Brandon Powell gives the LA Rams very special special-teams play

Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

The LA Rams have not exactly been setting the NFL on fire with their special teams’ play. But there is hope and plenty of it, as the team pivots from their Super Bowl LVI winning season towards defending their title in 2022. While many are downtrodden over the LA Rams free agency losses, let’s focus on one of the positives for the new year.

Namely a full season of KR/PR/WR Brandon Powell for starters.

In the 17-game 2021 NFL season, he played just six games. Proportionately, that is 35 percent of the entire NFL season. So why are we talking about him? Well, to be fair, he made that much of a difference for the team.

If the LA Rams had a full season of Brandon Powell at the pace he set for them on special teams, their return statistics could have resembled something like this:

Projected Powell full-year statistics

Punt returns – 17 returns, 390 yards, and three touchdowns (22.9 yard/return average)
Kick returns –  24 returns, 624 yards, and one touchdown (26 yard/return average)

Imagine, over 1000 yards and four touchdowns out of the special teams units?  That is the explosiveness that the LA Rams encountered when they gave Brandon Powell his turn at returning kickoffs for the team in Week 13 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was not even given the opportunity to return punts until two weeks later in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks.

But the true eye-popper happened the following week when LA Rams were very shorthanded and had to travel to face the Minnesota Vikings. The LA Rams won that game by a score of 30-23, and the game-winner was thanks to Brandon Powell returning a punt 61 yards for a touchdown.

The LA Rams are here

So where did the LA Rams end up the 2021 NFL season (even with a third of the season with Powell)?

Punt returns – 19 returns, 215 yards, and one touchdown
Kick returns –  34 returns, 686 yards, and no touchdowns

How much of that was not due to Brandon Powell?

Punt returns – 13 returns, 82 yards, and no touchdowns
Kick returns – 26 returns, 478 yards, and no touchdowns

Or perhaps you want to see what he delivered in 2021 in just six games?

Punt returns – 6 returns, 133 yards, and one touchdown
Kick returns – 8 returns, 208 yards, and no touchdowns

While there was more at work than just Powell for the return to respectability for the LA Rams special teams’ play, he was certainly a huge contributor.

Rick Gosselin ranks NFL special teams each year. To nobody’s surprise, the LA Rams plummeted in 2020. The Rams rankings for the past three seasons are as follows:

  1. 2017 Rams ranked – 1st
  2. 2018 Rams ranked – 9th
  3. 2019 Rams ranked – 20th
  4. 2020 Rams ranked – 30th
  5. 2021 Rams ranked – 16th

Have the Rams finally turned the corner? Well, the team appears to have their placekicker role settled with Pro Bowl K Matt Gay.  And with Powell, the Rams project to rank as the top punt return team in the NFL, and the third-ranked kick return team in the NFL. That’s certainly going to help the Rams rankings, right?

Special teams’ play is so easily overlooked, but the difference between a 30th ranked special teams unit and a 16th ranked special teams unit can mean winning the Super Bowl. For now, it looks like the LA Rams have a very special special-teams’ unit, which hopefully breaks into the Top-5 ranking in 2022.

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