Imagine the LA Rams special teams facing a new season with their fourth ST Coordinator in the past five seasons? Well, that is where we are, and with the new ST coordinator comes the "To Do," list of restocking the LA Rams roster with special teams specialists. The LA Rams ST Coordinators over the past five years have included:
- ST Coordinator Year
- John Fassel 2018-19
- John Bonamego 2020
- Joe DeCamillis 2021-22
- Chase Blackburn 2023
Now, it will be up to Chase Blackburn to find and sign a new long snapper, placekicker, punter, and very likely a punt/kick returner. Not surprisingly, a new ST coordinator typically means that special teams' play did not achieve goals or meet expectations. While that does not directly reflect on those players who specialize in the special teams' performance, punters, placekickers, long snappers, and return specialists have learned over time that a new guy at the helm typically means clearing house.
So it should not come as a surprise for anyone to learn that of the six LA Rams free agents who have already signed contracts to play with new teams, three played on the LA Rams special teams. Long snapper Matt Orzech has signed with the Green Bay Packers. Punter Riley Dixon has signed with the Denver Broncos. And Pro Bowl placekicker Matt Gay has signed with the Indianapolis Colts for a new NFL record deal for kickers. Only return specialist Brandon Powell remains an NFL free agent from the LA Rams roster from the 2022 NFL season.
Of course, the highway travels in both directions, and the arrival of new ST Coordinator Chase Blackburn could give the LA Rams ample leverage for the Rams to sign former Panthers kicker Eddy Pineiro. Pineiro was the top NFL kicker in 2022. But that means that he will not come cheap.
To draft or not to draft, that is the question
There will always be that debate for an NFL team in need of special teams specialists, as to whether to draft a punter, kicker, or long snapper, or sign multiple prospects after the draft and invite open competition for the starting role. After the 2020 competition between drafted NCAA kicker Sam Sloman, XFL kicker Austin MacGinnis, and CFL kicker Lirim Hajrullahu resulted in the least of the three, Sam Sloman, winning the role only to struggle when the season started, I lost any enthusiasm for drafting a special teams player.
That is not simply sour grapes on my part. Drafting players, particularly punters and kickers, infuses an unbreakable bias into that player. There is no objectivity in evaluating a kicker or punter who was drafted against players who were not drafted. The inherent need to justify spending a draft pick, even one as late as the seventh round, almost ensures that the drafted rookie will win any competition hands down.
If the Rams intend to draft a kicker or a punter this year, I hope that player deserves the investment. There are far too many holes in the roster to miss on a special team's contributor. But I do recognize the overall boost landing a top kicker, or punter can have on the Rams' overall performance. In one of the more recent mock drafts, I was proud to say that the Rams mocked punter Michael Turk with the 251st pick of the draft. Turk is a punter who I could see the Rams drafting this year.
The only problem is, the Rams only have 11 draft picks. If the Rams do draft both a kicker and a punter in the 2023 NFL Draft, then they only have nine picks to stock all of the other positions that are in desperate need of depth and competition. So I suppose it comes down to where do the Rams see the most value? The LA Rams will need a special effort to restock special teams, and if that means investing draft picks to do so, then so be it.