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The “If” Factor: The Professor’s pre-draft review of the 2019 Los Angeles Rams’ offseason

Are the 2018 NFC Champions posed for a repeat?

Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay celebrates after winning the NFC Championship over the New Orleans Saints, Jan. 20, 2019.
Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay celebrates after winning the NFC Championship over the New Orleans Saints, Jan. 20, 2019.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Its been an interesting offseason for the 2018 NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams.

On the defensive side of the ball the Rams have either said goodbye to DT Ndamukong Suh, ILB Mark Barron and FS Lamarcus Joyner. The Rams responded by signing sweetheart deals for LB Clay Matthews coming from the Green Bay Packers and FS Eric Weddle from the Baltimore Ravens proving there’s nothing like being a winner and living in sunny Los Angeles.

Between LT Andrew Whitworth, Suh, Matthews and Weddle, the Rams have clearly become an attractive team for quality veteran free agents to play for.

The Rams also re-signed edge rusher OLB, Dante Fowler, Jr., who they acquired midseason in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars inking him to a one-year, $13m deal. While some of my fellow Turf Show Times brothers were upset by this signing, I like it.

First, its only a one-year deal. And if Fowler wants a long-term deal at that kind of money in the future, he’ll need to step up his game. Now, he controls his own destiny. The other reason I like the signing of Fowler is that the interception in overtime against the New Orleans Saints by SS John Johnson III was caused by Fowler forcing QB Drew Brees to throw a duck. The interception led to the 57-yard field goal for the win, and off to the Super Bowl the Rams went. To pay $13m for that one play was worth it!

On offense, the Rams have moved on from C John Sullivan and LG Rodger Saffold III. The Rams didn’t go out to in free agency to find replacements; instead ;they’re either looking in house or possibly to the 2019 NFL Draft for replacements. I’m fine with this. OL Joseph Noteboom coming off the bench last year looked like he can do the job, and last year’s fourth-round pick C Brian Allen is slated to replace Sullivan. The Rams are therefore younger and faster on the offensive line which is a good thing. As much I would have liked to have re-signed Saffold, there was no way the team could afford to pay him given their needs and salary cap restrictions. I’m happy for Rodger who got a megadeal with tons of guaranteed money from the Tennessee Titans that was well deserved. Anyone who puts on the Rams uniform and plays as long as Rodger did for our team will always be one of us, no matter where he goes.

Evaluating the Offseason Moves

Since honesty is the best policy, here’s my take on the Rams’ moves up to the draft.

Suh had an outstanding playoff run, but never lived up to hype when his acquisition was announced last year during the regular season. Letting him go in my opinion is no big deal. He can be replaced.

Joyner had a great 2017 season so much so that it caused the Rams to tag him last year. Unfortunately, his play 2018 was no where near 2017, so I’m also fine with losing him to the Oakland Raiders.

Barron never seemed to fit Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. He’s just too smallish for that position. He’s a tweener drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to play either safety or linebacker—but not linebacker full-time. He will be missed in pass coverage, but not as a run stopper. The only issue I have with letting him go is who will Rams replace him with.

In order to fill the void at safety left by Joyner departing. the Rams signed Weddle. He’s not as fast as Joyner, but he’s an upgrade in the “knock his head off” category. He’s fearless against the run, and can whack guys off their feet against the pass which I love in safeties. The only issue is his age. Does he still have the speed to compete at the highest level demanded by the position? This is one of my biggest “if” factors.

In order to fill the void left by Barron’s release, the Rams signed Matthews. A SoCal native, Matthews played his college ball for USC and was the best player on the Packers’ defense for years which isn’t saying much given how bad Green Bay’s defense has been the last four years. Still, he will definitely be an upgrade in the run game as opposed to Barron. He can also rush the quarterback either at the inside or moving him to the edge. As long as he avoids those iffy illegal roughness quarterback penalties, this signing looks good on paper. But he too has an age issue. Although he was on fire at the start of 2018 regular season, he wasn’t the same pass rusher at the end of it. I am still confident that the Rams have enough at the linebacker to cover the loss of Barron with ILB Micah Kiser and EDGE Samson Ebukam coming off the bench for a series or two so that Matthews can get a breather. I’m especially high on Ebukam, but have no clue what Kiser can do since he rarely if ever saw any action last year. Thus this is my second “if” factor—that all things being considered if things work out as planned with Matthews, he could be a key factor to an improving Rams’ defense.

On offense, the biggest question isn’t how the Rams will be able to replace the lost offensive linemen. It’s the status of RB Todd Gurley and the ongoing saga of his knee.

There was clearly something wrong with him at the end of the year. Neither the Rams or Gurley have sincerely explained what it was. Instead, its been a lot of PR smoke and mirrors. What we do likely know is that Gurley will not be used as much as he was last year. So unless the Rams use their 31st pick in the first round to draft a running back, I‘m not going to worry that much. If the Rams do draft a running back that early, I’ll be in panic mode.

Thus, “if” factor number three is Gurley’s health. If the Rams don’t draft a running back in the first round, I think it signals Todd is okay to go, and the Rams will remain a juggernaut on offense with him being a centerpiece of it.

Hopefully my prayers will be answered tonight.

The Draft

Oh boy just can’t wait for this one. Our Rams actually have a first-round pick!

However, the draft show drives me nuts.

First, I could care less what other teams do. I’m only interested in what the Rams do. Thus I am forced to sit, watch and listen for at least three hours of incessant gibberish from Mel Kiper tell me how good or bad a player is. Watching this, I feel the same way when someone tells me the numbers you should use to win the Mega Ball lottery.

The NFL has created so much buzz about the draft, an entire cottage industry has developed. In my youth, the Los Angeles Times used to print a small, one-paragraph story on it in the back pages. Today by the time you sift through the experts, you’re up to Mock Draft 3,012. Enough already! Just tell me who the Rams drafted with their first pick so I can start asking God that he not turn into a bust. After that, it’s more about position than it is player.

I still have my opinions about what I think the Rams should do in the draft given this is an opportunity to turn a team weakness into a strength. Most of the offseason moves or lack thereof weren’t made by NFC teams. The big name splash free agent signings and trades were made by AFC teams. As a result coming into 2019, I think our Rams have a better then 50/50 chance of repeating and this time winning the Super Bowl.

So here’s my one and only single-pick mock draft, Professor-style.

I would like to see the Rams use the their 31st pick on the best DT available. I believe in this because DT Michael Brockers can move to nose guard and DT Aaron Donald. always be the most dominant force at his position, is too often double- and triple-teamed. A young, fast defensive tackle who can step in right away will pair well with both Brockers and Donald freeing them up to wreak havoc on an opposing team’s quarterbacks and improve the Rams’ lackluster rush defense.

Of course, I will probably be completely wrong.

So as long as the Rams don’t draft a running back at 31, I can live with whatever the team does do including trading #31 for more picks.

“If” they do draft a running back, all bets are off and I will be in total panic mode for 2019.

Here we go...