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What Will The Rams Offense Look Like in 2020?

Remember last offseason when any person who was ever in the vicinity of the Sean McVay was receiving head coaching gigs? Rumor has it that even his plumber was called in for an interview. I mean, McVay looked like an offensive genius who had his team in the Super Bowl on his second year on the job. It appeared he was going to revitalize the game. And then 2019 happened.

The Rams offensive line was a shell of what it once was and it showed on the field. After winning the division two years in a row and having at least 11 wins in each of those seasons, McVay and the Rams struggled for the first time. The Rams won just nine games and finished third in the division. In 2019, the Rams had the lowest PPG, rushing yards per game, passing touchdowns under McVay. The Rams also had the most turnovers they’ve ever had under McVay. Even worse, the fantasy juggernaut let down many of us.

Todd Gurley was the best RB on the planet in the first two seasons with McVay but he was reduced to a volume reliant RB2 in 2019. And now he isn’t even on the team anymore! Goff was reduced to a QB2 with little upside and the only real positives were Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and the late season emergence of Tyler Higbee. No longer with their stud RB, many people are questioning what the Rams offense will offense will look like this season?

 

Looking Back at 2019

 McVay has been infamous for running 11 personnel in his time with the Rams. That is a formation when there are three wide receivers, one running back and one tight end. The Rams ran 11 personnel on 73 percent of their offensive plays last season, the third-most in the NFL. That was down for them though as they ran it on 91 percent of plays in 2018 and 80 percent in 2017. Both led the league and in both seasons no one else ran it more than 76 percent of the time. But that all changed in the second half of the season.

Coming off their Week 9 bye, the Rams only ran 11 personnel on 65 percent of their plays in the second half. But that number kept dwindling. It dropped down to 60.3 percent in the final five weeks of the season. League average in that span was 58.8 percent. The Rams lost a lot of offensive line talent after the Super Bowl and it showed in 2019.

Goff is not the same QB when he is pressured, and Gurley was not the back he once was. Due to that, McVay completely changed his offense up on the fly. Instead, the Rams ran 12 personnel, which is a formation with one running back, two wide receivers and two tight ends. They ran that on 35.7 percent of their plays in the final five weeks, according to PFF.

The Rams offense improved across the board once they began running 12 personnel more.

Stats Weeks 1-12 Weeks 13-17
Total Yards Per Game (YPG) 353.3 422.4
Pass YPG 274.4 330.2
Receiving YPG 90.7 100.2
Points Per Game 22.6 29.0
Plays Per Game 63 72

That should help Goff as well. Goff was averaging 272.3 pass yards per game and 13.05 fantasy PPG in Weeks 1-12. He topped 20 fantasy points in three of 11 games and scored single digit fantasy points in five of those games. In Weeks 13-17 Goff averaged 328.6 passing yards per game, 20.78 fantasy PPG and scored 20+ fantasy points in three of the five games. He did not score fewer than 16 fantasy points in any week.

It is a small sample size, but it definitely gives you reason to be more optimistic about Goff. Goff finished as the QB13 in 2019, after being QB7 and QB12 the two prior seasons. He’s going off the board as the QB16 in FFPC leagues. There is really no downside in drafting Goff at that price.

 

2020 Expectations

Will the Rams continue to utilize two tight end sets, or will they go back to the more traditional 11 personnel that had become a staple in McVay’s offense? To me, everything points to the Rams continuing to utilize 12 personnel. They went out and traded Brandin Cooks to Houston, despite the fact that they had to take on $21.8 million in dead money.  They do have Josh Reynolds and newly drafted Van Jefferson to replace him, but the Rams seldom used a third wide receiver in those final five weeks.

Cooks was primarily used as a deep threat, having seven of his 21 targets in that span go for over 20+ air yards. The bulk of the passing duties were handled by Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Higbee. And I think we would all agree, that Reynolds and Jefferson would be a downgrade from Cooks. I do not expect them to see a larger target or air yard share than Cooks had last year.

