The Los Angeles Rams went into the 2019 offseason with a handful of important starters hitting free agency. Like every team, they were bound to lose certain players and replace them with new ones. This is also known as “roster turnover”, and it happens at a rapid rate in the NFL.
Let’s take a look at the players which used to occupy starting spots on the team and who replaced them. Then we can grade whether the replacement can be considered an upgrade, a downgrade, or a wash (no real change):
Rodger Saffold to Joe Noteboom
Noteboom may turn out to be a fantastic player, but this one is an easy downgrade. Saffold was one of the premier guards in the entire league, and a lot of what the Rams did in the run game centered around his ability to combo block and work his way to the second level routinely sealing off linebackers. Saffold played in 114 games in horns, meanwhile Noteboom only had 78 offensive snaps in his rookie season. Hopefully the drop-off isn’t large, though its fair to expect a first-time starter probably wont be an elite player right out of the gate.
John Sullivan to Brian Allen
Here is part two to the offensive line equation. Sullivan — like Saffold — is a wiley ol’ veteran who has 153 games of experience, while Allen — like Noteboom — has only 36 offensive snaps to his name. Now, Sullivan — unlike Saffold — wasn’t tremendously productive as his game faltered as the season wore down. Regardless, the center position is just as much mental/cerebral as it is physical, and that’s the part that I believe Allen will need the most adjustment with as he makes the transition as the starter.
Ndamukong Suh to Greg Gaines
Suh may not have brought to the table exactly what everyone expected, but he was still productive and reliable as the nose tackle in Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense. Suh’s versatility allowed him to be kicked to defensive end in small spurts, and that proved useful as the Rams simply didn’t have a strong edge presence last season. Suh didn’t play at a pro bowl caliber, but he was still far and away the second best defensive lineman on the team as he accumulated 4.5 sacks, four tackles-for-loss, and 19 QB hits. Gaines replaces him as the run-down nose tackle, and in that regard, he may actually prove to be a tiny upgrade. But, the NFL is a passing league, and Gaines simply doesn’t bring to the table what Suh did, so this replacement is likely to be a downgrade.
Mark Barron to Micah Kiser
Barron became a mainstay for the Rams at linebacker over the past few seasons, though things started to deteriorate slowly in 2018. Health was a major factor as Barron missed all of the offseason going into the season, as well as the first four games of the season. When he returned, he simply wasn’t very productive, and his price tag was extremely high. The Rams chose to move on and the likely heir is fifth-round pick, Micah Kiser. Kiser has tremendous instincts, physical ability, and is likely to bring a newfound level of physicality to the defense. This one is our first upgrade.
Samson Ebukam to Clay Matthews
Ebukam hasn’t developed as the Rams had hoped, and that’s why he’s being replaced by the veteran in Matthews. Ebukam started 14 games (played in all 16) last year and only managed three sacks, six tackles-for-loss, and six QB hits. Outside of one dominant game against the Kansas City Chiefs, he was relatively invisible. Matthews may not be the player he once was, but his IQ, more nuanced pass rush, and ability to play the run are all going to prove to be a relatively large upgrade.
Lamarcus Joyner to Eric Weddle
Joyner took a turn for the worst as he went from “elite” status in 2017 to “average-at-best” in 2018. The reason isn’t known exactly, but Joyner had multiple blown coverages and struggled to secure the deep part of the field. Weddle brings some much needed ability to be exactly what the Rams need from the position: safety. Weddle has also proven he’s still capable of being a highlight reel, and any extra opportunities the offense can get, the better off the team is.