This article is part of our Team Previews series.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams' success hinges on how quickly Jared Goff can get acclimated at quarterback. Los Angeles has a budding superstar in Todd Gurley and a standout defense, but teams need at least the threat of a passing game. The playoffs are still unlikely, but that elusive winning record is within reach.
THREE KEY STORY LINES
GOFF – THE REAL DEAL?
The Rams gave away a host of draft picks for Jared Goff, but the prospect of finally getting a franchise quarterback was too much for Los Angeles to pass up. Goff set Pac-12 records with 4,719 passing yards and 43 touchdowns in his junior season, and showed great accuracy on downfield throws – a particularly weak spot for the Rams in recent years. He also won't be expected to carry the team with Todd Gurley in the backfield and being on a Jeff Fisher-coached team. Goff does have experience being thrown into the fire, as he was the first freshman QB to start his collegiate opener at California, but the NFL is a different animal. While Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota both played fairly well, they also were on a bigger stage in college. Being the No. 1 draft pick in the Rams' first season in Los Angeles after years of quarterback futility certainly carries a lot of pressure, and it remains to be seen whether Goff can handle it, especially with a mostly unproven receiving corps. If Gurley keeps improving and WR Tavon Austin becomes a deep threat, however, Goff has the potential for a solid rookie season.
GURLEY READY FOR PRIME TIME?
After a delayed start to his career, Todd Gurley shrugged off any concern about his rehabbed knee by rushing for at least 100 yards in four of his first five games in 2015. Despite having little semblance of a passing attack in St. Louis, he still churned out 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground in 13 contests en route to Offensive Rookie of the Year. There's little evidence to think that he won't at least replicate last season's success, as he's further removed from the ACL tear that ended his stint at Georgia. He won't be able to sneak up on anyone like he did last year, but it's not like teams didn't know that the Rams were a run-first team. Furthermore, the bright lights of L.A. likely won't be a problem for Gurley, who seems to relish the attention. With Tre Mason's status in jeopardy due to an offseason arrest, Gurley shouldn't have much competition for early-down carries and will likely become even more of a workhorse. Should he get more chances on third down, where Benny Cunningham factors in, and the Rams' passing game showcases any sort of consistency, Gurley could easily ascend to elite fantasy status.
THROWBACK RAMS RETURN TO LOS ANGELES ROOTS
The Los Angeles Rams of the past had a bruising reputation, with a punishing running attack and a tenacious defense. Hearkening back to those roots, these Rams employ Todd Gurley, who does the dirty work on the ground, and a defensive front four that strikes fear into opposing offenses. After 12 years without a winning season, the Rams are hoping that will be enough to enter the playoff picture. Los Angeles has two of the best young players in the NFL in Gurley and DT Aaron Donald, not to mention a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in DE Robert Quinn. However, in a pass-heavy league, this will only carry the Rams so far. The back end of the defense needs to improve, especially with QBs Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson on the schedule two times apiece, plus games against the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan. To topple some of those veteran signal-callers and get over the hump, the Rams must achieve offensive equilibrium under the direction of Goff. If the Rams end up near the bottom of the league in passing again, another 6-10 or 5-11 campaign could be in order.
KEY JOB BATTLE
While No. 1 pick Jared Goff is expected to be the starter come September, coach Jeff Fisher hasn't tipped his hand on who will be under center to begin the season. Case Keenum is the incumbent, but certainly didn't light it up in his time starting in 2015. Early indications show Goff is picking up the offense quickly, but will Fisher throw him right into the fire to begin the year? The preseason should sort things out by game three or so, but neither Keenum nor Goff is much of a fantasy option with the limited weapons at their disposal. Their biggest responsibility will be handing the ball off to Todd Gurley.
Gurley exceeded sky-high expectations for his rookie season, finishing third in rushing despite playing just 13 games. He quickly became the focal point of the Rams' offense and tallied five 100-yard contests even with teams stacking the box. With a full, healthy offseason, there's no reason Gurley can't become the premier fantasy running back in the NFL.
