Los Angeles Rams, reigning NFC Champions, are poised to get back to the Super Bowl next year. To get there, in part, they will have to be creative with the majority of their draft picks on day three.
The 2018 Los Angeles Rams had somewhat of a roller coaster of a season. The first eight weeks had them looking like the best team in the league. The second half saw them get worked by the Chicago Bears, upset by the Philadelphia Eagles at home, and struggle against the Detroit Lions on the road. In spite of the rocky second half, they were able to secure the NFC West. From there, they were able to make a run to the Super Bowl before ceding to the New England Patriots in a 13-3 loss.
While a Super Bowl run is quite the achievement for second-year head coach Sean McVay, there will be several decisions to be made this off-season as well as the inevitable choice of whether or not to pay Jared Goff. For now, let’s look at how the Rams finished in 2018 and what they can do to get back to the big game in 2019.
Very impressive. However, let us note that Goff looked like two different players with and without Cooper Kupp. Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith broke down the numbers listed below.
Completion Percentage: 69.6 (nice)
Yards per Attempt: 9.7
Completion Percentage: 60.1
Yards per Attempt: 7.1
This isn’t to say the Rams would have won the Super Bowl if Kupp hadn’t gotten injured. Instead, it demonstrates how reliant Goff was on every other aspect of the offense. According to Pro Football Network’s exclusive Offensive Share Metric (which measures how productive a player was within was his offense), Cooks, Woods, Kupp, and Gurley ended up with grades of 35, 35, 40 and 31 respectively.
Michael Thomas had the highest grade for a wide receiver at 40, so you can see how great the skill position guys were within the context of their offense. Goff finished 15th in the league among quarterbacks at 24.8. Fortunately for the Rams, the decision on Goff won’t have to be made this offseason.
Despite a stellar performance in the Super Bowl, Wade Phillips’ unit was a sieve at times this year. An Aqib Talib injury coupled with a below average pass rush contributed to the units’ lackluster performance throughout the season. The unit flashed its upside in the Super Bowl, but with several impending free agents set to hit the market, the Rams will be busy filling out the roster this offseason.
Sorted by offense and defense, here is a list of Rams set to hit free agency with their Pro Football Focus ranking in the parentheses. No ranking means the player did not qualify.
CB Sam Shields (91/112), Troy Hill (66/112), Dominique Hatfield, and Kevin Peterson
DE Dante Fowler Jr. (53/103) and Matt Longacre (47/103)
DT Morgan Fox and Ndamukong Suh (20/112)
DT Dominique Easley and Ethan Westbrooks
FS LaMarcus Joyner (28/93)
ILB Ramik Wilson, ILB Bryce Hager, and Cory Littleton (37/92)
OLB Garrett Sickels and Carlos Thompson
S Blake Countess
With G Rodger Saffold being the sole impact player on offense set to hit the market, the offense looks to be in great shape heading into 2019. The majority of the turnover will be on the defensive side of the ball. With $32.4 million in cap space, the Rams can afford to make some moves come March.
While four of their CB’s are projected to be free agents, their starters remain under contract for 2019. Troy Hill graded out higher than the more famous Marcus Peters (78/112). Keep in mind though that Peters signed a 4-year deal with the Rams so it would be unlikely for them to move on so early. They could attempt to retain Hill, but I would imagine any additions would come through the draft.
Aaron Donald led the league in sacks at 20.5. Unfortunately, the next highest Ram was Ndamukong Suh with 4.5 sacks. They need to improve the pass rush this off-season. Fowler and Longacre graded out relatively well, but I would not be surprised if neither are retained.
Not only is the draft stacked with defensive talent, but there are also a few big-name defensive linemen the Rams could target come March if they decide to move on from Suh. Demarcus Lawerence (Dallas), Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit), Cameron Wake (Miami), Sheldon Richardson (Minnesota), Jadeveon Clowney (Houston), Dee Ford (Kansas City) and Brandon Graham (Philadelphia) should all be available. Frank Clark (Seattle) is another somewhat under the radar player the Rams could target, and it would be double jeopardy seeing as how they would be stealing him from a division rival.
Littleton finished 10th in the league in tackles and ranked 37/92 among LBs according to PFF. The LB market is a tad dry, so they could opt to attempt to keep Littleton seeing how he is familiar with the system. Regardless of what they do in free agency, they should look to add some players via the draft at this position. If looking in the first round, Te’Von Coney (Notre Dame) and Mack Wilson (Alabama) are two names the Rams could consider at pick 31.
While LaMarcus Joyner finished 28/93 safeties according to PFF, he struggled in coverage this year. Joyner allowed 69.2% completion, 13.2 yards per reception, 107.2 passer rating against while accumulating just one interception and one pass break up. If I were the Rams, I would look for an improvement. The draft class is pretty weak in this area. I would look to free agency to improve here. Two big names who could fit with Los Angeles are Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Washington) and Earl Thomas (Seattle)
Here are the draft picks the Rams are expected to have this upcoming draft:
- First Round – Pick 31
- Third Round – Compensatory
- Third Round – Compensatory
- Fourth Round – Pick 126
- Fifth Round – Pick 158
- Six Round – Pick 189
- Seventh Round – Compensatory
I highlighted a few targets for the Rams first round pick above. I would use that pick on a linebacker (preferably Te’Von Coney or Mack Wilson), provided I land a premium pass rusher in free agency. Then I’d spend the rest of my capital acquiring depth in the secondary and linebacker corps. Should the Rams fail to obtain a pass rusher in free agency, they need to do all they can to acquire one in the draft.
The Rams figure to have a lot of turnover on the defensive side of the ball. Considering how sub-par the unit performed, that may not be all that bad. The offense could return every single starter from last year, which would be a small miracle in today’s league. Some may project a bleak outlook for the Rams in 2019, but with the offense returning almost every starter and the defense anchored by Wade Phillips and Aaron Donald, this team will not cede the NFC lightly.