Most Important Positions For The Rams To Upgrade This Offseason
Les Snead said the future was a “beautiful mystery” in regards to who would be the Rams starting QB in 2021. Well, mystery solved! Jared Goff was sent packing to Detroit and in return, the Rams made the most important upgrade they had to make this offseason, a legit QB. It automatically vaults them into a serious Super Bowl contender.
While Mr. Snead figured out how to wriggle out from under Goff’s horrendous contract, doing so cost the team two more first-round draft picks (that’s seven first-round picks traded in a row) and another $7.25 million in cap space (pending a restructure of Matthew Stafford’s contract).
That said, this trade is still a very good thing. It’s ok to mortgage the future if you can win now. Indeed, adding Stafford will make doing that a lot easier, but the Rams still have several positions to upgrade this season to ensure they return to the Super Bowl.
The Rams were in a similar situation last season; no first-round pick and some hard decisions to make in free agency. It was a tight spot, but the Rams did a very good job. They drafted Cam Akers who became their leading rusher, they cut Dante Fowler but added Leonard Floyd on a cheap deal. Floyd had a career year and put up similar numbers to Fowler’s 2019 season.
This year they will have to play it just right to upgrade several key positions this offseason.
A look at the most important positions to upgrade this offseason.
Upgrading the number one defense seems like a greedy thing to ask for, but while most of the defense was firing on all cylinders, the linebackers were barely keeping up. This group was left with the most holes to patch after 2019 with the departures of Clay Matthews and Cory Littleton. The Rams were forced to rely on young inexperienced players to fill the void left by highly competent veterans. They did try to add depth in the draft by selecting Terrell Lewis in the third round, but he is much more of a pass rush specialist.
Injuries are hard on any unit, but especially hard on one this shallow. Travin Howard was injured before the season started and missed all 16 games. Lewis missed the first four games of the season but wasn’t playing at a high level when he was in. Micah Kiser couldn’t stay healthy, missing weeks five and nine and also the final six games of the regular season. Kiser’s absence was huge. He was the team’s leading tackler and he would often be on the field for every defensive snap. Kiser was named a starter in 2019 but missed the entire season due to injury and he had played exactly zero snaps on defense in his rookie season. He is the perfect example of a stop-gap measure and proof of how shallow the LB depth was. His injury left the team with Troy Reeder as the starter. He was third on the 2019 depth chart and has only seen action because Kiser has struggled to stay on the field.
The good news is that the young talent got better under Brandon Staley, so they don’t have to go get a star linebacker to upgrade this position this offseason. But they will need to add depth, considering the squad is already young, finding talent in free agency will be the best option.
There are good free agents like Jayon Brown or Reggie Ragland that have a few years under their belt but have been regular contributors.
Brown went on IR with an injury last season and was replaced with David Long Jr. (not a typo, the Titans also have a David Long Jr.). Long played well in his stead. The Titans are also strapped for cash this offseason and with Jadeveon Clowney’s big contract looming in free agency Brown may not be the top priority.
Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2017 and has earned his way into his starting role in Tennessee with a big 2019 and an even better 2020. Brown would be a big upgrade and would be a shoo-in for the starting role, but he could fetch a larger payday than the Rams can offer.
Ragland was a second-round pick in 2016 by the Bills. He hasn’t been given a starting role in his five seasons but has put in quality time. He missed his rookie season due to a torn ACL then was traded to the Chiefs where he played the next four seasons. Ragland was then picked up by the Lions, but once again finds himself a free agent.
With everything in Detroit pointing to a complete rebuild, he should be ripe for the picking. Ragland hasn’t lived up to his potential thus far, but under Raheem Morris, he will get quality coaching and plenty of playing time.
Another free agent to consider would be a familiar face. Bryce Hager is a free agent after one year with the Jets. Hager wouldn’t be in contention for the starting spot but would offer depth and the Rams would get him for a scant amount. Hager played 12% of defensive snaps last season, although he started two games. In those two games, he was a quality tackler but struggled in coverage.
Finding a linebacker to shore up an already weak group will be an important upgrade this offseason. While adding some experience to the linebackers would be ideal, the Rams also have a good number of late round draft picks that could be used to layer on some depth at linebacker.
There is a good chance that Leonard Floyd will not be re-signed by the Rams this offseason, leaving the Rams without an edge rusher. Pass rushing talent comes with a big price tag in the NFL and it goes fast in the draft.