If that is the case, you have to imagine that the Rams are going to utilize Higbee. Higbee scored 53.2 total fantasy points in Weeks 1-12 and then exploded averaging 21.44 fantasy PPG. He more than doubled his season total, scoring 107.2 total fantasy points in that five-week span. He topped 100 yards in four of the five and had 84 in the other game.

He topped 20 fantasy points in three of those five and at least 18 in each. He was running 32 routes per game in that span, which led the Rams. His 11.2 targets per game was second behind only Woods. In fact, Woods and Higbee were by far the Rams top passing game weapons during this stretch.

Per Game Stats Robert Woods Tyler Higbee Cooper Kupp
Routes 42.2 32.0 31.4
Targets 11.8 11.2 6.0
Receptions 7.8 8.6 5.4
Receiving Yards 94.2 104.4 56.2
Total TD 2 2 5
Fantasy PPG 20.5 21.44 17.02

The Rams thrived at utilizing three pass catchers in 2017 and 2018. That is what they did here as well, it was just in a different way than we were accustomed to seeing. Kudos to McVay for being able to adjust his offense on the fly and get the most out of it. Now, with no Cooks and an offseason to game plan around utilizing these three receivers, I would expect good things out of them. Some will be scared off by Higbee because he hasn’t done it over the course of a full season, but to me, that doesn’t matter. He has replaced Cooks as the Rams the third cog in this passing game and should see the necessary volume (700 yards) to finish as a Top 10 tight end. The upside is even higher, as we saw in this final five game stretch. He has the upside to crack the Top 5 tight ends this season for sure.

As for the wide receivers, the numbers may look strong for both in those final five games, but there is definitely reason to worry a bit about Kupp. His targets were nearly half of Woods, his receiving yards went down greatly and he was TD dependent. In Weeks 1-8 Kupp was averaging 99 receiving yards per game, topping 100 yards in in five of eight games, including a 220 yard performance. He did not top 100 yards in any of the final eight games of the season. He also topped 20 fantasy points just once, after routinely doing so in the first half of the season. Perhaps he was tiring out since he was recovering from a Torn ACL that limited him to just eight games the year before. It is also concerning that Kupp has struggled against man but thrived against zone coverages, per Matt Harmon and Reception Perception.

The one role Kupp has always thrived in has been in the red zone. Kupp had 18 red zone targets last year, which was second most on the Rams behind only Higbee, who had 19. That was largely because Higbee had 13 red zone targets in the final five weeks, to Kupp’s seven. Kupp has 48 red zone targets since he joined the Rams in 2017, the most on the team. Gurley is second in that span with 32, and remember, Kupp missed eight games in 2018 too.

To me, Kupp is the Rams player that comes with the most risk, largely because of his price. Kupp is the 13th WR off the board, going at the end of round three, according to FFPC ADP. At that price, there is some room for upside, but not a whole lot. The fact that Kupp dwindled when the Rams changed up their offense and the fact that he has struggled against man coverage is certainly risky. Woods goes off the board as the WR20, going in the middle of the fifth round of drafts, while Higbee is the sixth tight end going in the sixth round. To me, the gap between Kupp and Woods should be closer. And it is already close to begin with.

Both are in the same tier for me and come in between WR13 and 15. Woods seems like a super safe pick, as the only concerns with him are touchdowns, but every year he out produces his ADP. If the usage from the final five weeks carries over he will be a WR1. Kupp is the opposite, I do not worry about touchdowns or the red zone usage. My fear is with him being less everywhere else after the offense changed for the Rams. The upside is a WR1, but the downside is he falls to a low-end WR2. He was the WR30 in the second half of the season. The gap between the two wide receivers is too big, making the Woods the better value of the two. Higbee is a top six TE who you can get later than that at times because people are hesitant to buy in.

