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2017 or 2023 Rams: Which team was set up better for success?

Were the 2017 or 2023 Rams set up better for success?

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams are entering a season with a lot of uncertainty. They are coming off of a 5-12 season and after offloading most of their star players, a rebuilding or re-tooling year looks to be on the horizon.

This isn’t the first time that the Rams under McVay and Snead have had to take on this sort of challenge. When McVay took over in 2017, following a 4-12 season in which the Rams lost 11 of their final 12 games, the future didn’t necessarily look bright. McVay was a young, unproven head coach. Jared Goff was considered a bust after he went 0-7 as a starting quarterback. The big free agent signings were an aging left tackle and wide receiver who had never eclipsed 700 yards in a season. That doesn’t mention, they didn’t have a first round pick.

Following the draft, the Rams’ win odds were set at 5.5 games. Those current odds are set at 6.5. However, ESPN’s Mike Clay has the Rams projected to win 4.9 games and Cynthia Frelund has them projected at 6.9 wins.

This is the bleakest the Rams’ outlook has been since McVay took over and that year, that team finished 11-5.

With those similarities, I thought it might be a fun exercise to compare the Rams heading into 2017 and compare them to the Rams now. Are these current Rams set up for that same sort of surprise run?


Heading into the 2017 season, there were a lot of questions regarding the quarterback position. Jared Goff was coming off of one of the worst seasons ever for a rookie quarterback. The Rams went 0-7 while Goff threw five touchdowns to seven interceptions. The narrative around Goff got so bad, Eric Dickerson suggested that the Rams should start Sean Mannion over Goff heading into 2017.

Comparatively, the Rams also have a lot of questions surrounding the quarterback position heading into 2023. We know what Matthew Stafford can be in this offense. However, he enters the season another year older and after a season plagued by injuries.

Stafford in 2021 was a top-5 quarterback. Will we see that Stafford again or is he officially on the physical decline? If the Rams do end up with a top-5 pick, would they take one of the top quarterbacks that are projected to come out next year?

The Rams quarterback situation is far from rock solid. However, where the 2023 Rams may have the advantage is that we’ve seen what Stafford can do in this offense whereas Goff was leaning towards “bust” status.

Advantage: 2023 Rams

Running Back

The one position that the Rams had figured out in 2017 was the running back position. Todd Gurley had a down year in 2016, but did win Rookie of the Year the season before. The Rams lacked some depth behind Gurley, but he had at least proven that he could be someone to carry the load.

Heading into 2023, the Rams need Cam Akers to pick up where he left off. That may be easier said than done as there are still question marks on the offensive line and Akers’ production came against lower-ranked run defenses. The 2023 Rams do have some depth behind Akers with Kyren Williams and Zach Evans which should benefit the offense. Still, Gurley and 2017 hold a significant advantage.

Advantage: 2017 Rams

Tight End

Even seven years later, Tyler Higbee remains the face of the tight end position for the Rams. Coming into the 2017 season, the Rams had Higbee and then just drafted Gerald Everett with their first selection in the second round. There was a lot of unknown at the tight end position heading into 2017. Higbee was going into his second year while Everett was coming from a small school to the NFL.

The Rams tight end room heading into 2023 looks much better. Higbee is more developed as a player. Still, there is some unknown with Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Long, and Davis Allen. With that said, that’s a lot of depth which is something the Rams didn't have going into McVay’s first year.

Advantage: 2023 Rams

Wide Receiver

The wide receiver position is where things get interesting. Looking at the end result, it’s pretty clear that the 2017 Rams were better here. However, following free agency and the draft, there were a lot of question marks about this position group. McVay and Snead did a complete overhaul. Brian Quick and Kenny Britt were both let go and replaced with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Woods had never eclipsed 700 yards in a season while Kupp was a coming from a small school at Eastern Washington and was drafted in the third-round.

While Woods and Kupp each finished with over 750 yards in 2017, that wasn’t necessarily expected at the beginning of the process. There were serious questions on whether or not the Rams had a legitimate wide receiver group.

Now, much of the same can be said about the wide receivers outside of Kupp. Behind Kupp, the Rams have Van Jefferson, TuTu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, and Puka Nacua. Jefferson did have a quiet 800 yard season in 2021. After Jefferson, Atwell is unproven while Skowronken works better as a fourth wide receiver. Nacua has drawn comparisons to Woods because of his play style, but will just be a rookie.

2023 may get the advantage simply because of the fact that Kupp is a top-5 wide receiver and Jefferson has proven that he can be a second option behind Kupp as he did in 2021. However, behind those two, this isn’t a group that you feel great about heading into the year.

Advantage: 2023 Rams

Offensive Line

The offensive line is another position that’s interesting and is a close call. Of course, at the end of the 2017 season, the Rams had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Going into the season, it was not seen that way. In fact, USA Today’s Nate Davis ranked the Rams offensive line 23rd heading into the season.

Whitworth and Sullivan were both aging players at their positions. Following a solid rookie year, Havenstein had a sophomore slump and it was uncertain if he could be the guy at right tackle. Additionally, Rodger Saffold had his injury problems and Jamon Brown was a young player on the interior.

Nobody could have expected Whitworth at 36 years old to play some of the best football of his career.

