2021 Rams Offseason Preview

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Hayden Winks
·11 min read
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My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

Rams 2020 Recap

Rams2020
Rams2020

The Rams had the best defense in the league last season, finishing 1st in points allowed, 2nd in passing EPA, 2nd in rushing EPA, and 2nd in adjusted sack rate. Ex-DC Brandon Staley was masterful in his usage of cornerstones Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, plus maximized the secondary with his revolutionary two-high safety setup. Regression is coming given the Rams’ suspect salary cap and Staley’s departure, but the offense is a near lock to improve with Matthew Stafford in town. Sean McVay can dial up more 15+ air yard passes (29th) and that alone should improve the Rams’ No. 22 ranking in points scored. The Rams’ range of outcomes are wide, but a 2021 Super Bowl run is certainly within them. It’s the most stars and scrubs team heading into the offseason.

Rams 2021 Offseason

Notes

Rams Cap Space

-$34.7 million (30th)

Rams Draft Picks

2.57, 6th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

Rams Departures

SS John Johnson, CB Darious Williams, EDGE Leonard Floyd, Slot CB Troy Hill, FS Jordan Fuller, C Austin Blythe, WR Josh Reynolds, TE Gerald Everett, RB Malcolm Brown

Rams Cut Candidates

LT Andrew Whitworth ($5.3M cap savings), RT Rob Havenstein ($5.2M), DE Michael Brockers ($4.6M), LB Kenny Young ($2.2M)

Rams Depth Chart

StaffordGoff
StaffordGoff

Offensive Coordinator: The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue believes Sean McVay hired a defensive coordinator with head coaching experience because he wants to drop some of the head coaching responsibilities in order to be more hands-on with the offense. Of course, he already was among the most offensive leaning head coaches in the NFL, but it goes to show how frustrated he was with his 2020 offense. The Rams were slower paced (12th) last season than the year prior, were more balanced (7th) in neutral situations, and were primarily limited to shallow passing (29th in average depth of target). With Jared Goff’s deficiencies out the way, expect the vertical passing offense to return. The overall ceiling has been raised significantly, and they have the skill talent to make a push even if the offensive line has some holes.

Passing Offense: The eye test has always been kind to Matthew Stafford, and he finally has the coaching and receiving talent to bring his game to the next level. Over the last four seasons, Stafford has ranked 26th, 15th, 33rd, and 29th in percentage of plays coming off play action. Goff was 5th, 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd. Stafford inheriting play action paves the path for a potential career-best efficiency season. He’ll primarily be throwing to Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, and it’s possible a Marvin Jones-level player rounds out the three-receiver starting lineup instead of low-ceiling No. 3 Van Jefferson. After a frustrating tight end committee, Tyler Higbee has blow-up potential in 2021 as the clear-cut top option. Gerald Everett isn’t returning and 2020 fourth-rounder Brycen Hopkins only played two snaps as a rookie. Higbee is a post-hype sleeper, particularly if the Rams can’t afford a Jefferson upgrade.

Rushing Offense: Sean McVay puts his offensive line in a tremendous spot by using motion, short-area passing, and play-action. They ranked second in adjusted sack rate despite starting castaways and Day 2/3 youngsters. For now, only C Austin Blythe is set to leave this offseason, although both tackles, LT Andrew Whitworth and RT Rob Havenstein, may have to take pay cuts to remain on the roster. Continuity and good coaching will have this unit playing better than their individual talents would suggest. At running back, the rotation will switch from three backs to two with Malcolm Brown off the books. McVay thinks Cam Akers is “an every-down back”, and that’s how he used him down the stretch last year when Akers’ expected PPR points average jumped from 3.6 to 13.7 following the Week 9 bye (full splits column). It’s Akers backfield to lose even with Darrell Henderson providing valuable one-cut running as the No. 2.

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Position

Base Defense

Notable Backups

Coverage

Cover 2/4

-

% of Plays

???

-

CB

David Long

CB

???

CB (Slot)

Jalen Ramsey

SS

Terrell Burgess

Nick Scott

FS

Taylor Rapp

LB

Kenny Young

Troy Reeder

LB

Micah Kiser

DT (1T)

Sebastian Joseph

Greg Gaines

DT (3T)

Aaron Donald

A'Shawn Robinson

DT (3T)

Michael Brockers

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Edge

Justin Hollins

Terrell Lewis

Defensive Coordinator: The Rams lost DC Brandon Staley -- my generation’s Vic Fangio -- to the Chargers this offseason. Staley brought defensive coverages to the modern era, using two-high safeties more than anyone while having as few defenders in the box as possible. The goal simply was to stop the intermediate and deep pass, even if that exposed them to positive runs. Despite running a single-high defense in Atlanta that played quarters at the second lowest rate (2%), new DC Raheem Morris is likely to retain most of the core principles of last year’s quarters unit just because it was so successful with these defensive stars. The difference in ancillary talent is a concern, however, with CB2 Darius Williams, SS John Johnson, and EDGE Leonard Floyd all looking at free agency paydays.

