Los Angeles Rams Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: DAL, @PHI, @BUF, NYG, @WAS, @SF, CHI, @MIA, BYE, SEA, @TB, SF, @ARI, NE, NYJ, @SEA, ARI

Additions: DL A’Shawn Robinson (FA), EDGE Leonard Floyd (FA), RB Cam Akers (Draft), WR Van Jefferson (Draft), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Draft)

Losses: WR Brandin Cooks (Trade), S Eric Weddle (Retired), RB Todd Gurley (Cut), EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. (FA), LB Cory Littleton (FA), K Greg Zuerlein (FA), CB Nickell Robey-Coleman (FA), PR/KR Jojo Natson (FA), S Marqui Christian (FA), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Injury), DL A’Shawn Robinson (Injury), LB Travin Howard (Injury)

Analysis:

Was last year’s four-win drop just Super Bowl Hangover or indicative of who this team really is? I’d say more the latter than the former. Los Angeles made a series of all-in trades that left them with alarming cap and draft pick situations. Had they won in 2018, it might’ve all been worth it. Of course, they didn’t, so hindsight has the moves looking much more questionable.

I just can’t see the Rams running it back with a seemingly worse roster and returning to contender status. Their biggest weakness in 2019, the offensive line, returns the same underwhelming rotation. Don’t let the sack numbers fool you: they were bad last year. Sean McVay’s play-action and quick passing calls were responsible for the low sacks, not a strong line. One thing in this group’s favor is youth. With a ton of young guys on the line, betting on internal development wasn’t the worst idea.

On the other hand, expecting improvement from Jared Goff might be unrealistic. We pretty much know who he is at this point—you can rely on him to keep the gears turning in a great offense, but not to carry a bad one. He’s still a franchise quarterback; he’s just not in the league’s upper-echelon.

Unfortunately for Goff, this year’s offense looks closer to the 2019 disappointment than 2018 juggernaut. At receiver, losing Brandin Cooks will hurt a little. Only a little, though. Rookie Van Jefferson seems poised to make an early impact and Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are more than capable of picking up the slack. The tight ends should remain stout as well. Both Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett flashed last season, so this could end up being one of the best groups in the league.

In the backfield, the running back-by-committee won’t come close to matching Todd Gurley’s brilliant 2018 season. Meeting last year’s standard is far more realistic. Actually, a broken-down Gurley might still be better than the Malcolm Brown-Darrell Henderson-Cam Akers trio. The 2020 rookie seems like the only one capable of matching the new Falcon’s ceiling, though he has to get a chance first.

Even McVay deserves a little blame for last year’s fall from grace. Defenses seem to have figured out the constant jet sweep trickery, so Kid Genius needs to come up with something new. To be fair, if anyone is capable of completely reinventing his offense in one offseason, it’s the Rams coach.

After L.A.’s offense cratered last year, it could be the defenses turn in 2020. They did a remarkable job of withstanding last season’s departures, but this year’s wave is much larger and scarier. Outside of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, two of the best players at their respective positions, standouts are in short supply in this unit. For a team whose strategy has been to acquire as many stars as possible, that’s worrisome.

Ramsey’s secondary-mates are promising, but calling them elite is a reach. Maybe after the year it won’t be, though. Troy Hill, Taylor Rapp, and John Johnson have each looked great in stretches, so if they can maintain that over a whole season, the Rams may not be dead yet.

The defensive line is a similar story. We know Donald is a one-man wrecking crew, so anything the other guys can add is gravy. Michael Brockers had one foot out the door, but he’s back in the supporting role he’s held for years. Sebastian Joseph-Day is a nice complementary piece as well. If A’Shawn Robinson ever gets on the field, this group could be really good.

Sandwiched between two promising groups are the awful linebackers. Throw in the edge rushers, too. Neither position inspires much hope. L.A.’s plan to replace studs Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler is prayer, apparently. For a team so cap-strapped, how did they possibly think spending $10 million on Leonard Floyd was a good idea? If playing across from Khalil Mack doesn’t make you break out, odds are you’re never going to. Between Samson Ebukam, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and record-fast bust Jachai Polite, the other options aren’t any better. Rookie Terrell Lewis isn’t going to transform this group upon his return, either.

Somehow, the inside linebackers might actually be worse. Before Travin Howard’s season-ending injury, this group looked bad. Now, they’re possibly the worst in the league. Troy Reeder played limited snaps next year while Micah Kiser has zero career starts and is coming off a season-ending injury. Opposing backs and tight ends might eat these guys alive.

