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A Rams season for the ages capped off with 2021 season-ending awards

Feb 25, 2022 at 10:00 AM


J.B. Long

Voice of the L.A. Rams

Last year, we gave out eight season-ending awards.

This year, we had planned to expand to at least 10.

But after the 2021 Los Angeles Rams earned a World Championship, we ended up with 19! And still there’s far more credit to go around than this space could possibly accommodate.

So enjoy this awards ceremony, but know that dozens of people who won’t be acknowledged here are still being fitted for rings.


Most Valuable Player: Cooper Kupp, WR

Let’s start with the greatest receiving season in league history. Your favorite player’s favorite player.

Triple Crown. NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Super Bowl MVP.

Rams and league records littering his wake. Viral interviews. The Kobe jersey at the parade.

Cooper Kupp did it all, all while serving as a hybrid tight end/fullback in the running game.

(His first NFL completion is still out there, though. Next year!)javascript:falseHighlights: Super Bowl LVI MVP Cooper Kupp’s best moments from Rams’ win vs. Bengals

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Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, GOAT

By putting Jimmy Garoppolo and Joe Burrow in mirror-image spin cycles, Donald delivered the clinching pressures in each of the final two wins.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams DL Aaron Donald’s dominant defensive plays in two-sack game in Super Bowl LVI vs. Bengals

The top-graded defensive player according to Pro Football Focus, Donald was denied a fourth NFL DPOY honor. But that’s no matter, because he completed his trophy case with a ring, cementing his legacy as the greatest Ram and fortifying his case as the best defensive player in history.

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Postseason Performer of the Year: Von Miller, EDGE

Donald credited Miller for bringing out his best and helping him find his voice as a leader. For that alone, the trade for the NFL’s active sacks leader was more than worth it.

However, Miller did far more than inspire Donald – he proved to be the highest-graded defender in the NFL Playoffs. Now a two-time Super Bowl champion, Miller recorded sacks in seven of the Rams final eight games, including four in the postseason and two against the Bengals. He totaled 22 pressures during the Rams playoff journey – only Donald had more (23).javascript:falseHighlights: Von Miller’s most dominating plays in Rams Super Bowl LVI victory over Cincinnati Bengals


Jenga Piece of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB

Given all the star power on defense, we had to find a way to acknowledge Ramsey’s role.

Matching a career-best with four interceptions and grading out as the top corner in the game, Ramsey is the unique, versatile talent that makes each game plan possible, blowing up run and pass concepts alike.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams DB Jalen Ramsey’s juggling interception vs. 49ers in Week 18 at SoFi Stadium

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Unsung Hero of the Year: A’Shawn Robinson, DL

Because there were so many legacy-cementing stories to call out in the aftermath of Super Bowl LVI, Robinson inevitably was going to be overshadowed. However, now a collegiate and professional champion, the veteran defensive tackle deserves stand-alone credit for his postseason:

22 tackles. One sack. Six pressures. Five hits on the quarterback. And he capped it all off with a PFF grade of 89.5 in the Super Bowl.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams DL A’Shawn Robinson contains Bengals QB Joe Burrow on first-down sack in Super Bowl LVI

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Closer of The Year: Eric Weddle, S

When the Rams lost both starting safeties in Week 18, Weddle stepped out of retirement to play 19 snaps against the Cardinals in the Wild Card win.

A week later, he dueled with Tom Brady for 61 reps.

Then, the 37-year-old played every snap of the NFC Championship win, leading L.A. in tackles against the 49ers.javascript:falseMic’d Up with Eric Weddle in NFC Championship matchup vs. 49ers “We’re going to the Bowl!”

And despite suffering a pectoral injury early in his first and only Super Bowl appearance, Weddle didn’t miss a play against the Bengals, earning a ring on his way back to retirement – and a high school coaching career.

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Heavy Hitter of the Year: Nick Scott, S

Weddle was also a great influence on Scott, who thrived in January and February.

Drafted as a priority special teams contributor, Scott proved more than ready to be a starting safety in this league. He delivered the two biggest, and cleanest, hits of the NFL postseason.

And he also could go down as the final player to intercept Brady.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams S Nick Scott picks off Buccaneers QB Tom Brady with sideline toe-tap grab in Divisional Round

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Specialist of the Year: Matt Gay, K

It’s not hyperbole to conclude that none of what we’re celebrating currently is possible if not for the signing of Matt Gay.

