The Los Angeles Rams are 2-3 after the first five weeks of the season, but when asked in Sunday’s presser after a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles whether or not there would be any changes, Sean McVay quickly shut that down. However, I do think there should and could be changes sooner than later.
Before I dive into what those changes would look like, here is my progress report on the Rams 2023 starters.
QB Matthew Stafford (Grade: A)
I am obviously not going to advocate to replace him. I think he’s had a much better season than given credit for. It’s quite honestly upsetting his stats don’t show the story. However, he did very much miss a bunch of throws in the 2nd half he should hit, normally hits and it led to the Rams losing this past week.
Stafford should bounce back in a big way this weekend against the Cardinals but furthermore, Stafford should start to really settle in as the weeks progress and he gets back on the same page as Cooper Kupp.
RB Kyren Williams (Grade A-)
Kyren is a consistent jitterbug of a back that offers everything on offense. The main issue for him is his lack of long speed and that explosive burst but he makes the most of what he has to work with athletically and is very solid in the run game. He’s a good starter who is among the top half of the league in just about every category.
Kyren Williams in his first year as a starter has been everything the #Rams could have asked for in their 5th round pick 2nd-year guy:— JAKE ELLENBOGEN (@JKBOGEN) October 9, 2023
3rd in DVOA
5th in VOA
3rd in Success Rate
4th in DYAR
6th in YAR
4th in Pass Pro Efficiency
15th in Rush YDs
T-4th in Rush TDs
12th in First… pic.twitter.com/VXG2o25gfl
WR Cooper Kupp (Grade: A+)
He came back after missing since what week 10 of last year? He dropped a 100-yard receiving game and looks to be the same as he left. He’s awesome. He’s one of the best receivers in the league and he’s only going to elevate everyone around him just like his quarterback Stafford is.
The only concern at all with Kupp is his health. If he stays healthy there really isn’t a hole in his game anyone can exploit.
WR Puka Nacua (Grade: A+)
He surpassed Tutu Atwell as the 2nd receiver and showed everyone that Cooper Kupp won’t hurt his production moving forward. Nacua leads in receptions, he’s second in receiving yards and is having one of the greatest rookie campaigns of all time through these first five games.
His biggest issue is catching right now. He can make some crazy ones but drops like the one on third down in the second half are a bit of a problem. He’s awesome but let’s not act like he can’t be better. His five drops lead the league and McVay even criticized that drop post game.
WR Tutu Atwell (Grade: A)
Atwell found the end zone, Tutu’s speed threat continues to impact defenses whether the ball is in his hands or not. He should have had a 2 touchdown day and a potential go-ahead TD late but Stafford missed him. While Kupp was unavailable to start the season Atwell ascended into a heavy volume role.
He’s going to take a backseat to Kupp and Nacua now but being the third receiver in this offense is still going to offer plenty of opportunities. While we didn’t see it in action against Philly, expect Atwell’s opportunities downfield to open up as the season progresses and defenses focus on the short and intermediate routes of Kupp and Nacua.
TE Tyler Higbee (Grade: B+)
Another very rock solid and consistent starter, the man does it all at tight end. I wish they went to him more on Sunday. Higbee has been consistent up until this fifth game and has made the most of his opportunities.
One thing about Higbee that is most impressive is his improvement over the years as a blocker. This is a former draft prospect many felt would just be a pass catcher and while he’s good at that, Higbee has made significant strides to becoming a very quality blocker as well.
The all-time greatest Ram tight end, there’s nothing to complain about here. It’s why he got his contract extension.
LT Alaric Jackson (Grade: B-)
Jackson has allowed 12 pressures in 4 games, I would like to see him improve. However, he hasn’t let up a sack from Stafford’s blind side and thats a good thing. There is no one you could replace him with if you had to and I think you are fine this year with AJ.
However, long term, Jackson may have to move out of the blindside protector slot, I do expect the Rams to look at other more durable options potentially in the draft or maybe even via trade.
LG Steve Avila (Grade: B-)
Avila has been great in the run game but you do see those rookie woes in pass protection giving up the fifth most pressures at the guard spot. He’s still looking like all the makings of a stud. I do think Avila is someone who is going to hit that Pro Bowl level at his position and could theoretically move over to center over time as well.
