Since the Los Angeles Rams hired General Manager Les Snead in 2012, the Rams have had very good success finding undrafted free agents (UDFA) at the conclusion of drafts who can stick on the roster long-term.
Whether it's a do-it-all Swiss army knife like Chicago Bears — and former Rams — RB Benny Cunningham, a top ten safety in the mold of Philadelphia Eagles — former Ram — FS Rodney McLeod, or a perennial All-Pro and Pro Bowler like P Johnny Hekker or even the great depth and core special teams signings of players like Daren Bates, Cody Davis, Chase Reynolds or Bradley Marquez, the Rams have routinely found contributors post-draft.
Have the Rams landed two more?
The Rams signed two players that stand out to me. There's obviously the signing of former Washington Huskies guard — though he'll play center for the Rams — Jake Eldrenkamp. But this time I'm looking at the less obvious.
DE/OLB Teidrick Smith and RB Lenard Tillery are two prospects that might have what it takes to make the team and then some.
Mary Hardin-Baylor DE/OLB Teidrick Smith
Smith is quite the specimen. First and foremost, he simply looks the part at 6’1” 240 with an absolute shredded physique. Just check out his Instagram page. Not that looking the part means much. Smith also simply plays the part.
He combines speed and power in a way that reminds me of a young James Harrison, minus the crazy demeanor. It’s actually quite impressive watching him convert speed into power, and vice versa. He sets the edge violently when defending the run, often times creating a tackle for loss for a teammate or just doing the entire job himself.
It looks like he enjoys blowing up guards or lead blockers on run plays almost like he’s waiting for it each time. He’s already a very good run defender which is something most pass rushers have to develop with time. That ability to play the run might be his key to making the roster. It’s one of the more exciting parts to this game.
He plays a very physical brand of football, and each sack looks like he hit the hit stick button. He literally blows the guy away on each tackle. He demonstrates one speed only, and that’s all in. Whether he’s coming around the edge for the sack or in pursuit of the ball carrier, he comes screaming like a missile every single time. The high effort that he regularly demonstrates is the kind of play and mentality that special teams coordinators crave. Special Teams Coordinator John “Bones” Fassel, will surely be eager to test him out on kick coverage when the pads are on in camp.
Then there’s his pass rush skills. Of course everything else about his game is nice, but it’s his ability to get to the quarterback that got this little known Division III prospect from Mary-Hardin Baylor University this golden opportunity.
Smith does an excellent job getting to the quarterback using a wide range of moves. He has very good hand usage, and it could even be described as advanced, considering the level he’s coming from and the fact that most college players lack consistent hands. He usually has a move for a move for a move, showing the ability to adjust to good blocks by throwing something else at the lineman back to back to back all during the same play. He can get around the edge using either speed or power, as he uses his natural leverage (6’1’ frame) to get under the lineman’s pads. His leg drive on the bull rush is highly impressive, and he has a blazing get off on the snap. At times, it looked like he knew the snap count.
Have a look at these almost unreal stats:
Smith also blocked six kicks in one season — Bones will love this kid — and scored a defensive touchdown and was three times the conference defensive player of the year, all done in 55 games. That is a ridiculous amount of sacks and tackles for loss in just 55 games. I don’t care what level you did it at.
However, its not all sunshine and rainbows. Smith has a tendency of playing entirely too high. Two things have worked in his favor to this point: the level of competition and his shorter-than-ideal height. In a lot of games, the opposition played too high as well. He also does not show the consistent flexibility around the edge. You just don’t see that bend, to dip under the tackle and get to the quarterback, although him playing too high might be the reason for this, and getting lower could remedy both issues. He often gets around the edge by simply being faster than an over-matched tackle, or using that surprisingly strong bull rush that he possesses. However, he should find it more difficult at this level, without showing flexibility.
Southern RB Lenard Tillery
And then there is Lenard Tillery. Is it odd that he signed with the Rams and the player he most reminds me of is Benny Cunningham whom the Rams just lost to free agency?
I can’t say his feet are as sweet as Cunningham’s, something I loved about Benny when predicting he would make the team and what kind of impact he would have years ago. That’s not to say Tillery doesn’t have nice feet though, because he really does. He has a highly impressive jump cut, just like Benny. And his vision and patience — then burst through the hole — is exactly what you want out of your back.
He runs with unbelievably good balance. Guys can come downhill as hard as they want, but you simply can’t knock the kid off his feet. He breaks a lot of tackles. You have to wrap him up, and you have to drive your feet. Even then, there is no guarantee he’s going to go down. At 5’09” and 205 lbs., he runs extremely hard,and plays a lot bigger than you’d expect.
Tillery’s most impressive traits are probably his burst and open field running ability. He doesn’t have blow you away top end speed, but he pulls away from defenders due to his initial acceleration. He is about average as it gets for an NFL running back in regards to top end speed (4.56 and 4.58 40-yard dash times). Once Tillery makes his cut, he is usually sticking that foot in the ground and pushing that ball upfield with no hesitation. If he gets in the open field, there is a really good chance something special will happen.
Tillery is a very good receiver, and it’s usually pretty wise to throw him the ball, as it gives him a chance to show off that special open field running ability. However, much remains to be seen in the pass pro department. He could turn out to be a very good third down back like Cunningham, but also like Benny, he enters as a poor pass protector. However, one thing Benny knew was he was not going to make the team solely based on his running ability and had to perfect his craft in the area of special teams and pass pro, he even said as much in an OTA interview as a rookie. Tillery, will have to adopt the same mentality.
Tillery is a former walk-on player who went on to set new records at Southern University. It displays a good work ethic, as history shows, some of the best diamonds have been a walk-on at their respected colleges (Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Ezekiel Ansah, or the most extreme example, Clay Mathews, plus many more). These guys usually tend to outwork everyone, and Tillery could do the same, and be the next guy up.