The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 8. Today, the Los Angeles Rams
Last year’s record: 7-9
Head coach: Jeff Fisher
Core players: Todd Gurley (RB), Aaron Donald (DT), Robert Quinn (DE), Alec Ogletree (LB)
2016 is about… Ending the run of mediocrity. Since Jeff Fisher came to the Rams organization as head coach, the club has never exceeded seven wins in a season and has finished 7-9 in three of his four years. Fisher’s track record just screams mediocrity as he has just five playoff appearances in 22 seasons as a head coach and hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2003 season, when he was with the Tennessee Titans. The Rams have been a tricky team because they have the potential to beat some of the better teams in the league, but struggle to remain consistent due to volatile quarterback play and an overall lack of discipline, and frequently lose games they’re supposed to win. The move to the west coast should inspire the organization as a whole, but Los Angeles won’t sustain their interest if the club remains in the NFL’s version of purgatory.
They lost… The Rams had plenty of personnel losses, despite moving from St. Louis to sunny Los Angeles. The club lost two key veteran starters in the secondary as cornerback Janoris Jenkins landed a mega free-agent deal with the New York Giants while Rodney McLeod landed a starting gig with the Philadelphia Eagles. The team also saw defensive lineman Nick Fairley depart to join the New Orleans Saints after one year with the Rams and tight end Jared Cook land in Green Bay with the Packers. The Rams also released long-time starters and key veteran leaders such as Chris Long and James Laurinaitis as their salary cap numbers began to exceed their production on the field. Plus, the team cut ties with quarterback Nick Foles, who failed to hold onto his starting job throughout his one season in St. Louis.
But they got… The Rams were rather quiet in terms of personnel additions via free agency. They added defensive lineman Dominique Easley, the Patriots’ 2014 first round pick, once he was released by New England, but the majority of their additions came via the draft. They dealt a bounty of picks to trade up for QB Jared Goff, but he has had difficulty transitioning to the pros and will open the season as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart. They also boosted their offence with the mid-round draft picks of tight end Tyler Higbee and receiver Pharaoh Cooper.
Growing from within… Jenkins and McLeod’s departures created openings in the secondary, which are expected to be filled by internal players such as undersized cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety Mo Alexander, who has mostly been employed on special teams since he was drafted in 2014. He is an energetic player and an apt tackler, which should fit in quite well in a starting defence that generates a ton of pressure with its front four. Also, the team is expecting a big jump from quarterback Case Keenum, who will open the year as the starting quarterback despite paying a steep price to acquire Goff. Keenum has been reliable in spot duty throughout his tenure with the club and has looked far better than the rookie quarterback in pre-season play and off-season work. He will be the every-down QB until Goff proves he’s ready to play and that might not be the case at all this season.
Why this team? Gurley is a physical freak at running back and should be even better than he was in his dominant rookie season, considering he’s not coming back from a serious knee injury this time around. On defence, the front seven is still in tact for the most part and Aaron Donald should be in line for another monster year as a total disruptor in the middle of the defensive line. He’s right up there with J.J. Watt and Von Miller as the NFL’s best defensive players. Donald has an unique ability to generate pressure and disrupt quarterbacks, which has been a huge part in the Rams’ victories over division powerhouses such as Seattle and Arizona in recent years.
Why not? Sorry, Jeff Fisher but the Rams seem built for 8-8 or 7-9 again. The defence’s holes on the back end could be exposed against certain teams and outside of Gurley, the offence doesn’t inspire much confidence. Keenum is a fringe starter, despite his recent improvement, and the receivers are adequate at best. The Rams seem a year or two away from really making a playoff run, which will be tough with all the picks they gave up to land Goff.
How much hope? 5.5/10 — Gurley and Donald are two of the best young building blocks in the league, but until the QB situation gets sorted out, this team appears in line for a nine-win season as a best-case scenario.