The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: NFC West – Los Angeles Rams


Los Angeles Rams

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

A review of my 2020 outlooks shows that I was wildly mistaken about the outlook for the Los Angeles Rams. My assessment was that their plan to pour so many resources into a small number of stars while counting on the coaching staff to develop mid or late-round draft picks was overly optimistic due to the number of spots where they needed players to emerge.

The Rams proved me wrong, as a list of players including guards David Edwards and Austin Corbett, center Austin Blythe, guard/tackle Joseph Noteboom, running back Darrell Henderson, defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, edge Leonard Floyd, inside linebackers Troy Reeder and Micah Kiser, corners Troy Hill and Darious Williams, and safety Taylor Rapp all turned in career-best seasons. On top of that, Rob Havenstein enjoyed a bounce-back season at right tackle, and the Rams got notable production from several rookies, including running back Cam Akers, who emerged as a star by season’s end, wide receiver Van Jefferson, and safety Jordan Fuller.

Los Angeles lost Blythe and Hill from the aforementioned group, as well as safety John Johnson, who consistently played at a high level over the course of his rookie contract. While the massive haul of draft picks they sent to the Detroit Lions to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford prevented them from filling the new holes with high-profile prospects, it seems foolish to doubt their ability to achieve similar results as they look to find replacements. It’s possible that they regress to the mean in that regard, but there seems to be something to Los Angeles’s strategy of creating clear opportunities for unheralded players to compete for and seize starting roles.

As to the Stafford trade, the move is a marked upgrade at the game’s most important position. Jared Goff had some notable accomplishments as a Ram, highlighted by his NFC Championship season, but his limitations became progressively more obvious when the Rams could no longer run the offense through running back Todd Gurley. Goff lacks evasiveness in the pocket, doesn’t have the athletic ability to get out of the pocket, and most importantly, struggled to process many aspects of the game, which was on full display in his disastrous performance against the hyper-aggressive “show” fronts that the Miami Dolphin defense used to torment him last season.

Stafford doesn’t have any of those limitations, with the exception of a lack of ability to make big things happen outside the pocket with his legs. However, that’s a small deficiency when you consider his immense arm talent, his ability to move in the pocket, and his high-level understanding of how to defeat opposing defenses. Injuries have been an issue in the past two seasons, but Stafford has played at an extremely high level when he can go. He’s the rare quarterback who can aggressively put throws into tight downfield windows without letting his turnovers get out of hand, and while he never had the luxury of a consistently competent run game in Detroit, Stafford showed the ability to win on the rare occasions when he was paired with a strong defense.

Stafford should certainly have a strong defense in Los Angeles. While defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who oversaw a schematic transformation that made this Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey-led unit among the league’s best, is gone, much of the talent remains, and new coordinator Raheem Morris brings a wealth of experience. He also has the luxury of going into the season with far more proven commodities than Staley did, and given the impact, he was able to have when he took over Atlanta’s brutal defense from less adept schemers, I expect him to get strong results from this unit.

The question around Matthew Stafford has always been whether he can win on the big stage, or if he’s just a numbers quarterback. Paired with an excellent offensive mind in Sean McVay and with one of the league’s more talented rosters around him, Stafford will have the opportunity to provide a definitive answer to that question in 2021.

QB Passing Projections

Matthew Stafford917420.4632.40.667.864971.433.311.319.54

QB Rushing Projections

Matthew Stafford91741.54.45184.

Skill Projections, Rushing

Cam AkersRB917209.84.69982.910.047.552.415.26
Robert WoodsWR34178.96.9861.
Darrell Henderson Jr.RB12517121.44.48544.45.227.527.57.03
Jake FunkRB2391760.04.17250.32.813.614.42.44

Skill Projections, Receiving

Cam AkersRB91777.553.910.55568.22.911.08.815.26
Cooper KuppWR301768.291.212.391130.310.
Robert WoodsWR341764.394.412.241155.
Tyler HigbeeTE1061775.859.210.78638.15.712.317.37.52
Darrell Henderson Jr.RB1251767.724.18.96215.
Tutu AtwellWR1701756.628.416.51469.
Van JeffersonWR2001757.629.19.18267.
DeSean JacksonWR2411756.615.716.50259.
Jacob HarrisWR2891760.913.112.11158.
Johnny MundtTE3251760.811.29.72109.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.