You could fill a whole website with everything that I have been and will be wrong about. Some people say that site already exists and that it is called Turf Show Times. Whether or not some of my guesses about how things will shake out, or how I think they should, are worthwhile is up to your judgment.
I am happy to keep track of my errors, so long as they help me make better evaluations and guesses in the future. These are only three of many things that didn’t happen as I expected they would so far in 2020.
Keeping a kicker on the practice squad
One storyline that we spent all offseason talking about was the Rams search to replace Greg Zuerlein at kicker. Sean McVay opted to go with a three-way competition of unknowns, which is no less risky today than it seemed all along. Sam Sloman has made the extra point attempt required viewing this season because you can’t guarantee that touchdowns are worth seven points.
It’s early, but the biggest special teams mistake leaguewide has to be that fact that Rodrigo Blankenship signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent. Blankenship was awarded as the nation’s top placekicker in 2019 but even during a wild year without most pro days, only the Patriots, Bills and Rams spent a pick on a kicker.
Blankenship has made 15 of 17 field goals, leading the NFL in both categories, and is 11 of 11 on extra points. He has missed two kicks inside 50 and he hasn’t made any outside of 50, plus he’s a rookie at a volatile position where not long ago Blair Walsh reigned supreme, but he’s been a lot more solid than any of the drafted kickers and most of the veterans.
Speaking of veterans, LA decided they couldn’t spend money at kicker this year. So they didn’t sign Graham Gano, who is 13 of 14 on field goals and four of four on extra points because he plays for the Giants. Stephen Gostkowski went 1 of 4 in Week 1 but six of six in a close Week 3 win and then made all six extra points on Tuesday night against the Bills.
I thought perhaps because practice squads had expanded and the Rams were carrying an inexperienced kicker that they’d keep one of the other options around on the team. If they needed a kicker in a pinch, there would also be one nearby and they wouldn’t have to go through the five-day waiting period during testing. That didn’t happen and so far it doesn’t seem to be a concern. Though Sloman has been shaky, the other two kickers will remain available, there’s just a waiting period.
But the kicker position is not yet settled.
Van Jefferson getting favored over Josh Reynolds early
I think my biggest gaffe with expecting the rookie second rounder to slowly take over for the veteran option at number three was underestimating how efficient NFL passing offenses had become. A wide receiver with a 75-percent catch rate used to be rare. It’s practically the baseline now. It is almost like completion percentage will become similar to the three-point shot in the NBA.
One season a “busy three-point shooter” is an anxious shooting guard taking four threes per game, the next season those guys are shooting 12 per game and the guy scrapping for three or four of his own is the center.
In a way passing offenses have become much more complex and in another it is much simpler. Complex for defenses to figure out how to now cover two receivers, two tight ends and a running back who can all catch, simple for quarterbacks who know how to keep a defense off its toes and now free from the worries of holding penalties. NBA stats changed so much in the last decade that historically you can’t quite compare former great three-point shooters to the modern ones and it could be that in the next decade we’ll change how we view completion percentage and yards per attempt.
Josh Reynolds went from consistently catching about 51-percent of his targets over his first three seasons to catching 12 of his first 16 targets in 2020 and gaining 15 yards per reception. I thought Van Jefferson might be able to work his way into the lineup more and more, but the opposite has been true. McVay could still be treating these weeks as good “preseason time” for Jefferson and plans to unveil opportunities for him later in the season.
Tyler Higbee’s hot streak continuing
I don’t know if I ever explicitly said or felt that Higbee would continue to put up numbers similar to what he was producing at the end of 2019, but I might have and regardless I am still surprised he hasn’t been more productive in the first five games.
Higbee has caught 15 of 17 targets (new era of passing) for 166 yards and three touchdowns, but all three came against the Eagles. In his other four games, that makes it 10 of 12 targets for 112 yards and no touchdowns. That’s an average of 2.5 catches and 28 yards per game.
Which is about what Higbee was producing in his first 10 games of 2019 prior to his breakout December.
I thought perhaps we would see a version of Higbee that lived in between the player he had been before and the one who was able to produce so consistently at the end of last season. Instead it appears that Higbee has been basically the same as he was to open 2019 and at least that means he could still close this year with a hot streak.