Welcome back to our 2018 NFL season review series, where we'll be taking a look at all 32 National Football League teams and how they stack up heading into the new season.
Last time out we previewed the Jacksonville Jaguars as they head into 2018. For a team looking to kick on and make it further in the postseason, the Jags may struggle unless Blake Bortles proves he can take the next big step in his progression as they come up against a stronger schedule featuring seven current and former Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the upcoming season. You can take a look at that here...
Today we're focusing on another side who looked miles better in 2017 than we thought possible; the Los Angeles Rams. Let's get into it...
All the talk about Sean McVay revolved around the fact that he was just so young heading into his first year as a head coach in the NFL. After serving as the Redskins offensive coordinator from 2014 to 2016, handling Kirk Cousins' transition from backup quarterback to franchise figure, the Rams took a chance on the 30-year-old.
It's safe to say that worked out.
The Rams came into 2017 off the back of Jeff Fisher's disaster year that saw them finish 3rd in the NFC West with an awful 4-12 record. It was genuinely incredible to see the Rams have such a bad defense despite Aaron Donald existing and Fisher's usage of 1st overall pick Jared Goff also beggared belief.
McVay turned that around. Goff went from looking like a surefire bust to getting named to the Pro Bowl (as an injury replacement for Carson Wentz.) The Rams went from having the dead last offense to being number one in terms of points scored under McVay's command, with Todd Gurley exploding for over 2000 combined yards and 19 TDs, while Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins experienced renaissances and Cooper Kupp netting 869 receiving yards as a rookie.
On Christmas Eve, the Rams beat the Titans to clinch the NFC West for the first time since 2003 and making their first playoffs since 2004. They finished 11-5 and despite a disappointing Wildcard loss to the Falcons, they still surprised everyone and established themselves as a newfound force.
Free Agency Moves
Oh grief, where do we start.
The Rams made some big additions over the offseason guys. After being damn good in 2017, they project to be great this year and here's why...
Aaron Donald will be partnering in the trenches with Ndamukong Suh.
Jared Goff gets to add Brandin Cooks to his arsenal of weapons.
They have a new cornerback pairing. It's Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. That's unfair. That's a cheat code. Oh and Sam Shields is there now as well, just in case.
This is what happens when you decide to go crazy on Madden for one season and say "screw the funds, screw the cap". It doesn't happen in real life.
Joseph Noteboom - OT, TCU.
Brian Allen - C, Michigan State.
John Franklin-Myers - DE, Stephen F. Austin.
Micah Kiser - LB, Virginia Tech.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo - LB, Oklahoma.
John Kelly - RB, Tennessee.
Jamil Demby - OT, Maine.
Sebastian Joseph-Day - DT, Rutgers.
Trevon Young - DE, Louisville.
Travin Howard - LB, TCU.
Justin Lawler - LB, SMU.
FANS EYE VIEW
In all our 2018 previews we'll be speaking to a fan to get their opinion on the current state of their team. Representing the Rams are the good people from @LARams_UK. Check them out on Twitter and hit that follow button. Here are their thoughts on the season ahead...
GMS: How would you rate the Rams offseason and all the moves they made?
Time will only tell how good the moves made really were, but on paper, the additions are upgrades on last year. Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are top tier Cornerbacks and Ndamukong Suh will plug a huge gap (figuratively and literally) on the defensive line and hopefully improve the Rams against the run.
Brandin Cooks is the only new starter on the offensive side and the hope will be that he connects a lot better with Jared Goff than Sammy Watkins did. The Draft was a depth building exercise for the Rams, with no starters expected from the class.
GMS: What's the general opinion of the job Sean McVay is doing? He had a strong first season.
You’ll struggle to find a Rams fan who has anything negative to say about Sean McVay. He has turned the franchise around from also ran’s into legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the space of a year. I think it was easy to be disappointed with the way the season ended in the playoff defeat to Atlanta, but if you take a step back and look at the improvement as a whole, it was remarkable.
Every Rams fan has faith that McVay can take the team on a deeper run this year.
GMS: How do you feel about the state of the offense?