While I only have the Rams going 7-9, a playoff berth is definitely possible. The schedule is very manageable, so if L.A. can play to their strengths while hiding their weaknesses, they could pile up wins in what should be an insane division. That’s another reason I don’t have them in the playoffs. Between San Francisco and Seattle, winning the West is pretty much off the table. Pulling out a wildcard spot in the deep NFC will tough, too.

What’s your record prediction for the Rams? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Rams-Titans 2016 Draft Day Trade?

The History

With Jeff Fisher at the helm, the Rams unsurprisingly finished 7-9 in 2015. But, the team had grown tired of Fisher’s patented mediocrity. The Rams had just announced a massive move to Los Angeles after years of feuding with St. Louis about stadium funding. To capitalize on a flashy market like L.A., you need star power, which the Rams sorely lacked.

Two weeks before the 2016 draft, GM Les Snead took his shot to get a star. In a nearly unprecedented move, he traded all the way up from 15th to 1st overall, sending a bounty of picks in the process. Los Angeles’ target was Goff—a promising quarterback out of Cal—even though Fisher was reportedly not a fan.

Tennessee happily pounced on L.A.’s offer. Already armed with a young quarterback in Marcus Mariota, they had no use for Goff. Still, finishing with such a poor record in back-to-back years was unacceptable. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was canned, and his interim replacement, Mike Mularkey, was given the job full-time.

Tennessee Post Trade

Photo by AP Photo/James Kenney

Things started to turn around quickly in Tennessee. After winning five games combined the last two years, they won nine in 2016. In fact, the Titans have won nine games every year since this trade, with two playoff appearances to boot. Give credit to their haul from the Rams trade for their consistent above-averageness.

Tennessee received multiple players who played huge roles in their miracle AFC Championship run last season. It started at the 2016 draft, where instead of sitting back with the 15th pick, they traded up to 8th to select Conklin, who was a crucial piece from day one.

He started every game in his first two years and was a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie. But, in the divisional round game his second year, he suffered a torn ACL that held him out the first three weeks of 2018.

That season was brutal for Conklin. Between the ACL rehab, a concussion, and another knee injury, he couldn’t stay on the field. All the injury uncertainty pushed Tennessee to decline his fifth-year option, which turned out to be a colossal mistake.

Conklin returned to his old self in 2019 as the Titans’ mauling offensive line powered them down the stretch. Had Tennessee taken a leap of faith and believed in his recovery, they would’ve been able to keep their outstanding o-line together. Instead, Conklin will suit up for the Browns next season.

Losing Conklin could really hurt another player Tennessee acquired in this deal. Selected in the 2016 second round, Henry struggled early in his pro career. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner played second fiddle to DeMarco Murray his first two years.

But, the Titans had faith in his potential and handed him the reins in 2018. For most of the year, Henry was pedestrian. Then, one fateful Thursday, something changed. From that point on, he finally put his mesmerizing physical tools together to dominate. Games like that decimation of the Jaguars became commonplace as Henry became the centerpiece of an offense that routinely overpowered opponents.

Conklin and Henry were massive hits for the Titans, even though both could be gone by next season (Henry is on the franchise tag with reportedly no traction on a long-term deal). Those two alone make this deal a win for Tennessee, so anything from the rest of the haul is straight profit.

While it’s a high bar set, the other players Tennessee acquired aren’t close to matching it. They’ve merely been solid while the other guys are stars. Johnson encapsulates that perfectly: he was a good rotational piece, but could never win a starting job. Now, he’s headed to New York on a cheap deal with the Giants.

Davis hasn’t come close to matching the expectations of a top-five pick. 2016 was his best year, and even that was unspectacular. Seemingly every year there’s rumors he’s primed for a breakout, but it’s becoming clear he’s best suited as a number two or three receiver.

Smith is almost the opposite case of Davis. He came into the league with low expectations as Delanie Walker’s backup. All he had to do was block hard and make a few play action catches. Then, as injuries deteriorated Walker’s career, he was thrust into a starting role.

While there have been some exciting flashes and his usual strong blocking, his career high in yards is just last year’s 439. I feel like his hype has gotten out of control, with far more games he was invisible for than ones he took over. Still, with Walker now gone, Tennessee is relying on him to be their starter. As a late third-round pick, that’s a good return.

Given all the high picks they received, the Titans really just had to not tank the draft to come out ahead of the Rams. They did more than that, though. Not one player they took can be considered a complete bust and some of them are among the league’s best at their positions.

