You’re usually expected to make the playoffs the following year when you win a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the Rams. After a 2021 to remember, 2022 was a year to forget. So now we have to fix the Los Angeles Rams for 2023!
The Rams dealt with a plethora of injuries, including ones to star players Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald. They dealt with an overmatched offensive line that had no answer for the retirement of LT Andrew Whitworth. And the signing of WR Allen Robinson to replace Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t exactly go as planned.
Sean McVay waffled with the idea of retirement after the season, then decided he wasn’t ready to hang them up. His offensive coordinator agreed to head back to college, and McVay let go of several assistant coaches. Oh, and the Rams currently sit about $16 million over the 2023 projected salary cap.
So how do we fix the Rams for 2023 and recapture the magic of 2021? Let’s start with what the offense did (or, more accurately, didn’t do) in 2022.
A Look at the 2022 Stats
The Rams ranked 32nd in the league in Total Offense, averaging 280.5 yards per game. That’s right. Dead last. That’s one year after finishing ninth overall, averaging 372.1 yards per game. They ranked 27th in Passing Offense (182.8 yards/game), 27th in Rushing Offense (97.7 yards/game), and tied for 26th in Scoring Offense (18.1 points/game). If you’re a Rams fan, it was a tough season. For fantasy, it was a tough season if you rostered any Rams players in fantasy football. And if you’re an NFL fan who had to watch the Rams on TV, well, you just turned the channel. It was a tough season.
The good news? The Rams’ offense can’t really get any worse. And getting a few key players healthy will certainly help. But this offense lacks an identity. It’s currently Cooper Kupp or Bust. So McVay went back to a familiar name in his coaching tree to help jumpstart this offense and work to craft a weekly game plan that utilizes more than just Kupp in this offense.
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Fixing the Los Angeles Rams in 2023
Mike LaFleur as OC
LaFleur, as the Jets play caller, was a mixed bag. He made great work of Elijah Moore in 2021 but then forgot about him in 2022 because he had Garrett Wilson to do better things with. He made the run game work with Michael Carter in 2021, and then REALLY made it work with Breece Hall in 2022 before his injury; then he made it work with undrafted rookie Zonovan Knight, despite injuries across the offensive line.
You know what the Rams had last year? A struggling offensive line. Cumulatively, they had the 19th-best Run Block grade per PFF. That falls in line with Football Outsiders’ rank of the Rams Rush DVOA, also at 19th in the league. Both of those numbers were better than what LaFleur had in New York. So what can we decipher from this? First, LaFleur can game plan a running game.
We know that Sean McVay calls plays. LaFleur got his shot to call plays with the Jets the last two years, but there’s no shame in stepping down from those duties. Instead, he’ll be heavily involved in game-planning and developing the scheme while learning from one of the best in the business for his next shot at being the play caller.
McVay has a history with the LaFleur family, as Mike’s brother Matt, the current head coach of the Green Bay Packers, was McVay’s OC back in 2017. In addition, Mike LaFleur’s system is similar to McVay’s, so it’s easy to see how these two could work together to get the Rams back on track.
Now that the offense has the coaches in place let’s look at the players on the roster that we know are staying put.
Let’s start with Cooper Kupp. He’s on the books for $27.8 million, signing a 4-year extension last offseason. He’s one of the five best receivers in the league, so we know he’s not going anywhere.
Matthew Stafford is going into his age-35 season and also just signed an extension to keep him in Los Angeles until 2026. The good news? His cap hit is only $20 million, currently the 14th-highest cap charge at the position. The bad news? He’s returning from a neck injury that sidelined him for the final seven games of 2022. However, Stafford has said he’s not retiring and plans to play in 2023. We’d all like to think that if that’s the plan, he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure he’s healthy and ready to go in 2023.
Last year’s big-ticket free agent, WR Allen Robinson, looked like a huge bust in Year 1. Entering Year 2, he’s set to count $18.05 million against the cap, not great when he put together only 339 yards and 3 TDs in 10 games played. I imagine GM Les Snead may try to explore trade options for Allen Robinson for any kind of draft capital (even a 6th round pick would do at this point) just to rid themselves of his contract. A post-June 1st trade would leave LA with $2.8 million in dead cap but save them $15.25 million. More on that later.
The Rams leading receiver from 2022, TE Tyler Higbee, will be 30 in 2023 and is entering the final year of his contract. He’s set to count $9.125 million against the cap. So an extension can free up a good amount of money and keep a reliable target for Stafford at this disposal.
Big Decisions Ahead
Two other players that have proven to be important pieces to McVay’s offense are entering the final year of their respective rookie contracts — WR Van Jefferson and RB Cam Akers.
Jefferson missed time early in the season as he worked his way back from injury, playing only 11 games on the season. However, many know that Jefferson’s importance to this offense goes beyond the stat sheet. He’s a solid option when healthy, but he’s, at best, a third or fourth option. A reasonably priced extension keeps him in the fold as an outside option in this offense.
Akers’ situation is more complicated. A trade request from Akers in the middle of the season was not granted, but he finished the season on a tear, leading the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns from Weeks 13-18. He also averaged 4.9 yards per carry, more than a year after tearing his Achilles. His lack of involvement in the passing game could cap what a potential extension could look like, but it’s fair to speculate he’ll be the Rams’ RB1 to begin 2023.
