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2016 Cinderella candidates: Rams focused on future

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We peg potential Cinderella candidates based on the progress they've made during the offseason, knowing full well that offseason champions rarely captivate us in January and February. But some teams are being built the right way, which is why we'll break down the five trendiest Cinderella candidates out there for the 2016 season and determine if they're worth looking out for.

Los Angeles Rams


2015 record: 7-9

2016 projected record: 5-11

Why we believe

There's always a wave of optimism surrounding rookie quarterbacks. The Rams cemented fan expectation by mortgaging their future to move up to the No. 1 spot in the NFL draft to take Jared Goff, and they'll likely start him opening night. This could be a great thing. Ben Roethlisberger went 13-0 as a rookie starter and Andrew Luck went 11-5. It seems, however, the Rams do not have the caliber of supporting cast Roethlisberger and Luck had despite fielding a potential superstar running back and perhaps the NFL's second-best defensive player. General manager Les Snead will disagree with me, and he made the move specifically because they believe Goff is the player who puts them over the edge. When NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah asked five NFL bigwigs to compare Goff to an NFL passer, all five of them said Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan went 11-5 as a rookie, but did so while throwing 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Could Goff lead the Rams to 10 wins with just 16 touchdowns and 11 picks, or will they have to wait a year or two for him to develop into a truly game-changing quarterback?

Why we still have questions

Jeff Fisher hasn't had a winning season since 2008 and hasn't posted a .500 season since 2009. As a head coach, he's drafted and developed some fantastic players and is -- by all accounts -- a well-liked individual in the facility. Still, one can forgive us for being skeptical about his leadership. Patience often pays off in the NFL, but Fisher is already a coach with decades of experience. Is this a team finally ready to take a step forward? Some encouraging signs: Mike Groh was brought in to help revamp the passing game and the team is attempting another offensive shakeup. Groh comes from a solid coaching background and spent time with new Dolphins coach Adam Gase in Chicago, but will he have enough of a voice to truly bring the Rams' offense out of the mud?

What we need to know

1. Can Todd Gurley replicate his rookie season? Gurley had an absolutely fantastic season and, in Odell Beckham fashion, did so after missing the first few games. There were stretches of complete dominance and, if medical science is to be believed, he'll only be healthier and stronger this year. If Goff can toe the Dalton Scale line and play slightly above replacement level, we might be looking at a DeMarco Murray-type campaign from Gurley.

2. Tavon Austin had by far his best NFL season last year, and it left us wanting more. Austin was targeted 87 times (52 catches) and was handed the ball another 52 times. That was great! What took so long? For many people the DeAndre Hopkins season in 2015 blew the lid off the argument that it is hard to get your singular playmaker the ball with a replacement-level quarterback. And maybe Austin is nowhere near Hopkins in terms of pure receiver talent. However, he can impact the game in a similar way and needs to be treated as such.

3. What will happen at tight end? The best gift for a rookie quarterback is a dependable option at tight end. The Rams selected two in the draft -- Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway -- which puts a lot of pressure on Lance Kendricks to step up and have his best season yet.

4. Is this the year of Greg Robinson? No one is rooting for the former first-round pick harder than me. During an offensive line re-draft project I did a year ago, his raw power and size jumped straight off the film. That has yet to fully project at the NFL level and many are still waiting for Robinson to emerge as a true franchise left tackle. I'm sure I speak for Goff in saying that this would be a decent year to start.

5. Will the Rams get lucky? We gave Jacksonville the benefit of the doubt with its low-cost Bjoern Werner signing and should do the same for the Rams. Functionally, former first-round picks like Quinton Coples and Dominique Easley could fit well into this high-pressure defense and any production they get out of them should be considered a win.

6. Did they make the right call on defense? The Rams let Janoris Jenkins go and are riding with the platoon of Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, E.J. Gaines and Coty Sensabaugh. It was too expensive to lock down both franchise corners, so is the bet that the Rams' pass rush will help overcome potential coverage issues? Or do they know something about the talent on their roster that we don't (always a very, very real possibility).

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