Rams' lineup filled with newcomers, position changes

Wide receiver Robert Woods didn't haul in more than 65 catches in any of his four seasons at Buffalo, but he seems destined to top that in L.A. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Los Angeles Rams could have as many as 10 new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting-lineup projection.


Quarterback (Jared Goff): Goff was in an awkward spot at this time last year, coming off being drafted first overall but unsure if he would be given a chance to begin the season as the starting quarterback. Now, there isn't much doubt. We'll see how much it helps.

Running back (Todd Gurley): This is one of the most fascinating storylines of 2017. Gurley was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, then he had one of the worst seasons statistically for a running back in 2016, his 885 rushing yards the fewest ever for a player with at least 275 carries. Now what?

Wide receiver (Tavon Austin): Austin signed a four-year, $42 million extension weeks before the start of the 2016 season, but he still has a lot to prove. The Rams have picked up a combination of seven wideouts and tight ends during the past two NFL drafts, and another receiver was obtained on a long-term deal through free agency. They hope Austin can establish himself as more of a deep threat.

Wide receiver (Robert Woods): First-year head coach Sean McVay quickly identified Woods as a perfect fit for his system, so the Rams signed him to a five-year, $34 million contract on the first day of free agency. Woods is a sure-handed, precise route runner. He didn't haul in more than 65 catches in any of his four seasons at Buffalo, but he seems destined to top that in L.A.

Wide receiver (Cooper Kupp): The Rams picked Kupp up in the third round, and he already seems primed to begin the season as their go-to slot receiver. Kupp has excellent hands and excellent field awareness. He was the FCS Offensive Player of the Year during his last two seasons at Eastern Washington, where he amassed 6,464 receiving yards during his career. The guy can put up numbers.

Tight end (Tyler Higbee): Higbee, listed at 6-foot-6 and 257 pounds, didn't factor much into the passing game last season. But veteran Lance Kendricks departed via free agency, and now Higbee will compete with Gerald Everett, the 44th overall pick. Higbee still seems like the early favorite to start at this position. His strength and athleticism are major weapons.

Left tackle (Andrew Whitworth): The Rams' biggest splurge was on left tackle, where they allocated $15 million in guaranteed dollars for Whitworth to replace failed No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson. Whitworth is 35, but he still is considered one of the NFL's best pass-blockers. He should be a major upgrade.

Left guard (Rodger Saffold): Saffold is the longest-tenured Rams player, and after playing several different positions last season, he seems solidified as the starting left guard.

Center (John Sullivan): Sullivan was considered one of the game's better centers while with the Minnesota Vikings, starting 93 of 96 games from 2009-14. But he spent the 2015 season recovering from back issues, then he was a backup on McVay's Washington Redskins in 2016. He now replaces Tim Barnes.

Right guard (Rob Havenstein): A second-round pick in 2015, Havenstein had a solid rookie season but struggled while playing through injuries in 2016. Now he is moving from right tackle to right guard. He's big for the position, at 6-foot-8 and 328 pounds, but the Rams think he has the smarts to make the transition.

Right tackle (Jamon Brown): Brown was used mostly as a guard in his first two seasons in the NFL. But he was a tackle at Louisville and was getting all the first-team reps at right tackle during the Ram' offseason program. He enters training camp as the starter.


Defensive end (Aaron Donald): Donald is the game's best interior pass-rusher, a three-time Pro Bowler who was first-team All-Pro during each of the past two seasons. Now the Rams are hoping to sign him to an extension, two years before he is scheduled to hit the free-agent market. Don't worry about the designation. The Rams are moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but Donald still will operate as a 3-technique.

Defensive end (Dominique Easley): Did Bill Belichick and the mighty Patriots actually make -- a mistake? Easley is proving that to be the case. He was New England's 29th overall pick in 2014 but was let go after two seasons, cast aside due to reported character issues. Easley was very good as a backup for the Rams in 2016, and now, with William Hayes gone, he's in line to start.

Nose tackle (Michael Brockers): Brockers, the 14th overall pick in 2012, didn't record any sacks last season. But he still ranked 26th among 126 qualified interior linemen by Pro Football Focus. He gets overshadowed because of Donald, but Brockers is a menace, as well.

Outside linebacker (Robert Quinn): Quinn racked up 40 sacks and made the Pro Bowl twice from 2012 to 2014. But he has been limited to just 15 starts during the past two seasons, and now he is changing positions, going from a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme to an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Still, Quinn will spend most of his time rushing the quarterback.

Outside linebacker (Connor Barwin): The Rams are hoping a reunion leads to a rejuvenation here. Barwin, 30, broke out under longtime defensive coordinator Wade Phillips while with the Houston Texans in 2011, the start of a five-year run in which he started all 80 games and registered 41 sacks. Barwin struggled while in a 4-3 scheme with the Eagles last season, but he's in a system -- and with a coordinator -- that suits him well.

Inside linebacker (Alec Ogletree): Ogletree registered a career-high 98 solo tackles while playing in all 16 games in his first season as a middle linebacker and captain in 2016. He will be a free agent at the end of this season, but the Rams are hoping to sign him to an extension.

Inside linebacker (Mark Barron): Barron thrived under former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who used him as a hybrid safety and linebacker. Barron will serve strictly as an inside linebacker for Phillips, who has a reputation for getting very creative with that position.

Cornerback (Trumaine Johnson): For the second straight year, Johnson will be the Rams' primary cornerback and will play under the franchise tag. Johnson had 13 interceptions from 2013 to 2015 but only one in 2016. He's still looking to prove he can be an elite corner.

Cornerback (Kayvon Webster): Webster was buried on a star-studded depth chart in Denver that included Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. He was restricted to special teams. But now he has a chance to start for the Rams, under a coordinator, Phillips, with whom he has a history. Webster will have to beat out E.J. Gaines.

Strong safety (Maurice Alexander): Alexander served as the starting free safety last season, but he is moving to strong safety, a spot the Rams believe he is better suited for, after the departure of T.J. McDonald. Alexander had two interceptions and 50 tackles in 14 games in 2016.

Free safety (Lamarcus Joyner): Joyner shined as a slot corner over the past two seasons, but he will move to free safety, a position he handled well for Florida State. Joyner still might serve as a slot corner in substitution packages. The Rams simply want him on the field all the time. He is 5-foot-8 but as tough as they come.

Special teams

Kicker (Greg Zuerlein): Zuerlein improved his field goal percentage from 66.7 to 86.4 in 2016, then he earned a three-year extension. The 29-year-old has one of the NFL's strongest legs.

Punter (Johnny Hekker): Hekker is to punters as Donald is to interior linemen: the best, hands down. Hekker has been first-team All-Pro three times, including each of the past two seasons. And he can occasionally beat teams with his arm, as well.

Long-snapper (Jake McQuaide): McQuaide is entering his seventh season with the Rams and coming off his first Pro Bowl. He will be a free agent at season's end.