Now that the Super Bowl has been played and free agency is approaching in a month, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be looking at the top three needs for each team. Today, the Los Angeles Rams are the focus. The Rams, unfortunately, do not have a first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and a few key players will hit the free agency market this year, most notably cornerback Trumaine Johnson, wide receiver Kenny Britt, and safety T.J. McDonald. However, with their new coaching staff, the team will be moving in a much different direction as they look to build themselves back to their former glory.
Los Angeles Rams 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
Offensive Line Unity
Before even looking to picking up free agents or drafting another new lineman, the Rams need to put serious stock in creating a unified offensive line. Needless to say, the line was an abomination all year long and though coaches tried changing blocking schemes, moving players around positions, and substituting, there was little progress seen.
Obviously, the Rams have a new offensively-minded coach in Sean McVay, who previously coordinated one of the best offensive lines in the league last year with the Washington Redskins. They also have Matt La Fleur from the Atlanta Falcons who coordinated a formidable line himself last season. In addition, they also brought in Aaron Kromer from Buffalo to be the offensive line coach. He brings with him the experience of having worked with the same group that has enabled star running back LeSean McCoy.
This leads into the main reason the offensive line needs to be at the very least competent next season. It is well known that Jared Goff is the center piece of the Rams’ future, and before talk about game plans and receivers can start, there needs to be a run game. If Todd Gurley is being impeded like last year, there will be another long year of frustrating drives awaiting Los Angeles.
Of course, Goff needs to be protected, too. In today’s game, the offensive line has never been more important. The Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys have seen their impenetrable units launch their star skilled players to national acclaim and their teams to early playoff berths. The Rams can only join the conversation with some unity of their own.
Continuing with the Goff-centered build, wide receivers are the next biggest need for the Rams. Though Kenny Britt had a standout season as one of the most successful crossing route receivers in the league, he will be a free agent this off-season. Even if Britt was locked in for next year, Goff will need a lot more help if his talents are going to be used to full effect.
With plenty of money still to pay to Tavon Austin, he will be expected to play a part in the 2017 schemes, hopefully to better success this year. However, the role of number one receiver seems to be primed for the taking. Names have been floated around including DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and even some potential draft picks. Whoever it is, the Rams need a deep threat. The team suffered greatly from the lack of vertical passing and they wasted one of Goff’s greatest strengths by allowing him so many check-down options. The offense will need to stretch much longer in 2017 and this will require the services of a true number one wide out.
In addition, the Rams will need to see better performance for their additional targets. Young players like Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas will need to step up and fill that second, third, or fourth spot. The team may also need to draft another young talent to add speed and depth to their lacking corps.
Though they have their work cut out for them, with the new leadership, the team is in a much better mindset moving forward in terms of wide receivers and the passing game.
Surprisingly, in early 2016, the Rams showed a strong pass defense and held onto the strength well through their collapse. Los Angeles lost two of their best pass defenders in free agency last season and the spots held by Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are still up for grabs. To add to the problem, safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Trumaine Johnson will enter free agency this year.
The Rams need to stop this revolving door in the secondary and, much like their offensive line, build some consistency in the unit. This past season the number two and three cornerbacks were constantly changing with E.J. Gaines unable to stay healthy once again, and young players like Lamarcus Joyner and Troy Hill still struggling to acclimate to the league’s top receivers. The latter two will need serious development to continue to be used in the third or fourth spot and occasionally as a backup role for the number two corner. As for Gaines, the team may be looking to move on from the unpredictable injuries.
Of course, Johnson has been a defensive leader as well as a face for the move to Los Angeles, so he will not be easily let go. However, with new management it is unclear what direction they will want to take the team. If Johnson is let to sign with another squad, the Rams will need to pick up a free agent to match the level of play and experience of him. A lot is left to be discussed, but consistency is key for this team and keeping Johnson would be falling right in this suit.
The safety duo of McDonald and Maurice Alexander was the more solid of the group. These players were particularly effective against the run, which is not always the best sign of a good front seven, but when they needed to, the safeties stepped up. The Rams may be looking for either more speed or more experience when evaluating the safeties and with McDonald up for a new contract, they have a lot of tough decisions to make. Alexander thrived in the type of safety play akin to the schemes of Gregg Williams, but with Wade Phillips running the show, he may struggle as he is used more in coverage than run defense. As a guru of the secondary, Phillips will be sure to get the most out of Alexander, but whether that will be enough will remain to be seen.
Overall, the Rams simply need consistency in these groups. Injuries have stifled the team for years and losses in free agency have slowed them even more. The new management will need to put priority on locking in talented, healthy players that can work well within the Wade Phillips system for years to come.