How Rams can build around QB Jared Goff
With the news of head coach Jeff Fisher’s firing, the Los Angeles Rams will face many questions over the upcoming offseason. There will be several jokes made about Fisher’s early firing and his famous Hard Knocks line, but the fact remains—in 21 full season as head coach, Jeff Fisher has recorded just six winning seasons. His offenses have consistently underperformed, grading in the bottom third of Pro Football Focus’ cumulative team grades for six straight seasons (five with the Rams, one with the Titans). This move was inevitable if the offense didn’t show signs of life this season opposite a defensive unit that, despite giving up 40+ points in two of the past three games, is likely capable of leading a postseason charge.
While quarterback Jared Goff is struggling in his rookie season, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick was only thrust into action when Case Keenum was clearly losing the team games. The entire offense is performing at a subpar level, and when your best offensive player is arguably WR Kenny Britt, a disappointing former first-round pick out of Rutgers, your team has a problem. While GM Les Snead has made some solid draft choices on the defensive side of the ball—Aaron Donald, Janoris Jenkins (now a top-10 CB with the Giants), Trumaine Johnson, and Maurice Alexander to name a few—his selections on offense have depleted the team of talent. Left tackle Greg Robinson has been one of the worst OTs in the NFL in each season of his career, and WR Tavon Austin is electric as a gadget player, but clearly a bust as a first-round pick, let alone a top-10 pick.
With a strong defense already in place, the Rams need to make moves this offseason to provide weapons and protection for the No. 1 overall pick they traded up for. Unfortunately, this draft has a plethora of defensive playmakers while being sparse on the offensive side, and Los Angeles traded away its 2017 first-round pick in moving up for Goff. That doesn’t mean those players aren’t out there, it just means the Rams need to be creative in acquiring talent to surround Goff with.
Find wide receiver talent
The Rams have a good cap situation, with over $41 million projected to be used this offseason. Similarly to Oakland in 2014—the Raiders’ No. 1 WR was James Jones, they had an offensive line in disarray outside of LT Donald Penn and LG Gabe Jackson, and their rookie QB, Derek Carr, was struggling—the Rams have an opportunity to turn the corner. Carr’s rookie grade of 47.7 showed no indications of an approaching sophomore leap, especially in the manner it did. Part of Carr’s major improvement was getting two big playmakers to throw the ball to in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
The biggest wide receiver name on the 2017 free-agent market will be Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery; he should be a player the Rams target. While his play this season isn’t at the level it was in 2015—and he also served time for a suspension—Jeffery still has the talent, and is one of the best deep-ball receivers in the league, with his ability to subtly separate and win at the jump point. Other potential free-agent WRs to target include Arizona’s Michael Floyd, Tennessee’s Kendall Wright, and Cleveland’s Terrelle Pryor. Floyd and Wright are former first-round talents not living up to expectations (think Crabtree), and Pryor has excelled with the Browns, which is not easy to do given the team’s QB carousel.
While the Rams most likely won’t have an opportunity to draft Western Michigan’s Corey Davis or Clemson’s Mike Williams, there will be talented prospects to be had in this draft, such as Oklahoma State’s James Washington, Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook, and Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford. While Tavon Austin was given a big extension this offseason, his usage is best in quick screens, jet sweeps, and as a returner. If the Rams can evaluate 2017 prospect talent correctly, there will be a first-round talent that drops into the second (think former Ohio State WR Michael Thomas this season)—that’s where they should pounce.
Rebuild the offensive line
Unlike the 2014 Raiders, the Rams don’t have a Donald Penn or Gabe Jackson on their team—this is where the turn-around akin to Oakland’s will be much more difficult. LG Rodger Saffold is playing well this year, and RT Rob Havenstein had been performing well until the last three games, surrendering five sacks and 11 QB hurries. Free-agency targets will be hard to come by, but potentially two Green Bay Packers could hit the market—center J.C. Tretter and right guard T.J. Lang. I’d expect Ted Thompson to keep one of those two in Green Bay, and the Rams should heavily pursue the other.
If the Rams are unable to land either current Packer, some other potential targets include Titans G Chance Warmack, Bengals G Kevin Zeitler, and Lions G Larry Warford. While Warmack hasn’t graded well the past two seasons, he does have talent and should be a cheaper option. Zeitler and Warford both have graded well, with Zeitler consistently among the league’s best guards each season. With the 2017 draft not fielding a deep class on the offensive line, landing one of the top free agents will be necessary. The Rams absolutely should target a couple of offensive lineman in the draft, but they need to find a free agent or two to solidify the unit and protect Goff.
With the L.A. offense being led by young players such as Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley, the team is really just a few pieces away from fielding a legitimately feared unit. The next head coach should be offensive-minded so that he can develop Goff and put him in favorable situations. With a defense that has graded cumulatively in the top-10 league-wide over the past two seasons, elevating the offense to even an average level could very well put this team into playoff contention. Add a top-tier receiver and offensive lineman in free agency, and hit on a couple of draft picks, and Los Angeles could take a major step forward in 2017 and beyond. The Rams aren’t that far away—they just need to hire the right head coach and build around Jared Goff.