Even with Floyd and, of course, Aaron Donald, the Rams pressure rate was middling. They were second in the league in sacks but were 23rd in QB knockdowns and 30th in hurries. Sacks are great, but pocket pressure makes all quarterbacks worse. So the Rams will not only have to replace Floyd, but they may need more to truly upgrade the position.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a quality pass rusher that won’t get top dollar. So the Rams will have to consider using their first pick on an edge rusher. The good news for the Rams is this draft is loaded with draftable pass rushers.
Two that are gettable for the Rams with their 57th overall pick that could quickly make an immediate difference on defense. Joe Tryon out of Washington and Patrick Jones from Pitt.
At 6’5” 262lbs, Joe Tryon looks like Nick Bosa 2.0. But, with PAC-12’s mishandling of this last season, Tryon is an unrefined talent. He opted out of playing when the PAC-12 canceled the season and didn’t opt back in when they uncanceled, but decided to focus on the draft. The good thing about that for the Rams is he won’t go as high in the draft had he played and made an impact this season. But he has proved he can produce. As a sophomore, he compiled eight sacks, 5th best in the conference.
If the Rams draft him they will get in early on a raw talent that has shown a strong skill set that will translate in the NFL.
Unlike Tyron, Patrick Jones isn’t the physical specimen of an NFL edge rusher. It isn’t that he is undersized, but rather that he is lean and has a modest wingspan. That said, he is consistent and has a motor on him. He has an impressive arsenal of weapons to get into the backfield, although he will have to work on how he uses his hands.
He was fifth in the nation with nine sacks last season, but some mock drafts have him going as low as fourth. There were several players that are mocked to go ahead of him that opted out of the 2020 season. His draft position has been pushed down because guys like Gregory Rousseau are still rated highly despite missing the season. Luckily for the Rams, Jones should be around in the late second round.
The Rams deep passing game was non-existent last season. That is about to change with Matt Stafford under center. Stafford has a cannon arm and has had some of the league’s best on the receiving end.
While they are amazing pass-catchers, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have never been deep ball targets. In 2018, Brandin Cooks topped the team in explosive catches and was fifth in the league overall. This season the team’s most explosive receiver was Tyler Higbee and he was 38th overall.
Sean McVay essentially stopped going downfield in 2020 for a variety of reasons. Now with Stafford’s abilities, he will be eager to call deep throws again. So the Rams should upgrade this position and give Stafford a viable target down the field.
The big-play receiver market is similar to the edge market. It is pretty easy to identify talent because their impact is so pronounced, but the field is pretty flush with talent in both free agency and in the draft.
A few guys the Rams should consider signing in free agency would be Rashard Higgins and Cam Sims.
Even with Odell Beckham Jr. out of the lineup, Higgins is buried in the Cleveland receiver depth chart. With Beckham coming back, Higgins becomes the third or even the fourth option for Baker Mayfield. Higgins deserves a chance to be among the team’s top options and going back to Cleveland won’t give him that chance.
Higgins is that big-play threat the Rams need. His most famous play was a nearly game-changing catch that he ran to the two-yard line against the Chiefs in the playoffs. He fumbled it out of the end zone, but a huge play regardless.
Higgins led the team with 13.7 air yards per target. He also had a nose for the sticks. He converted 26 first downs on 52 targets. That is a rate of 50% conversions per target. Travis Kelce’s rate, who led the league in first downs, was 54.5%. The Rams also need a receiver that can move the chains. Cooper Kupp led the team in conversion rate with 35.7%. Higgins checks several boxes for what the Rams need at wide receiver and he could be affordable given the breadth of free agents available.
Cam Sims is similar to Higgins. He is the third option in Washington and will likely be looking for a bigger role on a team this season. That translates to a steal in free agency. While he would technically be a third option on the Rams he offers that explosive playability, which neither Cooper Kupp nor Robert Woods offers. According to sharpfootballstats.com Sims was third in explosive play rate behind Higgins and Julio Jones. He was second on the team in yards after the catch (7.8) and second in average depth of target (10.9). He would also be the Rams biggest wide receiver. Sims is 6’5”, 215lbs. That’s Calvin Johnson height.
Rashod Bateman out of Minnesota is hands down the best wide receiver that the Rams will have a shot at late in the second round. He’s good-sized, 6’2” 210lbs. He has big-play threat with great hands. He’s a near-finished product that is ready to contribute in the NFL right away. The only reason he is getable for the Rams is how good the last two receiver draft classes have been. There are 9 or 10 guys rated ahead of him this year and there were 13 drafted in 2020. Meaning by the time Bateman’s card is drawn, many clubs will already be flush with young pass-catchers.