 

Running Game

The Rams offense produced a historic two year stretch out of Todd Gurley in 2017 and 2018. After single-handedly winning fantasy owners championships in 2017, Gurley was the unquestioned RB1 in 2018 until he suffered a knee injury. Since then, not so much. Last season, Gurley rushed for 857 yards, while his usage in the passing game also took a big hit. He finished with just 31 catches for 254 yards. The saving grace was Gurley last year was he scored 14 touchdowns. In fact, touchdowns acquainted for 38 percent of his fantasy production. The Rams then waived Gurley after the season and drafted Cam Akers in the second round of the NFL Draft.

Akers will compete for work against last year’s third round pick Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown. Henderson, despite the Rams trading up to get him and coming with a ton of hype, saw 43 touches all season. He never played 50 percent of the snaps and most weeks hardly saw the field at all.

Last season, 36 percent of the Rams' run plays came from the outside zone. Remember last summer there was plenty of chatter that Henderson struggled to play in this zone style offense. Akers hopefully will be able to adjust quicker, because only 28 carries of his were from the outside zone at FSU. One of the two younger backs struggling to pick up this concept would lead to more Brown usage, but he is simply depth here for now.

Remember earlier when I said the Rams offensive line struggled? Well, Akers has a ton of experience running behind struggling offensive lines. PFF ranked all 130 FBS teams offensive lines after the 2019 season, and FSU’s ranked 129th. That is not good. But it should only help him at the NFL level, as he clearly showed the ability averaging 0.33 missed tackles forced per attempt and 3.9 yards per carry per attempt. That ranked 13th and 32nd among all RBs in the nation (min. 100 attempts).

My guess is the two younger backs will compete for touches, but I do think Akers is the top option here. That can change once the players step out on the field, but the last year hasn’t been kind to Henderson. After trading up to get him in the third, the Rams have since hardly let Henderson see the field, electing to give Brown more touches and targeting Henderson just six times all season. They then went out and used more draft capital to select Akers, after cutting Gurley. I think both backs ultimately have three down upside, but I definitely feel better about Akers than Henderson. PlayerProfiler shows that while both were impressive prospects, Akers was the superior one:

Due to the variability here, Akers is a low-end RB2 for me, while Henderson is more of a high upside RB3/flex selection. Both have the ability to be fantasy relevant though, because one thing we saw from McVay last year was that he would rest Gurley for entire drives. He would not pull Gurley for certain plays, but there were drives that were all Gurley’s and then when he needed a rest, the drive would go to Brown. I think it is very possible we see a split like that.

Throughout McVay’s tenure with the Rams he showed a proclivity to use one RB. Sure, you can say he had one of the best RBs on the planet, but still. Wanting to use one primary RB makes sense for McVay. Before last season, he predominantly ran the same offense and similar plays each week. So much of McVay’s offense is disguising plays and running similar formations to throw the defense off. It is harder to predict when you have a RB who can slam it down the defenses throat, but also come out of the backfield and be a great weapon in the passing game. But other than his time with LA, we have three years of him as the OC with the Washington Redskins from 2014 through 2016.

In 2014, there was one main back, as Alfred Morris dominated touches with 282. No other RB had more than 82. In 2015, Morris saw 212 touches, but Matt Jones was used as a second RB, with 163 touches. In 2016, Rob Kelley led with 180 touches, while Chris Thompson had 117 and Jones chipped in 107. It is very possible we saw the touches divided up like those last two seasons with the Redskins than we have the last three with Gurley. It would be up to one of the two young backs to run away with the job to have a Gurley or 2014 Morris type split.

 

Final Thoughts

The Rams offense had a down year in 2019, but too many people are righting off what it will be this season. The upside to return to an elite offense is still there as long as McVay is there. You have to pay a premium for Kupp, but basically every other Rams player is going around where they went last year (Woods) or cheaper. They all have a good chance of returning positive return on their investments, especially at a reduced cost.

If you have any questions, make sure to hit me up on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio

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