From where the Rams were in November of 2020 to where they finished the 2021 campaign, Gay took a tumultuous kicking carousel that was hindering an otherwise capable team and restored placekicking as one of L.A.’s greatest assets.

Now a first-time Pro Bowler, Gay finished second in the league in field goal percentage, trailing only future Hall of Famer Justin Tucker. He was third in the NFL in scoring. And though he wobbled a bit in the playoffs, he nailed the game-winner in Tampa Bay in the Divisional Round plus two more in the fourth quarter against San Francisco to prevail in the NFC Championship.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams K Matt Gay drills game-winning field goal vs. Buccaneers as time expires to send Rams to NFC title game

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Newcomer of the Year: Matthew Stafford, QB

With a nod to Sony Michel and Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., it’s rare to have a quarterback in his prime join your team.

Making every start, Stafford set franchise records during the regular season, then shattered narratives in the playoffs.

The best fourth-quarter signal-caller of 2021 saved his best for last, delivering game-winning drives in the Divisional Round, NFC Championship, and Super Bowl.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams QB Matthew Stafford’s best throws in his 283-yard game in Super Bowl LVI vs. Bengals

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Comeback Player of the Year: Cam Akers, RB

Less than six months removed from an Achilles injury, Cam Akers made his season debut in Week 18 and averaged 34 snaps per game during the Rams’ stretch run.javascript:falseMic’d Up with Cam Akers in his first game back after injury “Keep fighting!”

Understandably, the results weren’t as dynamic as we’d quickly grown accustomed to during his emphatic rookie romp. But that doesn’t take anything away from his physical, mental, and emotional accomplishment – rehabbing to be there for the Rams when it mattered most.

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Most Improved Player: Greg Gaines, DT

Over the course of this season, he not only grew into a cult hero for the Rams fan base, he also became a force to be reckoned with.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams DL Greg Gaines plants Cardinals QB Kyler Murray into grass for 5-yard sack on third down in Week 14

When Sebastian Joseph-Day (who I chose for this honor last season) went down in October, Gaines was ready for his breakout campaign.

Honorable mention in this category goes center Brian Allen, who if not for Cam Akers, also would’ve been a deserving Comeback choice.

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Lifetime Achievement Award: Andrew Whitworth, LT

The stars could not have aligned any better for the Whitworths had they reached up into the cosmos and arranged them by hand.

Captain of the best offensive line in the NFL. Another season of elite performance, ranking among the best left tackles in the game. Walter Payton Man of the Year. World Champion, becoming the oldest offensive lineman to start a Super Bowl and defeating the organization that drafted him 16 years prior.javascript:falseRams OL Andrew Whitworth’s full Walter Payton Man of the Year acceptance speech | NFL Honors

Even if he’s taken off his helmet for the final time, we look forward to Whitworth continuing on as a face of the franchise for many years to come.

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Assistant Coach of the Year: Eric Yarber, Receivers

There are too many candidates to choose from here. So many that I almost feel guilty declaring one above the others.

Joe DeCamillis orchestrated one of the most remarkable special teams turnarounds in NFL history. Defensive line coach Eric Henderson‘s #DawgWork proved to be the most unstoppable force in the game again in 2021.

Meanwhile, first-year offensive line coach Kevin Carberry arrived from Stanford and was told, in essence, “No free agents. No draft picks. Just get it done.” And not only did the Rams have the best offensive line in the game, they had reserves plug-and-play throughout the year without missing a beat – Joe Noteboom, Coleman Shelton, AJ Jackson.

But ultimately, Yarber is the selection here for being one of the most stable and influential contributors on staff.

Kupp’s historic season is the leading accolade. But somehow, the receiver room overcame the loss of Robert Woods. Rookies Tutu Atwell and Jacob Harris landed on injured reserve along the way. DeSean Jackson took an offramp. Van Jefferson had to pivot to a new role midseason to accommodate Beckham. And of course, it was Yarber who presided over an in-season download of the offense to bring OBJ up to speed to the point where he played his best in the postseason.

To think that by the time Stafford broke the huddle for that Super Bowl-winning Sunset Drive, his 11-personnel set included the 249th overall selection, rookie Ben Skowronek.

Yarber’s fingerprints are all over that Lombardi Trophy.

