“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of couchpotatogm.com analyze an offensive player and a defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2016 for their respective teams to have a successful 2016 campaign. The new look Rams are trying to avoid another year of mediocrity. Who will they turn to in order to change their fortunes?
Jared Goff – The former Saint Louis Rams franchise relocated back to Los Angeles and started things off with a bang, trading up from the 15th overall selection in the 2016 draft all the way up to number 1 selecting the best quarterback in the draft, Jared Goff. The home grown, California kid will be living out his dreams playing for a franchise that has been desperately seeking a star caliber quarterback since the departure of Kurt Warner. The Rams hope they can get better production, consistency, and health from this number 1 pick than their last number 1 guy, Sam Bradford the first pick in the 2010 draft. The Rams mortgaged their future draft picks by trading away a pair of first, second, and third round picks for the 2016 counterpart to be counted on.
The defense, particularly the defensive front led by Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald is ready to win football games right now. On the other side of the ball the Rams first round pick last year Todd Gurley is a once in a decade type talent who ran for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games with a dearth of supporting talent around him. So, although steep in price, I commend the organization for rolling the dice on what can be the missing piece to a playoff run this season and an even greater run for years to come.
Goff will of course have a learning curve to overcome if he wants to become the 7th rookie quarterback to have a winning record since 2006 (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco). The transition to a pro style offense will be the first obstacle to overcome as he played in an open spread “Air Raid” offense at the University of California. He will have to master the needed footwork and timing from under center playing against much faster NFL defenses with no true number 1 receiver. The Rams passing offense finished dead last a season ago because of their quarterback play and the lack of talent they have on the outside. Currently he will need to get the most out of guys like Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, and his fellow rookie class weapons Tyler Higbee and Pharoh Cooper.
The expectation for a rookie quarterback has changed dramatically over the last decade, especially if you are the number 1 pick. Not only do you need to be able to learn quickly and start from Week 1 but you also need to win games and live up to the hype immediately or else they will be calling you a bust and drafting a new quarterback in a couple of years. Goff will be the offensive counterpart the Rams will be counting on.
Mark Barron – The former first round safety who was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft never lived up to expectations in a Bucs uniform. Barron was a big hitting safety who struggled in coverage causing the Bucs to part ways with him for a 4th and 6th round draft pick. You know the saying, one mans trash is another mans treasure, well this sentiment holds true for the Rams as they re-invented the former strong safety.
Barron’s fortune changed in a Week 4 game last season when starting weak side linebacker Alec Ogletree went down with a broken leg. The Rams desperately needed a replacement for one of their stalwart defensive players and inserted the former safety turned linebacker Barron into the starting lineup. 116 tackles later which led the Rams in 2015, a new 5 year $45 million deal, and you have yourself the L.A Rams defensive counterpart to be counted on.
It takes two to make a trend, and this new trend of transitioning former safeties to play an undersized linebacker position started with the Arizona Cardinals backer Deone Bucannon. The pass first NFL allows the Cardinals and the Rams to insert a smaller play-making linebacker in their base defense who can run sideline to sideline and cover opposing running backs and tight ends. Expect to see more of these hybrid type of players at the linebacker position with the success of Bucannon and Barron.
In the off-season the Rams moved on from middle linebacker James Laurinitis who was a mainstay on the defense but has been on the decline the last couple of seasons. The Rams made the corresponding move to slide weak side backer Ogletree to the inside which gives Barron the opportunity to prove that last year’s production was not a fluke. Barron is currently in the process of mastering the intricacies of his new position and there is still a question mark on if he can have a long lasting impact at the second level. Based upon last year’s breakthrough and the coaching staff’s acceptance of putting Barron in a position to excel, he is the defensive counterpart to be counted on for the L.A Rams.