The conversation has to begin with superstar fifth-year running back Todd Gurley. Gurley ended the 2018 season in strange fashion as he missed both the week 16 and 17 contests, while totaling only 18, seven, and 11 touches in the three playoff games (Super Bowl 53 included) the Los Angeles Rams appeared in. Gurley may or may not have an arthritic knee, though not much is known as both the Rams and Gurley himself have been quiet in regards to a potential injury. The health of Gurley is going to be an interesting factor heading into 2019, though the selection of a running back in the third-round of the 2019 NFL Draft suggests the reports could be true.
The battle for the backup running back spot is an intriguing roster battle as undrafted free agent Malcolm Brown, third-round rookie Darrell Henderson, and second-year sixth-round pick John Kelly will battle it out for playing time. The early favorite is Henderson, who Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports estimates will be used similarly to RB Chris Thompson from the Washington Redskins. Thompson specializes as a receiver out of the backfield, though Henderson is a far more natural runner, particularly in the zone blocking scheme (which the Rams deploy more than any other NFL team).
The battle at tight end revolves around two players: Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. Higbee – who is the better blocker of the two – is entering a contract year, meaning he’ll need to put his best foot forward to remain in Los Angeles. Everett is the better receiver and offensive mismatch of the two, which is why the Rams would be smart to utilize his services more. The two combined for 67 targets in 2018, with Higbee registering one more target than Everett (34 to 33). One thing to remember is that a lot of the productivity for Everett came after a torn ACL to slot receiver Cooper Kupp, who looks to be fully healthy headed into the 2019 season.
There isn’t really any roster battle along the offensive line, though there will be two new starters among the unit in left guard Joseph Noteboom and center Brian Allen. The departures of long-time veterans Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan opened two major holes on a unit that started all five of the same offensive lineman 31 times over the past two seasons, with the only missing start being a week 17 bout where all starters were benched in 2017. Noteboom and Allen played a combined 114 snaps in their rookie seasons (2018), proving their relative youth and lack of experience is something to certainly keep an eye on.
When the Rams elected to allow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to walk, they opened a starting spot on the defensive line that created a ton of snaps for the remaining players. The replacement nose tackles are expected to combine their efforts to replace the loss of Suh. The players that are likely to play a role are rookie fifth-round pick Greg Gaines who specializes in his run stopping ability, second-year Sebastian Joseph-Day who’s impressed the coaching staff with his preparations thus far in the offseason, and former five-technique defensive end turned defensive tackle John Franklin-Myers who played a rotational role in 2018, who has bulked up in anticipation of spending more time on the interior defensive line.
The starting edge rushers are firmly locked in with recently signed edge Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler Jr who re-signed with the team on a one-year deal in free agency. The interesting part of the edge position will be the infusion of talent coming from the bench. Samson Ebukam – who started 14 games in 2018 – is now relegated to a bench role, potentially rotating with highly anticipated fifth-round pick Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. The remaining edge rushers who received spurts of playing time in 2018 (Trevon Young, Justin Lawler) could also become factors.
Looking at the roster as a whole, the Rams are likely to once again compete for the NFC’s Super Bowl spot. The beginning of the journey is the foundation built at training camp, which is exactly where the Rams – and all other teams – are currently focused.