RISING: Tavon Austin
The Rams have found the right way to use Austin, as he rushed for more than 400 yards and 8.3 yards per carry with four touchdowns in 2015. Now that he has a QB with a rocket arm, his receiving numbers could improve.
FALLING: Case Keenum
Keenum wasn't atrocious in taking over for Nick Foles last season, but the Rams didn't trade the farm for Jared Goff in order to put him behind Keenum, who is unlikely to play unless the rookie gets hurt or flounders.
SLEEPER: Lance Kendricks
Opting to release Jared Cook in February, the Rams effectively elevated Kendricks to the top of the TE depth chart. While Kendricks hasn't done much fantasy-wise to date, he should earn more targets in the fall.
THE INJURY FRONT
EJ GAINES, CB – After a promising rookie campaign in 2014, Gaines didn't play a snap in 2015 due to a Lisfranc foot injury. The Rams trust Gaines will be healthy and ready to produce this year, as they let Janoris Jenkins go in free agency. The third-year cornerback showed some big-play ability with 70 tackles and a pair of interceptions in his rookie season, and should create a solid combination with Trumaine Johnson on the other side of the field.
Robert Quinn, DE – The 2014 Defensive Player of the Year struggled with back problems for much of 2015 and ended up having season-ending surgery in December. The prolific pass rusher finished with only 21 tackles and five sacks in eight games and was sorely missed on the Rams' defense. Although he was limited in OTAs, he does appear to be on track for the season opener and will return to an intimidating front line with defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Trumaine Johnson, CB – A collision in a June practice left Johnson with a concussion, which isn't a good start to a season in which Los Angeles used its franchise tag on the cornerback. Johnson has quietly picked off the fourth-most passes over the last four seasons with 15, and the Rams desperately need his steadying influence on an inexperienced back end of the defense. All signs point to him being OK for the preseason, but concussions can linger.
Alec Ogletree, LB – Ogletree only played in four games in 2015 due to a fractured fibula but already had 42 tackles and two forced fumbles in that short time. The fourth-year player is a tackle machine, racks up takeaways, and has moved to middle linebacker with James Laurinaitis gone. With Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald clearing space in front of him, Ogletree is primed for a monster season.
MARK BARRON, LB – Barron burst onto the scene with a 16-tackle game in 2015, then finished the season with 116 tackles in 12 starts across 16 contests. He's taking over Alec Ogletree's spot at outside linebacker, where Ogletree amassed a fair number of interceptions and tackles over the past two seasons. While he's still not a household name, the Rams liked him enough to sign him to a five-year, $45 million deal in the offseason, and improving on his career-high tackle total certainly isn't out of the question.
Aaron Donald, DT – Even without fellow defensive lineman Robert Quinn for half of 2015, Donald still dominated opposing offenses from the middle. Making an impact that hasn't been seen from a defensive tackle in a long time, Donald picked up 69 tackles, 11 sacks, and a fumble recovery in 16 games. With Quinn returning and a solid defensive group behind him, Donald is primed to continue his stellar career track.
Jared Goff – QB (Rd. 1, No. 1 – California)
Likely starter hopes to stop the Rams' carousel of quarterbacks.
PHAROH COOPER – WR (Rd. 4, No. 117 – South Carolina)
Provides additional target inside; has run-after-catch ability.
COTY SENSABAUGH – CB (from Titans)
Veteran corner on track to take place of Janoris Jenkins.
Jared Cook – TE (to Packers)
Underperforming tight end was still one of Rams' best threats.
James Laurinaitis – LB (to Saints)
Averaged more than 110 tackles for last seven years.
CHRIS LONG – DE (to Patriots)
Struggled with injuries the past two seasons.
Janoris Jenkins – CB (to Giants)
Boom or bust corner is gone, but there's potential in replacements.
NICK FAIRLEY – DT (to Saints)
Depth at defensive tackle allowed Rams to let Fairley go.