This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are loaded with difference makers and have improved every year under Sean McVay. No matter, Todd Gurley's left knee is a concern, and Jared Goff will need to play at a franchise-quarterback level to give Los Angeles an opportunity to avenge last season's Super Bowl loss.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
A HEALTHY GURLEY KEY TO FULFILLING POTENTIAL
Todd Gurley's left knee injury was one of the biggest storylines near the end of the regular season and into the Rams' playoff run. Despite consistent optimism from L.A.'s brass, his health remains the team's primary question mark in 2019. Allowing C.J. Anderson to walk in free agency appeared to be a sign of reassurance, but the Rams then traded up in the draft to select 5-8, 208-pound running back Darrell Henderson, 70th overall. The organization hasn't associated the pick with Gurley's health concerns. Instead, Henderson's profile as a game-breaking, change-of-pace option who can contribute as both a runner and pass catcher has been the focus. While it's hard to overlook the insurance and added depth Henderson brings to the backfield, he should prove to be another intriguing alternative in the offensive attack, as the Rams haven't had a player with his skill set in the Sean McVay era. Even with the uncertainty surrounding Gurley, there's no question the offense is more dangerous with him active and heavily involved. His 40 touchdowns the past two seasons speak volumes, but he also holds opposing defenses accountable, opens up the playbook for McVay and makes life easier for quarterback Jared Goff. A full campaign from Gurley may be paramount for the Rams to make another championship push.
CAN McVAY REBOUND?
After going all in last year and suffering a disappointing defeat in Super Bowl LIII, Sean McVay must pick up the pieces and prove the Rams are legitimate contenders again this season. After all, offense is his calling card, and Los Angeles gained a measly 260 yards and only scored three points in the biggest game of the wunderkind coach's career. The criticism McVay received following the loss to the Patriots was warranted, but the significance of Cooper Kupp's absence after tearing the ACL in his left knee and Todd Gurley also playing at less than 100 percent down the stretch cannot be ignored. The Rams offense lacked consistency after Kupp went down Week 10, averaging 5.6 fewer points and 75.2 less yards per game (including playoffs). The problem was compounded by Gurley being limited to just 30 postseason carries. The team hopes to have Kupp healthy for the season opener, and while there's some murkiness surrounding Gurley's health, the weapons are in place for L.A. to rank among the league's elite groups in 2019. Aside from Gurley, Kupp and veteran wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, the Rams are host to third-year tight end Gerald Everett and explosive rookie Darrell Henderson. Clearly, the table is set for McVay to lead the Rams on another march into January and potentially February.
IS THE CHAMPIONSHIP WINDOW ABOUT TO CLOSE?
Los Angeles projects to be in the Super Bowl discussion all season. The depth chart is loaded with talent, and Sean McVay's success in 2018 proved he's capable of bouncing back from a disappointing postseason loss. Plus, the benefit of Jared Goff's minimal cap hit ($8.9 million this year) means the organization can continue to spend aggressively on proven vets, at least for one more campaign. Edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. was retained to wreak havoc alongside defensive tackle Aaron Donald. At other levels of the defense, safety Eric Weddle and pass rusher Clay Matthews were brought in via free agency. Los Angeles also selected five players to help mitigate the losses of tackle Ndamukong Suh and safety Lamarcus Joyner. The team-friendly aspect of Goff's deal runs out after this season, as the fifth-year option the Rams picked up in April costs $22.8 million in 2020. With a window to win now, the front office only has to look at the division-rival Seahawks to see how a high-priced quarterback impacts the rest of the roster. After all, Seattle hasn't been to an NFC Championship Game since Russell Wilson signed his first contract extension in 2015. While it's not impossible to flourish with a QB contract weighing down the cap, the Rams will need to shift to a draft-and-develop approach soon to ensure sustained excellence.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Jared Goff
Goff elevated his game in 2018 and guided the Rams to an NFC Championship, but he wasn't sharp in Super Bowl LIII. He'll now work behind an offensive line projected to have two first-year starters, but he's still under the direction of coach Sean McVay and has plenty of skill-position talent at his disposal to maintain his recent standard.
RISING: Gerald Everett
Tight ends often take a few years to develop into reliable fantasy assets, so the signs Everett flashed in 2018 are encouraging, especially in the red zone. Capitalizing on his opportunities will be key to taking the next step.
FALLING: Josh Reynolds
When Cooper Kupp tore his ACL midseason, the door opened for Reynolds, but he accounted for 7.6 yards per target and a middling 54.7 percent catch rate. Reynolds' upside is capped without a promotion.
SLEEPER: Darrell Henderson
The Rams wouldn't have traded up for Henderson unless they were planning to utilize him immediately. Add the uncertainty surrounding Todd Gurley's knee, and Henderson projects to be a popular draft-day target.
KEY JOB BATTLE – BACKUP RUNNING BACK
All signs are pointing to Los Angeles utilizing more of a committee approach out of the backfield in 2019, and after C.J. Anderson's success last year, there's plenty of fantasy value in playing second fiddle to Todd Gurley. With the uncertainty surrounding Gurley's left knee, and whether or not he can handle his usual significant workload, the backup gig is all the more promising.
Malcolm Brown has experience on his side after rushing for a respectable 4.3 yards per tote on 106 attempts the past two seasons. However, his upside likely tops out as an early-down, short-yardage back. Darrell Henderson, meanwhile, was a priority for the Rams in the draft, and he has the edge in speed and elusiveness and is also the superior option in the passing attack.
It's likely that all three rushers carve out a role in the offense to start the season. Henderson's big-play ability provides coach Sean McVay with another weapon, and his upside is probably higher than Brown's. However, if Gurley's limited or inactive to start the season, both backups could be serviceable fantasy assets.
BLAKE BORTLES – QB (from Jaguars)
Fifth-year pro needed a fresh start and bolsters the quarterback room.
DARRELL HENDERSON – RB (Rd. 3, No. 70 – Memphis)
Big-play threat has the potential to shine in this offense.
ERIC WEDDLE – S (from Ravens)
Football IQ and experience should offset declining athleticism.
CLAY MATTHEWS – LB (from Packers)
Brings pass-rushing savvy after a decade in The Frozen Tundra.
C.J. ANDERSON – RB (to Lions)
Rushed for 488 yards, four scores last year in five games with the team.
NDAMUKONG SUH – DT (to Buccaneers)
Disruptive and durable, his departure hurts the defensive line.
LAMARCUS JOYNER – S (to Raiders)
The versatile defensive back recorded a career-high 78 tackles in 2018.
RODGER SAFFOLD – G (to Titans)
It's impossible to ignore the sting of losing a 111-game starter.
THE INJURY FRONT
Todd Gurley, RB – The health of Gurley's left knee has dominated storylines surrounding the Rams this offseason. He likely will be treated with kid gloves throughout the preseason, and after topping 300 touches each of the past three years, his workload may be scaled down during the regular season. By re-signing Malcolm Brown and trading up to select Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles seems prepared to have more of a committee rushing attack in 2019.
Cooper Kupp, WR – The Los Angeles offense wasn't nearly as effective without Kupp last season, and his ability to take part in half-speed drills during minicamp and organized-team activities is encouraging for his Week 1 status. However, considering the severity of his injury, his return timeline is still up in the air. Additionally, it wouldn't be shocking if the Rams were overly cautious given Kupp's significance to the passing attack.
Samson Ebukam, LB – The 24-year-old linebacker started 14 of 16 games for the Rams in his second season and is projected to be healthy for training camp following minor knee surgery after the Super Bowl. While he likely will compete for playing time with more established pass rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews, there's still potential for another step forward from Ebukam in his third season.