The Rams currently have seven players that are counting more than $15 million against the salary cap. With so many high-priced players, they need to bargain shop and rely on draft picks to replenish the roster. But the first big move that needs to be made?
Trade Allen Robinson
Look, it didn’t work. The move to replace Odell Beckham Jr. with a “star” didn’t work because, in short, Robinson isn’t the star we all thought he was. His getting hurt this year didn’t help any, but he’s not the field stretcher he once was. But he can still be a good WR in this league, and we saw flashes of it in 2022. Trading him post-June 1st is the only way to free up significant money. And there are teams that have the cap space that could swing a trade for a late-round pick to see if ARob was the problem or if the Rams were.
Come on. We know Bill Belichick loves himself a cheap veteran reclamation project. Their outside receivers last year were abysmal. ARob could get to work with Mac Jones (or a veteran like Jimmy Garoppolo if you believe Steve) and provide a reliable veteran in Bill O’Brien‘s offense.
We know Atlanta didn’t throw much in 2022. However, I’m guessing that plan will change in 2023 as they look to take advantage of the high draft capital spent on TE Kyle Pitts and WR Drake London. Adding a veteran presence takes a lot of pressure off of the young guys and gives Desmond Ridder (or a different QB) another option to spread the ball around more to keep defenses honest.
This one may be a long shot, as much of the available cap space the Giants have will likely be used to re-sign QB Daniel Jones and (potentially) RB Saquon Barkley. And with their swing-and-a-miss on Kenny Golladay, maybe bringing in another high-priced veteran isn’t the answer. Robinson is a different kind of receiver than Golladay, though, one that should pair better with Jones. ARob relies on getting open, not making every target a contested catch scenario. Building a young WR corps around a veteran like ARob, when he’d likely only cost a late-round pick or two, is a worthy gamble.
A Robinson trade frees up $15+ million, so now we’re in business. Some restructuring for guys like Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and even Kupp will free up some money to potentially add some players to the offensive line. Knowing Snead and McVay, they’re gonna keep swinging on mid-round picks on the offensive line, and plug them into their scheme, and hope to hit home runs.
Trading a WR that doesn’t fit their schemes opens a spot for a player that DOES fit their scheme. And what this offense needs more than anything is speed.
Sign D.J. Chark
This is easily my favorite match of the offseason. The Rams work in between the numbers better than any team in the NFL because Cooper Kupp just knows how to get open. What alleviates some of those double and triple teams is speed. And that’s not something the Rams had much of last season.
Chark has a 1,000-yard season on his resume. He’s coming off a prove-it year with the Lions, where he averaged 16.7 yards per reception. Chark’s biggest problem throughout his career has been health. He played in only 11 games last year and averages just shy of 11 games played a season of his career. But he’ll be 27 years old in 2023, and in a year where there aren’t a ton of high-profile WRs hitting free agency, he could be in line for a multi-year deal and a raise from the $10 million he earned this year, despite totaling only 502 yards on 30 receptions last year.
With Chark and Kupp on the outside in two-WR sets and Jefferson joining them in three-WR sets, McVay has more options to work with in the downfield passing game.
Now that we’ve filled out the WR corps let’s figure out what to do at running back.
Commit to Cam Akers
Akers is entering Year 4 of his NFL career. And he’ll be 24 in June. So unless the plan is to spend big and go get Josh Jacobs or Saquon Barkley, you won’t find a younger RB in free agency. And they need to use their two Day 2 selections (picks 36 and 69 overall) to upgrade more important positions.
They could let the season for Akers play out to see if he continues his end-of-season tear from 2022 before deciding on extending him. And this draft is stacked with RB talent. But when you already have an RB with untapped potential, why not just keep him around versus resetting the clock with someone unproven?
Akers will be yet another year removed from his Achilles injury, and as I mentioned earlier, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry over the season’s final six games. He averaged 2.77 yards after contact per attempt and forced the third most missed tackles in that same six-game stretch. He has the chance to continue to improve, especially as a receiver and pass blocker.
With Mike LaFleur as the OC in this scenario, Akers has the chance to be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2023. LaFleur utilizes a lot of zone-rushing schemes in his play calling, and Akers’ ability as a one-cut runner should flourish with more zone runs as opposed to McVay’s gap concepts.
The New-Look 2023 Los Angeles Rams
With Stafford back under center, a WR corps featuring Cooper Kupp, D.J. Chark, and Van Jefferson, an RB rotation featuring Cam Akers and Kyren Williams, and Tyler Higbee at TE should be enough to vault the Rams back to a top-10 offense in the NFL.
Kupp remains the unquestioned top option, with Higbee being a top 10 fantasy TE primarily on volume. Akers is an RB2 with RB1 upside, depending on how much passing game usage he receives. Chark is a Best Ball star, with a top-10 weekly upside as the big play threat in a top offense, but he is immensely volatile due to his limited floor. And Jefferson is a waiver wire darling in the making, depending on how many games Chark misses due to injury.
That’s an offense we should all be happy to get behind.
We might not be able to fix every team this offseason, but you can click here to see who else we fixed!