Los Angeles Rams 2019 season preview: How far can Todd Gurley go?

Riddick: Donald has transcended the defensive tackle position (1:08)

Louis Riddick and Victor Cruz detail why they think Rams DT Aaron Donald is the best player in the NFL. (1:08)

The Los Angeles Rams are ranked No. 4 in ESPN's preseason Football Power Index. Here's everything you need to know about the Rams heading into the 2019 NFL season:

The big question: Can Todd Gurley perform at high level and make it through the season?

Gurley rushed for more than 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons and scored a league-high 21 touchdowns in 2018 -- even as he nursed a sore knee that sidelined him in Weeks 16 and 17. The Rams took a conservative approach with Gurley throughout training camp, limiting him to an every-other-day practice schedule. It remains to be seen if the star back can return to form, or if he could be forever slowed because of his knee.-- Lindsey Thiry

Offseason in a nutshell

Coming off consecutive division titles, an NFC championship and appearance in Super Bowl LIII, the Rams extended the contracts of coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead through the 2023 season. However, the team has yet to agree to a long-term extension with quarterback Jared Goff as he enters the fourth season of his rookie deal, though Snead says it's "not of a matter of if, but when" a deal gets done. As they attempt a repeat Super Bowl run, the Rams bolstered their defense by adding veteran safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Clay Matthews. On offense, they selected Darrell Henderson in the third round to provide depth behind Gurley. -- Thiry

Inside the Rams schedule

Most important game: Week 5 at Seattle Seahawks. The Rams have won back-to-back division titles and swept the NFC West last season. But this season the division is likely to be improved, and the chance for a three-peat could come down to a tight race with the Seahawks. A win in Seattle would put the Rams in the driver's seat for the division and give them momentum heading into a long road stretch.

Toughest stretch: The Rams will be away from home, a long way away from home, between Weeks 7 and 10. They will face the Falcons in Atlanta in Week 7, then will remain in the Peach State to practice for the week before traveling to London to play the Bengals. They'll return for a bye week, only to pack up and travel East again to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Over or under 9.8 wins? Over, but not by much. The Rams have won 11 and 13 games in McVay's two seasons as coach, so it seems unlikely they would experience a drop-off given they return all of their key starters on offense and defense, including two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. However, their schedule includes an improved NFC West, longer road trips and uncertainty remains about the long-term health of Gurley. -- Thiry

Schedule ranking: No. 10

The Rams' toughest games are well spread throughout the season, partly because they have consecutive road games only twice: they'll be the "home" team in London in Week 8, which is in between a road tilt in Atlanta, a bye week, then a game in Pittsburgh; and then at Dallas and at San Francisco in Weeks 15-16. The Rams play all four of their NFC South opponents in the first seven weeks, and four of the Rams' six divisional games come in December. -- Football Outsiders | See the full 1-32 ranking

Breakout fantasy star: RB Darrell Henderson

Henderson averaged 8.88 yards per carry at Memphis during the 2017 season. Pretty good, right? Not good enough apparently, as he improved that mark to 8.92 on 214 carries last season. Henderson, selected in the third round of April's draft, is on the small side (5-foot-8, 208 pounds) but has good speed and elusiveness. Gurley's health will determine how much work Henderson gets as a rookie, but, at the very least, he's a good handcuff, as he'd play a large role next to Malcolm Brown if Gurley were to miss time. -- Mike Clay | More fantasy coverage

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 15-1 (opened 8-1)
Over/under: 10.5 (O +140/U -160)
Playoff odds: Yes -270, No +230

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Sept. 2.

Most interesting player prop

Over/under 12 total touchdowns for Todd Gurley:

  • Thiry: Over. Last season, Gurley scored a league-high 21 touchdowns. Even if the Rams manage Gurley's workload, he's still a key weapon in the offense and is a trusted player in the red zone. It's unlikely he'll reach 21 touchdowns again, but he should have no issue scoring more than 12 -- whether it be as a runner or a pass-catcher.

  • Bearman: Over. Even hobbled last year, Gurley went for 21 total TDs, two more than his 2017 offensive MVP season. Fewer touches are likely, and so are more than 12 total TDs.

Bold prediction: Donald breaks sack record

Donald, a defensive tackle, will break former New York Giants linebacker Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22.5, will become the first player to be named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons and will be named the NFL's Most Valuable Player, joining Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor as the only defensive players to earn the honor. -- Thiry

Where the Rams landed in NFLRank

  • No. 1: Aaron Donald

  • No. 46: Todd Gurley

  • No. 48: Jared Goff

  • No. 78: Brandin Cooks

  • No. 80: Andrew Whitworth

Speed reads before the opener