Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is done, let’s look at the Los Angeles Rams’ 2019 regular season schedule and how things look different from the pre-draft situation.
Week 1 - @ Carolina Panthers
The Panthers won the sweepstakes for Florida State Seminoles EDGE Brian Burns before trading up for Ole Miss Rebels OT Greg Little. That left them with one other Day 2 pick to spend on insurance for QB Cam Newton; they did just that on West Virginia Mountaineers QB Will Grier.
Many were high on the Panthers’ ability to fill a roster gap with a premier pass rushing prospect while adding an option to develop at left tackle.
How much does this impact Week 1?
More than anything, the impact here is relative to Cam. If Rams fans are considering the impact of taking Memphis Tigers RB Darrell Henderson as it relates to RB Todd Gurley, the Panthers’ selection of Grier is having a much more substantial impact on fans’ thoughts on the team’s outlook. And maybe has them even rethinking it. That’s the quarterback position for you.
A year ago, I had the Rams losing in Week 1 to the Oakland Raiders. When they ultimately traded EDGE Khalil Mack, I flipped that prediction to a win. The Rams, coming out of a preseason in which they sat nearly every Week 1 starter for nearly every preseason snap, played a limp first half before turning things around in the second half. Had Mack been on those Raiders, it’s easy to see why that prediction made sense.
I’ve got the Rams winning this one. Should Newton’s rehabilitation linger into the period that might threaten his regular season status, that would become a firmer prediction. But if he’s good to go, this remains a challenging season opener. Carolina was harldy a pushover last year. That they faltered down the stretch was a situational issue more than a systemic one.
If their draft picks pan out, they could be a much better team in November and December than in early September when we meet up.
You could make a strong case that this works in the Rams’ favor to face the Rams then to have this one in Week 1 instead of Week 11.
Week 2 - v. New Orleans Saints
The Saints didn’t have a pick in the top 61 selections originally, but they traded up with the Miami Dolphins to take Erik McCoy out of Texas A&M. Their third-round pick was already gone having shipped it to the New York Jets for QB Teddy Bridgewater. And then the Saints packaged their fourth- and fifth-rounders to move up in the fourth to take Florida Gators S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
So the Saints didn’t get a ton of functional talent for offense or defense in this draft, but having made the NFC Championship and returning nearly every key player save for RB Mark Ingram and DE Alex Okafor, they didn’t really need much from this draft.
But the impact of this one wasn’t changed in the slightest by the draft. This is a powerhouse matchup between two of the best teams in the NFL with all kinds of narrative built in from 2018.
Week 3 - @ Cleveland Browns
The Browns used their first-round pick on WR Odell Beckham, Jr. If we’re counting that as a draft selection, it’s a damn fine one. The Browns then went pretty much all-in on improving the defense with LSU Tigers CB Greedy Williams, BYU Cougars OLB Sione Takitaki and Miami Hurricanes S Sheldrick Redwine in the second, third and fourth rounds. We’ll have to see if any of those three can immediately get into the starting rotation.
Otherwise, this is going to be a major Sunday Night Football between newly ascendant heavyweights and coming off of the heels of the Saints game...whew.
Week 4 - v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Much like the Browns, the Bucs went hard for defensive upgrades.
Much unlike the Browns, most aren’t expecting much from the Bucs this year.
Tampa added LSU Tigers ILB Devin White in the first. He should slide into the rotation immediately, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s an early star that begins to promote discussion of a Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign by this game. Central Michigan Chippewas CB Sean Bunting, Auburn Tigers CB Jamel Dean and Kentucky Wildcats S Mike Edwards filled out the Day 2 class though Utah Utes K Matt Gay might have the best track to immediate starting work.
New Bucs Head Coach Bruce Arians has a ton of work to do, but I think everyone understands this is going to be a multi-year project. Between the Bucs’ youth and perhaps an opportunity for the Rams to get some of their depth involved, this one could have a major impact thanks to the draft.