There are a lot of similar question marks on the current Rams offensive line. Steve Avila should give the Rams some stability on the interior while Havenstein remains the epitome of consistency at right tackle. Outside of that, the Rams are hoping for players like Joe Noteboom, Alaric Jackson, and Brian Allen to stay healthy and play well coming off of injury.

This is a close call. However, I may give the advantage to the 2017 squad. While they had question marks going into the season, they at least had multiple players who had shown that they could play well over the course of a season.

Advantage: 2017 Rams

Defensive Line

There’s really not much of a comparison here. While the Rams lacked a true nose tackle moving to a 3-4 defense in 2017, they still had Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. Ethan Westbrooks and Morgan Fox provided depth behind those two. Brockers alone is an upgrade to what the Rams currently have.

On the current team, it’s Donald and a bunch of sidekicks. Bobby Brown is unproven and Kobie Turner is a rookie. Jonah Williams and Marquise Copeland provide depth, but I don't see them as a huge upgrade over the depth on the 2017 team.

Advantage: 2017 Rams

EDGE Rushers

While the 2017 Rams didn’t have a lot at edge rusher and were rolling out an aging Connor Barwin, it was still more than what they currently have. That 2017 team also had Robert Quinn who finished with 8.5 sacks.

The current group could end up being solid. The issue is, they are all unproven and/or rookies. Byron Young will have a learning curve and Michael Hoecht’s natural position isn’t at edge rusher. Nick Hampton and Keir Thomas are also two very young, unproven players.

In 2017, Quinn had superstar potential and while Barwin was on the decline, he at least had experience at the position in the NFL. The Rams don’t have either of that going into 2023. Young could end up being good. However, as it stands, it’s a position group that still has major question marks.

Advantage: 2017 Rams


For the 2017 team, this all depends on how you view Alec Ogletree. Heading into 2017, he had three seasons with over 100 tackles. During the 2016 season, he had 11 passes defended and nine tackles for loss. Behind him, the Rams had Mark Barron who converted from safety to linebacker and Cory Littleton who wasn’t established yet.

The current Rams team lost Bobby Wagner in the offseason and will be relying on Ernest Jones to take the next step. Behind Jones, the Rams have Christian Rozeboom and Jake Hummel. There are a lot of unproven players here and behind Jones, the Rams will be relying on undrafted free agents.

While Ogletree may not have been a top-15 linebacker, Barron at least provided a solid option next to him. That gives 2017 the slight advantage.

Advantage: 2017 Rams


The Rams cornerbacks weren’t necessarily their strength in 2017, but they still had Trumaine Johnson who remained a good CB1 or CB2 at the very least. Kayvon Webster wasn’t anything special on the opposite side and Nickell Robey-Coleman was a cheap option in the slot. The Rams also had Troy Hill to provide some depth.

While the 2017 Rams cornerbacks weren’t anything to write home about, the fact that they did have a top cornerback option gives them the advantage over the 2023 roster. Cobie Durant is heading into his second season and will be the top cornerback. Derion Kendrick and Robert Rochell behind him remain very unproven. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson could end up being a steal, but he his still a rookie.

Advantage: 2017 Rams


The Rams were rebuilding their safeties in the 2017 season. John Johnson III surprised as late third-round pick and ended up starting. However, not many would have expected him to have the impact that he did heading into the year. Lamarcus Joyner also moved back to safety from cornerback. Joyner had shown flashes at cornerback, but 2017 was his first year as a true safety. Behind them, Blake Countess and Cody Davis provided depth.

Heading into 2023, Jordan Fuller has shown some potential early in his career. Still, he’s struggled to stay healthy. Russ Yeast, Quenin Lake, and Jason Taylor II are also all unproven. With that said, the Rams have shown that they can develop safeties. This is close and may be a wash. For now, the 2017 team gets the edge.

Advantage: 2017 Rams


This isn’t even really a competition. The 2017 Rams had Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein who were two of the best at their position. The current Rams team will be relying on a rookie punter and rookie kicker. That in itself is going to come with bumps.

Advantage: 2017 Rams


While the 2023 Rams may be better at quarterback, tight end, and wide receiver heading into the season, the 2017 team still holds a significant 8-3 advantage. That advantage gets even higher when you consider how the wide receivers developed. Kupp and Woods became one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL.

The 2023 Rams are projected to win more games heading into the season than the 2017 team. However, that 2017 team was set up better for success and to have their surprise run. For the 2023 team, it’s all going to depend on how their young players such as Durant, Young, Kendrick, Yeast, etc. develop. On offense, can Cam Akers become the star running back that the Rams need him to be? Will injury-prone players on the offensive line stay healthy? These are serious questions.

The range of outcomes for the Rams in 2023 is very wide. They could easily finish 5-12 once again with a top-10 pick. However, if their young players on defense step up to the plate and produce and the offensive line protects Stafford, they could finish 11-6 or 10-7. Everything in between is very possible as well.

While the 2017 team was coming off of a disappointing 4-12 season, they added the veteran leadership needed for a significant turnaround. The 2023 team is coming off of a disappointing 5-12 season as well. However, despite getting rid of star players like Ramsey, Floyd, and Wagner, they didn’t replace them. Instead of relying on a veteran like Robert Woods to replace Kenny Britt, they are relying on a rookie like Byron Young to replace Leonard Floyd. The team-building process is significantly different.

Both the 2017 and 2023 teams have some similarities. Still, the 2017 team in McVay’s first season was set up better to make a run than the current team.