The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we head to the NFC West to provide a Los Angeles Rams 2016 preview.
Here, we’ll be discussing a team in a new (but old) city, with a new quarterback, hoping to shed the longstanding label of mediocre.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Los Angeles Rams 2016 Preview
Head coach: Jeff Fisher (Fifth season)
Key arrivals: CB Coty Sensabaugh, DL Cam Thomas, DT Dominique Easley
Key departures: CB Janoris Jenkins, FS Rodney McLeod, LB James Laurinaitis, DT Nick Fairley, TE Jared Cook, DE Chris Long, QB Nick Foles
1. When will we see Jared Goff?
Make no mistake, Goff is not a surefire No. 1 pick like Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. He’s shown some flashes in the preseason, but still looks like a quarterback that has a lot of developing to do.
Sample size caveats apply, but here's an early look at how Jared Goff performs under pressure vs. a clean pocket. pic.twitter.com/7QfvHaqXjD
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 31, 2016
But while Goff may be a project, he’s logically going to play this year. With all due respect to Case Keenum, there’s nothing about his track record to suggest that he’ll keep a No. 1 overall pick on the bench for very long. Not only was Goff the top overall pick in April, but he was a guy that the Rams paid a lot to get.
So, when will we see him? There are plenty of different variables here. If Los Angeles is losing, we might see Goff early. If they’re doing okay, it may not be until later. At this point, the best bet would be that he’ll start sometime around midseason.
2. Can Tavon Austin be an elite receiver?
Austin has always been a nice jack of all trades. With five receiving touchdowns, four rushing, and one returning, he found the end zone 10 times last year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
But now he’s getting paid big money. Can he be the true No. 1 receiver that Goff (or Keenum) can depend on?
The good news is that he’s coming off of his best season. The bad news is that, as a receiver, that season featured only 52 receptions for 473 yards. That’s a far cry from the 100 catches that Fisher thinks Austin is capable of getting.
Los Angeles doesn’t have great depth at receiver. For the quarterback situation to be settled, the Rams will need a big step forward from Austin in 2016.
3. Can the defense return to an elite level?
Heading into 2015, the Rams’ defense could always be depended upon. Sure, the offense rarely ever held up its end of the bargain, which led to a lot of bad seasons. Still, opposing offenses did not relish facing the defense.
That changed a bit last year. In their final year in St. Louis, the Rams’ defense was mediocre or bad in most categories.
That’s something that will need to change.
Against NFC opponents like the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles can not depend on scoring a lot of points. The defense will need to show up strong, keep the opposition from scoring much, and create opportunities for the offense.
Having Aaron Donald — one of the NFL’s best linemen — helps. Still, other players will have to emerge to help him. That didn’t happen enough in 2015. The 2016 season must be different.
Lamarcus Joyner, cornerback
With the loss of Janoris Jenkins, Joyner figures to see a lot of time in the Los Angeles secondary. In college, the third-year corner was a beast.
In his senior year at Florida State, Joyner recorded 5.5 sacks and forced three fumbles. It’s translated to the NFL, where Joyner has tallied three sacks. That kind of versatility is not easy to come by.
Without Jenkins in the mix, expect to see more of that. Jenkins will see time in coverage and there will certainly be times when the undersized defensive back gets beat. But in addition to being used more in coverage, he figures to be a big part of the run defense, as well as the pass rush. His versatility will be an asset.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Los Angeles certainly has talent.
Defensive linemen don’t get much better than Donald. On the offensive side of the ball, Todd Gurley is perhaps the most explosive running back in the NFL.
The Rams also have a tendency to play good teams tough. Remember, this team was 1-0-1 against the San Francisco 49ers when San Francisco made the Super Bowl in 2012. They were also 3-1 against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals a season ago.
We will also never know how much the team’s uncertain future in St. Louis played a role in 2015’s mediocre campaign. Now, they’re in Los Angeles. The future is no longer in question, and the Rams can just focus on football.
REASON TO DOUBT
The 3-1 record against Seattle and Arizona last year still only led to a 7-9 record. The Seahawks and Cardinals again look to be two of the NFL’s better teams, leaving the Rams fighting an uphill battle.
Los Angeles is also dealing with an uncertain quarterback position. We’ll probably see both Keenum and Goff. Keenum has been largely used a backup through his career. As far as Goff, most rookies struggle. Goff’s struggles have been apparent in the preseason.
Keenum and Goff will also both be playing in front of a shaky line.
Lastly, Fisher may not like the idea of mediocrity, but the facts are unmistakable. Fisher has coached six full NFL seasons since leading the Tennessee Titans to a 13-3 season in 2008. In that time, his teams have never been better than 8-8 or worse than 6-10. That’s not a small sample size, and it doesn’t get much more mediocre than that.
Prediction: 6-10, third place, NFC West