Ranking the Rams’ 15 positions of need entering free agency
If the reports out of Los Angeles are any indication of how this offseason will go for the Rams, it could be painful. They’re already moving on from Bobby Wagner and likely Leonard Floyd, with Allen Robinson and Jalen Ramsey also being trade candidates.
The roster is in rough shape right now and the team will need to do some remodeling, as Les Snead put it, in order to make it back to the postseason next year.
Looking ahead to free agency, the Rams have a laundry list of roster needs to address. Obviously, they won’t be able to take care of all of them by signing free agents, but they’d like to get a head start on things before the draft.
Here are their 15 positions of need as of now, ranked from biggest to smallest.
Nothing has changed about outside linebacker being the Rams’ biggest position of need this offseason. It’s been that way since, well, even last offseason. If anything, it’s become an even higher priority with the news that the Rams are expected to release Leonard Floyd if they can’t trade him.
If/when the Rams do move on from Floyd, they’ll be left with very few options at outside linebacker. The starters would likely be Michael Hoecht and Daniel Hardy, which is obviously not a very proven or exciting pairing.
The Rams need to find at least one high-caliber edge rusher in free agency or the draft. Otherwise, Aaron Donald will see more blockers than ever before.
There’s a logjam at No. 2 on the Rams’ list of needs. You could convince me that tight end, cornerback, safety or the offensive line as a whole should be second on this list, but I’m going with tight end despite Tyler Higbee still being on the roster. There’s a chance that could change if the Rams trade or cut him, and if that happens, Brycen Hopkins would be left as the starter.
The draft is an excellent place to find a tight end this year, given how strong the class is, and I fully expect the Rams to select one at some point – potentially at No. 36 overall. Mike Gesicki or Irv Smith Jr. could also be options in free agency.
This offense just needs a more athletic and speedy tight end to operate between the numbers.
The Jalen Ramsey trade rumors haven’t subsided yet, and it doesn’t seem like they will soon. That doesn’t mean the Rams are going to move him, but it’s at least a consideration. That’s a risky proposition for a team that also has two other cornerbacks hitting free agency and a host of younger, unproven players in the secondary.
Even if Ramsey stays, the Rams are looking at two of Derion Kendrick, Cobie Durant and Robert Rochell starting alongside him. Durant has looked the best of the three, but even he has work to do as a starting cornerback.
This position should be a very high priority for Los Angeles, needing coverage players to make up for the poor pass rush this defense is likely to have in 2023.
Brian Allen is still under contract after signing an extension last offseason, but he missed 10 games last season due to injury, which has been a problem during his NFL career. The Rams can move on from Allen and it’s something they might consider doing, potentially seeking an upgrade by finding a bigger and more powerful center on the interior.
The center position is critical to the success of the offense, both from a passing perspective and in the running game. If your center can’t keep nose tackles out of the backfield, it’s going to be a long day on offense.
David Edwards and Coleman Shelton are both pending free agents, as is Oday Aboushi. The Rams don’t currently know who their starting guards will be in 2023, though Logan Bruss will get another crack at one spot after tearing his ACL last summer.
Alaric Jackson and Joe Noteboom are both candidates to play either guard or tackle, potentially both starting somewhere up front. But even if one of them plays guard, that position won’t necessarily be a strength of this offensive line. It should be a position they consider signing a proven starter at.
Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott are both pending free agents for the Rams this offseason, which could have Jordan Fuller back in a starting role next season. If he is, Russ Yeast or Quentin Lake could potentially be the starter next to him. either way, that’s a group of three safeties who were all drafted in either the sixth or seventh rounds.
The incoming safety class isn’t the most exciting or athletic, but there will be realistic targets in free agency if the Rams aren’t keen on starting Fuller, Yeast or Lake. It’s just not a position they’ve prioritized very highly over the years, finding cheap talent to man the back half.