Passing Defense: 2020 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald led the league in quarterback hurries (69) and tied for the lead with 15.0 sacks. The rest of the pass-rushing unit is sub-par though with OLB Leonard Floyd hitting free agency and DT Michael Brockers potentially on the chopping block ($4.6M cap savings). It’s an issue because the Rams don’t blitz often (27%, 19th). Perhaps 2019 fifth-rounder Justin Hollins or 2020 third-rounder Terrell Lewis have a breakout season. The secondary is also stars and scrubs driven. Jalen Ramsey is the best defensive back for my money, but breakout CB2 Darious Williams and SS John Johnson will be looking for paydays. Williams is the far bigger priority between the two with 2019 second-rounder Taylor Rapp and 2020 third-rounder Terrell Burgess as future starters at safety. Overall, some regression is expected, but the Rams still have the makings of a top-eight passing defense. They were No. 2 in passing EPA last year.

Rushing Defense : Stopping the run isn’t much of a priority in Los Angeles, yet they still were very good at it. They were often minus-one or minus-two in the box but managed to finish No. 2 in rushing EPA. The success starts at defensive tackle with Donald and 2019 sixth-round overachieving NT Sebastian Joseph-Day, who is more twitched up than most run at the position. He could see an uptick in snaps with Brockers aging out. If there’s an obvious weakness in L.A.’s defense, it’s at linebacker. Kenny Young, Troy Reeder, and Micah Kiser are all backup-level players and former Day 3 picks or undrafted free agents. The Rams’ front office obviously believes the position doesn’t matter much. I tend to agree.

Rams Team Needs

1. Corner(s) - The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue reports the Rams “don’t plan to get out-matched by another team” when it comes to starting corner Darius Williams. Even if he’s re-signed, the Rams need to find another starter with slot CB Troy Hill departing. Jalen Ramsey played both inside and outside, so the Rams can be flexible here.

2. Linebacker - The Rams had one of the worst linebacker groups last season. 2018 fourth-rounder Kenny Young, 2018 fifth-rounder Micah Kiser, and 2019 UDFA Troy Reeder are all backup-level players. It’s a position that the front office has ignored for years.

3. Center - 2020 starter Austin Blythe is a free agent, and the Rams are thin at offensive line depth. A cheap free agent or late-round rookie will likely be filling this spot. Luckily for Stafford and Akers, Sean McVay does more for his offensive line than just about any NFL coach.

4. Edge Rusher(s) - Pure outside linebackers are needed. The Rams may not be able to make the money work to retain OLB Leonard Floyd, and they only have boom-bust youngsters behind him. 2018 fifth-rounder Justin Hollins and 2020 third-rounder Terrell Lewis have athletic upside if they can stay healthy.

5. Offensive Tackle - Both of last year’s starters are currently on the roster, but both may have to take a pay cut to remain on the roster. Finding the long-term replacement for 39-year-old LB Andrew Whitworth is on the to-do list.

2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

Cam Akers (RB1) - After winning the job, Akers had touch totals of 22, 32, 18, 25, 30, and 19 (and some of those were on a bum ankle). The workload projects to be strong, and Akers always profiled as a three-down workhorse. With Stafford elevating the ceiling of the offense, Akers has top-five within his range of outcomes. His floor is just lower than others ranked around him because Henderson is a high-end backup.

Robert Woods (WR1/2) - Sean McVay is going to scheme Woods touches near the line of scrimmage, but he’ll now get the intermediate targets that Goff was hesitant to rip. The Rams’ cap situation prevents a better receiver from entering the mix, so a repeat of last year’s WR16 per game (16.0 PPR) finish feels appropriate. If the offense booms, Woods could be a low-end WR1. He’s only 29 years old.

Cooper Kupp (WR2/3) - Woods is just better than Kupp, who was the WR30 per game (14.0 PPR) last season. But both receivers stand to benefit from the quarterback upgrade. Kupp, 28, is a positive regression candidate after only scoring three touchdowns in 2020.

Matthew Stafford (QB1/2) - Stafford only was the QB23 per game last year, but everything is pointing up. The coaching upgrade is substantial, and the skill talent is some of the best he’s been around since Calvin Johnson’s retirement. Aside from the offensive line lacking high-end talent, there’s little reason to doubt Stafford’s passing potential in 2021.

Tyler Higbee (TE1/2) - Sadly a major box score disappointment, Higbee at least finished as the TE4 out of 43 qualifiers in my efficiency stat PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (+2.0) last year. He’s been a high-value target when given looks, and Gerald Everett is unlikely to re-sign. 2020 fourth-rounder Brycen Hopkins played just two snaps as a rookie, too, clearing the path to a Higbee post-hype takeoff in 2021. I’ll be putting my clown mask on and ranking him highly again this offseason. Wish me luck.

Darrell Henderson (RB4) - The Rams drafted Akers in the second round one year after drafting Henderson who has just 771 rushing yards through two seasons. He’s an explosive one-cut runner but offers little beyond that. He’ll be a distant 1B in McVay’s offense but is one ankle role away from having the backfield largely to himself. There’s an obvious path to a ceiling.

FA Gerald Everett (TE2/3) - Everett, 27, is coming off a career-highs in targets (62), catches (41), and receiving yards (417), and there aren’t many good receiving tight ends right now. Nick Mensio has him as the No. 3 free agent at the position, so Everett has a reasonable chance of finding a clear-cut starting job this offseason. Among 55 tight ends last year, Everett ranked 20th in yards per route run.