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Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ben Skowronek, WR

Speaking of “Sko,” his statistics were modest, but combined with his outstanding performances on special teams – he nearly blocked a punt in the Super Bowl – Skowronek is deserving of this distinction.

Ahead of him on the depth chart during training camp were no fewer than six receivers. Then he broke his arm in the preseason and missed some of the most valuable install reps a rookie will ever have access to.

Then in-season, while ramping up to all his roles in the kicking game, L.A. also pressed him into duty in a complex offense, utilizing him as part of their run blocking surface as much as an option in the passing game.

Was the vision for Skowronek’s rookie season high-leverage targets in mid-February? Probably not. But don’t let anyone tell you his role wasn’t essential to the Rams success. Skowronek’s future is bright.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams WR Ben Skowronek catches 35-yard pass from QB Matthew Stafford in Rams vs. Jaguars Week 13 matchup at SoFi Stadium

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Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ernest Jones, LB

Jones was ready to ascend by mid-year and burst onto the scene with an interception in Houston in his first career start. His second takeaway, off an Aaron Donald deflection at Arizona in Week 14, goes down as one of the most important plays of the regular season.

Overcoming an ankle injury suffered in Minnesota two weeks later, Jones finished his rookie campaign with a sack of Joe Burrow in the Super Bowl.javascript:falseHighlights: Rams LB Ernest Jones obliterates blitz pickup for relentless sack on Bengals QB Joe Burrow in Super Bowl LVI

He’s already a candidate for Most Improved in 2022.

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Ready for Duty Award: Brycen Hopkins, Kendall Blanton TE

Combined NFL targets (thrown by quarterbacks) prior to Week 13, 2021: Zero.

Combined stat line in this postseason: 11 targets – 11 receptions – 122 yards – 1 touchdownjavascript:falseHighlights: Rams QB Matthew Stafford’s no-look pass finds TE Kendall Blanton for his first career touchdown catch in Divisional Round vs. Buccaneers

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Last Laugh of the Year: Raheem Morris, Defensive Coordinator

We don’t need receipts to recall fan sentiment in the depths of November.

But what Morris and his defense did from that point forward was nothing shy of elite.

The Rams were top-notch versus run and pass, the only NFL unit to rank top three in both interceptions and sacks.

They annihilated Arizona; bewildered Brady and the Bucs (if not for four Rams turnovers, that was a blowout); finally solved San Francisco.

And after the should-have-been-offensive-pass-interference on the first play of the third quarter, the Rams defense held the Bengals to just one field goal on a short field the rest of Super Bowl LVI.javascript:falseHighlights: Every sack by the Rams’ defense vs. Bengals QB Joe Burrow in Super Bowl LVI

Morris probably deserved a head coaching gig in this cycle, but L.A. should be thrilled to have him running it back in 2022.

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Executive of the Year: Les Snead, General Manager

Snead’s partnership with Sean McVay is one of the most fascinating (and productive) I’ve encountered in professional sports.

And Snead’s team – from the player personnel staff to the analytics “Nerd Nest” – deserve an enormous amount of respect and emulation. As we’ve documented here and throughout the season, every corner of this roster had to rise to the occasion to achieve this dream.javascript:falseGM Les Snead addresses the crowd at Rams Championship Parade | Super Bowl LVI

Additionally, Vice President of Football and Business Administration Tony Pastoor‘s wizardry cannot be overlooked. Likewise for COO Kevin Demoff‘s ability to clone himself to lead every vertical of the business and football operations.

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Excellence in Leadership: Sean McVay, Head Coach

McVay’s game plans and play-calls were superlative. With Stafford at the controls, the Rams once again delivered with the league’s top offenses.

But from where I sit, what differentiates McVay are his leadership and interpersonal skills.javascript:falseMic’d Up with Sean McVay vs. Jacksonville Jaguars “Let’s keep this rolling!”

How many times over the past several years have we heard (erroneous) forecasts of locker room demise in Thousand Oaks? That all-star teams don’t work and going “All In” inevitably creates toxicity that backfires on organizations.

Well at the end of five seasons, paradoxically, what’s carried the day in Los Angeles is team chemistry.

With a mix of 40-year-old linemen and 21-year-old rookies from all walks of life with the full gamut of resumes and expectations and personalities, the Rams ascended to the top of the football universe together.

The 2021 Los Angeles Rams won with their people. And it takes a special person to stand at the front of that room and unite those individuals.

The driving force behind the culture of “We Not Me” is now the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.


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