2022 the season was an overwhelmingly disappointing one on the flipside, where the Rams had hopes of “running it back” but instead found themselves on their backs.
It is certain that injuries helped derail the 2022 season for Sean McVay’s team, but there were also some self-inflicted wounds such as focusing on Von Miller in free agency while the edge rusher pool depleted, turning their focus to the splash signing of WR Allen Robinson that produced extremely limited results, failing to adequately replace Darious Williams at the #2 CB spot, and not finding someone to fill Miller’s shoes on the edge of the defense opposite Leonard Floyd.
Is that all that went wrong with the 2022 Rams team? Absolutely not.
But injuries, to a certain extent, are outside of the team’s control. What they can control are identifying last year’s missteps and making incremental improvements to build this team back into a contender.
1 - Find an edge rusher opposite Floyd
Buckle up. There’s a lot to say about this one.
Pass rush and coverage work in tandem with one another, but the Rams need to improve in both aspects on defense this offseason.
The departure of Von Miller shows how multiple pass rushing threats can pressure quarterbacks into forcing throws without the time to properly diagnose the befuddling coverage schemes. This defensive approach resulted in disappointing playoff outings from some high-flying offenses such as Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals.
But the Rams failed to replace Miller in a meaningful way. This affected not only the effectiveness of the team’s pass rush, but also reduced their ability to be multiple in their approach by rotating safeties and leaning on sticky pattern-match coverages. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris never intended to play such soft coverages and allow one underneath completion after another on a routine basis - it was a symptom that the pass rush and coverage were not working in a complementary manner.
So how do you go about fixing that?
Los Angeles reportedly pursued Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers as the trade deadline approached; however, the Panthers decided to stay put - and Burns helped lead the team to a resurgence over the second half of the season. There’s no telling what changes Carolina will make to the front office and/or coaching staff this offseason, so maybe there’s a chance that Burns becomes available at some point. Most likely the OLB will be a building block of the Panthers moving forward, but stranger things have happened.
Finding other trade targets requires using some imagination, but there will be teams looking to acquire draft capital as they look to rebuild or move away from high-priced veterans.
Maybe the Houston Texans are looking at Jonathan Greenard, their former third round pick, and understand that he’s headed into a contract year and might not be part of the future plans. Is a rookie on a four-year deal a better trade-off for them?
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the most underrated player in the NFL: Jonathan Greenard.— Mike Kennedy (@MikeKennedyNFL) November 6, 2021
After having just 1.0 sack in 13 games as a rookie, he already has 7.0 in six games this year. His 84.0 PFF grade is top-10 at his position.
One of the few bright spots in Houston. pic.twitter.com/APtWMbfL5w
With the Las Vegas Raiders likely starting over at quarterback and moving on from Derek Carr, would they field calls on Maxx Crosby? The New York Jets have a crowded room of pass rushers - maybe they are better off allocating resources elsewhere.
Then there are the options set to hit the free agent market. Do names like Lorenzo Carter, Jadeveon Clowney, Dre-Mont Jones, or Yannick Ngakoue excite you? Could the Rams make a play at someone like Marcus Davenport, who’s been an above-average pass rusher at the NFL level but probably hasn’t lived up to the New Orleans Saints trading two first round picks to select him.
While there might be some intriguing pass rusher names on the board at the top of the second round when Los Angeles is on the clock, a team looking to win right now cannot afford to start a rookie at edge defender. There is room for a developmental pass rusher or drafting a rookie for a rotational role, but you won’t find an immediate starter outside of the top 10 picks or so.
2 - Bring in another receiving threat
Notice I didn’t say receiver. A dynamic threat at tight end, albeit rare, could get the job done here as well.
Allen Robinson was a failed experiment and it’s likely the team will move on. None of the veteran’s 33 receptions in 2022 even flashed the ability to work downfield or challenge defenses vertically - and that’s just not going to cut it in this day of the NFL where explosive passes reign king.