Week 5 - @ Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks played a bit of cat-and-mouse with the Rams in the draft. With the Rams sitting at #31, the Seahawks picked up #29 in their trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for DE Frank Clark. So with that #30 pick sitting in front of the Rams potentially affecting the Rams’ opportunities to trade back, what do the Seahawks do? Trade #21 to the Green Bay Packers back to #30 to hold the two picks in front of the Rams. I see what you’re doing Seahawks GM John Schneider, and I don’t like it.
The Rams were still able to get a good trade out of #31 (before cracking off two more), but the Seahawks were already out in front of them with a second trade before Rams GM Les Snead got started. And they needed to. The Seahawks have had a TON of roster attrition in the last five months that continued into this week with WR Doug Baldwin and S Kam Chancellor both exiting after fine careers.
So we could see plenty of Seahawks rookies in our two encounters this season. TCU Horned Frogs DE L.J. Collier should get to the line immediately, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Utah S Marquise Blair is a Week 1 starter as well. I wasn’t anywhere near as high on Ole Miss WR D.K. Metcalf as many were pre-draft, and NFL teams weren’t either apparently. Thought of as a potential mid-first rounder, Metcalf fell all the way to the final pick of the second round. We’ll have to see what kind of impact he has early in the season or if he’s more of a developmental, long-term project. The Seahawks had a huge draft class to sort through in training camp and the preseason, so by the time we get to October football we should have a sense of their rookie class impact.
Week 6 - v. San Francisco 49ers
Unlike many of the previous teams, the Niners are in position to get immediate impact from their draft class. Ohio State Buckeyes EDGE Nick Bosa and South Carolina Gamecocks WR Deebo Samuel will be Week 1 starters. Jalen Hurd is a fascinating prospect. Originally a running back with the Tennessee Volunteers, Hurd transferred to Baylor and transitioned to wide receiver. Who knows what the Niners are going to do with him, but he’s an athlete. And Utah P Mitch Wishnowsky joins Rams P Johnny Hekker, Seahawks P Michael Dickson and Arizona Cardinals P Andy Lee to form perhaps the best divisional punting depth chart in the NFL.
The Niners are set up to be one of the weirder teams in the NFL this year. They were hit hard by injuries last year losing RB Jerick McKinnon before the season and QB Blitzing Domino early on. So between their return, their rookie class and their free agency additions, and this is going to look like a completely different team than the 2018 version.
Week 7 - @ Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had a strange draft by sacrificing their second- and third-round selections in favor of the Rams’ pick at 31. After taking an offensive lineman at #14 in Boston College Eagles OL Chris Lindstrom, a move that many Falcons fans criticized having already added James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in free agency, the Falcons moved up to #31 to take Washington Huskies OT Kaleb McGary. I’m not against the effort to stock up the line, but the opportunity costs elsewhere are daunting.
The Falcons were disappointing defensively last year, and I’m not sure they’ve done much to change things there. Now maybe’s it’s a strategic play to lean into offense, and if nothing else it’ll be fun football to watch. But I could see the Falcons dropping some early disappointing games with some tough ones on the schedule before their bye week in Week 9 thanks almost entirely to their defense.
Week 8 - v.* Cincinnati Bengals
* - Game to be played in London, England
It’s Year One for new Bengals Head Coach and former Rams coach Zac Taylor. Probably going to be a bumpy ride.
Still, I liked their draft class. Alabama Crimson Tide OL Jonah Williams should help the run blocking game immediately regardless of what side he plays on. With TE Tyler Eifert in a contract year, they got a younger option in Washington TE Drew Sample. And I think they got some great value adds in N.C. State Wolfpack OLB Germaine Pratt and Arizona State Sun Devils DT Renell Wren.
I think if anything, they’ve put themselves well beyond the curve in recent years, but this year’s class could help build something to get them out of the hole...but it’s gonna take a bit.
Week 9 - Bye week
Week 10 - @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Talk about drama.
Between QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Antonio Brown and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers sure have cultivated a need to work things out in public instead of in private. Bell and Brown are out. Big Ben and JuJu are left to power the offense.
