Who Will Replace the Rams’ Offseason Losses?

by Hunter Sanders
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As with any offseason in the NFL, change came quickly for the Los Angeles Rams. The 2020 offseason saw the Rams lose 7 starters in total, including former All-Pro’s Todd Gurley and Greg Zuerlein. The defense lost key starters, as well, as the Rams chose not to retain Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler, and Nickell Robey-Coleman. While some of these decisions made sense (e.g. injuries, cap number, draft picks, depth), others were head-scratchers to many football fans around the league.

However, there’s nothing left to do now for the Rams other than to determine who will replace the players they lost. Some decisions will be quick easy, while others will likely be determined just before the regular season starts.

Starter lost: WR Brandin Cooks

Projected Replacement: WR Josh Reynolds

This position battle is one to watch as the season approaches. Reynolds is entering his 4th season with the Rams (and will likely be the starting #3 WR against Dallas in Week 1), but rookie Van Jefferson will be hot on his tail. Reynolds has caught 61 passes for 832 yards and 7 TDs in his time with the Rams, most of which have come as the #4 WR (behind Woods, Kupp and Cooks when all were healthy). He is more proven than Jefferson, but the Florida product is turning heads at training camp.

In all likelihood, these two could go back and forth all season long, as they look to make a name for themselves in a stacked LA receiving core. It’s a good problem to have if you’re Sean McVay and Jared Goff, especially with Reynolds in a contract year and looking to prove his worth.

Starter lost: RB Todd Gurley

Projected Replacement: RB Cam Akers

What does Sean McVay do after losing star RB Todd Gurley? He drafts another potential star in Florida State’s Cam Akers. Akers was fantastic in college despite running behind a poor offensive line. In 2019, 904 of Akers’ 1,144 rushing yards (79%) came AFTER contact. That bodes well for the NFL, where the Rams don’t exactly have an elite o-line.

While incumbent RB’s Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown will likely share snaps evenly with Akers to start the season, I think Akers will run away with the starting job by the midway point. He’s already making an impression on his teammates, including All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey.

Starter lost: K Greg Zuerlein

Projected Replacement: K Sam Sloman

The Rams’ kicker battle probably has the most competition out of all the positions. After losing arguably the best kicker in Rams’ history in Greg Zuerlein, LA signed 2 kickers and drafted another, hoping one could replace the former Missouri State draft choice.

Sam Sloman was drafted in the 7th round from Miami (OH). He was a phenomenal kicker for the Redhawks, especially in his Junior and Senior seasons. Since 2018, Sloman has made 36/43 (83.7%) of his field goal attempts, while drilling 27/29 in the 2nd half/overtime. He has been impressing at camp, recently knocking down 40+ yards kicks in pressure situations per the team website.

While free agent signings Austin MacGinnis and Lirim Hajrullahu are certainly capable of taking the starting job, it appears that Sloman has a slight edge for now.

Starter lost: EDGE Dante Fowler

Projected Replacement: EDGE Terrell Lewis

When Dante Fowler signed a 3-year, $48 million (max) deal with the Atlanta Falcons, the Rams were left with a large hole at outside linebacker. The potential of EDGEs Samson Ebukam and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has been intriguing, but so far they have merely shown flashes. Then, Terrell Lewis fell right into their lap in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

The former Alabama star was a real talent in college, but injuries caused his draft position to slip out of the 1st round, and down to the 3rd. The Rams scooped him up with the 84th pick and reports have been nothing but positive since. He’s impressed coaches and fans alike in training camp, with plays like this.

Lewis might go down as one of the biggest steals in the draft, and he should make an instant impact for a defense that lacks a pass rush threat on the edge.

Starters lost: ILBs Cory Littleton & Bryce Hager

Projected Replacements: ILBs Micah Kiser & Travin Howard

Since both Littleton and Hager played the same position (inside LB), we’ll discuss their replacements at the same time. While losing Hager isn’t a big deal, the loss of Cory Littleton to the Las Vegas Raiders will be detrimental to the Rams’ linebacker corps. Littleton was excellent sideline-to-sideline, and was ascending to one of the best coverage LB’s in the NFL. As things sit, they have one of the worst inside LB units in the NFL. However, there are a couple of young players that could step up and rewrite that narrative.

Micah Kiser and Travin Howard were both selected in the 2018 NFL draft, but neither has made a real impact for the Rams yet. Kiser only played one snap in the league before being lost for the entire 2019 season, while Howard was decent in limited action last year. However, both players are getting action with the starters at training camp and are trying to make a name for themselves. Troy Reeder, Kenny Young and Clay Johnston will also be fighting for the starting spots, but I don’t see them as starting-caliber at the moment.

Starter lost: CB Nickell Robey-Coleman

Projected Replacement: CB David Long

While losing Cory Littleton hurts the Rams, the loss of Robey-Coleman may be even more detrimental to the defense. While he’s mainly known for the infamous non-PI call against the Saints in the 2019 NFC Championship, NRC has been a very solid player for the Rams since joining them as a free agent in 2017. He didn’t force many interceptions, but he did a great job of consistently locking down the opposing team’s slot receiver.

Now that NRC has moved on, 2nd year pro David Long looks eager to step into the vacated role in the secondary. Long was a star at Michigan, and showed potential in limited action last season. Long was recently interviewed, and he had this to say:

“My goal this season is to be the best player I can be and really bring everything together. Last season I had a learning curve and progressed well, but I feel I now have the experience and skill set to be the player others have envisioned me to be and more.”

(Long interview: https://www.therams.com/news/10-things-with-david-long-jr-2020)

Final Thoughts

All in all, the Rams didn’t lose as many starters as other teams did. However, the starters they did lose made a big impact on their success, so it’ll be interesting to see how the new players step up. If this team wants to get back in the playoffs, they’ll need to rely on newcomers.

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