The Update: Los Angeles Rams 2017 Preview

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July 31, 2017
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August 8, 2017

The Update: Los Angeles Rams 2017 Preview

Justis Mosqueda
In an effort to break the two-paragraph preview trend of national writers, Setting the Edge has dedicated themselves to previewing all 32 teams in the NFL in a series called “The Update”, which will focus on:

  1. Where a team stands from a decision-maker standpoint
  2. Where teams were efficient and inefficient last year by using percentile radar charts
  3. Who the moving parts between the 2016 and 2017 seasons were
  4. Where a team is trending heading into the 2017 regular season

Justis Mosqueda will be writing the team previews while Charles McDonald posts film breakdowns based on the writing. After posts on entire divisions are finished, they will discuss teams on division-specific Setting the Edge podcasts which you can find on SoundCloud and iTunes. Five stars only. Tell a friend.

Deep breath. We’re on preview 30 of 32. Let’s get into this one quickly.

Offense:

Backs: Last year, the Los Angeles Rams started both Case Keenum and first overall pick Jared Goff. Keenum, after being hit with a first-round tender the offseason before, signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Goff, the second-year quarterback that the team mortgaged their franchise for, returns as the starter.

The only other quarterback on the Rams roster at the moment is former third-round pick Sean Mannion, who has 13 passes going into the last year of his rookie contract. Mannion has a career passer rating of 43.8.

To say that Los Angeles had any silver lining to their passing game last year would be an absolute lie. The team finished 28th in yards per completion, 29th in sack percentage, 30th in completion percentage and 31st in interception percentage. The inconvenient truth is that Keenum was actually more efficient than Goff in 2016.

I’m not sure Goff is every going to be “the guy.” I was told to stop quoting stats, so I went back and watched every single one of his passes from his rookie season. I gif’d every play of note. Eric Dickerson isn’t the only person outside of Mannion’s immediate family who believes that he’ll start this season. As we mentioned in May, there are some who have caught passes in practice from both of them who are “Team Mannion.”

While former head coach Jeff Fisher is out of the picture, the general manager who packaged picks to trade up for Goff, Les Snead, is still in town. There’s still some loyalty there, but one more year could push Snead out of the door. The Rams opened up in Vegas with a season win total of 5.5 wins, which would give Snead a record in the 36.5-58.5-1 ballpark, with no playoff appearances, in six seasons. Considering the fact that he managed that record while both trading out of the second overall pick for a king’s ransom in 2012 and mortgaging the franchise in 2016, I’m not sure that gets him to 2018 with the same job title. In that situation, we could very well see the Rams give up on Goff after just two seasons, in the middle of “The Battle for LA.”

Chuck’s Two Cents: Pray for Rams’ fans. 

Going into last season, running back Todd Gurley was viewed as one of the NFL’s brightest young stars. After taking 229 carries for a 4.8 yards per carry average, he followed it with 278 carries and a 3.2 yards per carry average in 2016. The Rams were 17th in fumble percentage, 23rd in run percentage, 27th in TFL percentage and 31st in yards per carry last year. Rarely are running backs tackled behind the line of scrimmage due to their own fault, but it’s at least worth noting that he actually had worse blocking, based on TFL percentage, in 2015 than in 2016.

In Gurley’s rookie season of 2015, the Rams had 13.52% of their carries resulting in losses. That was the 2nd-worst mark of any team in the last two years, with the 2016 Detroit Lions posting a 13.71% number. Last year, the Rams “only” had 12.00% of their carries resulting in losses, good for the 11th-worst number in a two-year span.

The team is going to rely on Gurley making a lot out of a little in 2017. There are seven other running backs on the roster, and the non-Gurley backs combined for 27 carries and 70 yards in 2016. Of those backs, the only talent that was actually drafted coming out of college is Sam Rogers, a sixth-round rookie fullback from Virginia Tech.

We’ll know early on if we’re getting the 2015 or 2016 Gurley, but there’s one thing we know for certain: As long as Gurley is healthy, he’s going to be the bell cow starter for this team. Los Angeles, between the Chargers and Rams, may have the biggest RB1/RB2 splits in the NFL in 2017.

Pass-Catchers: Last year, the Rams only had four significant pass-catchers: receiver Kenny Britt, receiver Tavon Austin, receiver Brian Quick and tight end Lance Kendricks. Britt, Quick and Kendricks are gone, after signing deals with the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers this offseason. Only Austin, who recorded 58 receptions and 8.8 yards per reception in 2016, returns. That was a problem.

Los Angeles’ response to that issue was swift. In free agency, the team signed receiver Robert Woods, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. On a five-year, $34 million contract, Woods, a former USC Trojan, should be expected to be in the team’s long-term plans. The team then drafted three pass-catchers with three of their first four picks in the draft: second-round tight end Gerald Everrett of South Alabama, third-round receiver Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington and fourth-round receiver Josh Reynolds of Texas A&M.

The team was 28th in yards per completion last season, but four of their five most-targeted receivers and tight ends in 2017 could be new faces on the team. The only thing we know at this point is that Austin is going to have to produce at a much higher rate to live up to the nearly $15 million cap hit that he’s costing the team this year.