This won’t be a very big need if the Rams manage to re-sign Greg Gaines. If he leaves, Bobby Brown III could be asked to step up, as he did late last season. Even with Brown in the mix, the Rams could use another big body on the interior to line up next to Donald.
What Gaines offers that many other nose tackles don’t is pass-rush ability. Though he took a step back in that area in 2022 compared to the year prior, he’s still a decent pass rusher considering the position he plays. Nose tackle isn’t a premier position, and it might be one of the least prioritized for the Rams, but they can’t go into the season as thin as they’re projected to be right now.
Defensive end is in a similar state as nose tackle. A’Shawn Robinson is a pending free agent and the top player behind him at that spot is Earnest Brown IV, who has done very little in his first two seasons with the Rams.
Robinson wasn’t much of a pass rusher and despite his impact as a run defender, he’s probably not going to be a top priority for Los Angeles in free agency because of it. His position is one that should have a player with pass-rush upside lining up there, complementing Donald on the interior and the edge rushers. That can just be hard to find, especially in free agency.
This wasn’t on the list of priority positions until the team decided to part ways with Bobby Wagner, which opens up a sizable hole at inside linebacker. Losing Wagner would seem to make it a bigger positional need, but with Ernest Jones still in the mix and with the way the Rams rarely sink meaningful assets into this group, it’s not a spot they’re expected to pay big for.
The problem is depth behind Jones. Travin Howard could probably be brought back relatively easily, but there aren’t many other options on the roster.
As previously mentioned in the guard section, the Rams have Jackson and Noteboom who are both capable of playing left tackle and it’s possible there will be an open competition between the two of them in training camp with the “loser” of that battle potentially playing guard.
Rob Havenstein will remain at right tackle, but if the Rams aren’t confident in either Noteboom or Jackson – which is reasonable to think – they could look elsewhere for an upgrade, potentially in the form of a proven veteran in free agency. Adding a future replacement in the draft could also be an option.
Allen Robinson is on the trade block but because of his contract, the Rams can’t cut him and save any money. So unless he’s dealt, he’ll be on the roster. That doesn’t lessen the Rams’ need for a wide receiver, though. They could still use some depth behind Kupp, Robinson and Tutu Atwell, who’s still somewhat of a mystery as an NFL receiver.
The Rams shouldn’t go out and sign a top-flight receiver or use their top pick on one, but a little bit of depth wouldn’t hurt.
Matt Gay wasn’t franchise tagged and is expected to have plenty of suitors in free agency because as the Rams know, it’s hard to find a reliable kicker. That’s exactly why they should re-sign Gay, but matching bigger offers from teams with more cap space could be difficult.
The easiest solution would be to bring back Gay and cement his place on the team for years to come, similar to the way they did with Greg Zuerlein.
Matthew Stafford will be back as the starter but the Rams don’t have a good option behind him. They learned that the hard way last year when Stafford went down and they were forced to start three different players after him.
Baker Mayfield would make for a great backup again in 2023, but if he wants to become a starter, he won’t have that option in Los Angeles next season. The draft is a great place for the Rams to not only find a backup, but a potential heir to Stafford in the event that he retires in the next few years.
Cam Akers should be the Rams’ starting running back again in 2023, with Kyren Williams working as his backup. But Los Angeles didn’t feel strongly enough to make Williams the No. 2 guy late in the year, using Malcolm Brown in that role instead.
A big, bruising back or a change-of-pace receiver-type would do the Rams well on offense, someone like either D’Ernest Johnson or Jerick McKinnon, depending on which type of player the Rams prefer. It’s not a big priority, but it’s something they could consider.
Like Gay, Riley Dixon is going to be a free agent, too. He’ll be an even lower priority after a subpar season in Los Angeles last year, and punter isn’t necessarily as important a position as kicker is. The Rams should be able to find a replacement in free agency or late in the draft, so punter is way down on the list of needs this offseason – but it is one because of Dixon’s situation.