Imagine telling a Rams fan in late October that the season's closing stretch would feature Baker Mayfield handing off to Cam Akers.
Or that Week 18 would bring the opportunity to simultaneously eliminate the rival Seahawks and help a few old friends in Detroit make the playoffs (the Lions were 1-6 at the trade deadline, Seattle was 5-3).
The 2022 season had more twists and turns – and bumps and bruises – than any of us care to relive.
But with a couple of weeks of separation, I hope we can reflect with appreciation on many indelible moments and individual accomplishments.
Most Valuable Player – Bobby Wagner
Bobby Wagner will go to Canton as a Seattle Seahawk, and rightfully so. But because that franchise moved on from him after a decade, he was motivated and able to author a particularly special chapter of that Hall of Fame career in his hometown.
After Matthew Stafford's year was derailed by injury, it was Wagner who paced out to midfield before each game as a Rams captain and their sole representative for the coin toss. That struck me as illustrative of the unique role he held within the leadership group.
Because the 32-year-old's contributions were as intangible as they were statistical, words can't encapsulate what he meant to this 2022 roster or how he kept it intact when each week offered L.A. a new reason to fracture.
As in this space, his teammates voted Wagner their MVP, and that's probably all we need to know about his impact.
DPOY – Bobby Wagner
In terms of his on-field performance, Wagner was equally influential.
On a team lacking in pure pass rush, he piled up a career-best six sacks. His season grade of 90.7 from Pro Football Focus was his highest since 2018 and the third-best of his illustrious career.
I wouldn't have argued against cornerback Jalen Ramsey for this Defensive Player of the Year award, but the novelty of Wagner's first season outside Seattle, in the middle of a unit that hasn't had a middle linebacker this accomplished, really stood out.
OPOY – Cooper Kupp
This is bittersweet to award last year's Super Bowl MVP and NFL Offensive Player of the Year with his second consecutive Rams OPOY honor.
In just nine games of work, Kupp managed to share the 2022 team lead in touchdowns with Cam Akers and finished second in scrimmage yards.
Newcomer of the Year – Bobby Wagner
What more can we write about Wagner?
Pretty special that an 11-year veteran could be rejuvenated by a professional change of scenery. A workload consisting of over 1,100 snaps across 17 games is far more than any rookie could have shouldered.
For a group faced with filling the void of voices like Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, and even Von Miller, thank goodness Wagner was able to step in and be the Rams Newcomer of the Year.
Rookie of the Year – Cobie Durant
A backloaded rookie class was injury-depleted before the Buffalo Bills even landed at LAX for the NFL's kickoff game.
Running back Kyren Williams broke his foot during OTAs. Offensive guard Logan Bruss was lost for the year during training camp. Safety Quentin Lake began the year on the PUP list and didn't debut until Week 10. Edge Daniel Hardy wasn't activated from injured reserve until Week 13.
In total, the Rams 2022 draft class combined to play just 1,192 snaps at their positions (on offense/defense).
But the lack of competition doesn't cool the sizzle that Cobie Durant put on display.
L.A.'s second selection of the draft class erupted in his NFL debut with a sack and an interception against the Falcons. After missing the next four games with a hamstring injury, he returned for special teams work in the month of November, then assumed the third corner role for the duration of the season.
His signature performance, which we'll discuss more below, came against the Denver Broncos on Christmas Day. With two interceptions, including a touchdown, he was given the highest defensive grade in the league that week by Pro Football Focus.
Specialist of the Year – Matt Gay
Building off his Pro Bowl season of 2021, Gay proved to be the model of consistency in the kicking game again this year.
In the season-finale at Seattle, the former Buccaneer and Colt connected on his 100th career made field goal in the NFL, 74 of which have come in Royal and Sol.
His career-long came in New Orleans from 58 yards. But it was the 55-yarder he nailed in sub-freezing conditions under the lights of Lambeau Field that was his most impressive strike.
Gay described that boot as "slapping a rock," and indeed he's been rock-solid for the better part of three Rams campaigns. An unrestricted free agent here in 2023, it's everyone's hope that he's back for more next fall.
