The Los Angeles Rams have gotten younger all across the board following a failed Super Bowl repeat. That much has become apparent after the complete demolition of their special teams unit this offseason.
Since the end of the 2022 season, the Rams have watched kicker Matt Gay take his talents to Indy, return specialist Brandon Powell head to Minnesota and veteran punter Riley Dixon head back to Denver. Letting Gay walk in particular will be a move LA comes to regret as the Pro Bowler was one of the best at his position during his time in Hollywood.
Matt Gay deserves so much credit. He launched the Rams into the NFC championship with the Kick in Tampa Bay, then he proved CLUTCH against SF to give the Rams the lead with under 2 minutes left in the 4th qrt. Arguably, Gay had the best year in Rams franchise history as a Kicker pic.twitter.com/SExY6GRpn8— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) April 11, 2022
To replace the production of those three key players, Los Angeles decided to hit the fountain of youth by placing their faith in all rookies. Seriously. Everyone from their long snapper to their kicker is a rookie. Oh boy. We might be in for a rough one Ramily.
The Rams’ four specialists are all rookies.— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) June 8, 2023
◽️Punter Ethan Evans
◽️Long snapper Alex Ward
◽️Kicker Christopher Dunn
◽️Kicker Tanner Brown
It's a 180-degree spin from the grizzled veterans they usually have, writes @JourdanRodrigue. https://t.co/3d58kn1WEd
According to LA’s depth chart projections on ESPN, this is what the unit is shaping up to be heading into the summer:
Losing all that experience could come back to haunt the team in a huge way this year. Sportswriter Rick Gosselin had already ranked the Rams’ special teams 29th in the league despite a second-straight elite showing by Gay. That ranking likely has little to no chance of going up given all the exodus of talent. For one, even though Tutu Atwell is for now listed as a returner, he barely has enough experience in that department. Something he has in common with the rest of his teammates.
Who will be the #Rams returner? Well, here are the most experienced on the roster currently...— JAKE ELLENBOGEN (@JKBOGEN) June 8, 2023
Tutu Atwell: 15
Cooper Kupp: 13
DeMarcus Robinson: 7
Ben Skowronek: 4
Russ Yeast: 1
Tyler Johnson: 1
Van Jefferson: 1
At this time, Atwell is presumably the favorite at returner. His explosive ability will be on full display if given the opportunity. Sean McVay admittedly ran away from utilizing Atwell on offense in ‘22. McVay can’t do that again, especially if he truly means what he says. The Louisville product could be quite the all-around stud assuming a role is ever carved out for him. However, being a returner wasn’t exactly Atwell’s specialty in college so I have a hard time imagining that changing anytime soon.
Before we talk about TuTu Atwell as a punt returner, he returned a total of four punts in college. Four.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) May 1, 2021
He also returned zero kickoffs for the Cardinals if anyone was wondering. Yikes. As for other candidates, Cooper Kupp is way too valuable on offense to risk in the return game. Behind him, no one else can really help, unless they’re comfortable being placed in an unfamiliar position. Perhaps I’m being a downer. Wouldn’t be the first time if you read any of my postgame articles at all last season.
Overall, I’m concerned having a kicking battle between two undrafted rookies. I’m worried about who will step up in the return game. Games are won and lost by special teams. That’s a lot of pressure to put on first-year pros with zero veterans to turn to when times get tough. The offense has Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp to turn to. The defense has Aaron Donald. Special teams has no one and that risky move could prove to be LA’s undoing this season.
Who knows what could happen over the summer and into the preseason. There’s a lot of what-ifs with this Rams team and unfortunately it’s going to be keeping me up until September.