By Sam McPherson
Now that the Jim Harbaugh rumors have thankfully ended, the Los Angeles Rams still find themselves in need of a head coach for the 2017 season and beyond. While the 2016 season ends on Sunday at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum against the Arizona Cardinals, the Rams organization should be well on its way to deciding on a few lead candidates for the open coaching position. The team definitely needs to hire an offensive-minded coach, considering the talent on the team’s current roster.
Since the Rams do not have a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, thanks to trading up last year to grab quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick, the team is not going to be able to use the spring draft per usual. In fact, Los Angeles has just six picks in the upcoming draft. That means the organization is going to have to rely on its in-house talent more than most teams as it retools in the offseason to ensure that 2017 turns out a lot better than this season.
Defensive Strength Is Good Enough
The Rams can use the draft to find mid-round defensive gems to plug the holes the team does have, but Los Angeles has a good defense that just was overworked in 2016. Through 15 games, the Rams rank 10th in yards allowed, meaning this is a Top 10 unit in the NFL. The team is 16th in points allowed, which is middling, but a lot of that can be blamed on the ineffective offense leaving the defense in very vulnerable positions almost every week of the season.
The top-eight tacklers on the team are all under the age of 28 this season, and that’s a lot of young talent on the defensive side of the ball in Los Angeles. The roster is weak at defensive end, however, so that’s where the Rams’ front office can focus in the draft: Finding some underrated pass rushers to augment defensive tackle Aaron Donald‘s strength inside. In addition, DE Robert Quinn is only 26 years old, and with an offseason to heal, hopefully he can rediscover his Pro Bowl form from 2013-2014. Los Angeles’ defense has the tools to succeed; the front office must know this.
Offense Is Where It’s At For L.A. In 2017
The Rams’ potential for a winning season next year is greatest on the offensive side of the ball. The team has highly drafted talent at QB, running back and wide receiver. By hiring an offensive-minded coach like Kyle Shanahan—the current offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons and their top-scoring unit—the Rams actually will be able to maximize the talent on its roster for once when it comes to a modern NFL attack. Los Angeles is dead last this year in offense, both in yards gained and points scored.
Goff is the No. 1 overall pick from 2016, and running back Todd Gurley was the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year. At WR, the team has Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft. He has the potential to be a DeSean Jackson-kind of player if the coaching staff could figure out how to use him properly, while also giving Goff the reins to a high-powered, dynamic scoring machine with Gurley in tow. It’s pretty scary, actually, what this Rams offense could do given the right coach and the right personnel up front.
And that’s where the L.A. organization needs to take its cue from the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders. The Rams need to invest not only in the right coaches, but also in the offensive line. The Cowboys and the Raiders have been the models for building a strong offensive line to enable talented, young QBs, RBs and WRs. Los Angeles has no choice but to follow that blueprint in order to maximize its offensive potential in 2017.
The Rams have lost 10 of their last 11 games, and it’s clear the firing of Jeff Fisher was appropriate. Los Angeles has too much talent on the roster to be amid a 13-year streak of non-winning seasons. With the move to the West Coast, the Rams needed a better season to win over local fans. Now, the organization has little room for screwing up the next coaching hire if it wants to experience serious success when the Rams move into their new Inglewood stadium facility in 2019.
By hiring Shanahan or someone like him—and investing wisely in the offensive line via free agency—Los Angeles can engineer a quick turnaround in the NFC West Division, which isn’t really flourishing right now. The Seattle Seahawks have won the division three times in four years, but the roster up north is in decline. The San Francisco 49ers are a mess needing a lot of attention, and the Cardinals had a down year with an aging QB. With a favorable schedule next year, perhaps the Rams can surprise the NFL, if the front office wises up.