Waiver Wire Addition – Baker Mayfield
I don't think this honor needs a write-up, do you?
Mayfield made the final five games of a losing season far more compelling; he orchestrated 2022's signature moment against Las Vegas; he elevated the offense's production to its highest level of the year against Denver; he played a leading role in getting Akers and the Rams running game back on track.
For Mayfield's sake, you hope there's a starting opportunity – and corresponding contract – out there for him this offseason. If not, he could settle in as the most accomplished Rams backup quarterback since their return to Los Angeles.
Comeback Player of the Year – Cam Akers
This award could be connected to Akers' recovery from his 2021 Achilles injury, but I'm actually focused on mending fences rather than tendons.
Where you draw the line in his season is arbitrary, but there are a few options for marking the return of Akers: post-trade deadline, the game in New Orleans where he once again became the featured back, the release of Darrell Henderson.
It doesn't really matter – the eventual point should still stand – but I'll go with Week 13 against Seattle as the starting line for Akers' "second season."
That's when I felt the dust had settled in a lot of respects: the composition of the running back room, the return of assistant head coach Thomas Brown to lead it, and even the Rams offense, which from that point forward became tailored to Akers' preferences (with John Wolford and then Baker Mayfield behind center).
In those final six games, Akers averaged 4.92 yards per carry and 9.0 yards per reception, scored six touchdowns and earned three PFF grades in the 80s. He closed the year with four straight games of 100-plus yards from scrimmage.
Projected over the course of a full 17-game season (admittedly unrealistic), Akers' production was that of a 1,700-yard, 17-touchdown running back.
Most Improved Player – Ben Skowronek
If it is possible for a rookie seventh round pick turned Super Bowl Champion to be viewed unfairly, that's how Skowronek came away from his debut campaign in the NFL.
He was asked to do too much, quite frankly – to effectively replace Woods at the tail end of his debut campaign in the NFL, much of which had already been spent recovering from a preseason injury, learning the playbook, and pouring into his special teams roles.
In the 2021 regular season, Skowronek managed just 11 receptions on 20 targets for 133 yards and no touchdowns. A couple costly miscues in the playoffs drew the ire of Rams fans, and understandably so.
A year later, again pressed into more duty that originally designed because of various injuries to Van Jefferson, Allen Robinson II, and Cooper Kupp, Skowronek caught 39 balls for 376 yards and ran his first NFL touchdown in from the 17-yard line against the Panthers.
And oh, by the way, he learned to play fullback as a second-year pro.
Rising Stock– Tutu Atwell
Atwell also was a great candidate for Most Improved, but since he didn't register any rookie stats, we carved out a separate category to recognize his growth.
Atwell did enough in 2022 to reverse the narrative. Going into his third season, the former second-round selection's stock is on the rise. His go-ball ability is on film; throwing him speed-outs looks like an extension of the running game. There weren't many positives to take away from this five-win season, but establishing Atwell as a consistent element of the passing game is certainly one. And he tacked on a rushing score in the finale, the second of his sophomore campaign.
2023 feels like the year where Atwell's abilities are more than just potential, they're attributes the Rams incorporate into every game plan.
Utility Player of the Year – Michael Hoecht
Hoecht doesn't do push-ups, but rather Earth-downs.
Mid-year, the 25-year-old pivoted to the edge of the Rams defense, racked up 4.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits, four tackles for loss, and forced a fumble.
So it adds up that the Ivy-League-educated calculus major has also counted to infinity… twice.
Ironman – Rob Havenstein
Over the course of this 17-game gauntlet, the Rams were forced to play 15 offensive linemen.
Havenstein and Tyler Higbee were the only offensive players to make every start, and the veteran right tackle led the offense with 1,018 snaps played.
"He certainly has earned that 'C' on his chest this year," head coach Sean McVay said of his 30-year-old captain.
Career Accomplishment, Offense – Tyler Higbee
Like Havenstein, Higbee is on the short-list of Rams who predate McVay.
And Higbee's grit in getting on the field for all 17 games – especially coming off the knee injury he suffered last January – is equally improbable.
