This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Los Angeles Rams
Quarterback Jared Goff and coach Sean McVay will need to return to their 2017-18 form for the Rams to overcome losing key players on both sides of the ball. The NFC West also is arguably the toughest division in the league, so it may be an uphill climb to a playoff berth for Los Angeles.
- RB Cam Akers (Rd. 2, No. 52 – Florida State)
Multidimensional talent could climb the depth chart quickly.
- WR Van Jefferson (Rd. 2, No. 57 – Florida)
A well-rounded receiver, he likely checks out as a long-term project.
- LB Terrell Lewis (Rd. 3, No. 84 – Alabama)
Impact pass rusher just needs to put injury concerns behind him.
- K Sam Sloman (Rd. 7, No. 248 – Miami (OH))
- RB Todd Gurley (to Falcons)
As a bell-cow back, he scored 54 touchdowns over the past three years.
- WR Brandin Cooks (to Texans)
Burner enters his seventh season with his fourth organization.
- K Greg Zuerlein (to Cowboys)
The veteran missed nine field-goal attempts in 2019.
- LB Dante Fowler (to Falcons)
The third overall pick in 2015 had 11.5 sacks in a breakout 2019 season.
A Look Under the Hood
Head Coach: Sean McVay (Year 4)
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin O'Connell (Year 1) - West Coast (wide/outside zone)
Defensive Coordinator: Brandon Staley (Year 1) - 3-4 scheme
2020 Vegas Projected Wins: 8.5 (T-14th)
2019 Record: 9-7
2019 Points Scored: 394 (11th)
2019 Points Allowed: 364 (17th)
2019 Point Differential: +30 (12th)
2019 Run-Play Rate: 38.0 percent (25th)
2019 Situation-Neutral Pace: 28.30 seconds per play (3rd)
2019 Offensive Snaps: 1,055 (8th)
2019 PFF O-Line Ranking: No. 31
Projected 2020 Depth Chart
New-Look Rams Will Need Sean McVay at His Best
After pushing the chips all in for the 2019 campaign, the Rams never kicked their Super Bowl LIII hangover, finishing 9-7 and missing the postseason. The 2020 roster looks much different on both sides of the ball.
With feature back Todd Gurley and field stretcher Brandin Cooks elsewhere, there are question marks on offense, whereas the departures of Cory Littleton, Eric Weddle, Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews and Nickell Robey-Coleman leave the Rams far less experienced on defense.
Coach Sean McVay has his work cut out for him, especially with the NFC West projected to be one of the best divisions in the NFL. It's not all doom and gloom, though.
The offense has plenty of weapons, and quarterback Jared Goff is 33-14 with a respectable 95.4 passer rating and the fifth-most touchdown passes (82, tied with Drew Brees) over the past three years. Additionally, the offense averaged 29.0 points per game over the final five contests of last season.
On defense, Pro Bowlers Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are around to make life difficult for opposing offenses, but can first-time defensive coordinator Brandon Staley mitigate all the personnel changes? McVay has shown a knack for maximizing talent, and if Staley can follow suit, Los Angeles could emerge from this untraditional offseason as a sleeper to make the playoffs.
One of the Rams' mainstays, Aaron Donald will wreak havoc up front no matter who's behind him.
How Long Before Cam Akers Leads the Backfield?
Todd Gurley easily paced the league in scoring for non-kickers (332 points) on the third-most touches (912) over the last three seasons, so the Rams have a huge backfield void to fill after cutting the three-time Pro Bowler in March. While a committee approach is all but a foregone conclusion to start the year, 2020 second-round selection Cam Akers could take the lead role over the course of the campaign.
Malcolm Brown is an adequate complementary back, but his upside is limited, and he's been injured in each of the past three years. Still, he's trusted and will have a role. Similarly, Darrell Henderson can make plays in space and is a capable receiver out of the backfield, but he doesn't profile as a three-down back.
Akers offers the complete package. A five-star recruit, Akers set the freshman rushing record (1,024 yards) at Florida State in 2017 and capped off his junior season with 1,369 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns last year. He also showed off his versatility with 69 catches for 486 yards and seven scores during his collegiate career.
His numbers are all the more impressive considering the underwhelming offensive lines he ran behind – 67 percent of his rushing yards in 2019 came after contact. Expect coach Sean McVay to turn to Akers more and more as the season progresses.
Tyler Higbee's Talent Was Never in Question
Regarded among the best receiving tight ends in the 2016 draft class, Tyler Higbee's late-season breakout last year probably shouldn't have been such a surprise. Although he slipped to the fourth round in that draft because of off-field concerns and his injury history, the converted receiver was touted as a freakish athlete with excellent hands and big-play ability after the catch. In fact, blocking was considered his weakness.
Jump to September 2019, and the Rams signed Higbee to a four-year, $29 million extension primarily due to his work in the trenches. The deal is a bargain now, after the fourth-year pro dominated in a three-down role over the final five games of last season. The stretch was reminiscent of Jordan Reed's play when Rams coach Sean McVay was serving as the tight end's offensive coordinator in Washington from 2014-16.
Entering 2020, Higbee should be leaned on in the passing game and once again lead his position group in offensive snaps. There will be competition from the equally gifted Gerald Everett, but the Rams project to utilize enough looks with two tight ends for both Higbee and Everett to contribute. Targets also opened up with receiver Brandin Cooks shipped to Houston. All in all, Higbee is another example of a tight end who just needed time to put it all together at the highest level.
⬆️ Rising: TE Tyler Higbee
Already a proven blocker, the 27-year-old tight end broke out with 43 receptions for 522 yards and two scores over the final five games of 2019. The Rams also project to feature plenty of two-tight end sets again this year.
⬇️ Falling: TE Gerald Everett
Plus athleticism has always been Everett's calling card, but the fourth-year tight end has failed to carve out a consistent role in the Rams offense. It's likely too early to write off the 2017 second-round pick, though.
😴 Sleeper: WR Josh Reynolds
The 6-3, 196-pound receiver should start the campaign as the Rams' vertical threat. Reynolds has flashed upside over his first three seasons, but 2020 could be his best chance to cash in on his size-speed combo.
🌟 Pivotal Player: Cooper Kupp
The overachiever posted a career-high 94-1,161-10 line on 134 targets in 2019 and should remain a reliable option for the Rams offense. Kupp's elite route running and hands have solidified his chemistry with quarterback Jared Goff, and the fourth-year receiver profiles as a high-floor, high-ceiling fantasy contributor.
Cooper Kupp's consistency makes him an easy game-day decision for fantasy purposes.