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Catching up with former Rams around the NFL

A position change for Cory Littleton; a prove-it training camp for Dante Fowler; a new start in Cleveland

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Cleveland Browns Off-Season Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The LA Rams have parted with a number of notable players over the last year and change. Let’s take a quick look for an update on how some of them are doing with their new teams.

LB Cory Littleton, Raiders

Littleton struggled in his first season in Las Vegas and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is rumored to be considering him as an outside linebacker next season, with Nicholas Morrow starting inside.

WR Brandin Cooks, Texans

The Rams signed 34-year-old DeSean Jackson one year after trading 26-year-old Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans. Would LA have needed either Jackson or Tutu Atwell if they had simply retained Cooks? Last year, Cooks had 81 catches for 1,150 yards as one of the only bright spots for the Texans. Over the last six seasons, Cooks has ranked as one of PFF’s top-20 receivers in all but the 2019 campaign.

Right now everyone is assuming that Deshaun Watson won’t return at quarterback. What does the difference between Watson and Tyrod Taylor, if that’s who Houston does turn to next season, mean for Cooks?

C Austin Blythe, Chiefs

After holding down LA’s center position in 2020 as best he could, Blythe sat on the free agent market for a long time. Some Rams fans may have thought he’d be good to have in a competition against a 2021 draftee, like Creed Humphrey. Instead, it’s Blythe vs Humphrey on the Chiefs. Blythe sat out a practice last week, though it’s not clear if it was for injury reasons. Kansas City is already dealing with an injury to veteran guard Kyle Long, which is not surprising.

I would expect Blythe to win that job and to be snapping to Patrick Mahomes, at least to open the 2021 season.

WR Josh Reynolds, Titans

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / The Tennessean via Pool via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Not long ago, Reynolds was in prime position to be starting opposite of A.J. Brown in Tennessee. That opportunity might have allowed Reynolds to get even more than the career-best 81 targets he saw with the Rams in 2020.

Not so is the case after the Titans traded for Julio Jones. If Jones and Brown are healthy all season long, then I can’t see how Reynolds would be utilized anymore often than he was in Los Angeles. That doesn’t mean he can’t be valuable though and Tennessee must also find a receiving replacement for the departed tight end Jonnu Smith.

TE Gerald Everett, Seahawks

The Rams picked Everett with the 44th overall selection in 2017, the fourth tight end off the board after O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku. If you just look at it from that perspective, Everett’s been roughly as good as maybe Howard or Njoku. He’s at least been healthier than all three of those first round tight ends. And he’s been better than every tight end who was drafted after him save for two: the aforementioned Jonnu Smith in round three, and George Kittle in round five.

Everett’s four-year stint wasn’t enough to get a big free agent contract but Seattle thinks that they can reach the ceiling with Everett that Sean McVay never could. I’m skeptical about that: the Seahawks got underwhelming Seattle careers out of Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, and Zach Miller in the past, but Pete Carroll has stated that he sees Everett as a “breakout” candidate.

Everett dropped seven passes last season, according to Pro-Football-Reference, so McVay instead opted to go back to his favorite well: a fourth round tight end who worked with Jeff Brohm in college. I would say that Jacob Harris is preferable to Everett right now.

RB Todd Gurley, FA

Gurley has met with the Lions and at this point may simply sign with a team in training camp after an unfortunate injury happens. Gurley is 26.

DL Michael Brockers, Lions

The Rams ranked fourth against the pass and third against the run — by DVOA — in 2020, and surely Brockers had something to do with that. Did Les Snead get “too cute” in trading Brockers to the Lions weeks after swapping Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford? The move seems like a perfect one for Detroit GM Brad Holmes, who now has a veteran leader to serve as a respected mentor to day two picks Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeil. The Lions want to be unbelievably stout upfront on defense and now they have those three players, plus Trey Flowers, Da’Shawn Hand, and Romeo Okwara.

By some accounts, this could still be the worst team in the NFL. Brockers still hopes to get a “W” against his old team.

LB Dante Fowler, Jr., Falcons

Like the Lions, the Falcons also have a new head coach and general manager, so there’s no real guarantee that Fowler will even be playing for Atlanta in 2021. Even though Fowler signed a big free agent contract only last year, and the Falcons wouldn’t save any money by releasing him (which is why this couldn’t have been a solution to avoid trading Julio Jones), new head coach Arthur Smith and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are either going to be “in” or “out” on him as a part of the turnaround.

If you remove the line on his resume that shows he was the third overall pick, Fowler’s career stats and injury history wouldn’t suggest a player who is guaranteed a roster spot next season.

Fowler did take a pay cut to stay with the Falcons this year — and I don’t know, maybe that did get him a ‘guarantee’ to stick around — but Atlanta plainly and simply needs good players. Fowler wasn’t good in his first season with the Falcons, which is reminiscent of the time he wasn’t good for the Jaguars. Fowler had three sacks in 14 games last season.

CB Troy Hill, Browns

S John Johnson, Browns

Cleveland went 11-5 last season and they are hoping that with head coach Kevin Stefanski, quarterback Baker Mayfield, and pass rusher Myles Garrett, they have the triumvirate of NFL elite that will keep them in playoff contention year after year. Those are really the three most important names when it comes to who could turn around the Browns as a franchise after five or six decades of failures.

But they will need help.

Cleveland Browns Off-Season Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Offensively, there’s no question that the Browns enter the season with an offensive line that could rank in the top-five, a starting wideout duo that could be the best in the league, at least three tight ends capable of starting, and the most dangerous backfield duo in the NFL, too.

However, on defense there wasn’t much to be excited about outside of Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward. Cleveland is hoping to change that by focusing most of their efforts on the secondary, so this year they signed Johnson to start at safety after “quarterbacking the defense” for the Rams last season. They also signed Hill to take over at slot, where the Browns struggled mightily in 2020.

And they’ll be adding in first round cornerback Greg Newsome; 2020 second round safety Grant Delpit, who missed his entire rookie season; 2019 second round corner Greedy Williams, who also lost 2020; and safety Richard LeCounte, a fifth round pick this year.

But the leader of everyone on the defense who sits behind Garrett is probably going to be Johnson, and he was in that same role for the number one defense in 2020. Could this finally be the Browns’ year?


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