Before the season began, few writers were picking the LA Rams to make the postseason. Despite a 9-7 record with a near-miss to the playoffs in 2019, the Rams were viewed by many as being on the wrong side of their mountain peak. How wrong they were.
The Rams not only made the playoffs, they went 10-6, won two out of three meetings against the 12-4 Seahawks, beat the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, and had the number one defense in the NFL. All of this despite not having a first round pick and losing or intentionally shedding starters like Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, Cory Littleton, and Dante Fowler, Jr.
Yes, the Rams went above most people’s expectations and you can’t do that without having a few players who did the same on an individual basis.
Cam Akers, RB
Expectation: Rookie running back takes a year to get comfortable in the offense behind Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown
Result: Rookie running back is slow to integrate, but when he does, becomes the team’s most dangerous weapon in the final five games and playoffs
Your expectations for Akers may certainly be different than mine, but we need more writers out here busting the myth that playing the running back position is easy; that you can just plug-and-play with anybody. Of course, Akers’ rookie season doesn’t even stand out among first-year backs from the last decade — his 625 rushing yards only ranks as the 54th-highest rookie total since 2010 — but he was exactly what LA needed down the stretch.
Especially considering the disappointing regression that hit Darrell Henderson midseason.
Akers had his best game (to that point) in Week 12 against the 49ers, then became the primary ball-carrier from there on out. If not for a 21-carry, 34-yard performance against the Cardinals in Week 17 that was largely deflated because of the offense having to re-make itself for John Wolford, Akers would have stood out even more.
Cam Akers with a stiff arm that would make Derrick Henry proud. pic.twitter.com/tOmtlGhw9h— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 17, 2021
In the playoffs, Akers had 46 carries for 221 yards and two touchdowns over two games.
Before next season, Akers may work on his pass-catching ability, his relationship with Matthew Stafford as the quarterback (as all offensive players are wont to do), and his blocking to become more of a complete, three-down back. Given how good he looked at the end of the year, expectations should be much higher going into 2021.
David Edwards, G
Expectation: Offensive line depth
Result: Primary starting left guard
I could pick almost any Rams offensive lineman and justify his placement on this list, but I’m only going to go with one to rep the group and I think it obviously has to be Edwards.
A fifth round pick in 2019, Edwards did appear in all 16 games as a rookie and he made 10 starts spread between left and right guard. But he failed to win a starting job in rookie camp again, as Joseph Noteboom was again placed at left guard to open the season. Noteboom went down early in the year, Edwards took over, and now he may stick. In October, Sean McVay talked about being comfortable with Edwards as the starting left guard:
“When we brought him in, he was playing all over the place, but I think he’s really settled in,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “I think left guard is his most natural spot. I think he’s played outstanding since he stepped into the lineup against Philly. He’s really done a great job of continuing to improve from last year.”
Edwards credits that growth to Rams run game coordinator and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer as well as veteran offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth.
“The level of mastery that he has in every situation or scenario is just huge for me, because he allows me to play with a quieted mind,” Edwards said.
Asked about Edwards on Monday, Whitworth said his performance is a reflection of him seizing his opportunity.
“I think Dave’s done a great job,” Whitworth said earlier this week. “He’s one of those guys that stepped in and played extremely well with his opportunity, and you always want that.”
Edwards was injured late in the year unfortunately and did miss LA’s divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers. Expectations next year will be that he’s healthy and ready to block for Stafford and Akers on Sundays.
Josh Reynolds, WR
Expectation: Another season with about 25 catches and 400 yards
Result: A season with 52 catches and 618 yards
I wouldn’t say that Josh Reynolds blew anyone away this season. I would say that he played well enough to earn a job somewhere in 2021 and that may not have been expected by everyone. I know that for myself, I expected so much more from Van Jefferson, and some of those catches and yards that didn’t go to Jefferson ended up going to Reynolds.
Morgan Fox, DE
Expectation: A quiet season buried behind Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, A’Shawn Robinson, and Sebastian Joseph-Day
Result: Outshining all of those players except Donald
Fox, like Reynolds, was able to take advantage of his contract year when he took full advantage of unexpected opportunities. Though the team signed Robinson and re-signed Brockers, snaps on the d-line were open for business with the former starting the season on the inactive list. Fox sat between roughly 30% and 45% of the defensive snaps through the first 12 games, but then McVay and Brandon Staley turned up his volume even more.
From Week 15 through the wild card win over Seattle, Fox played more like 50-60% of the snaps, and he notched four sacks and two additional tackles for a loss over five games.
Man. Morgan Fox had such a good season. One of the cleanest wins you'll see from a pass rusher pic.twitter.com/HUdspuehtK— Sosa K (@QBsMVP) January 11, 2021
Fox finished the season with six sacks — more than the 4.5 career sacks he had in three previous seasons — and two batted passes. If the Rams don’t re-sign him, he’ll be a valued commodity on the free agent market, I believe. That was not roundly expected in 2020.
Sidenote: If you were expecting Leonard Floyd on this list, I don’t think he defied my expectations. It’s fair if he defied yours. But other than his games against Seattle and Chicago, Floyd continued his work as the lackluster pass rusher that he was for the Bears and his positive contributions in run defense were expected.
Yes, Floyd had 10.5 sacks, but he also blitzed 94 times (compared to 69 times in the previous two seasons with Chicago combined) and literally half of his sacks came against the Seahawks quarterback who is currently complaining to the media about how much he gets sacked. It will be interesting to see how NFL teams view Floyd’s season. Surely they’ll ask him about what he was doing during his non-Seattle games.
Matt Gay, K
Expectation: That his name would be Sam Sloman
Result: His name was Matt Gay
If Gay is so obviously “the one,” then why didn’t he join the team until Week 11 and why was he available for any team to sign all year? Odd situation but Gay did kick long a long-term answer to the position. However, we haven’t really seen him test his leg much (he went 1-of-1 beyond 50) and he has struggled in his two-year career to be consistent mid-range.
Troy Reeder, ILB
Expectation: “Don’t let him start again”
Result: “Uhhh, actually, start him”
It certainly felt like there was a contingent of Rams fans who did not want to see anymore of Reeder based on his eight starts as a 25-year-old rookie in 2019, and that wasn’t an issue for half of the season. Outside of losing Micah Kiser for a game-and-a-half midseason (and Reeder had 11 tackles and three sacks in his one start), Reeder didn’t play a single snap on defense until a late opportunity on Monday night against the Buccaneers in Week 11.
First time since Robert Quinn and Chris Long that a team has had two teammates with 3 sacks each. Today? Troy Reeder and Aaron Donald.— DOWNTOWN RAMS [DTR] (@DowntownRams) October 11, 2020
Over the final six games of the season, Reeder became a full-time player on the defense, getting at least 91% of the snaps from thereon out. He was blamed for four missed tackles in a Week 12 loss to the 49ers, but Reeder became a more sure-handed (and highly productive) tackler after that and he added a couple of QB hits with three passes defensed in that time.
Fans may be more eager to see more Reeder next season.