A young L.A. Rams team will look to build upon an exciting, promising first season under head coach Sean McVay in 2018. Following the same model as the Philadelphia Eagles, the Rams have made moves to get into a win-now mode while quarterback Jared Goff remains on a rookie contract at a manageable cap hit.
L.A.’s hectic offseason has included acquiring Brandin Cooks, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters in trades, and signing All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as a free agent. However, most notably, there offseason hasn’t included signing superstar DT and destroyer of worlds Aaron Donald to a contract extension.
Despite the Rams moving to build around a young core by adding high-priced veterans, they do still have multiple young pieces stepping into contributing roles, set to breakout in 2018 on a contending team.
Here are three players set to breakout for L.A. in 2018:
Corey Littleton, ILB
Of all GM Les Snead’s moves this offseason, perhaps the most underrated — and smartest — was managing to get out from underneath Alec Ogletree’s four-year, $42M contract. Ogletree’s extension was bloated from the minute it was signed in October of last year, as he appeared to be a step slow all of last season. Somehow, Snead was able to flip him to the perpetually linebacker-needy New York Giants.
Now, the Rams will need former UDFA Corey Littleton to step up. After carving out a role for himself on L.A. as a special teamer following a 2016 NFL Draft in which he went unselected, Littleton cracked the Rams’ defensive lineup last season as his new running mate Mark Barron went down with an injury. Littleton performed well enough to make moving on from Ogletree an easy decision.
As one of L.A.’s two inside linebackers in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, Littleton will be tasked with making the defensive calls. In Phillips’ last stop, as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, he oversaw a defense that featured two late-round LB selections who transformed into above-average NFL starters. Playing on a loaded defense, for a legendary defensive coach, Littleton will now try to take the next step and follow the path taken by Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall.
Gerald Everett, TE
As a new wave of move tight ends began taking the league by storm, with players like David Njoku, O.J. Howard and Evan Engram flashing their versatility and play making ability in their first season in the league, Rams rookie Gerald Everett saw limited playing time behind a more traditional starter in Tyler Higbee. After a 16-catch rookie season, Everett is set to leapfrog Higbee as the team’s starter and vault his name into discussion with some of the league’s best mismatches.
McVay’s rise through the coaching ranks in Washington coincided with the electrifying Jordan Reed’s rise to becoming one of the biggest matchup problems in the NFL. In Everett, McVay and L.A. have a tight end with a similarly rare combination of size and athleticism.
Everett’s ability to lineup anywhere from H-back, to in-line, to out wide gives the Rams a valuable ability to move players around the formation and create mismatches after they break the huddle. There is no better coach suited to maximize a player like Everett, and in an offense teeming with talent at every skill position, watch for Everett to burst onto the scene in 2018.
Samson Ebukam, OLB
With veterans Connor Barwin and Robert Quinn moving on this offseason (Quinn was dealt to the Miami Dolphins, while Barwin remains a free agent), L.A. is without an established pass rusher on the outside. Although the double-headed beast of Suh and Donald on the inside will help to ease the transition, sophomore Samson Ebukam will be the one tasked with stepping up among EDGEs on the Rams in 2018.
As a rookie, Ebukam played sparingly, starting two games in December after Barwin went down with an arm injury. In total, Ebukam played just under 33-percent of the defense’s snaps, registering two sacks and a forced fumble in a limited role. In his supporting part, Ebukam flashed the traits that would seem to make L.A. comfortable going into the season with relative unknowns on the outside.
The Rams’ offseason moves have left them with multiple established stars on the defensive line and in the secondary. However, both on the inside and outside of the second level, L.A. is counting on unproven players to step up. Like Littleton, Ebukam will benefit from Phillips’ fit-the-scheme-to-the-player philosophy as he attempts to take the next step in a loaded defense in 2018.