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By: Steven Ridings
Third-year tight end will be crucial to future success
The battle for Los Angeles this year turned out to be a lopsided contest, as the Chargers easily defeated the Rams 31-10 at SoFi Stadium. In years past, the Rams offense has held the upper hand against the Chargers. But this year has been different. The Rams have been undone by underwhelming draft picks and the effect has cascaded into their on-field performance this year. However, one draft pick that has begun to emerge is 2020 fourth-rounder Brycen Hopkins. What type of impact is he making now? And is he ready to become a starter for the LA Rams?
In order to gain a sense of the performance of the roster and its direction, Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded out all the players from the Week 17 contest. Using the PFF grades and the eye test of watching the game, I will provide a weekly evaluation/grade.
Los Angeles Rams | NFL news, schedule, and box scores | PFF
Weekly Grade: Grade for that respective week
Season Grade: Grade for the position over the course of the season
Trend: Direction of the position group from last week to this week
*Denotes a player ranked in the Top 3 at the position*
Baker Mayfield: 52.9 (-0.5), John Wolford: 40.0 (INA), Bryce Perkins: 60.0 (DNP), Matthew Stafford: 67.0 (IR)
Baker Mayfield could not do much of anything. He finished the game 11/19 for 132 yards. Brandon Staley’s Chargers defense has been phenomenal against the pass but with how well the Rams ran the ball, Mayfield could still not move the chains effectively.
Mayfield’s two biggest misses were a dropped pass by Cam Akers and a slight overthrow on a deep pass to Tutu Atwell.
Week 17 Grade: D-, Season Grade: D+, Trend: Slight-to-Moderate Downward
Cam Akers: 80.0 (+4.0), Kyren Williams: 67.2 (-0.9), Malcolm Brown: 62.5 (+0.9), Ronnie Rivers: 64.6 (DNP)
Akers notched his second straight 100+ rushing yard game, totaling 123 yards on just 19 carries. His longest run went for 42 yards. On top of that, it looks like Akers has taken pass protection to heart. McVay highly values running backs that can step up in the pass game. In Week 1, Akers looked lost in his assignments. In Week 17, Akers not only connects on his block, but he also finished it with authority…
Cam Akers with a block of the year submission. pic.twitter.com/5a3GK2MaGz
— NFL Fashion Advice (@fashion_nfl) January 1, 2023
The only blemish for Akers against the Chargers was a drop that would have gone for an easy 59-yard touchdown…
Cam Akers pic.twitter.com/4kXcLeQXky
— Lost Tribe Sports (@LostTribeSports) January 1, 2023
Despite the drop, it was nice to see him bounce back with a solid performance.
Week 17 Grade: A-, Season Grade: B, Trend: Slight Upward
Van Jefferson: 66.6 (+3.5), Tutu Atwell: 71.8 (-3.0), Brandon Powell: 68.0 (-2.4), Lance McCutcheon: 47.8 (+0.2), Austin Trammell: 64.6 (-0.2), Cooper Kupp: 86.3 (IR), Allen Robinson II: 65.8 (IR), Bennett Skowronek: 57.2 (IR), Jacob Harris: 73.7 (IR)
The wide receivers only caught six passes. Van Jefferson had half of the receptions and more than half of the receiving yards (77).
Tutu Atwell (84% offensive snaps) caught two receptions (five targets) for 10 yards. Baker Mayfield just missed Tutu on a 50+ yard deep down the field.
Brandon Powell (76% offensive snaps) had one catch for three yards and one carry for six yards.
The Rams wide receivers are vastly oversized with Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson II, and Ben Skowronek on IR, so I am not surprised that the Rams passing game has taken a hit to finish the year…
Week 17 Grade: C-, Season Grade: C+, Trend: Neutral
Tyler Higbee: 62.3 (-0.9), Brycen Hopkins: 65.6 (+1.9)
Brycen Hopkins (39% offensive snaps) is beginning to put it together as a receiver and blocker. He threw a key block on the edge that sprung Akers 42-yard run…
2020 Cam Akers pic.twitter.com/iUeB5cxahW
— HoldenCantor (@HoldenCantor) January 2, 2023
In addition, Brycen Hopkins made a great reach and slide to haul in a 21-yard reception.
I think Hopkins would be a great candidate for the Rams to give a small three-year extension to this offseason. Something in the neighborhood of three years for $12-15 million. The Rams need to shore up the tight end position with Tyler Higbee and Brycen Hopkins becoming free agents after the 2023 season. Rams would obviously like to keep Hopkins, the younger of the two. Handing out this extension offers little risk and high reward potential. If Hopkins becomes TE1 and picks up Higbee’s production, then the Rams are filling out the middle of their roster with a cheap contract.
Week 17 Grade: D+, Season Grade: D+, Trend: Slight Downward
Ty Nsekhe: 70.9 (-0.9), Matt Skura: 50.4 (-0.7), Coleman Shelton: 55.3 (+0.7), Chandler Brewer: 55.6 (-11.0), Oday Aboushi: 65.2 (DNP), Rob Havenstein: 73.2 (+0.3), AJ Arcuri: 47.7 (DNP), Robert Thomas: 60.0 (DNP), Jeremiah Kolone: 36.1 (PS), Joe Noteboom: 67.0 (IR), Tremayne Anchrum: 60.0 (IR), Alaric Jackson: 64.1 (IR), David Edwards: 58.2 (IR), Brian Allen: 63.8 (IR)
The improvement in the running game cannot be overlooked. LA is running the ball significantly better the last month of the season. In fact, the Rams only averaged 95.7 yards/game in 2021. They currently sit at 94.7 yards/game in 2022. That is with Nsekhe, Skura, Shelton, Brewer/Aboushi, and Havenstein. Imagine what a revamped offensive line could be capable of achieving.
Despite the improvements in the run game, the pass protection issues still exist. The interior is still overmatched by heavier and stronger defensive linemen. Where have the sacks come from exactly:
Nsekhe – 2 sacks
Skura – 3 sacks
Shelton – 3 sacks
Aboushi – 2 sacks
Brewer – 0 sacks
Havenstein – 6 sacks
Noteboom – 5 sacks
Jackson – 1 sack
Edwards – 3 sacks
Allen – 4 sacks
Evans – 7 sacks
The main issues have come from the left side of the offensive line (Noteboom, Edwards, Evans, Skura, and Allen). I see a lot of issues with the Rams left guard and center positions. No one has handled the communication and stunts well. It should be something that McVay looks at this offseason.
Week 17 Grade: C-, Season Grade: D+, Trend: Slight Downward
HC (Sean McVay)
Not a lot to cover here for the head coach. He has made positive changes in using 12 personnel more and getting youngsters Tutu Atwell and Brycen Hopkins on the field more. He has kept a steady call for run plays and allowing Cam Akers to build rhythm and momentum. At the same time, with the amount of change this year, McVay has not able to dive deep into the playbook with Baker Mayfield and the depleted group of wide receivers.
One thing I do want to see from McVay is beating his assistants. He holds a losing record to Shanahan (5-8), Taylor (2-0), Staley (0-1), and LaFleur (0-3).
Week 17 Grade: C+, Season Grade: C+, Trend: Neutral
Stay tuned within the next 24 hours for the defensive PFF grades from Week 17 for the Los Angeles Rams roster overview!