Rams confident in line, go all-in on adding explosive playmakers to offense

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Improving coach Sean McVay's offense has been among the Los Angeles Rams' top offseason goals.

That became apparent when the Rams completed a blockbuster trade two weeks after a divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. Quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick were shipped to Detroit in exchange for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Then in free agency, the Rams signed veteran receiver DeSean Jackson to a one-year, $4.5 million deal, reuniting McVay with one of his top weapons when he served as offensive coordinator in Washington.

And finally, with their first pick in the NFL draft, the Rams selected speedy Louisville receiver Tutu Atwell in the second round.

Now the question looms: Did the Rams do enough to stop the consecutive season decline of their offense and jolt it back to the top of the NFL as they make a push to appear in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next February?

"There's no reason that we don't have very realistic expectations about being a lot better," said McVay, who is entering his fifth season as coach. "I expect us to be much better and I expect this to be one of the better ones in the league."

The Rams return eight of 11 starters from an offense that ranked 22nd in efficiency and provided inconsistent support to their top-ranked defense throughout a 10-6 season.

Receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, tight end Tyler Higbee and running back Cam Akers are among the key returners. Receiver Van Jefferson could play an increased role after he flashed during training camp as a rookie, but saw limited game action.

Goff, receiver Josh Reynolds and center Austin Blythe are the starters who have departed.

Despite losing Blythe to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency, the Rams did not address the position in the draft. McVay said Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton or Austin Corbett could fill the role.

A fourth-year pro, Allen started nine games in 2019 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Shelton has no NFL experience at the position and Corbett's pro experience at center is limited to the preseason, though he has started 23 games over the last two seasons at guard.

The Rams also did not add any offensive lineman via free agency or the draft despite only adding one linemen in 2019 and with three -- Allen, Corbett and tackle Joe Noteboom -- set to become unrestricted free agents after the season.

"We've got 11 guys who've played games that we won," Rams general manager Les Snead said about the line. "That's probably as deep a group that's played as I've ever been a part of. So, give those guys credit and they've done a heck of a job."

With the Rams intent on contending for a division title and making a deep playoff run, the positions that came into focus were those that could infuse explosive plays to an offense that fell stagnant a year ago and was considered the Achilles' heel of a team otherwise poised to make a Super Bowl run.

"We definitely expect to be more explosive," McVay said, adding "you've got to give guys an opportunity to create big plays in a variety of ways."

Without a true deep-threat receiver last season, the Rams ranked 18th in yards per play (5.54), 21st in passing yards per attempt (7.09) and 26th in passing attempts that were 20 yards more down field (9% of attempts).

With Stafford, McVay is expected to open the playbook and restore an offense that was among the league's most explosive in 2017 and 2018.

'There was definitely an intentional approach and process to being able to add a quarterback of Matthew Stafford's caliber and then surround him with the right pieces," McVay said about the team's offseason moves.

Last season in Detroit, Stafford averaged 7.55 yards per attempt (ranked 12th) and 11.7% of his passes were attempts of 20 yards or more downfield (10th).

McVay is expected to call plays that cater to Stafford's arm strength.

"Sean does a great job of seeing who he has available, who can make plays and getting those guys to football as much as possible," Stafford said in March. "I feel comfortable with where he's at, where he is as a playcaller and then making sure he's going to get us into some great plays."

After the Rams' offense shrunk to short and intermediate passes last season, the addition of Jackson and Atwell is expected to create more deep-threat opportunities and create more room in the middle of the field for Woods and Kupp, who each saw their production fall last season after reaching 1,000 receiving yards each in 2019.

"We were able to add guys that bring an elite trade in terms of the ability to stretch the top shelf of the defense," McVay said. "That's not exclusive to the ways that you can utilize these guys, but we do want to become a more explosive offense."

Jackson has recorded the most 60-plus-yard touchdowns (24) in NFL history and ranks sixth all-time in yard per reception (17.4). Though the 34-year-old has dealt with injuries the past two seasons, Jackson expressed confidence he's on the mend and can remain healthy in his 14th NFL season.

"I'm feeling great, I'm feeling that I'm 100% healthy," Jackson said in March. "The rehab process has been going very well."

If Jackson's injury bug continues, the Rams have an insurance policy in Atwell, who was the No. 57 overall selection and who McVay says possesses some similarities to his more seasoned counterpart.

"He really does an excellent job of tracking the ball effortlessly down the field," McVay said about Atwell. "I like everything that he stands for, the explosiveness, play-making ability."

With a mostly virtual offseason, the Rams new-look offense is expected to start taking shape on the field during mandatory minicamp July 15-17.