Near the end of the 2014 season, ESPN ran a story called “The Missing Pieces,” which argued that really good teams seem to have rosters that are on average “40-percent composed to good/elite players.” This is according to research done by ProFootballFocus.
Interestingly, Matthew Safford was only ranked as an “average” player by PFF at the time even though the Lions had their best season in a long time (11-5) and Stafford made his only career Pro Bowl appearance.
This is worth mentioning because as we reach the top-eight of my list of the 20 most-important players on the 2022 Los Angeles Rams, we’re hitting the biggest names on the roster.
While the two teams that reached the Super Bowl that year, the Patriots and the Seahawks, were not included in ESPN/PFF’s article on missing pieces, the franchise deemed “closest” to being a Super Bowl contender was the Dallas Cowboys. At the time, the Cowboys had four players that PFF called “elite” (Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, and Travis Frederick) and eight players that PFF called “good,” headlined by Tony Romo, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Orlando Scandrick.
I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that my list of the top-20 Rams will have three players that the world can agree are elite at football and one quarterback who has clearly been underrated for most of his career, including up to today.
But does L.A.’s roster have eight or more players who are good and is nearly every starter on offense and defense considered to at least be average?
The Rams need their top-four players to have their best odds of repeating as Super Bowl champions. However, it is the players ranked fifth to 15th who could have the biggest impact on getting L.A. through another postseason gauntlet.
Bobby Wagner has had his time as one of the elite players in football and he will be going to Canton as a first ballot Hall of Famer as soon as he is eligible. He won’t show up on “The Missing Pieces” article linked above though because Wagner was preparing to play in his second straight Super Bowl, something that Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Stafford are looking to accomplish over the next seven months.
Though he’s been a top-three player before, Wagner won’t be a top-five player on this list. That doesn’t mean that his contributions won’t be vital to the success of the 2022 Los Angeles Rams, a team that plays in the city that he’s always known as his real home.
#8 - ILB Bobby Wagner
Though the Seahawks did not win the Super Bowl in 2014 and have not had near the same success ever since, Bobby Wagner still brings a ton of recent postseason experience to the Rams: Not only has he appeared in all but three regular season games over the last seven seasons, Wagner has also played in eight additional playoff games in that time.
Wagner made first team All-Pro in every season from 2016 to 2020, has been a Pro Bowler every year since 2014, and led the NFL in tackles in 2016 and 2019.
Bobby Wagner with the redzone sack— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 19, 2021
There is no way to describe the last 10 years for Wagner as anything less than being the perfect scenario for an inside linebacker’s career.
The biggest issue facing Wagner in Seattle this year was the $18 million that the team would save by releasing him, a move that became easier for the franchise to swallow after Russell Wilson was traded to the Broncos and made it so unlikely that the Seahawks would be contending this year. There are matters on the field, including questions of whether or not Wagner’s coverage is now a weakness that opposing teams can exploit (he was targeted a career-high 87 times in 2021, allowing 71 receptions for a completion percentage north of 81%) and how much longer he can play after having turned 32 in June.
But plenty of Hall of Fame linebackers before him were able to maintain a high level of play into their mid-thirties, so Bobby Wagner should have at least two more seasons in him before that becomes a real concern.
The Rams paid Wagner $50 million over five years, but only $10 million is fully guaranteed. Essentially, L.A. can test his services out for only a $2.5 million cap hit in 2022, then that jumps to $12 million in 2023, including a $3.5 million roster bonus. We should suspect that Les Snead and McVay are looking to keep Wagner around for the next two seasons then to re-evaluate year by year.
His experience as a Super Bowl-winner should help fill the void left by Von Miller’s exit. His play at inside linebacker should eclipse all that came before him under McVay and be a monumental upgrade to Troy Reeder and Kenny Young.
Is Bobby Wagner a #3 most-valuable player on a team anymore? No, probably not. But if he’s your eighth-most valuable player, that means you do have a Super Bowl contending roster again.
Who is the most important player on this list to the 2022 Rams?
This poll is closed
ILB Bobby Wagner
DL A’Shawn Robinson
DT Greg Gaines