There is much to prove for every NFL team entering the 2020 season, sans the world champion Kansas City Chiefs, but the Los Angeles Rams are near the top of the list. The team followed up a stellar 2018 season that saw them appear in Super Bowl XXXVI, but their balloon was rapidly deflated when a flat offensive effort saw them lose to the New England Patriots. They then suffered from the dreaded Super Bowl hangover in 2019, fighting through an uneven season that saw them finish at 9-7 and out of the playoffs entirely.
With head coach Sean McVay now needing to re-establish his brand as an offensive genius and Jared Goff being looked at to carry more of the load, things will get interesting quickly once the season fires up. With no Todd Gurley behind him and no Brandin Cooks beside him to stretch the opposing defense, new faces will have to step up to challenge incumbents to help buoy the team back to contender status. Otherwise, , and one wherein they’ll open up SoFi Stadium — their new NFL digs.
And with that, let’s take a shot at predicting who makes the cut for the final 55-man roster, and who has to play the best football of their career thanks to offseason changes.
(* indicates player is a rookie)
Goff needs to tee off in 2020
The biggest and most glaring change to the Rams depth chart for 2020 doesn’t come by addition, but instead by subtraction. The team decided it was time to cut ties with All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, releasing him this offseason before seeing him immediately sign on with the Atlanta Falcons. The split came amidst rumors of health issues with Gurley’s knee, but those claims were never formally substantiated and the Pro Bowler has released several workout videos showing his knee is seemingly just fine.
It’s all water under the bridge now, though, with the Rams seeking to figure out who’ll be Gurley’s successor only two years after making him the highest-paid running back in NFL history. It’ll be easier said-than-done, considering Brown and Henderson combined for 455 total yards from scrimmage last season, and they’ll both now be challenged by Akers — a rookie with more than enough juice to push his name higher on the depth chart.
With Gurley gone and Brandin Cooks out as well, the latter via trade to the Houston Texans, Goff might find himself shouldering more of the load as it relates to having to make players around him better. And as he and head coach Sean McVay work to bounce back from missing the playoffs only a season after making it to the Super Bowl, it’s paramount Goff do just that in 2020.
Finding Robin to pair with Batman
You know what Aaron Donald is and you know what he’s capable of. The future Hall of Fame pass rusher is a force of nature on the football field, but the Rams are looking to see who’ll step up and be an impactful sidekick to him in 2020. Donald led the team in 2019 with 12.5 sacks and second place went to linebacker Dante Fowler, who had 11.5 of his own, but Fowler waved goodbye in free agency and joins Gurley as a member of the Falcons. What’s more, the team decided to release Clay Matthews, whose eight sacks were good enough for third-most on the team last season and 3.5 more than fourth-place Samson Ebukam.
Keeping with the theme of lost sack-producers, Corey Littleton left to join the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason, and while he logged just 3.5 sacks in 2019, it was more than Brockers (3.0). All told, the Rams need to replace, at minimum, 23 sacks lost to either free agency or by voluntary release, and that simply won’t be easy to do.
Brockers and Ebukam now ascend the depth chart by default but if they want to remain in their respective seats, they’ll have to step up big and help Donald harass opposing quarterbacks.
Just for kicks
It’s a new day on the special teams unit in Los Angeles as well, as not all of the more obvious changes were relegated to offense and defense. With the coming 2020 season arrives a new face at kicker, as longtime boot Greg Zuerlein follows former Rams special teams coordinator Jim “Bones” Fassel to the Dallas Cowboys for a fresh start. That forced Los Angeles to address the position in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Sloman seemingly gets the nod as Zuerlein’s successor — selected in the seventh round by McVay and Co. He must still beat out Austin MacGinnis and Lirim Hajrullahu to assure his spot, which should make for an interesting camp, seeing as there is no definitive frontrunner at the position just yet.
On the return side, look for rookie Trishton Jackson to battle Dortch for the honor of handling punts, seeing as both have similar skill sets and near-equal 40 yard dash times. JoJo Natson, the Rams top return specialist, is now a member of the Cleveland Browns, leaving the door open for his replacement to step up — whomever that may be.