The team moving back in draft trades almost always wins, and Tennessee certainly did not buck that trend.

Los Angeles Post Trade

Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI

Unlike the Titans, the Rams did not immediately improve from this deal. A 4-9 start to the second iteration of the L.A. Rams led to Fisher’s firing. The man he advised against drafting didn’t get off to a great start, either.

Case Keenum beat him out in training camp and when Goff finally got a chance to play, it was ugly. Virtually every stat (5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, 0-7 record) paints a horrible image, and the eye test did nothing to change it. Sure, the team was terrible and Goff wasn’t considered a pro-ready prospect, but his rookie season was jarring.

Considering how bad they were and all the picks they traded away, the Rams seemed destined for a rough few years. To make matters worse, L.A. hired Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay to replace Fisher. While he was renowned as an offensive genius, more focus was paid to how young he was. At just 30 years old, McVay was younger than a player he was poised to coach. Given the non-existent track record of success for coaches that age, the reasons to doubt the Rams were piling up.

But, McVay proved everyone wrong almost instantly. In week one, L.A. dominated in their home opener. Next thing you knew, the Rams were 7-2 and riding one of the best offenses in the league. Shortly after that, they locked up their first playoff birth in 13 years.

Seemingly overnight, McVay transformed L.A. from a team with one of the bleakest futures in the league to a team with one of the brightest. The following year, they made the Super Bowl in a losing effort to the Patriots.

Just as he did with the team, McVay completely changed the perception around Goff. It can’t be understated the difference between McVay’s creative offense and Fisher’s beyond outdated one.

After his 5:7 ratio as a rookie, Goff threw 28 touchdowns to 7 interceptions his second year. During the Rams’ Super Bowl run, he posted stellar numbers once again. Suddenly, the bust talk turned into top-10 quarterback discussion. As a reward for his drastic improvement, Goff received a 4-year, $134 million contract.

After a horrible start to his career, everything was going Goff’s way, but 2019 was a different story. His numbers took a huge hit and a light started to shine on his phantom improvement. I thought Goff was overrated even during the Super Bowl year, and last year showed exactly why. With a weaker supporting class and a down year from McVay, he was unable to carry the team himself—something the true best quarterbacks in the league do frequently.

For the Rams to have had any chance at winning this deal, Goff would’ve needed to become one of the absolute best quarterbacks in the league. That simply hasn’t happened yet, and Goff would likely hang around the 20 range in my rankings.

Unsurprisingly, L.A. also didn’t get much out of the throw-in picks they received. Cooper looked like he might be something after he was the Pro Bowl return man in 2017. But, injuries caused the Rams to shockingly cut him the next year.

Outside of having an awesome name, Hemingway did nothing for the Rams. Thomas is in the same boat, even though he shares a name with one of the best players at his position.

While they handily lost this trade, the Rams would probably do it all over again. Goff might not be elite, but he is a franchise quarterback, and teams are willing to any price for those.

Final Verdict: Titans Win

This may be the biggest blowout I’ve looked at so far. Goff might be the most valuable player in this deal, but even that’s arguable, and the sheer volume of good pieces Tennessee received is insurmountable.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Chiefs-Rams Marcus Peters Trade?

The History

Peters was the Chiefs’ first-round pick in 2015, and he quickly provided a return on the team’s investment. As a rookie, he was named to the All-Pro second team as a result of his league-leading eight interceptions. In years two and three, he added another 11 picks to his gaudy total. Peters had already vaulted himself to the upper echelon of cornerbacks and was arguably the league’s top ballhawk.

But, as happens with many players, Peters’ antics began to overshadow his play. Most notably, he was suspended for one game after throwing a flag into the crowd and getting into a heated argument with a coach. As Kansas City saw it, the headaches he caused opposing quarterbacks weren’t worth the headaches he caused them.

Shortly after losing in the 2017 playoffs, the Chiefs agreed to send the frustrating corner to Los Angeles. The Rams were coming off a surprising 11-5 finish in Sean McVay’s first year and looking to add pieces to cement their contender status. As their success was fueled by an elite offense, acquiring Peters to shore up the defense seemed like a perfect fit.

Los Angeles Post Trade

Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI

This trade kicked off the Rams’ Dream Team phase, where they seemingly acquired every player with star-level name value possible. Out of everyone they brought in, Peters may have been the crown jewel. He and Aqib Talib were expected to form an impenetrable cornerback duo, which they did. Sometimes.