Linemen: Tim Barnes signed with the San Francisco 49ers this offseason and Greg Robinson was traded to the Detroit Lions, but there’s a decent chance that neither would have significantly impacted the 2017 Rams. The team finished 29th in sack percentage and 27th in TFL percentage last season, so it’s not like the offensive line could get all that much worse.

The team does return Rob Havenstein, Rodger Saffold, Cody Wichmann, Jamon Brown and Andrew Donnal, who if nothing else have some level of chemistry together going into a scheme transition. The team also signed the Minnesota Vikings’ John Sullivan, who should replace Barnes, on a one-year, $1 million contract. The big fish of the offseason was former Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who after 11 seasons and three Pro Bowls with the team, signed a three-year, $33.75 million deal with Los Angeles. The moment that Whitworth strapped on a Rams helmet, he was the team’s best offensive lineman. Sullivan could easily break into the team’s top five.

The moment that Whitworth strapped on a Rams helmet, he was the team’s best offensive lineman. Sullivan could easily break into the team’s top five. The offensive line won’t rebuild itself in a year, but they’re taking the right steps to improve the trenches.

Defense:

Line of Scrimmage: Wade Philips is known to be a penetrating 3-4 defensive coordinator. The Rams were a 4-3 defense last season. There are some conflicts there, but it’s overstated. The team’s three most-played interior defensive linemen last year were Aaron Donald, Dominique Easley and Michael Brockers, according to Football Outsiders. In a nickel-heavy league, there’s no reason that needs to change.

The loss of Cam Thomas, as a rotational player, could be replaced by sixth-rounder Tanzel Smart, but edge defender is where the team really took a hit. In a 4-3 to one-gap 3-4 defense transition, the biggest difference is the move from pass-rushing defensive ends to pass-rushing outside linebackers.

Eugene Sims was cut and William Hayes was traded to the Miami Dolphins. Those two, along with Ethan Westbrooks, made a solid rotation opposite of the recently often-injured Robert Quinn. Westbrooks was also arrested for suspicion of domestic violence before the draft, though he wasn’t charged.  The team needed to add depth, in case Quinn did go down with another injury.

They signed Connor Barwin, a former 3-4 outside linebacker, on a one-year, $3.5 million deal. They also drafted Samson Ebukam, a fourth-rounder from Eastern Washington, and Ejuan Price, a seventh-rounder from Pittsburgh, this offseason.

The Rams defensive front was part of a team that finished 3rd in TFL percentage, 10th in yards per carry, 18th in run percentage, 25th in sack percentage and 28th in fumble percentage last year. Health and quick-fix depth are what the hopeful should cling to.

Backs: The team plays two off the ball linebackers in former first-round picks Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron, who famously made a transition from safety after a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let’s make this one quick and easy: They are the team’s starters, even in a 3-4 defense, and there isn’t much depth behind them.

Chuck’s Two Cents: It appears that the team is trying to extend Alec Ogletree. For the love of God, I don’t know why.

The Rams secondary was odd last season. The team did finish 4th in yards per completion, but they were 26th in interception percentage and 27th in completion percentage. If you want to write a catchall phrase about them, you’re going to want to go with “bend, don’t break.”

In terms of personnel, the team returns cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson, on his second franchise tag, E.J. Gaines and Troy Hill, while they also return Mo Alexander, Lamarcus Joyner and Cody Davis at safety. The team lost safety T.J. McDonald, who is suspended for the first eight games of the year due to pleading guilty to both DUI and drug charges, but the Rams drafted third-round safety John Johnson and signed cornerback Kayvon Webster on a two-year, $7.75 million deal. Expect a lot of the same, unless Phillips kick starts the development of some of these defensive backs.

2017 Prediction: On the surface, the Los Angeles Rams may not have a horrid 2017 season. They need to improve a little on the back end of their defense, and receiver and offensive line are worries on the other side of the ball, but they have some more to work with than other teams. The big catch to me is quarterback Jared Goff.

Goff’s ANY/A of 2.82 in 2016 should frighten any Rams fan. To put that into perspective, Brock Osweiler had the worst ANY/A of any quarterback with more than 300 passes, and he only had a 4.34 number, about half better than Goff’s total. NFL MVP and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a 9.03 number, more than three times better than Goff’s per-dropback number.

You have to go back to 2014, when Blake Bortles posted a 3.81 number, before any quarterback who threw for 300 or more passes had a sub-4.00 total. Before that, it was 2011 Blaine Gabbert, who had a 3.68 number. It’s not until 2010 Jimmy Clausen, who was only given only his rookie season before being replaced, that a quarterback with 300 or more passes fell short of cracking 3.00 flat, as he recorded a 2.98 number. Jamarcus Russell’s 2.31 total and Clausen’s rookie season are the only numbers close to Goff’s in the past decade or so. How Goff played last year was historically bad, and it’s hard to imagine that a historically poor quarterback gets the Rams the 6-10 record that they’ll need to hit the season win total “over.”

If we can only compare Goff to Clausen and Russell, or even Gabbert or Bortles, him hitting his percieved “peak” coming out of college could already be a pipedream just one year into his career.