The Rams season is over and it is time to look to the future. The Rams currently have the second youngest roster in the NFL so there will not be a ton of movement and most of it will be on defense. Offensive players set to be free agents are wide receiver Sammy Watkins, running back Lance Dunbar, and center John Sullivan.
Free agency was an important part of the Rams rebuild and success this season so here is a look at how these players performed.
Sammy Watkins – Wide Receiver
Sammy Watkins will be one of the bigger names the Rams will deal with in free agency. Trading for Watkins this past summer, the Rams will look to sign him to a contract that makes sense for both Watkins and the team.
Watkins’ production this year can’t rightly be measured by looking at his statistics for the season. The new Rams receiver had 39 receptions in which he produced 8 touchdowns. In targets, receptions, yards and yards after catch, Watkins ranked fourth behind Cooper Kupp, Todd Gurley, and Robert Woods. He also ranked first in average yards per reception with 15.3 and receiving touchdowns with eight. That number also put him eighth in the league in touchdowns.
These numbers aren’t all that Watkins brings to the table, however. Often overlooked was his ability to make key blocks. On big plays, he was often spotted making key blocks, and sometimes, several.
“When we get in the offensive meeting room or with the team and coaches are highlighting guys making blocks, it’s a great feeling because they understand that it’s much bigger than you and you’re not selfish,” Watkins said. “And for me, it’s just helped my game out.”
Still, Watkin’s production was not what we have seen from him in the past. His rookie year saw him nearly hit 1,000 receiving yards and the following year, he hit 1,047. The year after that, he was on pace to do the same before dealing with injuries cut his production.
The Rams have their hands full with this decision. Everyone knows that Watkins has the ability to be a great receiver, but there is a question as to whether or not he fits Sean McVay’s offense. Watkins has said that he would like to stay with the Rams, but the money that he demands will be a key to determining whether he should stay or go. Robert Woods was highlighted as the number one receiver with Cooper Kupp close behind. Watkins is the type of talented receiver teams want around, but if he requires number one wide receiver money, the Rams may do well to let him walk. It may be what is best for both his talents and the team’s finances. The option to franchise tag him may also allow the Rams to get another look at Watkins and make a better determination.
Lance Dunbar – Running Back
Lance Dunbar is currently on a one year, $1,500,000 deal. He is set to hit free agency this year. As a third down running back, it will be interesting to see what the Rams do here.
Dunbar only played four games for the Rams this season before suffering a knee injury. In that time, he had 11 carries for 51 yards and one touchdown. This earned him a 4.6 yards per attempt average, which, even given the small sample size, is impressive. By comparison, Todd Gurley had a 4.7 yards per attempt average. Dunbar was praised for his ability to make receptions out of the backfield. However, his four games saw just one reception for one yard
Dunbar was signed in an effort to relieve Malcolm Brown, who also had a knee injury. Third down backs offer relief for heavily used running backs like Todd Gurley. With Malcolm Brown back in that position and performing well, it is hard to see the Rams bringing both back. Since Dunbar has completed his one year deal, Rams may just allow him to walk. His performance, although good for the small sample size, was not enough to command more finances, especially with Malcolm Brown back in the fray.
John Sullivan – Center
John Sullivan is another big name in free agency. The Rams signed Sullivan to a one year deal worth $999,999. At the age of 32, Sullivan enters his tenth season in the league.
The Rams signing of Sullivan was a huge part of the turnaround on the offensive line. Probably one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year became one of the best in the league this year. It is hard to really appreciate a center because there are no statistics that gauge how well they played. From a longevity standpoint, Sullivan started all 15 regular season games for the Rams. Sullivan allowed just one sack on the season and had just two penalties in 866 snaps.
Sullivan is another player who doesn’t just perform well physically but has other contributions often overlooked. Quarterback, Jared Goff, touted Sullivan’s ability to understand defenses and call them out.
“It takes a lot off my shoulders for sure, with his ability to understand defenses and make a lot of calls up front… If I see something and overrule, I can. Ninety-nine percent of the time he’s right.” Goff said of Sullivan.
These connections with the quarterback and ability to make calls up front are a large part of the reason the Rams offensive line turned the corner in terms of performance.
Age may be a factor in the decision to stay with or move on from Sullivan this offseason, but his performance this year suggests he has more left in the tank. Assuming the Rams can make another short-term deal with Sullivan, it would be in their best interest to have him around next year.
The Rams were the highest scoring offense in the league this year with an average of 29.9 points per game. This offseason the Rams will look to get even better on the offensive side of the ball. With little to worry about in terms of offensive changes, getting these three deals taken care of seems like a manageable task. A safe prediction, the Rams can use a franchise tag on Watkins, let Dunbar walk, and sign Sullivan to a short-term deal. Rams fans have to be happy with the improvements McVay made last year and can assume that he will continue to have a good eye for offensive talent going forward.
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