Some games, the Rams defense was diced up with no resistance. Others, they would terrorize opposing offenses. Unfortunately for L.A., the former games were more frequent occurrences than the latter.

The Rams’ defensive struggles became a major storyline during the regular season, especially as they got carved up on national television against fellow contenders like the Saints and Chiefs. Peters came under fire himself after a terrible showing against the Saints. Michael Thomas hung 200 yards and a touchdown on the Rams, with most of that coming against Peters.

While it wasn’t always perfect, Peters and the Rams made plays when it counted. Los Angeles finished tied for the best record in the league at 13-3 and won the NFC’s Super Bowl bid (albeit in questionable fashion). Defensively, they tightened up in the postseason.

Round two with the Saints was a vastly different story, with Thomas only totaling 36 yards (largely thanks to Talib). And the Rams’ championship meltdown was the offense’s doing—the defense only allowed 13 points.

Still, Peters’ 2018 was largely a disappointment. He posted the lowest interception total and worst advanced stats of his career. After extension talks went nowhere, Peters entered 2019 on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal.

An inconsistent start for both the player and team led to Peters being traded once again. This time, it was to Baltimore and for pennies. Los Angeles received a fifth-round pick and linebacker Kenny Young, who only saw playing time on special teams.

Peters rebounded with the Ravens, returning to his old form and earning himself a nice contract. Hours after dealing him, the Rams acquired a new star corner in Jalen Ramsey.

Luckily for us fans, we got to see a heated revenge game. In a matchup five weeks after the trade, Peters intercepted his old quarterback and got into it with his replacement as the Ravens romped the Rams.

As a whole, the assets exchanged in the Rams’ Peters experiment look like this: 1.5 years of Peters, a 2018 sixth-round pick, 2020 fifth-round pick, and Young for a 2019 second-round pick and 2018 fourth-round pick.

Both their incoming picks were moved as minor parts of packages that allowed the Rams to draft Allen (in competition to be their starting center) and dump Talib’s salary.

The only acquisition of significant value for L.A. was Peters. Despite that, he never lived up to his star billing and was probably an above-average corner overall in his time with the team.

Even though the picks they gave up weren’t extremely valuable, they are sorely missed by a team currently devoid of cap space and future draft picks.

I can’t really say the Rams won or lost this trade. It didn’t cost much to acquire Peters, but he didn’t make much of a positive impact on the team, either. In the end, I’d call it a wash for L.A.

Kansas City Post Trade

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As a team, the Chiefs haven’t missed Peters in the slightest. In two seasons since the trade, they’ve lost in the AFC Championship and won the Super Bowl.

As a cornerback room, it’s a bit of a different story. Kansas City’s defense was horrendous in 2018, partially due to their lackluster corners. Maybe keeping Peters would have moved the parade in Kansas City a year earlier.

That’s a big maybe, though, and the Chiefs solved both their corner and overall defensive issues the following season. Plus, they won the Super Bowl, so there’s no regrets on their side.

Also, Peters’ cap hit in 2019 would have been $7.3 million, or potentially even higher if he signed an extension. For a team as cap-strapped as the Chiefs, that probably means they don’t pull the trigger on Frank Clark, who was instrumental in their championship run.

Along with Clark, Thornhill was a big reason for Kansas City’s defensive resurgence. Drafted with the Rams’ second-round pick, he started all 16 games as a rookie before missing the playoff run with a torn ACL.

Watts, the Chiefs’ selection with the other Rams pick, hasn’t had nearly the impact his counterpart has. After playing scarcely in his first two years, Thornhill’s injury presented his best opportunity for meaningful playing time. Instead, Daniel Sorenson played almost every snap, leaving only scraps for Watts. There’s only so much you can expect from a fourth-round pick, but he’s done next to nothing.

Thornhill showed enough potential to make up for him, though. He had three interceptions last year and seems to have cemented his spot as the present and future starter next to Honey Badger. Considering how cheap he’ll be for the rest of his rookie deal, he might come close to matching the more expensive Peters’ value.

Obviously, the Super Bowl quashes any debates on whether or not they’re better without Peters, but this trade was more than just an ends-justify-the-means situation for the Chiefs. Thornhill is exactly the kind of cheap and promising player Kansas City needs now that Patrick Mahomes is making eleventy billion dollars a year. Dealing Peters kept them from being in an even more dire financial position, too.

Final Verdict: Chiefs Win

I don’t think Los Angeles bombed this trade by any means, but this was a pretty easy choice nonetheless. Kansas City saved money and got a nice young player while Peters’ time with the Rams was tumultuous and short-lived.

