The popular thing to do heading into the 2023 NFL season seems to be to have a negative outlook on the Los Angeles Rams. While the Rams made their bed by voiding the roster of talent, there still seems to be an element of being underrated or overlooked heading into the season.
In a previous article, I discussed how it may be unfair to rank a defense with Aaron Donald at 32 heading into the season. However, that also is the case for the Rams offense.
Arif Hasan of the Pro Football Network recently ranked the NFL offenses 1 to 32. Hasan ranked the Rams offense dead last. Here’s what he had to say,
“The worst offense in the NFL belongs to the Los Angeles Rams. Even if we give the Rams some credit for Matthew Stafford potentially rebounding and having a better year in 2023 than he did in 2022, there’s virtually no supporting cast around him. He’s projected to play at a below-average level, but with only Cooper Kupp to throw to and a weak offensive line, there’s little in the way of complete offense. Cam Akers can’t be expected to shoulder a complete season at running back, and a fifth-round receiver like Puka Nacua shouldn’t be expected to take over for Van Jefferson and displace him from the offense entirely. It’s tough to see a Sean McVay offense land at the bottom of the pack, but the Rams intentionally gambled their future for their Super Bowl run, and this is where they end up — a team with more rookies added to the 90-man roster than any other in the NFL.”
Similar to the Rams defense ranking 32nd with Aaron Donald, it seems highly unlikely that an offense coached by Sean McVay with Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Cam Akers is the worst unit in the NFL.
It’s unfair to say that “there’s virtually no supporting cast” around Stafford. Kupp is one year removed from winning the triple crown and Van Jefferson had a very quiet 800 yards receiving that same season.
This isn't to say that the Rams are a top-10 offensive unit. However, are we really saying that they are worse than the Houston Texans with a rookie quarterback in CJ Stroud, Nico Collins as the top wide receiver option, and Dameon Pierce at running back? Or the Carolina Panthers with another rookie quarterback and then DJ Chark and Miles Sanders as the top receiving and rushing options?
The Rams finished 23rd in offense DVOA and 17th in offense EPA last season. Those rankings came in a year in which they were without Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp for half the season and had the worst offensive line in the NFL. That doesn't mention that McVay seemed mentally checked out. If the Rams didn't finish last under those circumstances, it’s hard to see them as the 32nd ranked unit heading into the season especially if those circumstances are even slightly better.
That doesn’t mean that the Rams offense doesn’t have concerns. Akers hasn’t proven that he can carry the load and remain consistent over the course of a season. Most of his yards in 2022 came over a four-game stretch.
How healthy is Matthew Stafford and can Van Jefferson be the WR2 that the Rams need him to be opposite of Kupp? Injuries certainly effected both players last season, but going into 2023 healthy, the Rams need both to step up, especially Jefferson.
The hope for the Rams in 2023 is that the offense can carry the defense while that young group grows in the early portion of the season. After losing Jalen Ramsey, Greg Gaines, Leonard Floyd, and Bobby Wagner, the Rams defense is very young and will have their growing pains. The offense is going to need to be the backbone of the roster and be able to win games while players like Byron Young, Cobie Durant, etc. continue to develop.
Obviously the big concern here is whether or not the Rams offense has the firepower to carry the team as the defense finds its identity. Is the offense built to win 30-28 shootouts week in and week out?
The Rams didn’t significantly improve the offensive line even if they do stay healthy which is a big ask. Avila will provide a big boost, but some of the same issues from last season remain on the roster. Jefferson meanwhile hasn’t shown that he can be a consistent number two threat. Ben Skowronek, TuTu Atwell, and Puka Nacua are also all unproven.
There’s a reason the Rams went out and signed Odell Beckham Jr. at the end of 2021. Had Kupp not taken over the fourth quarter in the Super Bowl after Beckham went down, you could argue that the Bengals win that game. Jefferson finished with four catches for 23 yards on eight targets.
This isn’t to have a negative outlook on the Rams offense. They are far from the worst unit in the NFL as Hasan alludes to in his preseason rankings. However, they may not be a top-10 unit either. It’s fair to question whether or not this group has the firepower to carry the roster like they might need to early on in the season.
A refreshed McVay and healthy Stafford and Kupp will be a big boost to the Rams offense in 2023. Will that be enough to bring back a Rams offense that fans have been more accustomed to since 2017?