The Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFL Draft class is still a mostly unknown commodity. Last season, the only rookie to get any significant amount of playing time on either offense or defense was DL John Franklin-Myers who was on the field for about 30% of the team’s defensive snaps.
Clarity is on the way though. The Rams currently have four sophomores slated to start, and others ascending up the depth chart. Through training camp, here are a few of the Rams second-year players that are ready to take a leap and become NFL caliber starters or contributors:
C Brian Allen / LG Joseph Noteboom
One of the biggest questions marks heading into this season is whether or not the Rams’ offensive line will be able to continue to shine following the losses of left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan.
Saffold, a Pro Bowl snub the last two seasons, was one of keys to the Rams’ offensive success over the last two seasons. Next to LT Andrew Whitworth, Saffold excelled in the Rams’ outside zone-blocking schemes where he could often be seen plowing through second waves of defenders as he cleared lanes for RB Todd Gurley. While the last two seasons were truly a renaissance for Saffold, he ultimately became a cap casualty and moved on the Tennessee Titans.
Nobody truly knows how much Saffold will be missed, but we do know that the Rams made the choice to invest in their pass rush and secondary this offseason instead of retaining their guard who received a four year, $44m contract in Tennessee with $22.5 million guaranteed. That choice, while very much based on the money, also conveys a confidence in Noteboom’s ability to step up. Like Saffold, Noteboom has the mobility to play left tackle, and his quick feet should help him play guard in the McVay’s zone schemes. Last season, Noteboom didn’t see much playing time, but he did look impressive at left tackle in the Rams’ finale against the San Francisco 49ers in which the Rams scored 48 points.
So far in camp, Noteboom has looked very comfortable. In the three days I was able to attend, he had no apparent breakdowns or lapses. For now, Noteboom will not provide the strength that the elder Saffold provided, but he seems to be a very cerebral guard who is ready to play. I’d be surprised if Noteboom is any kind of disappointment this season. But what about the center position?
Last season, Sullivan brought plenty of veteran wisdom to the Rams front, but physically he clearly had become the unit’s weakest link. With that in mind, Allen’s duty will be to get up to speed mentally as quickly as possible, because physically he may already be an upgrade on the older Sullivan. In camp, Allen has already emerged as a vocal leader on the line, along with 37-year old Whitworth. Allen spent much of his time in camp pointing out defensive fronts, running down the field to congratulate teammates after big plays, and looking like a fierce competitor who is embracing his new starting role. It’s not hard to see Allen becoming the spirit animal of the offensive line once Whitworth hangs it up after this season.
Despite many fan’s justifiable concern, I think both Allen and Noteboom are ready to play. Allen might be an immediate upgrade with Noteboom doing a nice job of reducing the sting of Saffold’s departure.
NT Sebastian Joseph-Day
Many fans expected to see 2019 NFL Draft fourth-round selection Greg Gaines as the Rams starting nose tackle from the opening whistle given the comments from Head Coach Sean McVay and General Manager Les Snead following Day 3. That may still ultimately happen, but not if Joseph-Day continues his trajectory. So far in camp, SJD appears to be the more polished of the two players and clearly had a productive offseason. Seabass Jo is taller than the stout Gaines, and pretty much stands shoulder to shoulder with three technique DL Michael Brockers when they’re both on the field. While Gaines will use plenty of leverage to set up shop, Day has developed a nice array of moves to swim past blockers and may be able to disrupt more plays than Gaines. His height may help him obstruct passing lanes as well, kind of like Tyrunn Walker did for the Rams a couple seasons ago.
Even if Gaines eventually claims the starting nose tackle position, Joseph-Day will have to be considered as a possible replacement should the Rams lose veteran Michael Brockers to free agency following this season.
ILB Micah Kiser
Concern was raised recently among Rams fans when it was revealed that the Rams were splitting first-team snaps between projected starter Kiser and veteran Bryce Hager. Was this development an indication that Kiser had not seized his projected starting spot emphatically enough? Perhaps.
However, Kiser is scheduled to start in the Rams’ preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday so the position may still be his to lose. Kiser is an exceptional tackler, but he will need to not look too deficient against the pass if he wants to stay ahead of the ultra-active Hager. He may ultimately become an important part of a rebooted Rams run-defense providing what the rangier ILB Mark Barron did not in the box.
OL Jamil Demby
Last year’s sixth-rounder out of Maine, Demby has been rotating around the Rams’ line this summer seeing time at guard and center. The Rams drafted some good prospects in Bobby Evans and David Edwards this spring both trained as tackles who have also seen time at guard. When it comes to inside positions though, the giant Demby may become the first backup tapped. Last season, the 321-pound Demby’s footwork simply seemed too slow to block NFL defenders, but so far this season he’s looked a bit more mobile. Like Allen, Demby has a mean-streak and even had a brief standoff with DL Aaron Donald during camp. Demby isn’t likely to play much this season, but keep an eye on him this preseason.
DL John Franklin-Myers
The Rams’ most impactful rookie last season, Franklin-Myers should be able to see a bit more playing time this season with the departure of Ethan Westbrooks. If he is able to build on a solid rookie effort, JFM will emerge as a possible starter should Brockers move on after this season.
OLB Trevon Young
Young no longer looks like a rookie. He is a part of a busy stable of pass rushers looking to find a spot on the Rams’ depth chart. Behind Dante Fowler, Jr., Clay Matthews, and Samson Ebukam, Young will look to out-duel Morgan Fox, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Justin Lawler, and Josh Carraway. Lawler just underwent foot surgery, and Okoronkwo hasn’t been able to participate in camp so far. That may mean the door is open for Young who had a strong preseason as a rookie last season. Young is a versatile player who really looked like a problem against the Los Angeles Chargers backup tackle Trey Pipkins during scrimmages. The Rams will be mulling their options beyond Fowler’s one year deal, and Matthews’ two-year deal. Let’s see what Young can show during the preseason.