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7 potential new Rams starters: Upgrades or downgrades?

We’ve yet to even start training camp battles but we know which players will have to be replaced

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The LA Rams will look considerably different next season, even if many of the coaches and starters will remain the same. Most of the status quo under Sean McVay should be a good thing for LA’s chances of a 2021 playoff run: Andrew Whitworth, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, Leonard Floyd are among those returning for another go at the Super Bowl.

But there are many things that won’t be the same as last season and that goes beyond the blockbuster trade at quarterback.

The following six examples are NOT the only examples of new starters that will happen next season. The players who I’m sliding in as “the new starter” are also NOT all players who have won a starting job yet. So this is NOT necessarily me predicting or projecting a starter at the position but even in those cases it is obvious that someone new will be playing with the 1s next year.

Who those players will be is in my cases up for debate. This will be a good place to have such a debate.

QB - Matthew Stafford replaces Jared Goff

Trending UP or DOWN? Trending UP

Nobody has really made the argument that the Lions and Rams should have done a straight swap of Stafford for Goff, so nobody appears to actually believe that they are of equal value. The Rams had to include two first round picks to make the trade happen so the consensus opinion would appear to be that LA is getting an upgrade.

WR3 - DeSean Jackson replaces Josh Reynolds

Trending UP or DOWN? Trending UP

Jackson may be 34 and coming off of two injury-plagued seasons, but there should be more optimism in Jackson than there was with Reynolds or Van Jefferson. This is not to say that Reynolds was without value — he served as LA’s deep threat and he often came through when his number was called — but Jackson tends to create more opportunities than the average speed receiver. He has led the NFL in yards per catch four times and all the reports thus far are that he is healthy and explosive again in 2021.

You could argue Tutu Atwell here too, but there’s no question that Jackson will enter training camp as the clear cut number three receiver. We also shouldn’t rule out Jefferson as potentially winning more snaps and targets than Jackson and Atwell.

iOL - C Austin Corbett, RG Bobby Evans replaces C Austin Blythe, RG Austin Corbett

Trending UP or DOWN? UP

I think there’s more reason to be excited about Corbett and Evans than there was last year, when it felt more like the Rams were “giving in” after re-signing Blythe to a one-year deal. Evans is 24, started five games as a rookie in 2019, and the coaching staff has expressed nothing but confidence in the five players who they’ve pre-selected as the starters. This unit feels a lot more solid and put together than the one with Joseph Noteboom at left guard and Blythe at center entering 2020.

DE2 - A’Shawn Robinson replaces Michael Brockers

Trending UP or DOWN? There’s ground to make up

Okay, so here’s another place where an argument might arise: is it even Robinson who will replace Brockers?

We know that Sebastian Joseph-Day could become Donald’s true sidekick and he might explode as the defense’s breakout player of 2021. In that case, then this would be an UPGRADE because LA would be getting a younger version of Brockers. I also won’t dismiss Robinson as a potentially valuable defensive lineman next season, because he’s only 26 and he never got a real shot with the defense amid all the restrictions and health setbacks last year.

The Rams also have Bobby Brown III and Earnest Brown IV and Greg Gaines, so we aren’t quite sure yet how this rotation will play out. But I’d say that the Rams enter 2021 with an UPGRADE for total depth and perhaps a downgrade of the veteran leadership and experience that was traded to the Lions.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams OTA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

FS - Terrell Burgess replaces John Johnson III

Trending UP or DOWN? There’s ground to make up

NCB - David Long, Jr. replaces Troy Hill

Trending UP or DOWN? There’s ground to make up

I have to lump the two secondary players together because Johnson and Hill combined to play in 1,996 snaps in 2020 — they were first and second on the entire defense in playing time, with JJIII playing every single down.

There is an argument to be made that Taylor Rapp, not Burgess, will be starting at safety. You could also make a case for Robert Rochell or Burgess to be the new starter at nickel. No matter which players you believe will replace Johnson and Hill, they will have so much ground to make up as far as the value that was put on display by those two players last season.

Burgess will have a difficult time being as valuable as Johnson, whereas Hill had more valleys to go along with his peaks, but the Rams no doubt lack NFL experience when it comes to whoever will replace him at cornerback. Hill often played on the outside and took over for Darious Williams, so anybody who replaces him will have to do more than just cover the slot.

We can’t say yet if any of these players are “downgrades” but we can say that they have big shoes to fill.