A collective exhale has already swept Rams nation after a once-promising 2020 season. There were a lot of questions going into what will ultimately be remembered as the “pandemic season,” and LA’s prospects of a Super Bowl run grew increasingly hopeful until the ill-fortuned team faced Green Bay.
Before getting into the inevitable quarterback controversy that will plague the team for the offseason, or whether Raheem Morris is the worthy successor to Brandon Staley, it’s time to celebrate the good, the bad, and the Jeff Fisher of this season with the Rams End of Season Awards.
Los Angeles Rams End Of Season Awards
MVP (“Most Versatile Position”): Running Back
The position that offered the most spark for the Rams throughout the year was *arguably* LA’s committee of running backs. With a myriad of defensive positions from the defense as a close second.
Led in rushing yards (654) by rookie Cam Akers, a fan-favorite prospect going into the season, this unit found versatility in its three-headed attack of aforementioned rookie Akers, Darrell Henderson, Jr., and Malcolm Brown to create a combo willing to shoot out for large chunks of yards through the ground or catching the ball for a quick gain from Jared Goff.
They became the unofficial successors to the Cooks-Woods-Kupp trio that carried the offense in previous years. The three became a necessary crutch for the on-and-off nature of Jared Goff’s quarterbacking. Neither Kupp nor Woods eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving and the identity of the offense lost its footing when it depended on Goff, a leader for turnovers among all active QBs in the last two years.
Their impact became most evident through both their best moments of the year, showing out in the Wild Card game against the Seahawks, combining for 161 yards, between Malcolm Brown and Cam Akers, in a contest that forced an injured Jared Goff to orchestrate the offense. When the running game ceased to be efficient in the Green Bay game, the defense was forced to endure a passing attack from Aaron Rodgers, thus resulting in the final game of the season.
It’ll be an ongoing question as to what Sean McVay will see in the running game for the upcoming season. Will there still be a committee, or will McVay turn running back Akers into another Todd Gurley?
Offensive Player of the Year: Sean McVay
Frankly, trying to pick out one star performance of the year from the Rams offense is like picking your favorite Zack Snyder film. (Difficult in a bad way, for all who didn’t get the reference or obsess over Zack Snyder.) Rather than choosing a player, the recipient will be the best influence that led to the offense’s best highlights of the year, which is head coach Sean McVay.
For all of the flack that McVay received for shaky play-calling leading up to the awful performance in Miami and Tua Tagovailoa’s debut, the 5-3 record inspired the LA head coach to pursue more success through the ground game and efficient kicking in order to propel the Rams into mustering enough offense for wins.
Darrell Henderson, Cam Akers, and Matt Gay became exceptional contributors to the games’ outcomes and the solid production of the receiving corps kept the wheels turning in sync with the defensive’s standout performances. The testy decision to start John Wolford against the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card playoff game solidified long-term confidence in the coach through matured decision-making. He chose the unconventional back-up over the injured Jared Goff, then guiding the returning Goff after Wolford was knocked out of the game.
McVay has a good sense of the pulse of this team, pivoting away from his process especially with the exclusion of Brandon Staley on the Rams coaching staff going into 2021-2022 would be a detriment to the team. Figuring out how to handle an average-at-best quarterback and pending defensive scheme different than the dominating unit of 2020 will be a feat of brilliance from McVay if he gets this team back to the playoffs next year.
Defensive Player of the Year: John Johnson III
Leading the team in tackles (105) and PFF’s third highest-graded player at the position (85.6), the Rams safety became the most egregious snub of the Pro Bowl selections this year after a great campaign that overcame limitations such as the injury to Taylor Rapp. What fueled the request for his due credit from Rams fans and others around the league was the London Fletcher-like alertness that kept him quick on the field. His sole interception of the year came against current MVP candidate and Bills quarterback Josh Allen in a close match that pitted LA against arguably the best team in the league at the time.
Another benefactor of the Brandon Staley game plan and loaded defensive depth chart, Johnson will be in a tricky position going into free agency this offseason as the Rams’ cap space is running dry feeding other mouths. His elevated play this year will raise the stock value as he courts offers around the league, and if this results in his final season with the Rams, then it’s a campaign well spent.
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Ram of the Year: Brandon Staley
It’s no coincidence that Brandon Staley, now the head coach for the cross-town little brother Los Angeles Chargers, only lasted one season as a defensive coordinator before receiving the best promotion available in the league.
Starting with the uphill battle of silencing the skeptics from the decision to move off Wade Phillips as the team’s defensive coordinator, Staley received the call to lead the team’s appointed top unit for the Rams’ new game plan going forward: defense winning games.
What nearly earned this accolade for Sean McVay was his tenacity to surrender the offensive schematics that put his tenure as coach on the map. McVay’s willingness to pivot the team in a new direction post-Super Bowl loss, even as the hype hadn’t died down from his Coach of the Year campaign in 2017, displayed some bills of steel that ultimately paid off with a promising entry into the playoffs that did not pan out.
Seeing the talent across from Jared Goff at practice every day, McVay realized what he had with the Staly/Donald-led defensive unit and decided that pursuing a raging offense was not the route they wanted to take. Instead, keeping the opposing team off the field with a stout defensive scheme would allow the Rams to find success even through a sputtering offense.
Staley helped transform the identity of the team with a familiar 3-4 scheme that allowed rushers Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd to pressure opposing mobile quarterbacks of the NFC West and other elite teams, while the secondary became a star unit through Jalen Ramsey’s tight coverage and the trickle effect it played in the development of Darious Williams, Troy Hill, John Johnson III, and rookie Jordan Fuller.
Raheem Morris will have big shoes to fill as defensive coordinator for LA, but with the blueprint laid by Brandon Staley after his successful rookie year as DC, hopefully, the LA defense can retain some of the residual greatness left by the one-and-done Ram.
Bonus Trophy: Best Tre Mason Impersonator: Cam Akers
Off the field issues aside, Cam Akers was a mimicry of former Rams project running back Tre Mason in all of its implications regarding mediocrity or deserved hype. Harsh, I know.
Posting identical rushing yard averages and Akers only trailing Mason’s total yards by 140 with one less game played, Akers was the ace up the sleeve for everyone that thought life would be better in the backfield without Todd Gurley. They weren’t entirely wrong in their optimism for the post-Gurley years, but the question mark still looms over the decision between committee or lead back type of backfield based on the season’s result.
Darrell Henderson had some incredible highlights and Malcolm Brown was a reliable, healthy running back when it came to the injury-filled depth chart. Cam Akers didn’t steal the position like most of us hoped he would, but the flashes of potential are substantial for what the Rams require for this position en route to a deep playoff run. In due time, for the rookie out of FSU.
For all those fantasy football simps that took a chance on Tre Mason after a solid rookie campaign, Akers may be your second chance at the striking rich in the draft with a sneaky good Rams running back.
Best Newcomer: Matt Gay
Most Likely to Step Up in 2021-22: Xavier Jones
Best Hair: Darrell Henderson Jr.