, K Greg Zuerlein and KR/PR Pharoh Cooper.

There’s no doubt the future looks bright on the field for the Rams. And with McVay at the helm with Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel alongside him, the Rams’ coaching staff looks as competent as it has in a long, long time.

But the future of the Rams overall might be affected by their contractual negotiations decisions and the success of the FO to retain the talents they decide to pursue moreso than any other factor in the future.

That should be a legitimate concern for Rams fans as good as the roster and coaching staff may be.