Right now, he’s absolutely fine at guard and has been battle tested against some really good defensive fronts to start the season.
C Coleman Shelton (Grade: C+)
Shelton has been stellar in the run game but in pass protection which he has only surrendered one sack, he’s given up more pressures than anyone in the NFL at the center position. Is Brian Allen better? I don’t think so. There is a legit question mark here long term but in the immediate Shelton is the guy.
RG Kevin Dotson (Grade: A-)
Dotson was a late preseason trade who was held back from playing right away because of it. Once he got acclimated to the offense though, Dotson became the 2nd best offensive lineman on the line outside Rob Havenstein in my opinion. He’s been great in pass protection, he really just missed on one bad rep where he allowed a sack, and he’s only given up two pressures in two starts.
I like him as a long term option and I think the Rams need to sign him long-term after this year. I think that was the plan all along with the trade anyway.
RT Rob Havenstein (Grade A)
Big Rob has been excellent. He has only given up nine pressures thus far which is really good and one sack. Havenstein has been great in the run game as well.
Havenstein is signed through 2026 and is the definition of reliable. He provides stability and vision on the right side of this offensive line moving forward.
DL Aaron Donald (Grade: A+)
He’s still the best in the league. He’s tied for 1st in pressures at defensive line, he’s just so dominant and hasn’t fallen off yet no matter how many of the other 31 teams fans wanted him to.
Donald had a down game against the Eagles and credit them for a perfect gameplan in neutralizing his pass rush. However, he’s still very dangerous and he’s all offensive coordinators stay up thinking about the night before a game against the Rams.
DL Kobie Turner (Grade: B-)
The rookie looks good in the run defensive area of his game. His pass rushing isn’t half bad either. I am feeling really good about his long-term future. Kobie Turner is making Les Snead look like a genius more and more each week.
The question is how much better will he get? I sense a bigger ceiling than I originally thought when he was drafted.
DL Jonah Williams (Grade: A-)
He doesn’t offer much as a rusher but man is a stout run defender. I’m very impressed with Williams growth. He is a free agent after the year, I’m curious whether or not the Rams sign him to an extension. Personally, I think he’s worth the price if its in the ball park of what Greg Gaines received this off-season.
Williams has ascended beyond where many felt he could go. He’s one of the best run defenders in all of football right now and he keeps getting better.
OLB Byron Young (Grade: A-)
The 3rd round rookie has been really good the majority of the time. He’s 15th in EDGE pressures in the league and he has four more than rookie Will Anderson. His tackling has been an issue but long-term Byron Young looks to be the real deal.
ILB Ernest Jones (Grade: A)
He’s been flying all over the field making plays. I’m impressed with his ability as a blitzer but more importantly the sideline to sideline ability. He’s done a nice job all across the board as a football player and has stepped up to be a real leader. It will be interesting if he gets a long-term deal.
I think the Rams who normally don’t pay this position long-term are really going to find it hard not to give Jones a contract. He is a well-liked player in the locker room, organization and a fan favorite.
ILB Christian Rozeboom (Grade C-)
He’s had some good and some bad moments on tape this year. I think he’s an average player that has a big time motor. Unfortunately, this will be the guy that gets the label of replacement level going into 2024.
There’s even a chance Rozeboom gets replaced by Jake Hummel or they decide to move a John Johnson or Quentin Lake to the linebacker role full time to give them more reps.
OLB Michael Hoecht (Grade: D)
Hoecht just doesn’t work as an OLB. It was fun last year and I love the guy but its just not working. He hasn’t broken up one pass when targeted. I don’t know why they continue to have him dropping into coverage at a ridiculous pace that leads the league by a lot either.
I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more Ochaun Mathis moving forward but they really need to make a trade for a stud EDGE immediately. Mathis though had two pressures in his first seven pass rushing reps and should get a ramp up in snaps moving forward.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon (Grade: A+)
He’s one of the best corners in football right now. A true shutdown guy with three straight games with a turnover. He’s been a leader in that backend of the defense for the Rams and they’ve needed it. I hope they bring him back but the price could send him elsewhere with the way he’s playing.
