Coming off a relatively impressive preseason Week 1 victory against the Dallas Cowboys, there’s a lot for fans to look forward to in this evening’s matchup. This list could easily be doubled in size, but here are five Rams’ players to keep your eye on this evening:
WR Sammy Watkins
This one’s a given.
The Rams have waited many years for a legitimate deep threat receiver...and now they have one. Watkins only joined the team a week ago, so he’ll be playing with a limited grasp of the playbook. Still, all eyes will be on the Rams’ newest offensive weapon when he steps on the field on Saturday night.
RG Jamon Brown
Fans will have their eyes on right guard Jamon Brown for an entirely different reason. Brown had a very poor 2017 preseason debut last Saturday. So poor, in fact, that head coach Sean McVay had to clarify post-game comments that lead some to believe Brown’s status as a starter was in question. Brown has plenty of time to reassure the staff that he’s the team’s starter, and tonight - a tough test against a stout Raiders’ defense - would be as good a time as any to have a statement game.
Honorable mention goes out to Rob Havenstein, who needs to do his part to anchor the right side of the line, as well.
RB Justin Davis
This could have very easily been Todd Gurley’s name here, but he’s going to be the team’s RB1 regardless of how well any Rams’ running back performs this preseason. Still, it’s been a while - dating well back into the 2016 season - since we’ve seen the explosive runner we saw in his rookie year.
But I’m looking forward to seeing Justin Davis, who had an impressive showing in last week’s game — despite putting the ball on the ground twice. That’s a no-no for an undrafted free agent who’s got a ways to go to climb the depth chart.
The good news is that Lance Dunbar has been sidelined for the entirety of the offseason, and Aaron Green missed last week’s game due to a hand injury. Green has been practicing this week, and will likely see some time in tonight’s game.
The door is wide open for Davis to move up the depth chart and be the change of pace type back that Sean McVay covets in his backfield rotation. Continuing to fumble the ball will only heighten his chances of earning a spot on the practice squad...while plays like this will only help his odds of seeing the field on Sundays.
OLB Robert Quinn
For the first time in 2017, we’ll get to see Robert Quinn line up at outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Quinn, a relentless pass-rusher, will line up against Raiders’ left tackle Marshall Newhouse — a seven year veteran who joined the team (from New York Giants) this past offseason.
When healthy, Quinn has proven to be a game-changer. But injuries have kept him sidelined for much of the last two seasons, and he’s only made 15 starts in that span. With Aaron Donald holding out, Quinn is easily the Rams’ biggest threat to get to the opposing QB...and that’s not to say he isn’t even when AD99 is on the field.
The Rams are not only banking on Quinn’s health in 2017, but relying on him to make a living of wreaking havoc in the backfield. The hope is that we see him return to form this evening. If he does, the end of the first quarter won’t come quick enough for Marshall Newhouse.
CB Michael Jordan
The Rams secondary, which was one of the team’s strongest units two years ago, has become a concern over the last year. The Rams weren’t able to retain Janoris Jenkins, and it appears they’re unwilling to make Trumaine Johnson part of their long-term plans. E.J. Gaines was recently shipped off to Buffalo as part of the trade for Sammy Watkins.
The Rams did well in free agency by finding a suitable replacement (opposite Johnson) in former Bronco Kayvon Webster; and Nickell Robey-Coleman will make his living as the team’s slot corner. But they’re in need of quality depth behind those guys.
Enter Michael Jordan, the undrafted free agent who signed with the Rams in 2016. Jordan had a solid showing in last week’s matchup against the Cowboys, finishing the game with two passes defensed and this interception...which was overturned.
Jumpman lead the Rams in total defensive snaps last Saturday, and was on the field for nearly 72% of the defensive plays. He made the most of the opportunity, and his efforts earned Pro Football Focus’ top grade for all NFC West defensive players in Week 1.
The top performances in the NFC West this past week pic.twitter.com/24eQKFBLDO— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 18, 2017
Like Justin Davis, Jordan isn’t going to be able to do enough to supplant the team’s starter at the position. But a strong showing this preseason could help his chances of climbing the depth chart and ultimately earning a spot on the final 53.
If Jordan continues to have a strong showing this preseason, he could be a player they look to in the unfortunate event that someone goes down.
Bonus: LT Andrew Whitworth
There’s a very eerie feeling about finding comfort in this team’s blindside protector. Yet somehow veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth has already put the fan base’s mind at ease.
But Whitworth faces a tough test this evening in Oakland, as he’ll have the daunting task of keeping Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin from roughing up Jared Goff. Effectively thwarting one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing duos would be a very positive sign of things to come.
Others to consider: TE Tyler Higbee (needs bounceback game), WR Pharoh Cooper (coming off strong performance), WR Josh Reynolds (sat Week 1 due to injury), OT Pace Murphy (needs bounceback game), DT Tanzel Smart (coming off strong performance), OLB Ejuan Price (coming off strong performance)