I: LA Rams
Pro Football Focus Ranking: 30
In order for the LA Rams to realistically finish ast the 30th-ranked team, the Rams are looking at winning no more than four games in 2023. That seems incredibly pessimistic, even to me. When the 2023 Rams schedule was released, I conservatively projected five wins for the team. But my stance has since softened, and my optimism has grown considerably since the schedule was released.
It may be wishful thinking, but the LA Rams front office has demonstrated the ability to make measured but multiple low-risk high-reward moves that appear to be well targeted to improve the Rams roster for 2023. For example, the Rams have made it a point to add multiple offensive linemen, tight ends, and running backs to the roster this offseason. That all appears to indicate that the Rams are attempting to add more emphasis to the running attack this year.
RB Cam Akers will be thrilled if that happens, as he put up three consecutive games with 100+ rushing yards to close out 2022 behind a makeshift offensive line, and the OL is far more healthier and robust to start the 2023 NFL season.
But don't expect the Rams to abandon the pass. Both quarterback Matthew Stafford and his favorite target wide receiver Cooper Kupp are healthy once more. You can add TE Tyler Higbee and WR Van Jefferson to the list of potential 1000+ receiving yard candidates this year. Plus the team boasts receivers like Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, and rookie Puka Nacua, all of whom could be a pleasant surprise.
Defending the Rams 2023 NFL defense
While the Rams traded away DB Jalen Ramsey, and waived veteran ILB Bobby Wagner and OLB Leonard Floyd, the defense will welcome back a healthy and motivated defensive lineman Aaron Donald. What differnce will that make?
Donald is a wrecking ball, a forceful pass rusher who routinely forces offenses to dedicate two blockers just to try to neutralize him. That will even the odds for the likes of Marquise Copeland, Bobby Brown III, and rookie Kobie Turner.
I'm quite confident in third-year ILB Ernest Jones to become the star of the LA Rams defense, and will be disappointed if he has fewer than 100 tackles, 3.0 quarterback sacks, and 2.0 interceptions this season. But the Rams will need plenty of effective pass rush and pass defense this year to have a chance of winning games.
I expect the Rams to have peaks and valleys from both defensive backs and outside linebackers this season. But the team, and the defense, will get stronger with each passing game. I now feel much more comfortable projecting these Rams to win as many as eight games this year. While that may not get them a berth in the 2024 NFL Playoffs, it is a far cry better than three or four wins.