In losing season, Rams searching for long-term contributors

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With another loss on Sunday, this one to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Rams fell to 3-8 on the season, which is tied for the worst 11-game start by a defending Super Bowl champion in league history.

And while technically, the Rams could make the playoffs -- by winning out and with a lot of help -- realistically, Los Angeles has another purpose for the rest of the season: figure out who could play an important role going forward.

The Rams have gotten a good look at this for a significant portion of the season. Not by design, but because of the number of injuries they’ve had to deal with. In Sunday’s 26-10 loss to the Chiefs, the Rams were without quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson II and every offensive lineman at his Week 1 position except right tackle Rob Havenstein.

And while the injuries have been a huge part of why this offense has struggled this season, the Rams have reached the point where evaluating the talent that is playing is something head coach Sean McVay said the team wants “to be mindful of” down the stretch.

“And really, as a result of just the amount of injuries … it’s got to occur,” McVay said. “You don't really have a choice. And so guys are going to get some opportunities like you've seen each of the last couple weeks. You're playing more offensive linemen than probably anybody ever has in the history of this game. And you're getting good evaluation.

“So that's the only way that you can look at it.”

While the Rams have dealt with injuries on both sides of the ball, it’s the offense that has taken the most hits. While Kupp and Robinson are both under long-term contracts, behind them there are young wide receivers in the mix for more playing time. Along with wide receiver Van Jefferson, who the Rams intended to have a big role for before he needed knee surgery during training camp, there is a group of receivers that could end the season strong and play themselves into bigger roles going forward: 2021 second-round pick Tutu Atwell, 2021 seventh-round pick Ben Skowronek, Brandon Powell and 2021 fourth-round pick Jacob Harris.

Jefferson, who missed the first six games after having knee surgery during training camp, is in the third season of his four-year rookie deal. He said for these final six regular-season games, it’s about going out on the field and playing the best he can.

“You just want to go out there and just be the best you can yourself,” Jefferson said. “Whether that's showing the coaches or just proving it to yourself. Just going out there and proving myself right. Just know I can go out there and play and I can do the things that I'm capable of doing. And so it's just about just proving myself right, and going out there and just playing and just letting everything else take care of the rest, you know? And that's kind of what I’ve been focusing on.”

McVay and the Rams’ front office will also have a decision to make at running back. Cam Akers, who led the running backs in rushing on Sunday, will enter the final year of his rookie contract next season. Akers missed two games earlier this season as the Rams tried to trade him. Los Angeles already waived Darrell Henderson Jr., who was in the final year of his contract, last week in an effort to give some of their younger running backs more playing time.

One of those young running backs is Kyren Williams, a 2022 fifth-round draft pick. Although he missed time due to injury, the rookie has impressed this coaching staff since coming off injured reserve.

“I like the way this guy competes,” McVay said. “I thought he did a good job. I think there's always going to be things that we can learn from, but I think he's got a great spirit. He's got great competitiveness. I thought I saw him do some good things without the ball. And then he did a nice job when he did get the ball in his hands to be able to create a little bit.”

The Rams are ranked 26th in rushing DVOA this season. Still, Williams said he doesn’t think he’s got to do anything special to prove himself to this coaching staff, but rather just “be who I am each and every day.”

“That's what I try to strive myself on: being a consistent guy and the same guy that shows up each and every day," Williams said. "And whether I get more opportunities, I get less opportunities. It doesn't matter. The opportunities I do get, I’ve got to make the most of them.”