Sunday, July 31, 2016

Los Angeles Rams 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 7-9

The final season for the Rams in St Louis ended with a whimper but did find a future superstar in RB Todd Gurley. With him to build around, the Rams reversed the RGIII trade and traded up to the #1 pick to land Jared Goff. 2016 will be all about his maturation with the hope to actually start contending in 2017.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions – CB Coty Sensabaugh, DT Dominique Easley, DE Quinton Coples
Key Losses – CB Janoris Jenkins, TE Jared Cook, DE Chris Long, DT Nick Fairley, LB James Laurinitis, S Rodney McCleod
2016 Draft Class – QB Jared Goff, TE Tyler Higbee, WR Pharoah Cooper

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Rod Boras and Mike Groh
Base Offense – 2WR 2TE run heavy offense

The Rams changed OCs midway through last season, resulting in a much heavy run emphasis (56-44 run to pass ratio) and a 3-1 end to 2015. Look for this trend to continue with a rookie QB to groom and not a lot of great weapons in the passing game.
All the buzz will be around 1st overall pick Jared Goff and rightly so. Goff has solid pocket awareness and above average accuracy and arm strength. The big key for the Rams will be to keep his somewhat slight frame upright and not make him win games for them early. In fact, Goff could start the season on the bench behind incumbent Case Keenum. Keenum is a solid bus driver type that could ease the transition to Goff with a tough first 4 games (@SF, Sea, @TB, @Ariz). However, Goff rolling out opening night would not be a surprise (and hopefully not a mistake).

Todd Gurley rebounded from a blown out knee his senior year in college to finish 3rd in the league in rushing yards. The only real concern with Gurley is not wearing him out with a full season of carries. Unfortunately the depth behind offers little relief, with Benny Cunningham, Malcolm Brown and rookie Aaron Green from TCU battling for time. Gurley should be a 3 down back and be an absolute fantast stud.

This is the year for Tavon Austin to finally be the factor he was expected to be when the Rams traded up into the Top 10 of the draft for him. Likely used at both WR and some RB, Austin must become a consistent target for his QB and have more than 66 yards rec (his high in 2015) to get paid. With him at the WR spot is mercurial Kenny Britt, highly disappointing Brian Quick and rookies Pharoah Cooper and Mike Thomas. Cooper is interesting as his game is very similar to Austin’s, undersized and quick with need for more polish as an actual WR. Add to this TEs Lance Kendricks (better as a blocker than receiver) and rookie Tyler Higbee (terrible blocker but dynamic as stand-up TE if he stays out of trouble and healthy) and the Rams skill positions are questionable at best.

On the offensive line the Rams boast a lot of beef but few difference makers. Greg Robinson, the jewel of the RGIII trade, finally started to show some of the promise that made him the 2nd pick overall. However, he is still much better as a run blocker than pass blocker and will need to continue to show improvement. Rob Havenstein on the right side is solid, not allowing a sack in 2015. Inside, Rodger Saffold hopes to stay healthy at LG, Jamon Brown showed himself capable at RG and Tim Barnes was just resigned at C. Overall this group is much like the rest of the Rams team: dependent on a quality run game to make up deficiencies  in the passing game.

Overall, the Rams will be a tough team to play each week with a powerful running game led by Gurley. If Goff develops quickly during the season, this team will get tougher each and every week. If not, they may wear out their superstar and damage the psyche of the future star.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – Gregg Williams
Base Defense – Blitz heavy 4-3

The Rams have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball that only shows up in flashes during the season. Bountygate villain Gregg Williams calls an aggressive gameplan and regularly takes risks on blitzes. With some attrition via free agency this past year, the Rams are asking for answers from some new members in new places. How that works out could make or break the Rams in 2016.

Last year the Rams front four boasted four 1st round picks. But gone is Chris Long, replaced by William Hayes (and that might be an upgrade). Opposite him is the quick Robert Quinn who battled injuries in 2015. Behind them is Jets first round bust Quinton Coples and Eugene Sims who should both see time in rotation. The beast of this group is DT Aaron Donald with 11 sacks last year. Alongside him is run stuffer Michael Brockers and Patriot castoff Dominique Easley. If Easley can regain his health and speed, the Rams might have the toughest DT duo in football.

The LB group is perhaps the most fascinating on the team. Gone is longtime stalwart James Laurinitis, replaced in the middle by the athletic Alec Ogletree. How Ogletree adjusts to making the play calls and leading the defense will be something to watch. With him is strongside backer and blitz specialist Akeem Ayers and converted safety Mark Barron. Barron finished 2015 at weakside LB and will get the chance to continue there is 2016. If he can hold up physically, this will be a very fast group of linebackers. If not, look for rookie (and also hybrid safety) Josh Forrest of Kentucky to get a shot.

If problems arise in 2016 for the Rams, it might be in the secondary. Gone is #1 CB Janoris Jenkins to NYG, leaving franchise-tagged Trumaine Johnson as the man. Opposite him will be a battle including EJ Gaines, Lamarcus Joyner and FA Coty Sensabaugh. Safety might be in even worse shape with the departure of Rodney McCleod to the Eagles. TJ McDonald is at 1 safety and the other is either Cody Davis or Maurice Alexander (for now).

Overall on defense, the Rams have a solid front 7 and a weakened secondary. In order for their run first approach on offense to work, they will need to limit teams with their pass rush and hope to not fall behind on big plays. That will be difficult.

2016 Prediction:
Record – 6-10 (3rd in the NFC West)

Despite perhaps finally finding a quality starter at the QB spot, 2016 is going to be another building year for the Rams. Perhaps the new weather in LA will help, but more likely the holes on this roster will cause a slight regression. However they will be a tough team to play and a fun team to watch each and every week for their new California fan base.

Fantasy Oulook:

Stud – RB Todd Gurley
Sleeper – WR Pharoah Cooper, TE Tyler Higbee
Bust – WR Tavon Austin, Rams Defense

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