The Rams Special Teams Might Actually Be Pretty Special
Like a pilot light special teams often go unnoticed and much like a pilot light it only gets noticed when it breaks down. Last season the Los Angeles Rams special teams unit was largely abysmal. There were flubs that changed the dynamics of games i.e. getting duped TWICE by the Lions on fakes, nearly costing the team a win in week two in Indianapolis, and the biggest crime of all, forcing Cooper Kupp to return punts.
After the regular season ended the Rams special teams weighted DVOA landed in the top-five of the league. That said, those issues reared their ugly heads in the divisional game against Tampa Bay.
Heading into the new season the Rams special teams have made several under-the-radar moves that will make the special teams unit much better in 2022.
The biggest reason the Rams special teams unit overcame its flaws was when they finally found a reliable returner. Brandon Powell saved the Rams against the Vikings which clinched a playoff spot by scoring their first punt return touchdown since 2015. He helped set up the Rams with solid field position for the rest of the season in the ensuing weeks.
The Rams rewarded him with a one-year deal and now that he’ll have an entire off-season to develop and be available at the start of the season. Being the full-time returner means Cooper Kupp will never have to return a punt ever again. Even if Powell is injured (knock on wood), they will also integrate Tutu Atwell as a backup on the punt team and Raymond Calais on the kick return team.
Fans might laugh at the prospect of Atwell being a contributor but his development as a solid understudy is both a possibility and something of a big deal. Not only does it give the Rams special teams flexibility both in the present and the future, and it can’t be stressed enough, but KEEPS COOP FROM BEING A RETURNER.
This might seem apocryphal Dixon Riley might wind up being better than Johnny Hekker next year (DUCKS). No really, not only did the Rams create much-needed cap space by letting Hekker go to Carolina but they found a younger replacement. Hekker is a Rams legend there is no disputing that but prior to last year there was a HEATED debate amongst fans whether the Rams should cut him in favor of Corey Bojorquez. This take, of course, aged as well as the Beer Barron’s homemade booze.
That said, the reason for that debate in the first place was Hekker’s decline and his exorbitant salary. Hekker had a bounce-back season but at that price tag, the Rams special teams will be better served by poaching Riley Dixon from the Giants. Dixon is a terrific punter in his own right, he averages about 45.5 yards a punt and his career-high is 71 yards. He’s not likely to be as fun as Hekker and won’t be tasked with throwing fourth-down passes but having youth and stability on this major facet of special teams is highly valuable.
The Rams special teams unit under Joe DeCamillis has improved greatly from the 30th ranked unit he inherited after the 2020 season. His coverage units this year remain will still need to improve but the Rams have done a great job steadily stocking the depth chart with enough players each year to give him solid options. Now that they have their punter of the future, a dependable kicker in Matt Gay, and a primary returner in Brandon Powell, this is the best unit the Rams have fielded in a long time.