The Los Angeles Rams fell well short of expectations on the 2022 season - being eliminated from playoff contention after just 15 weeks. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and now Aaron Donald have seemingly been shut down for the season amidst the supporting cast and offensive line crumbling around them.
With the holiday season comes a new year, and it’s not too difficult to see the Rams rebounding in 2023 with a clean bill of health. Sure, there will be unforeseen changes and surprise moves - that’s just the way Les Snead and Sean McVay operate - but a return to contention seems to require incremental improvements rather than a complete overhaul.
Sean and McVay understand their roster from top to bottom more than they ever have since being paired together in 2017. They know who is worth keeping around and which players are replaceable, so who made their Naughty and Nice lists this season? Feel free to check it twice.
Bobby Wagner, MLB
Wagner is arguably the team’s Most Valuable Player on the season, and it comes in a year where he and Jalen Ramsey are the Rams’ only bonafide stars left standing. Wagner solidified LA’s run defense in a way we have not seen in the last decade, and Raheem Morris used him in a way that leverages his strengths instead of exposing his weaknesses - run defense vs. pass coverage.
It’s a shame that Wagner’s consistently awesome performance comes in a wasted year. Moving on from the veteran in 2023 would be difficult, and time will tell if he can maintain this level of performance into his second year with the team.
Bobby Wagner this season:— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 22, 2022
PFF's highest-graded LB in NFL
T-10th in tackles in NFL
Team-leader in tackles with 118 (64 solo); 5.0 sacks, 8 TFL
Most regular season tackles amongst active players (1,501) pic.twitter.com/fKgeM9O04L
Rob Havenstein, RT
The veteran RT has had an up-and-down year, but he’s been the only mainstay along the offensive line this season - and that has to make the Rams feel good about the contract extension and investment they made in Havenstein just before the first game.
It’s important to remember that Havenstein is an above average starter at right tackle, and there’s a shortage of those players throughout the league. He’s only had two seasons in his career where he’s struggled: in 2019 when he battled significant injury issues and in 2022 when he the guard next to him was signed off the street after the start of the season.
We will look back on 2022 as being an outlier for the right tackle and be grateful for his reliability.
Nick Scott, DB
The Rams have historically not invested in the safety position since Snead took over as general manager. From Rodney McLeod and John Johnson, LA views their defensive backs as replaceable.
But Scott may be the first exception to that rule, and during the last two seasons he’s demonstrated he’s a starting caliber player but may not have played well enough to price himself out of the Rams’ budget.
With Scott headed to unrestricted free agency, will he return to the team in 2023?
Greg Gaines, DT
Gaines is also slated for unrestricted free agency after the season, though his price could rise above what the Rams are willing and able to play. The interior defensive lineman moves extremely well given his size, and while he’s stout against the run he also has juice as a pass rusher.
After proving that he can be an above average starter on the defensive line, will the Rams be able to keep Gaines?
Greg Gaines with the huge sack for loss pic.twitter.com/Fv7yup5xF7— LA Rams Nation (@RamsNationCP) November 20, 2022
Ben Skowronek & Tutu Atwell, WR
Allen Robinson was the high priced free agent signing heading into the year, his 33 receptions for 339 yards and 3 TD’s was a poor return on investment.
But while Robinson struggled, two second-year receivers took notable steps forward. Ben Skowronek showed significant progress after he couldn’t catch a cold as a rookie, and the team even found creative ways to leverage his size as a fullback. Tutu Atwell showed he deserves to be on the field despite the coaching staff not having a plan for him or understanding how to best leverage his talents.
Both young receivers deserve roles on the 2023 version of the offense after their performances this season.
Cam Akers, RB
From on the brink of being moved off the roster to a resounding finish to the season, Cam Akers has had quite the comeback over the second half of 2022.
It looked like the team was ready to move on, but now it’s foreseeable that the Rams could enter next season with Akers as RB1 - though the team should still add depth either through a low-priced veteran or later round draft choice.
Michael Hoecht, OLB
It’s not often that a player moves from interior defensive line to edge rusher and flashes the athleticism that Hoecht seems to have. While he shouldn’t be trusted to enter the season as a starter next year, he can be a rotational piece and situational pass rusher.
Bryce Perkins & John Wolford, QB
Neither of these players are NFL-caliber quarterbacks based on what we saw from them this season. Perkins has taken up a roster spot for the better part of three seasons, and the 53rd man could have been a developmental player at another position.
Wolford has been with the Rams for the last four seasons and spent the last three as the primary backup, but he looked incredibly erratic and unprepared for the moment. Baker Mayfield’s arm talent was immediately noticeable as an upgrade over Wolford.
Both QB’s have likely played their way off the roster, and it’s time for LA to rebuild the depth behind Matthew Stafford.
Lance McCutcheon, WR
Similar to Perkins, the Rams have used a roster spot to stash McCutcheon as a developmental piece - but he’s been unable to make an impact despite the team losing Kupp, Robinson, Ben Skowronek, and Van Jefferson for significant time due to injuries.
If there’s anyone that needs to flash over the final three games, it’s the rookie wide receiver.
Tyler Higbee, TE
Higbee is supposed to be one of the key veteran building blocks on this team, but while Kupp, Stafford, and Robinson were absent Higbee failed to step up in a meaningful way.
It took until last week against the Green Bay Packers for Higbee to catch his first touchdown of the season, and that’s just not good enough when the team needs all the leadership they can get.
It’s a situation where the Rams could try to upgrade at tight end and actually come out worse off, but it was hard to watch Higbee’s disappearing act.
Brian Allen & Joseph Noteboom, OL
Allen and Noteboom were both drafted in 2018 and then entered the 2019 as full-time starters for the first time. Both would suffer season-ending injuries that year.
Flash forward to 2022 and we are still asking the same questions regarding their durability. After both received contract extensions last offseason, the Rams have to feel some uncertainty about those investments in the pit of their stomach.
Leonard Floyd, OLB
The veteran outside linebacker is compensated as one of the Rams’ best players on the defensive side of the ball, but his performances on the field did not live up to that standard in 2022.
Sure, Floyd is a quality run defender and a streaky pass rusher - but he can completely disappear at times as well. It’s hard to get a feel for whether he will return next season, as edge rushers are expensive and hard to come by. The Rams already have to find one starting OLB, and making it two would create an almost-impossible task.
Allen Robinson, WR
I’ve already been hard enough on the veteran receiver, but his underwhelming performance by all measures deserves to have his name on the Naught list.
Derion Kendrick & Robert Rochell, CB
These young corners are on the list for very different reasons, but both deservedly so.
Kendrick had a lot of playing time but showed he’s a limited athlete and thus a very limited cornerback at the NFL level. A silver lining is that the rookie got a lot of run and took away a great deal of experience that he can carry into his second training camp, but it’s difficult to see him make many strides in the areas which he struggles.
But while Kendrick earned a great deal of playing time, Robert Rochell watched from the sidelines in his second season. It’s a surprising development for the corner, who was praised as both a draft choice and rookie for his elite athleticism and big frame. He hasn’t even played enough for the Rams to know what they have in the young corner - he should get an extended look over the final three games.