If you're tired of reading more questions than answers when it comes to the 2020 NFL season… then you've clicked on the wrong link. I'm very sorry.
Nonetheless, we're glad you're here and cannot wait to unearth some clarity.
1. Will the Rams keep three QBs?
This is not typically the structure for Sean McVay's Rams, or many other NFL teams. However, this season is accompanied by an increased risk of starter Jared Goff missing a game due to the pandemic. And behind him, the Rams do not have another option who's dressed for an NFL game. It stands to reason they'll keep three; every team must; and likely a fourth on the practice squad.
2. Is the No. 3 QB in camp?
This is the more difficult question to answer, for the already stated lack of experience. None of the three options behind Goff were even drafted. And only John Wolford has even worked with McVay in person. In a normal year, you might be watching the waiver wire closely at the end of the preseason. But what team is going to be cutting a viable option at quarterback at this point, and would the Rams have the dollars and cents to make it work?
3. Can Rob Havenstein hold off Bobby Evans at right tackle?
Early indications from McVay were that Havenstein would get first right of refusal, hinting that Evans would be in the mix at guard. Coming off a down year, the Rams are banking on Big Rob returning to Pro Bowl-worthy form.
4. Who starts at the guard positions?
With Austin Blythe signed to be the starting center, that leaves both guard positions to be decided from a deep and intriguing group of candidates, most of whom saw their first meaningful NFL action last season: Evans, Austin Corbett, David Edwards, Joe Noteboom, Chandler Brewer. Add in rookie seventh round selection Tremayne Anchrum, and this is a good year to be throwing numbers at an offensive line problem – not only does the new CBA call for expanded rosters, but there's bound to be even more flexibility in 2020 to combat COVID-19.
5. Will Van Jefferson beat out Josh Reynolds for WR3?
In 2017, Cooper Kupp was drafted 69th overall and made an immediate impact as the Rams' third receiver next to Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. Might the 57th selection in April's Draft do the same? If so, Jefferson will have to outperform Reynolds in a short window of time and unprecedented circumstances. But he has the pedigree, and like Kupp, turned 24-years old before his first Rams Camp.
6. Is four a crowd in the tight end room?
So much has been made of McVay's 11-personnel that a podcast has been named in its honor. But after Tyler Higbee morphed into Tony Gonzalez in December, and Johnny Mundt earned his keep in the running game, L.A. chose Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round. Where does that leave Gerald Everett, the first selection of the McVay Era, entering a contract year? And how multiple does the Rams offense intend to be when you weigh those weapons against the aforementioned receivers?
7. Who earns the opening drive versus the Cowboys at running back?
Though the Rams used three Top 100 picks to select Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers in the last two drafts, my guess is veteran Malcolm Brown will have the honor in the opener. Young runners have had an extremely difficult time finding the field in three seasons under McVay, with the caveat that they've played behind a three-down back in Todd Gurley. John Kelly and Darrell Henderson combined for 96 snaps last season; Kelly and Justin Davis saw a total of 55 in 2018, before it became apparent that C.J. Anderson's services were required.
I believe rookie Cam Akers will lead the team in carries this season. Perhaps not in Week One, however.
8. Who wins the kicking competition?
New special teams coach. Three candidates. No preseason games.
9. Will the Rams go for it more on fourth down?
Yes. Even if Greg Zuerlein were still in Horns, the answer to this question would be affirmative. Only the Steelers converted fewer fourth downs than the Rams in 2019.
10. How will Sean McVay vet Brandon Staley in training camp?
In a word: thoroughly. Watching McVay and Wade Phillips battle in Irvine the past three summers was one of the highlights of training camp. Now a first-time NFL defensive coordinator takes the play sheet and headset. Without preseason games or joint practices to draw upon, McVay will have to test Staley's processes himself in Thousand Oaks. Who better?
11. How many outside linebackers will make the roster?
Here's another area where the Rams are using depth to address an area of concern, and this position group is where Staley earned his stripes. There are good options and diverse skill, with at least seven names I'd like to see in uniform this season. Who are the best complements to Leonard Floyd and Terrell Lewis, both in terms of performing on the edge and contributing on special teams?
