Column: For rebuilding Rams in race to draft Caleb Williams, each loss could be a win

USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams practices.
Can Los Angeles fans picture USC quarterback Caleb Williams in a Rams uniform next season? Many project him as the top pick in the next NFL draft.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The quarterback is creaky. The running game is questionable. The receiving corps is inconsistent. The offensive line is uncertain. The defense is untested.

The Rams enter the 2023 season with the league’s youngest team, one of the league’s most depleted rosters, and a brilliant but taxed coach who has been on the verge of walking away.

Ah, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

That light is powerful enough to transform, famous enough to sell, and close enough to touch.


His name is Caleb Williams.

Rams star receiver Cooper Kupp had a setback with his hamstring injury and, with the opener 10 days away, could be in danger of missing the kickoff in Seattle.

Aug. 31, 2023

The most important Rams race this season might not be a climb to the top, but a sprint toward the bottom.

Can they be bad enough to finish with the league’s worst record and the opportunity to draft the most NFL-ready quarterback in a decade?

How perfect would it be if a fallen Los Angeles Super Bowl champion entered its next chapter led by USC’s Heisman Trophy winner?

At first glance, this appears an impossibility. The Rams aren’t going to tank, nor should they. From Kevin Demoff to Les Snead to Sean McVay, they have arguably the most competitive braintrust in local sports. Don’t forget how recently they cashed in all their chips for a title. It’s outrageous to believe they would lose on purpose.

When I asked McVay this week about his upcoming challenge, he gave a pep talk that nearly had me sprinting to the nearest field.

Rams coach Sean McVay talks to quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (9) Brett Rypien (11)  and Stetson Bennett.
Sean McVay talks to Matthew Stafford (9) Brett Rypien (11) and Stetson Bennett, the current quarterbacks available to the Rams coach.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

“I guess you’ve got to just watch!” he said, later adding, “I love working with this group because they want to be coached, they want to do right … ultimately, it’s about us making it come to life when these games start to count. … I’m looking forward to going and shooting our shot, I know that much.”

McVay is all in. And despite the salary cap issues that have ripped this roster apart, Los Angeles should still be all in on the Rams. A mere two seasons ago, they went for it, they won it and, in this win-or-perish market, these ensuing struggles seem a small price to pay.

Don’t rip Snead while bragging that your city is home to a recently acquired Lombardi Trophy. Don’t compare this year’s lowly Rams to the high-flying Dodgers and Lakers because, after all, the Rams are the only one of the three to win a full-season championship in the last 13 years.

Without passing judgment, no less than the Patriots’ Bill Belichick cited the Rams this week as a team that is paying that price for a quick fix.

“You can’t sustain the 20 years of success that we sustained by overspending every year without having to eventually pay those bills and play with a lesser team. … the Rams are going through it,” Belichick said at a news conference.


When older quarterbacks are dealing with the younger generation of the NFL, veterans share the tricks to keeping up with the youngers on and off the football field.

Sept. 5, 2023

Snead mostly agreed.

“There’s definitely some truth in what he’s saying,” Snead said during a video conference. “We’re always going to try to sustain winning but there’s probably going to be phases of your team when there’s going to be ebbs and flows through that. Yes, if you do some creative things like we did with the cap, there’s no secret at some point you have to, if you want to call it, pay that debt off.”

This season is payback time.

Matthew Stafford is often injured and, if you believe wife Kelly’s comments on her podcast, the quarterback has lost touch with the young locker room. Cam Akers is always an adventure at running back. Cooper Kupp has yet to appear healthy at wide receiver. The offensive line has questionable depth. The defense, while still centered around Aaron Donald, will be missing departed veterans such as Jalen Ramsey and Bobby Wagner and Leonard Floyd.

McVay can coach himself even more hoarse, and it still might not matter. Snead can spend all season patching holes, and it could still mean nothing. Demoff can sell himself silly, and it might not produce wins.

No matter how hard they try, no matter how hard their diehards root for them, the Rams don’t seem to have enough talent to be consistently competitive, which means one thing: Every loss could be viewed like an ultimate win.

The Chiefs are listed as the favorites to win their second straight Super Bowl, followed by the Eagles, Bills, Bengals and 49ers, according to FanDuel.

Aug. 30, 2023

Just as the Rams were blessed to win a championship during a season in which the Super Bowl was played on their home field, perhaps fate can shine on them once more.

Could they really be bad enough to acquire the very best?

Las Vegas predicts they will win around six games. That could be generous.

Going into their off week they could reasonably be 2-6, as they face non-division opponents Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Dallas, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.


In the second half of the season they have just one seemingly certain win, and that would be against an Arizona team that is literally going in the tank, their Nov. 26 battle to perhaps be called “The Caleb Bowl.”

Less than a handful of victories would put them in the race for Williams and, if you look at the other contenders, it is a race they could win.

Injured Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray talks with Cardinals long snapper Aaron Brewer.
With quarterback Kyler Murray still recovering from a knee injury, the Cardinals figure to be in contention for the top draft pick next spring.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

ESPN Analytics lists the Rams as the fifth-most likely team to earn the No. 1 pick, but there are ways they can beat the other four to the bottom

First, although Arizona already clearly has given up, don’t forget that embattled quarterback Kyler Murray will be playing for his future. When he comes back next month, he could rebel against the Cardinals losing strategy and play them out of the first spot.

Second on the bottom five is the Houston Texans, but they’ve already given their pick to Arizona, which means they have no motivation to fail.


Third is Tampa, but they still have some stars remaining from their Super Bowl championship of three years ago, guys such as Mike Evans and Vita Vea. Plus they play in a lousy division, the NFC South.

Fourth is Indianapolis, but they already have their young quarterback in Anthony Richardson, so they’re trying to win now.

This leaves the Rams as the sleeper pick to steal the first choice, and don’t think that wouldn’t change everything. Williams would be another Joe Burrow, a great college quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner who was taken first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals and has altered the course of their franchise completely.

Considering Williams plays just down the road and is already one of the most popular athletes in town, adding him to the Rams roster would be the biggest sports transaction here since LeBron James joined the Lakers.

In drafting Williams, the Rams can’t lose. First, though, they have to lose.

It could be the worst of seasons. It could be the best of seasons.