For the first 14 weeks, we watched him peel himself off the turf as he effectively served as a one-man tight end room, seldom missing a down. But even as the targets and the snaps piled up, Higbee couldn't find the touchdown he needed to ascend to the top of the Rams record books.
Then, in a loss at Green Bay on the Monday before Christmas, he broke through. The following week, in the destruction of Denver, he hauled in two more. And in so doing, we can now say that Higbee is the most prolific receiving tight end in franchise history.
He finished the 2022 season with a career-high 72 receptions (resetting his own Rams record), 620 receiving yards, and three scores.
Career Accomplishment, Defense – Aaron Donald
It is a violation of the Rams dot com bylaws to write an honors piece without mentioning Aaron Donald, and so we'll do so here.
For the first time in his career, the greatest defensive tackle in league history was forced to miss time due to injury, sitting the final six games of the season. As a result, his five sacks and 11 quarterback hits represented career-lows.
But his 2022 was not without an important milestone, as Donald's lunging trip of Kyler Murray in Week 3 marked his 100th career sack, joining Vikings Hall of Famer John Randle as the only two defensive tackles to post 100 or more (sacks became an official statistic in 1982).
Lunch Pail Player of the Year – Jalen Ramsey
In 2021, Ramsey was an All-Pro and the top-graded corner in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
I honestly think even more of him after a 2022 season that others might (wrongly) categorize as a step back.
After rehabilitating both shoulders (one requiring surgery), Ramsey was a non-participant throughout much of the offseason program. Then when the lights came on, he continued to set an edge and hit like a linebacker. He took the challenge of the best receivers in the world week after week, and certainly they won on several occasions.
But not once did Ramsey shy away. Even when there was nothing to play for, his tenacity never wavered.
His two-pick performance at Seattle in the finale was vintage stuff, and there may not be another player on the planet who could make the fourth quarter goal line stop of Kenneth Walker, III.
Among the most meaningful numbers I'll take away from the year gone by? 126.
That's the number of special teams snaps Ramsey played. More than in any prior season as a Ram; most since his rookie year in Jacksonville.
I watched incredulously as he continued to bottle up the opposing team's gunner all the way until the bitter end of the season in Seattle. Why would an elite cover corner with tenure bother, especially once L.A.'s hopes had effectively been extinguished by Thanksgiving?
Maturity. Professionalism. Leadership.
Don't let anyone tell you this was a down-year for Jalen Ramsey.
Catch of the Year – Van Jefferson
After an emotional, narrow, last-second loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams were faced with a short week to contend with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Down six points deep in the fourth quarter, against the NFL's leading rusher, the Rams defense delivered in a must-stop sequence. Troy Hill, Michael Hoecht, Bobby Wagner, and Marquise Copeland combined to stifle Josh Jacobs and force a Raiders punt.
Only problem? A.J. Cole's kick tight-roped the Rams sideline 64 yards and was downed at the two with 1:45 remaining, all while the Silver and Black hit the Griddy in celebration.
But Mayfield took the Rams 98 yards in 95 seconds, without a timeout. While Jefferson’s game-winner gets the Catch of the Year honor, it wasn't necessarily even the top snag of the possession! Skowronek’s 32-yard “Mossing” of Nate Hobbs made it all possible.
As for Jefferson, that 23-yard score marked the first game-winning touchdown of his football career. And it also proved to be the third and final score of his season, thrown by three different quarterbacks, none of whom were named Matthew Stafford!
Takeaway of the Year – Cobie Durant pick-six vs. DEN
Blessed with a basketball name and track speed, Durant is not only the Rams Rookie of the Year, he also registered the only non-offensive touchdown of the 2022 season with his 85-yard interception return against the Broncos.
Durant put a 50-burger under the Christmas tree of all Rams fans in the most complete performance of the season.
To the Fans
Finally, here's some recognition for each of you who watched, listened, attended, and read along throughout this trying title defense.
It's easy to represent when the confetti is falling and the Lombardi is lifted high.
But to those who were there in lockstep with the L.A. Rams throughout 5-12, we celebrate you. Wherever 2023 leads, we thank you for joining us on the journey to the organization's next title chase.