Who do you think won the Peters trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Bills-Rams Sammy Watkins Trade?

The History

Watkins was electric to start his career. A solid rookie season was followed up by a star-making sophomore year, and it looked as if Buffalo would have a superstar wideout for years to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Watkins battled through various ailments throughout his first two years, though nothing out of the ordinary for an NFL player. During the 2016 offseason, his injury issues started to get more serious, as he fractured his left foot during a workout. That season, Watkins was placed on IR after a teammate stepped on and reinjured his foot.

Despite coming back to finish out the season, he’s never fully returned to his old explosive self. After multiple setbacks and surgeries on that same foot, Buffalo deemed the situation serious enough to trade away the promising youngster.

Los Angeles viewed Watkins as a worthwhile risk. For a team riding one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports, almost any risk was worthwhile.

If he could stay healthy, Watkins was worth far more than Buffalo’s asking price. Especially to a team desperate for receiver help and general star power—the Rams were entering their second season back in L.A. and struggling to gain fans.

Los Angeles Post Trade

Photo by Alex Gallardo/AP

If you just look at Watkins’ stats, he was a huge disappointment. In 15 games, he posted 39 catches for 593 yards. Those are unacceptable numbers for a supposed number one receiver.

However, this is one of those cases where the numbers are deceiving. A receiving core that was supposed to be a huge weakness unexpectedly became a strength of the team. Rookie Cooper Kupp and free agent signing Robert Woods greatly outperformed expectations while Todd Gurley was one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.

Some of their success can be accredited to the attention Watkins received deep down the field, as multiple players and avid film watchers noted. Sure, it would’ve been nice for him to have better individual stats, but I doubt first-year coach Sean McVay was complaining much about the offense. In 2017, the Rams rode the highest-scoring offense in the league to their first playoff birth since 2004.

Watkins’ contract with the Chiefs speaks more about his value than any counting stats. After one season in Los Angeles, the Watkins signed a 3-year, $48 million deal to head to Missouri. Admittedly, I’ve called that an overpay since the day it was signed, but it speaks to how teams view him. L.A. also deserves credit here for avoiding the sunk cost fallacy by not overpaying Watkins themselves.

Obviously, one year of subpar production was not what the Rams were hoping for, but I don’t think the Watkins era was as bad as some may think. He played for pennies in L.A. and didn’t cost a ton to acquire. His departure also netted the team a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.

Compensatory picks are often wrongly when reviewing trades. In a roundabout way, the Rams traded a second-round pick for Watkins and a third, albeit with that pick coming a year later. They also hit on the pick they directly received, with Joseph-Day developing into a quality starter.

Los Angeles essentially got a year of good receiver play for peanuts, even if they had higher hopes at the time of the trade. I’m sure making the Super Bowl the year he left helped ease any pain of what-if questions, too.

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI

Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills joined the Rams in the 2017 postseason, ending an 18-year drought of their own. The team greatly surpassed expectations and showed no signs of missing their star receiver.

In that sense, the Bills did a great job trading away Watkins. A lot of teams would’ve kept him with the hope he returned to form. Realistically, that was unlikely to ever happen in Buffalo, so dealing him before he hit free agency was smart.

It’s hard to look at their compensation and call them a huge winner, though. Gaines played well as a starter in 2017 before signing with the Browns the following offseason. He’s back in Buffalo now, but that should play no part in evaluating this trade. And while the pick they received was used to get Allen, it was a relatively minor part of the package. As Watkins was still on his rookie contract, the deal didn’t save them much money, either.

Given all that, it’s tough to say they received a lot in return for Watkins. However, the current state of the franchise means they made the right choice. Another year-plus of Watkins may have surpassed the value of Gaines and the pick, but keeping him also would have taken them down a different path than this current one.

The Bills are the favorites to win their division and dark horse Super Bowl contenders, so if trading Watkins helped get them here, it was all worth it. Hell, they even have a new star receiver in Stefon Diggs. There should be no regrets on Buffalo’s side.

Final Verdict: Rams Win

Overall, this trade was solid for both teams. Buffalo may be in the better place today, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about who got more value out of the swapped assets, and that’s the Rams. They got an inexpensive receiver who helped transform their roster, a gem at defensive tackle, and a high comp pick once Watkins left. In exchange for a decent starting corner and a late second-round pick, that’s a win.

Who do you think won the Watkins trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.