Drilling in: Rams unit by unit analysis

Rams running back Todd Gurley is the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year.Photo Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

A detailed breakdown of the lineup

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Jared Goff. Backups — Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen, Luis Perez.

Goff is coming off a breakthrough year in his second season in which he completely silenced critics who considered him a bust after a rough rookie season. And while the 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns he threw for were impressive, there is reason to believe he’ll be even better operating in Sean McVay’s offense for a second straight year and playing around a bevy of playmakers. Mannion is entering the last year of his contract, and the Rams would like to get a handle on his long-range backup prospects or, if he goes elsewhere at the end of the year, figure out what they have in Allen, who spent all of last year as the third quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Todd Gurley. Backups — Malcolm Brown, Justin Davis, John Kelly, Nick Holley.

After a dismal sophomore season, Gurley re-emerged as an NFL force by rushing for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns and catching 64 passes for 788 yards and six scores. It earned him NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors and gave the Rams a unique, three-down back who could punish opponents on the ground and in the air. Expect all of that to continue. That leaves little for his backups, and while Brown is entrenched as his primary relief ace, keep an eye on Kelly, a rookie from Tennessee who looked good during the offseason.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters — Tyler Higbee. Backups — Gerald Everett, Temarrick Hemingway, Henry Krieger-Coble, Johnny Mundt.

The Rams would like more production from their tight ends after Higbee and Everett combined for just 41 catches for 539 yards. Everett’s development as a highly athletic downfield weapon will help in that regard, and there is still hope for Higbee as he enters his third year. Hemingway is back after missing all of last year after suffering a broken fibula and looked impressive throughout OTAs and minicamp/

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp. Backups — Josh Reynolds, Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas, Fred Brown, Ricky Jeune, Codey McElroy, Steven Mitchell.

The Rams have intact one of the top, young wide receiver groups in the NFL with Cooks, Woods and Kupp offering youth, production, nuance and accountability. And all three are under contract for at least the next three seasons. Cooks replaces Sammy Watkins, and on some levels offers an upgrade over the explosive Watkins. Reynolds is expected to grab a niche role in the red zone, where his length and catch radius should flourish. Cooper could emerge as an upgrade to Tavon Austin on jet sweeps and in the slot.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Rodger Saffold, C John Sullivan, RG Jamon Brown, RT Rob Havenstein. Backups — T Darrell Williams, T Cornelius Lucas, T Joseph Noteboom, C Brian Allen, G Jamil Demby, G Aaron Neary.

The presence of Whitworth last year combined with an injury free season for Saffold and a permanent spot at left guard completely changed the dynamic of a unit that’s struggled for years. Meanwhile, with Sullivan offering stability at center and youngsters Brown and Havenstein progressing and flourishing as starters, the Rams line emerged as one of the most effective in the NFL. The trick now is staying as healthy as last year but also developing depth with newcomers like Noteboom, Allen and Demby.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DT Aaron Donald, NT Ndamukong Suh, DT Michael Brockers. Backups — DT Dominique Easley, NT Tanzel Smart, DT Morgan Fox, DT Justin Lawler, DT Ethan Westbrooks, DT Omarius Bryant, DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT McKay Murphy, DT Chunky Clements, DT John Franklin.

The Rams already boasted one of the top defensive lines in the NFL thanks to the dominance of Donald and the dependability and polish of Brockers, but they could take an even bigger step forward with the addition of Suh, who will start off inside at nose tackle while being flanked by Brockers and Donald to form a lethal trio. Westbooks provided production in reserve and the return of Easley, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, further extends the depth. The Rams have high hopes for Smart, Fox and Lawler in reserve.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — OLB Samson Ebukam, ILB Mark Barron, ILB Cory Littleton, OLB Matt Longacre. Backups — ILB Bryce Hager, ILB Ramik Wilson, ILB Tegray Scales, ILB Micah Kiser, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB Trevon Young, OLB Garrett Sickles, OLB Ejuan Price, OLB Brian Womac.

The Rams will have two new starters at outside linebacker after parting ways with veterans Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin and at inside linebacker after trading Alec Ogletree. There is hope in Ebukam emerging in his second season and Longacre upping his game as a starter after spending last year as a key reserve on the outside. Inside, Littleton and Barron offer an athletic, run-stopping duo. Wilson and Hager are solid in reserve, but keep an eye on youngsters like Kiser and Scales inside and Okoronkwo on the outside.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, SS Lamarcus Joyner, FS John Johnson. Backups — CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB Troy Hill, CB Sam Shields, CB Dominique Hatfield, CB Taurean Nixon, CB Curtis Mikell, S Travin Howard, S Ramon Richards, S Marqui Christian, S Blake Countess, S Afolabi Laguda, S Nate Holley.

The Rams made serious upgrades at cornerback by trading for ball-hawking and turnover creators Peters and Talib, who will provide lockdown coverage on the outside. Meanwhile, Shields, Robey-Coleman and Hill are as good as it gets as depth. Johnson produced a solid rookie year at free safety while Joyner excelled in his first season at strong safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Greg Zuerlein, P Johnny Hekker, LS Jake McQuaide, PR Pharoh Cooper, KR Pharoh Cooper, Sam Ficken.

Zuerlein is coming off back surgery, but by all accounts will be healthy by the start of the regular season. If so, the Rams return Pro Bowlers at kicker, punter with Hekker and returner with Cooper. As special teams go, the Rams are the best in the business.

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