Sean McVay led an impressive turnaround in his first year as head coach for the Los Angeles Rams, and six years later he finds himself in a very similar position.
The 2016 version of the offense was inept, even to the point where star running back Todd Gurley referred to it as a “middle school offense”. Quarterback Jared Goff went from completely overwhelmed under head coach Jeff Fisher to a Pro Bowler with Sean McVay. Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan solidified an offensive line that had struggled for years. LA also signed Robert Woods, drafted Cooper Kupp, and traded for Sammy Watkins to overhaul the receiving corps.
A lot can change over the course of a single season, and perhaps there’s no individual that understands that better than McVay.
The 2021 Rams offense was just as inept as the one led by Fisher. There were self-inflicted limitations that resulted from ill-fated offseason decisions, but factors outside of the team’s control - an unprecedented amount of injuries - also accelerated LA’s decline.
It’s entirely possible for McVay and the Rams to re-enter contention and re-assert themselves as a contender in the NFC. In order to do so, these are five positions they must reinforce this offseason and three they don’t.
Need to Address:
This is the singularly most important need of the team heading into the 2023 offseason, and it’ll likely be the first domino to fall in the days leading up to free agency. Could Snead make another splash trade, or will the Rams pony up top dollar to bring in someone off the open market?
LA cannot talk themselves into starting Michael Hoecht - no matter how impressive his 2022 breakout was. Leonard Floyd also finished out last year’s campaign strong and could be on his way to a rebound year. Donald returning would make the lives of all Los Angeles pass rushers easier, giving them more one on one opportunities.
What percent confidence do you have that Matthew Stafford could be available for 21 total games next season (17 regular season plus up to four playoff games)? 100% probably is not a realistic expectation.
Stafford’s elbow concerns are still lingering, as is the fact a single concussion could keep him off the field for an extended period of time. This isn’t even to mention the back injury that seems to flare up from time to time as well.
The Rams need to invest in a backup quarterback in a way they have not done under Les Snead or Sean McVay. Baker Mayfield is the logical choice, but it would require him foregoing a larger free agent deal and eating a slice of humble pie. He could take a one-year prove it deal with the understanding that it’s probable Stafford will miss some time in 2023.
Yeah. Kinda like him on prove it deal in LA.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) January 15, 2023
Stafford elbow and back aren't great, and despite his saying he's coming back there's skepticism about what his ceiling is with all the injury baggage. https://t.co/ElQKIkiRWh
The one he's still getting PRP injections on? Maybe you should tell him that.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) January 15, 2023
Cam Akers strong finish to the season was impressive, especially considering the team made the decision they were better off without him around the mid-point of the year. We saw some flashes from rookie Kyren Williams, but not enough to put much stock behind.
The Rams should feel better about this room than they did at this point last year, but they still need to add more talent to this position group. A late round pick at running back would be a wise investment.
Whether Allen Robinson will return after his disappointing Rams debut is still up in the air, but Los Angeles needs to invest in skilled pass catchers regardless of if Robinson comes back.
Even with Kupp early in the season, LA was devoid of big play ability or field stretching speed. Tutu Atwell’s second-year breakout helps quell these concerns some, but not to a point where you can bank on big breakout from him next year.
The Rams should spend their first pick on a receiver that has elite upside, even if they don’t expect the player to pay immediate dividends as a rookie.
Jalen Ramsey had an up-and-down season, though I’d say it had more ups than downs. Outside of quarterback, corner is the most difficult position in the NFL to play - and the Rams ask so much of Ramsey at times (probably even too much).
The Rams need a second corner so they don’t have to ask Ramsey to be a star in every game. A complementary piece on the outside would allow Ramsey to play within himself and pick when he wants to be aggressive.
Even if the team brings back Troy Hill or wants to elevate Cobie Durant into a larger role, they need to invest in a true boundary corner to play opposite their star.
Not a pressing need:
This assumes Aaron Donald returns to the Rams in 2023.
A’Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines are slated to hit free agency, but even if neither return the Rams have some depth pieces that may be ready for a bigger role.
Bobby Brown is a former fourth round pick that has flashed the ability to collapse the pocket as a pass rusher and can knife into the backfield to disrupt running lanes - his challenge is consistency moving forward. Marquise Copeland has been productive for the Rams as a reserve player, and he’s played in some big moments for this team. Jonah Williams has also been in LA for several years under the tutelage of assistant coach Eric Henderson, and he earned a lot of playing time late in the season with Copeland injured.
While the Rams surely need to add some depth along the interior defensive line, Snead has demonstrated the ability to identify undrafted and unheralded players and plug them into the scheme where they’ll be successful. Snead has found several UDFA’s that have carved out relatively long NFL careers such as Ethan Westbrooks, Morgan Fox, Williams, and Copeland. He can do it again.
Great to see from Bobby Brown III pic.twitter.com/I2j9QYYuK0— DOWNTOWN RAMS [DTR] (@DowntownRams) August 14, 2022
Bobby Wagner was the MVP of the team this past season, and while he’s due for a $12M cap hit in 2023 it’s in the team’s best interest to keep him around. Ernest Jones had a relatively quiet year in his second season, but he’s a commentary player to Wagner - he can interrupt pass lanes and play sideline to sideline in a way the veteran is no longer as effective.
There’s no need to make any changes at MLB despite Wagner’s sizeable cap number.
As mentioned before, the Rams’ collapse in 2022 was in fault due to their own missteps and due to factors outside of their own control. I put the offensive line woes on the “outside of their control” list because no NFL team is capable of running four deep at multiple positions.
By the end of the season the Rams were starting more players they signed off the street after the start of the year than lineman that were on team Week 1. Ty Nsekhe, Oday Aboushi, and Matt Skura were all mid-season pickups playing next to Coleman Shelton and Rob Havenstein.
Joseph Noteboom, Alaric Jackson, Brian Allen, Tremayne Anchrum, Chandler Brewer, and AJ Arcuri are expected to return next year, outside of the Rams making a decision to maybe move on from the contracts of Noteboom or Allen. You could almost field a starting offensive line out of the players Los Angeles was missing for most of last season.
The frequency of injuries along the OL in 2022 was not sustainable, and the Rams are better off expecting positive regression in this regard than spending precious resources overhauling the unit.