And while they pulled in Toledo Rockets WR Diontae Johnson and Kentucky RB Benny Snell to help offset Bell and Brown’s departure, it was their trade up in the first round to take Michigan Wolverines ILB Devin Bush that will really have the biggest immediate impact for better or worse.
The Steelers barely missed out on the playoffs going 9-6-1 last year, and the fan base certainly is going to be demanding this year having seen their confidence levels skyrocket quickly since the end of the season. I’m not sure this draft is enough to prevent a drop off, but it won’t be the problem either.
Week 11 - v. Chicago Bears
The Bears’ 2019 draft class was decapitated by their 2018 moves, but Bears fans weren’t complaining. The two to track for Rams fans will be Iowa St. Cyclones RB David Montgomery and Georgia Bulldogs WR Riley Ridley, the younger brother of Falcons WR Calvin Ridley.
At this point in the schedule, we’re into mid-November. The playoff push will be on. This is going to be a massive Sunday Night Football matchup that could make a major difference in the NFC playoff picture. We’ll see if the Bears’ meager rookie class will have had much of an impact by this point.
Week 12 - v. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens clearly made a huge effort to stock the offense to support QB Lamar Jackson. Oklahoma Sooners WR Marquise Brown, Notre Dame Fighting Irish WR Miles Boykin and Oklahoma State Cowboys RB Justice Hill could all make major inroads early on. And Louisiana Tech Bulldogs EDGE Jaylon Ferguson is going to get a chance to get into action, but I think it’s going to take him a bit to settle in. They’ve got their bye week in Week 8. I could see Ferguson being slow to contribute but enjoying a bump thereafter and potentially having a day here on Monday Night Football.
Week 13 - @ Arizona Cardinals
I do not believe there will be any impact from the 2019 NFL Draft on this game.
Week 14 - v. Seattle Seahawks
Somewhat similar to the Ferguson arc, I wonder if Collier is going to need time to settle in. This being the Rams’ third Sunday Night Football game of the year and the fifth national broadcast for a rivalry game in December, this one’s gonna be wild. I could see some of the Seahawks rookies that don’t fare well the first time around having a better showing in the Coliseum.
Week 15 - @ Dallas Cowboys
Like so many of the Rams’ other opponents this year, the Cowboys’ early draft capital had been sent out via trade. Their first-rounder was in the Raiders’ hands thanks to the trade for WR Amari Cooper. Having made the playoffs and picked up a postseason win before losing to the Rams in the Divisional Round, the Cowboys are in a perfect spot to contend yet again in 2019.
UCF Knights DT Trysten Hill leads their draft class though Penn State Nittany Lions G Connor McGovern might be in line for a more immediate impact. And a pair of late edge rushers in Miami EDGE Joe Jackson and Oregon Ducks EDGE Jalen Jenks could be value adds that turn into legitimate products at some point.
This one’s so far out with so much unpredictability built in, it’s hard to get a feel for rookie impact. Did they get any immediate starters in this class? How much time is Memphis RB Tony Pollard going to get behind RB Ezekiel Elliott?
Regardless, it’ll be just a huge, huge game.
Week 16 - @ San Francisco 49ers
If the Niners are a hard team to gauge going into Week 1, good luck pinning them down for Week 16.
Week 17 - v. Arizona Cardinals
Again, no impact from rookies in this one.
Overall, there’s always more rookie impact from teams of lesser success in recent years since they’re the ones picking earlier in the drafts.
The Cards and Niners picked 1 and 2 in the draft. Clearly, they’re going to have more rookie impact than the Bears or Cowboys. Across the schedule though, it’s clear the 2019 NFL Draft is going to play a major part in the Rams’ season.
And our own rookies as well should have a part to play. Last year, that wasn’t the case. This year though, we’re likely to see Washington S Taylor Rapp and Michigan CB David Long in the rotation at some point though it might not be Week 1. Washington DT Greg Gaines has a role to fill on the defensive line. And Memphis RB Darrell Henderson is likely to have an impact in the season opener that will help define his work rate early.
The draft is over. Its impact on the Rams and the NFL as a whole is just beginning.