12. Who are the starting off-ball linebackers?
Pro Football Focus recently ranked the Rams… dead last in the NFL in this category. Don't be surprised; this is hardly unprecedented.
13. Who wears the green dot on defense?
What is concerning is that someone is going to have to call the defense – a new defense – without the benefit of an in-person offseason program. That's a tall order. Good thing Micah Kiser won the Academic Heisman.
14. With a bevy of options, how will the Rams configure their defensive sub-packages and alignments?
Rookie draft pick Terrell Burgess can play just about anywhere. There have been indications Jalen Ramsey may do more than merely lockdown a side of the field. Troy Hill and Darious Williams both have ample game film to validate the team's belief in their future. If McVay wanted even more matchup potential from his defense, he's got it in spades.
15. How deep is the defensive line rotation?
In what could be the team's strongest position group, the Rams have the talent and depth that might be required to weather the 2020 storm. When healthy and available, how many are in the rotation? Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, A'Shawn Robinson, and Sebastian Joseph-Day, to be certain. Is there a role for Greg Gaines? There seems to be one for Morgan Fox, after he was re-signed in the spring.
16. Which sophomore will step up?
The rookie class of 2019 was layered into a Rams roster coming off a Super Bowl – one that eventually added Clay Matthews, Eric Weddle, and Ramsey. There's more opportunity to be found in this season's structure, and several intriguing prospects now have a (tumultuous) year of professional experience from which to draw. Who might be this fall's John Johnson or Joseph-Day, for instance?
Here's a list of candidates: John Wolford, Jachai Polite, David Edwards, Bobby Evans, Greg Gaines, Darrell Henderson, David Long, Natrez Patrick, Taylor Rapp, Troy Reeder. It's hard to envision the Rams achieving their goals without several of these NFL sophomores rising to the occasion.
17. Can a college free agent make the team in this environment?
Barring a trade or signing, Bryce Perkins or Josh Love would be in line to make the team as a third quarterback. Beyond that, it's hard to see a path to a roster spot for an undrafted rookie at this stage – and one would hope that there are no injuries or health complications during training camp that would necessitate a college free agent assuming a role on the initial 53-man team (Note: You may have heard about expanded practice squad rosters which give the perception of 55-man rosters under the new CBA. From the lens of training camp and the purposes of this conversation, however, making the initial 53 is still the absolute priority for players).
18. Will Jalen Ramsey – or any others – be extended before the season kicks off?
This is typically the window where the Rams and their key contributors come to terms on contracts. Goff's was announced just before the 2019 season; Higbee's shortly thereafter. In 2018, Brandin Cooks inked a new deal in mid-July; Gurley and Donald followed later that summer.
This offseason, Ramsey has voiced his confidence in the process. So has McVay. Other notable candidates entering a contract year include Cooper Kupp and John Johnson.
19. How have rehabs gone for those who suffered season-ending injuries in 2019?
One of the many unfortunate biproducts of the virtual program this spring was the inability to see rehabilitating players on the grass. Johnson, Kiser, Noteboom, and Brian Allen all had their 2019 season cut short by surgeries. The latter three are in competitions for starting roles or roster spots. The "good news" is that they didn't lose any ground during the virtual program, because no one was getting in-person reps. Hopefully, there is no "bad news."
20. Will Rams find a way to practice inside SoFi before Week One vs Dallas?
Lastly, a logistical hurdle. The Rams have yet to experience a dry run at SoFi Stadium. For there to be any perception of home field advantage – limited though it may be without fans in attendance – wouldn't you expect at least one practice to occur in Inglewood? A chance for Akers to test the turf on a cut; for Woods to look over his shoulder and bring in a Goff spiral; for Nsimba Webster to track a punt up against the canopy and video board; for whoever wins the kicking competition to experience what the airflow at each end of the structure might be like on a Sunday Night as the sun sets?
Public health priorities being what they are, this simply may not be possible. But I would expect the organization to do everything in its power to ensure that the active roster knows what it's like to step off the bus, into the spectacular new locker rooms, and perform inside SoFi Stadium at least once before the Cowboys do the same.