Ahkello Witherspoon is having quite the breakout campaign with the #Rams per PFF:— JAKE ELLENBOGEN (@JKBOGEN) October 9, 2023
1st in Reception % Allowed (40.9)
1st in Coverage snaps per Reception (19.2)
2nd in Opp. QB Passer Rating (36.7)
T-2nd in INTs (2)
5th in YAC allowed (28) pic.twitter.com/P6zWjMM3Eh
With that said, I think they need to sign him long-term. We’ve seen Witherspoon play at this level before when he was healthy in Pittsburgh so it’s not a one-year wonder type of thing. He has great athleticism, size and is now well-coached up. The big thing are the numbers he’s putting up in coverage when you consider who he has faced and how pedestrian the pass rush has been almost the whole year. That’s a lot of time one has to cover great receivers downfield, but Witherspoon has put his head down and gone to work.
CB Derion Kendrick (Grade: B-)
It’s painful. I feel for him. He’s improved big time to the point where I’ll admit I was wrong. However, his lack of discipline with the penalties piling up is starting to kill his momentum and the Rams.
Moving forward teams will target him now knowing he’s the weaker link and furthermore he now has a reputation for the defensive pass interference and referees will be looking at him more closely from here on out. You can make the argument either playing Duke Shelley here or moving Cobie Durant back on the outside might make some sense.
I personally would have a hard time benching him knowing that he’s actually played pretty well aside from a few moments, the problem is the margin for error against these teams is so slim that those moments have cost the Rams games.
The stats do indicate that Kendrick is playing well most of the time though with a 10th rated passer rating when targeted and a 2nd in the league catch percentage when targeted only behind Witherspoon.
CB Cobie Durant (Grade: C-)
Durant has allowed the 8th fewest yards of any slot corner in the league. However, he just hasn’t looked great, zero turnovers despite the fact many including myself felt like he could lead the team in that. Furthermore, his tackling has been abysmal. He must improve and either a move to the outside or the bench might make the most sense.
Do not give up on Durant though, he definitely has what it takes to bounce back. The tackling though? Well, I have some bad news, he’s always been an ankle-biter and that’s not going away.
SAF Russ Yeast (Grade: B-)
I felt he was playing at a very high level up until this Philly game where his play nosedived. I think he will be fine and I like him long term for sure. Not really worried with Yeast he’ll bounce back.
Yeast’s range has been what has impressed me the most. We did see him get manipulated with Jalen Hurts’ eyes on that touchdown play in the red zone. Yeast is probably the Rams best safety though and aside from the Eagles game, he’s looked better each game.
SAF Jordan Fuller (Grade C)
He’s been rough at times and huge in other times. The pass breakup against Philly downfield was great, the forced fumble the week before was great but he’s just not great in coverage and it makes you wonder if Quentin Lake would make more sense to take over as the starter at some point.
Fuller is allowing a 122.9 passer rating when targeted and he’s giving up a team leading 14.1 yards per reception in coverage.
All in all if the Rams made any changes throughout the year I would like to see more reps given to:
RB Zach Evans - Would be best used to spell Ronnie Rivers on occasion and give that home-run threat.
DL Desjuan Johnson - He will likely get more opportunities with the injury to Bobby Brown III unfortunately
OLB Ochaun Mathis - Had ten reps in his first game without preseason or training camp and two pressures. We will see more of him for sure.
ILB Jake Hummel - Haven’t seen him much at all except on special teams, I don’t think he passes Rozeboom but maybe some day he should.
CB Duke Shelley - Was outstanding against the Eagles when Witherspoon left the game because of cramps. He made the play of the game, he was one of the best corners down the stretch of 2022 and could definitely use more reps.
CB Tre Tomlinson - Tomlinson was outstanding in preseason and even joint practices. If the penalties get to be too much with Kendrick or Durant doesn’t turn it up a little bit I see the sixth round stepping in.
SAF Quentin Lake - I might be in the minority here but I think Quentin Lake should be starting over Christian Rozeboom or Jordan Fuller. He’s good, we know he’s good and had one of the best camps of anyone on the team. He’s made some big plays but he barely sees the field in the grand scheme of things.