Perhaps the biggest question to come out of the Los Angeles Rams’ 2022 season is “how were the Rams ever content with John Wolford as their primary backup quarterback?” Wolford has been in Los Angeles for four seasons and has been second on the depth chart to Jared Goff or Matthew Stafford for the last three.
We saw very little of the quarterback prior to this season. In 2020 he played a game and a half while Goff was nursing a broken thumb on his throwing hand, and Sean McVay even appeared to bench Goff in favor of Wolford for the team’s wildcard game against the Seattle Seahawks - though Wolford took a big hit on a designed running play and Goff came in to get the team a victory.
It was evident in that game and a half stretch that Wolford was not up to snuff, as the Rams failed to score an offensive touchdown while he was on the field.
LA swapped Goff for Stafford ahead of the 2021 season, and Wolford saw limited action towards the end of a few blowout games - his play should have raised alarm bells:
- Week 6 vs. New York Giants: 0 for 2 with an interception (10 snaps)
- Week 8 vs. Houston Texans: 1 for 2 for five yards, a sack, and dropped interception (9 snaps)
- Week 13 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: No pass attempts (5 snaps)
But Los Angeles stayed the course heading into 2022 with McVay and general manager Les Snead asserting that playing a backup quarterback was an outlier situation and not worthy of investing in a top-shelf reserve.
While the Rams didn’t want to invest monetarily in a decent backup, they paid the true cost in an uncontrollable downward spiral that cut their season short when Stafford went down in Week 9 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At that point LA had a 3-5 record and could have righted the ship with consecutive games against bad teams - Week 10 vs. the Arizona Cardinals and Week 11 against the New Orleans Saints.
But Wolford was woeful against the Cardinals, even throwing a hospital ball that seemingly ended Cooper Kupp’s season. Stafford returned against the Saints but re-entered the NFL’s concussion protocol and left the game. Bryce Perkins finished the game at quarterback, also proving over the course of the next week that he was not a viable option.
This was the inflection point for the 2022 LA Rams, and a steady hand at QB could have kept the team on track for a playoff berth - instead the train derailed into six-straight losses.
Enter Baker Mayfield
With the Rams’ backup quarterback situation untenable and the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo going down for the season, the Carolina Panthers waived Baker Mayfield to give him a shot elsewhere - Los Angeles claimed him just 48-hours prior to their primetime showdown against the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday Night Football.
Mayfield showed immediately in that game that his arm talent is on another planet relative to both Wolford and Perkins. The ball jumped out of his hand, and it allowed developmental opportunities for the Rams’ younger receivers: Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, and Van Jefferson.
Mayfield’s success with only two days to learn the offense and prepare shows just how much Wolford and Perkins were outmatched in the NFL.
Now McVay has committed to Mayfield as the team’s starter for the rest of the season, and Wolford and Perkins are likely headed to unemployment - unless another team seems a Taysom Hill-like role for Perkins. Los Angeles is expected to overhaul their quarterback room in 2022, and given Stafford’s lengthy injury history of late, it’s time to find a trustworthy option.
What’s next for John Wolford?
It’s no accident that Wolford overcame his lack of arm talent to earn the Rams’ backup QB job. McVay has consistently praised his preparedness and work ethic over the years - and the team has cited at times that his diligence on the scout team has also contributed to success on defense. It’s also not Wolford’s fault that McVay and the Rams gave him a job that was outsized for his physical talents.
But that’s to say that LA is done utilizing Wolford’s work ethic and mental talents - there’s just no reason to take up a spot on the roster and/or the salary cap. Instead, McVay and the Rams should consider hiring Wolford as an assistant coach on the offensive staff, especially considering multiple coaches have already agreed to join the college ranks.
Other reserve QB’s that made the jump to coaching
It’s fairly common to see backup quarterbacks with physical limitations make the jump to the coaching ranks, and Wolford could potentially join the likes of Kellen Moore, Mike Kafka, Kevin O’Connell, and Austin Davis:
Kellen Moore, OC for Dallas Cowboys
Moore signed as a UDFA in 2012 with the Detroit Lions where he earned the primary backup role in 2014. He joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 and was off and on the roster until 2018 when he decided to retire and join Jason Garrett’s coaching staff. He was promoted to offensive coordinator just a season later, which is the same role he holds today. Based on the Cowboy’s recent offensive success, it’s likely a matter of when, not if, he will earn the title of head coach.
Mike Kafka, OC for New York Giants
Kafka appeared in only four games, all coming during the 2011 season with the Eagles. He bounced around the league as a journeyman backup until 2016 when he joined Northwestern University as a graduate assistant.
The Kansas City Chiefs hired Kafka as a quality control coach the following season, and a year later he was promoted to QB coach. Brian Daboll and the Giants hired him as their offensive coordinator in 2022 where he’s helped Daniel Jones go from disastrous to mostly adequate.
Kevin O’Connell, HC of Minnesota Vikings
Rams fans know O’Connell well, as he helped design an offensive scheme around Stafford that led the team to a victory in Super Bowl LVI. The now head coach was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft by the New England Patriots, but he had only six passing attempts in his playing career.
His coaching career started in 2015 as a QB coach for the Cleveland Browns. In 2017 he joined Jay Gruden’s coaching staff in Washington, where O’Connell became familiar with the offensive system run by McVay.
In 2019 Gruden was fired mid-season and O’Connell was promoted to offensive coordinator. O’Connell was widely praised in 2019 because of his work with then-rookie Dwayne Haskins, a disappointing first round draft pick up to that point, which earned him an offensive coordinator role with McVay’s Rams.
Austin Davis, formerly with Seahawks and Auburn
Davis probably had the best NFL career of this bunch of now coaches, starting eight games for the St. Louis Rams in 2014 and throwing for 2001 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He eclipsed the 300-yard mark twice with his best performance coming against the Eagles - completing 29 of 49 passes for 375 yards, 3 TD’s, and 30 rushing yards.
Davis earned his first coaching job when he joined his former Rams offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, with the Seattle Seahawks. He was an offensive assistant in 2019 before being promoted to QB coach in 2020 at just 30 years old.
In 2021 Davis left Seattle to join the college ranks at Auburn, but he stepped down after just one season. It’s likely the former QB will re-join the coaching ranks in the near future, especially considering the success of others on this list.