LA Rams kickoff and punt return competition will be red hot

The LA Rams kick and return game will be highly competitive in 2020

The LA Rams had one of the better offenses in 2019 (ranked 11th in points scored) and an improving defense (improved to 17th from 20th in points allowed). So what led to the team’s fall from 13-3 to 9-7 in just one season?  The public consensus is that the Rams offensive line was the true culprit.  While the offense did drop from second in the NFL to 11th, that doesn’t in itself justify the four-game swing. Something else must have contributed. Or rather, failed to contribute.

The special teams play for the Rams simply stopped being special. Per Football Outsiders.com, the Rams had the second-ranked special teams in the NFL in 2017. But in 2018, that ranking plummeted to 17th in the NFL.  By 2019, the Rams had fallen yet again, this time to the ranking of 23rd in a 32 team league. And unfortunately, the team did not have the benefit of a score-at-will offense to hide the impact of the decline.

So the Rams must set about fixing the special teams play. But since special teams are such a catch-all category for football teams, it’s tough to determine where repairs are needed most urgently.

Repair the return game

Per ESPN, the LA Rams kickoff return team was 15th in the NFL in 2019, averaging 22.4 yards per return.  But the punt return team was a dismal 23rd in the NFL in the same year, averaging just 6.3 yards per return.  With the departure of former return specialist JoJo Natson, the Rams may turn to WR Nsimba Webster for the return duties. But the team’s punt return duties will be wide open for 2020, which leaves the door open for return specialist for both kickoffs and punts to emerge.

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Of course, the LA Rams loaded up on speedy players after the 2020 NFL Draft who will not only compete for offensive snaps but will be in heated competition for the return specialist role.

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Competition is heating up

That means the player who wins the punt return/kick return role will land a spot on the 55-man roster, and will likely see some time on the starting offense as well. Of the undrafted free agents, 5-foot-10 175-pound Earnest Edwards out of Maine returned 83 kickoffs for 2,046 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, 5-foot-9 181-pound Brandon Polk, who runs a 4.28-second 40-yard dash, also can return kickoffs, and projects as a dangerous punt return specialist as well.

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The Rams kicking game will also be a hotspot for competition as the Rams added kicker Sam Sloman to the ring after signing CFL star kicker Lirim Hajrullahu and XFL star kicker Austin MacGinnis.  It will be their responsibility to improve the LA Rams 28th ranked field goal accuracy from 2019 of just 72.7 percent. That included just 10 of 18 made at a distance of 40 yards or better.  The three kickers added to the Rams competition are all excellent accuracy, particularly at the 40-49 yard range which clobbered the Rams last year.

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The Rams are definitely at work improving their special teams play. Right now, the team has heated competition for the kicker job between three outstanding players, and up to five-six speedsters competing for the guaranteed roster spot of the punt and kick return specialist.

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