Off-season report card: Los Angeles Rams
2016: 4–12, third in NFC West
Significant additions: Head coach Sean McVay, DE Connor Barwin, RB Lance Dunbar, QB Aaron Murray, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, C John Sullivan, DT Tyrunn Walker, CB Kayvon Webster, OT Andrew Whitworth, WR Robert Woods, TE Gerald Everett (R2), WR Cooper Kupp (R3), S John Johnson (R3), WR Josh Reynolds (R4)
Significant losses: C Tim Barnes, WR Kenny Britt, S T.J. McDonald, DE Eugene Sims
The best news about Jared Goff’s rookie year is that it’s over. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft looked lost and overwhelmed during his seven starts last season, games in which the Rams finished 0–7 with a combined scoreline of 221–85. Los Angeles finished the season with the league’s worst offense, both by points and yardage.
The Rams earnestly began their attempt to solve their production woes (and to reverse course on Goff’s trajectory) by hiring new coach Sean McVay, a 31-year-old wunderkind who helped Kirk Cousins play his way into back-to-back franchise tags. In free agency, Rams GM Les Snead revamped his offensive line with the signings of center John Sullivan and outstanding veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth. And then he attempted to find Goff some help via the skill positions by signing free agent Robert Woods and drafting rookies Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds and move TE Gerald Everett.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough playmakers,” McVay said during a press conference following Day 2 of the draft. “And if those guys merit it by the way that they compete in practice, then those guys will be on the field, as well.”
Without question, there are more options for Goff this season. Will they be effective options, though?
Lacking, for the moment, is a clear-cut No. 1 receiver—perennial source of frustration Tavon Austin doesn’t fit that bill, nor does Woods, who served as Sammy Watkins’s sidekick in Buffalo and is cut from a complementary-WR cloth. Kupp was the go-to guy on his Eastern Washington offense, but he doesn’t necessarily have the physical or athletic traits to project as an NFL lead dog. The likeliest candidate is Reynolds, a lanky 6' 3" wide receiver capable of making big plays downfield—at the very least, he could step in as Goff’s preferred target in the red zone. Last year’s team leader in touchdowns (as well as receptions and yards), Kenny Britt, signed a free-agent deal with Cleveland.
How rapidly any development occurs from the newcomers will go a long way in dictating Goff’s chances this season. In reality, though, the recent additions on offense are as much about the future as they are about the ’17 season. L.A. drafted a combination of three tight ends and receivers in 2016 (WRs Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas, TE Tyler Higbee), then matched that number last month.
The benefit, in theory, is that all of these fresh faces can mature together, headed by Goff. Woods, Austin, Whitworth and Sullivan all have been around the block enough times that they should be able to offer some guidance.
But growing pains are inevitable.
For one, McVay still has to decipher exactly how mesh Goff’s skill set with RB Todd Gurley’s game. The former comes from a West Coast-scheme, shotgun-heavy background; the latter is better suited to attack in downhill fashion, with his QB under center.
McVay put both concepts to work in Washington, and he figures to do so again. The additions of Whitworth and Sullivan up front should help the Rams across the board up front, while the overstocked roster of receivers and tight ends will allow McVay to spread the field when he so chooses.
Again, though, this is going to be a steep uphill climb for a bit, which will shift a great deal of pressure onto the Rams’ defense. Helping the cause there is new coordinator Wade Phillips, who brings decades of experience to supplement McVay’s youthful energy. In tune with the transition from their base 4–3 defense to Phillips’s more flexible, 3–4 plan, the Rams picked up Barwin to add a little pop off the edge. They also added D-line depth in Smart and Walker.
The defense kept the Rams in several games last season, only to crumple down the stretch under the weight of the offense’s issues. McVay’s presence, another off-season’s worth of development for Goff and the free-agent/draft additions to the Los Angeles attack should help a bit in 2017.
But expecting too much, too soon would be a mistake. Repairing Goff will be a substantial challenge for McVay, and Goff can be only as good as the unproven talent around him.