The Los Angeles Rams are set to kickoff their 2023 campaign on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. As the team travels to Seattle for their season opener, there is a great deal of uncertainty that surrounds this year’s version of the Rams.
Anticipation for the new season is high and the range of outcomes for LA are nearly as wide as they come. Who will the Rams be this year?
These are three things I think ahead of the start of the regular season:
This season hinges on the health and performance of LA’s three star players
The Rams hoping for a “competitive rebuild” which is a buzzword that’s caught on around the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans are other franchises that are looking to stay frisky as they pivot a more sustainable roster building approach moving forward.
LA’s three “load bearing walls”—QB Matthew Stafford, WR Cooper Kupp, and DE Aaron Donald—all saw their 2022 seasons cut short by injury. Will these star players pick up where they left off and help lead a quick turnaround for the franchise, or is this the beginning of the end for the core that brought a championship to the city of Los Angeles?
These pillars are already looking shaky, as Kupp recently had a setback with his hamstring injury and is likely to miss the first game in Seattle. The bigger question is how long will Kupp be absent and whether he can produce at the level we are used to seeing from him once he’s back on the field. Can Stafford produce without his star receiver? We know how productive the duo are together, but we haven’t really seen the quarterback without his favorite pass catcher.
You really have to wonder why the Rams didn't play it cautious with Cooper Kupp to begin with. Why play him for joint practices against the Broncos? Hamstring injuries linger.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) September 5, 2023
This should have been his first week back at practice if we're being honest.
These three star players were supposed to fortify the Rams and help transition to the next generation of the roster that is primed for contention. If everything else falls apart around them, perhaps Los Angeles will be forced to embrace a full-scale rebuild and look for their next set of load bearing walls. Perhaps the Rams are able to thread the needle and are only a few roster tweaks away from returning to contention in 2024.
Time will tell.
I have confidence in LA’s young secondary...
But the front seven are downright concerning
The late-offseason veteran signings of corner Ahkello Witherspoon and safety John Johnson were very New England Patriots-like. Witherspoon gives the Rams size at the corner position that they were otherwise missing, which will be helpful to matchup against larger players in their own division like DK Metcalf. LA is expecting a big step forward from their two second-year safeties in Russ Yeast (project starter at SS) and Quentin Lake (dime/hybrid LB), but Johnson provides insurance at both roles if either go down with injury or don’t perform up to expectations.
Rookie sixth-rounder Tre Tomlinson impressed over the preseason and should start on the outside opposite Witherspoon—even over second-year corner Derion Kendrick. Cobie Durant is primed for a breakout season on the inside and should be the Rams’ best defensive player not named Aaron Donald.
I have confidence in this secondary, but I’m not nearly as optimistic about the defensive line and linebacker corps.
The team cut Marquise Copeland, who played in Super Bowl LVI and is now on the practice squad. Earnest Brown, Bobby Brown, and Kobie Turner are younger, emerging players who should have significant roles next to Donald on the defensive line. Veteran Jonah Williams flashed some pass rushing juice in the preseason and he provides a reliable presence in a younger group. On the edge LA is relying on a rookie third-round pick in Bryon Young and a player that converted from the interior less than a year ago in Michael Hoecht. There’s not many alternatives on the roster either.
I am not expecting Ernest Jones to be much of a difference maker. He may make most of his impact as an interior blitzer, but over the last couple of years he’s been inconsistent in pass coverage. If Jones goes down with injury there are only a couple former UDFA’s behind him in Christian Rozeboom and Jake Hummel.
As offenses throw their counterpunch to defenses that are running more and more two high safety shells and playing gap-and-a-half in the running game, more teams are going to rely heavily on the ground attack. Are the Rams built up front to stop the run and force teams to throw—where the secondary is a stronger personnel unit and Donald can have more of an impact as a pass rusher?
The offense building leads early could also help the defense out, but should we really expect much improvement over last season from them?
The Rams are primed to win six or seven games
Some of your favorite Rams pundits will tell you that the team is fully capable of making the playoffs, but I just don’t see that as being realistic given the state of the roster.
Sure, I think LA will be better overall then they were a year ago; however, their roster closely resembles the Detroit Lions teams that surrounding Stafford for most of his career. Effectively, Stafford has turned the Rams into the Lions—and we should adjust our expectations accordingly.
The Rams aren’t going to be in contention for the first overall pick, and they probably won’t even be bad enough to land in the top three or five. They should still plan for the future and position themselves to find their next franchise quarterback in a year where the options seem plentiful.