The offense is in great shape. Jared Goff looks like a franchise QB, and in Todd Gurley, the Rams have probably the most dynamic playmaker in football. The Rams also return all 5 starters on the offensive line (albeit RG Jamon Brown is suspended for 2 games). The starting Wide Receiver group of Cooks, Woods, Kupp is an extremely solid trio, and there is some young depth to compliment them also. The biggest concern would be at Tight End, with Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee yet to produce consistently, although there is high hopes in year two of McVay’s scheme.
GMS: And the defense, you must be excited?
The Rams have improved on the defensive line and at Cornerback, the big question mark is a Linebacker, where Mark Barron is the only remaining starter from 2017. A front 3 of Aaron Donald (if signed), Suh and Michael Brockers will be terrifying for opposing offensive lines and QB. A defensive backfield of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson III should be scary good, and you then have Nickell-Robey Coleman at slot corner to add to the “Lock Angeles” group. How well the new starter at Linebacker fit in may decide how good this group is, however.
GMS: What's your deepest concern for 2018?
The biggest concern for 2018 would probably be the Linebacker group as touched on above. Only Mark Barron has any real experience from the projected starters. Cory Littleton is pencilled in at the other MLB spot. Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre are the expected starters at OLB. All 3 guys have shown flashes, but Ebukam and Longacre were rotational players in 2017 and Littleton more so a Special Teams ace, although he did play well when called upon to start at Linebacker in Tennessee last December, intercepting Marcus Mariota as the Rams clinched the NFC West.
GMS: If the concern isn't Aaron Donald, how are you feeling about his situation?
I still haven’t brought myself to imagine Aaron Donald not being a Ram. He’s is just too good and important for the Rams to walk away, and there will be too much money on offer for Donald to walk away. My feeling is that as the season opener at Oakland gets closer, the two sides will finally find common ground and a deal will be agreed, keeping Aaron as a Ram for years to come.
GMS: Give us a name to watch out for in 2018?
The Rams have star names all over the field now, and one guy who I think joins them is John Johnson III. A third-round pick from Boston College in 2017, he assumed the starting safety role in Week 5 and grew into the position as the weeks went by. Having a full offseason in Wade Phillips’ defense, combined with a new and improved backfield, should see Johnson become an integral part of the team and a recognised force around the league.
GMS: And finally...your crystal ball prediction for the season?
Many people are tagging this as a “Super Bowl or bust” season for the Rams, but I just don’t see it as that. The Rams are going to be a force for years to come and this will be the beginning.
Sean McVay will lead his team to a second consecutive NFC West title and a first postseason win since January 2005. The NFC playoffs will be brutal, but if the Rams step up, they can definitely be playing for their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
Jared Goff was a great asset in 2017 for fantasy players. I myself picked him up off waivers and he helped guide my team to the Playoffs. But heading into the new season he's a risk. He was unprecedentedly efficient last year and the metrics say he won't be able to repeat. That, combined with the Rams defense getting even better and the effect that will have on game scripts, means it's easy to see why Goff is regularly dropping to 16th QB on the board.
Todd Gurley should be the number one player taken in all drafts. There. It's as simple as that. I don't know what else there is to say. He's amazing, can do everything, and unlike 90% of RB1's in the NFL - he's going to stay on the field all three downs. Literal fantasy gold dust.
And then we get to the receiving corps. Brandin Cooks ADP is the middle of the 4th round, which looks nice - but only if you're selecting him as your WR2 with a solid WR1 and two dependable RBs already on your roster. There is a buyer beware here, just because how Jared Goff failed to form a proper connection with Sammy Watkins - who should've been his WR1 but struggled.
You can get Woods and Kupp in the 9th round currently and I'm not sure if I like the value there, with expected Goff regression and the likes of Allen Hurns and Kelvin Benjamin going around them, two guys who could put up very nice TD numbers. Also... don't draft Higbee or Everett. There's no value there, except maybe in daily fantasy.
And please don't take the Rams DEF too high. Defenses are too unpredictable and an injury or two could make them worthless. Please be smarter and let someone else draft them in the 9th/10th round.
I love Sean McVay. He's done wonders for this Rams team in 18 short months. I'm predicting the Rams to have a 12-4 season, Aaron Donald to FINALLY get the money he seriously deserves, the Rams to top the NFC West with ease, grab themselves a bye and reach the NFC Championship.
A Super Bowl? It's a big possibility. Let's see what happens...