Van Jefferson is an adequate third option. Ben Skowronek is fine as WR4. Tutu Atwell has earned his own role on the offense, though he probably doesn’t fit within the traditional depth chart.
WHAT A CATCH BY BEN SKOWRONEK pic.twitter.com/WzpmgRHTSf— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 9, 2022
The Rams are in the market for a number two receiver that has a skillset complementary to that of Cooper Kupp.
The Bengals can’t keep Ja’marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd together forever - can LA lure away someone like Higgins?
It’s not realistic to find a day one starter at edge rusher in the early second round of the draft, but history shows that you can find an immediate contributor at receiver. AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Christian Watson are all recent examples - and you can back as far as Juju Smith-Schuster, Michael Thomas, and Davante Adams. Kupp, Keenan Allen, Terry McLaurin, Chris Godwin, and Stefon Diggs were all drafted after the second round and were productive early.
Don’t be surprised if LA uses its first draft pick to find a receiving threat for Matthew Stafford, and don’t rule out the team picking a tight end.
3 - Invest in a backup to Matthew Stafford
This is another direction the Rams could choose to go with their first draft pick this year, though it’s painful to mention just one year after winning the Super Bowl with Stafford.
Baker Mayfield would be a fantastic insurance policy if Stafford either does not recover fully from his 2022 injuries and isn’t the same player next season or if the franchise quarterback misses time. But Mayfield has impressed during his limited time with the Rams. As the Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan coaching tree’s expand, so does the likelihood that those descendants see Mayfield’s success with McVay and think they can replicate it elsewhere with him as the starter.
Mayfield most likely won’t return to Los Angeles in 2023, so what other options do the Rams have?
The first place I’d turn to is another reclamation project that is set to hit free agency - Drew Lock of the division rival Seattle Seahawks. Lock improved year over year during his college career at the University of Missouri, so it makes sense that he might need time to grow and mature at the NFL level too. Perhaps a year as the understudy with former Rams OC Shane Waldron has helped groom him for a bigger opportunity in LA.
There are also quarterbacks that have worn on their current teams and likely will be playing elsewhere in 2023, and the Rams could talk themselves into taking a shot on talent that hasn’t produced as expected. Some names here would be Davis Mills of the Houston Texans - if they decide to draft a QB with the first overall selection - and Zach Wilson of the New York Jets.
4 - Continue to re-shape the secondary
After drafting cornerback Robert Rochell in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Rams doubled down on secondary investments in 2022 by drafting Cobie Durant (4th round), Quentin Lake (6th round), Derion Kendrick (6th round), and Russ Yeast (7th round).
Rochell and Kendrick have the ideal size for outside corners, but Kendrick is a limited athlete. Both Durant and Rochell have highly athletic profiles, but Durant is limited in terms of size. Rochell is limited by his football skills and acumen, and he very rarely saw the field this season after being thrust into action fairly often as a rookie.
LA drafted both Lake and Yeast knowing in advance that veteran safeties Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott would be hitting the free agent market the following year. Rapp’s days with the Rams are likely over, but the team may decide to re-sign Scott. Jordan Fuller is a relative unknown after he suffered a season-ending injury last year just before the playoffs, replaced by a 37-year old Eric Weddle, relegated to a backup job heading into the regular season, and then suffered another significant injury that ended his season. Lake is also an enigma after he missed the vast majority his rookie season with a knee injury.
It’s clear that the Rams plan to move in a different direction with the secondary. At corner they need to find a #2 option at the boundary corner in order to take some pressure off Jalen Ramsey. If LA cannot re-sign Troy Hill, they need to be honest with themselves if Durant is ready for Hill’s role. Even if the Rams are able to re-sign Scott, they need to bring in solid depth pieces and maybe even another starter.
The ELITE setup from this Cobie Durant INT pic.twitter.com/37If7W6bqF— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) December 25, 2022