The Los Angeles Rams open their season and debut SoFi Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football this weekend. Each team features a relatively long list of NFL stars but these games are often decided by the dark matter in between each of those stars.
And how dark it is.
For the Rams, they’ve had quite a bit of changes to the roster, even including up to the last week and that could impact how much these lesser known players play against the Cowboys on Sunday. They may not start, some of them might not even be active, but the way things are setting up they could all have their names called out on the broadcast this week.
Darious Williams, CB
Rams fans are becoming more familiar with the former undrafted free agent out of UAB as LA continues to purge cornerbacks and he rises up the depth chart. Williams has been called the team’s “biggest sleeper” headed into the season based largely on his play (and PFF grade) in the final six weeks of 2019.
SB Nation’s Alexis Chassen highlighted Williams coming out of UAB in 2018, saying:
“I think (the NFL scouts) like a lot of things — his length, his speed,” said UAB head coach Bill Clark, according to 247Sports. “Now, with physicality, that light came on early in the year. When you got all those things — smart, good person, good player, really intelligent player. He’s got all the attributes that they’re looking for.”
Williams’ finished his pro day workout with a 4.44 second 40-yard dash (tied for No. 9 among combine top CB performers), a 39” vertical jump (tying for second-best CB jump at the combine) and a 6.84 second 3-cone drill (would’ve put him at No. 10 among CBs at the combine).
Williams spent some time with the Baltimore Ravens but has been with the Rams since the middle of the 2018 season in some capacity. We’re not sure how the cornerback rotation will work, but Williams could either be playing on the outside, the inside, or have fallen behind David Long and Troy Hill for all we know right now.
But there’s some reasonable arguments to be made for him as the Rams second best cornerback this season. Facing off against the Cowboys, that could mean covering Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup or CeeDee Lamb — so all of LA’s corners will be important on Sunday.
Nsimba Webster, WR/PR
I don’t really see Josh Reynolds as a viable receiver in the way that we commonly recognize receivers to be “viable.” That doesn’t mean that Reynolds won’t get the third-most snaps in the group, he very well could, but Webster and Van Jefferson could provide more attractive targets to Jared Goff.
Mostly though I’m speculating that Webster could be used in the return game, though I’m also curious to see if Trishton Jackson was held onto for that reason. Or it could be someone else entirely. LA did list Webster as their punt returner on the first official depth chart.
Nsimba (the “n” is silent and he says he’s seen The Lion King over 100 times) went undrafted last year and made the Rams final roster. He appeared in five games and only played in 48 special teams snaps, none on offense, but his role seems to be increasing in 2020 and he’s listed as the backup to Cooper Kupp, his Eastern Washington teammate from 2015-2016.
These #ProEags are going to look in their new threads. Eagle Nation can’t wait to see you fellas in action this season!@CooperKupp - Year 4️⃣@sosa50 - Year 4️⃣@NsimbaWebster - Year 2️⃣— EWU Football (@EWUFootball) September 6, 2020
Xavier Jones, RB
I expect Jones to be active if Darrell Henderson is inactive and I expect Jones to be inactive if Henderson is active. It’s as simple as that, so if Jones doesn’t play at all, nobody on the outside would be surprised.
However, Henderson has missed considerable time in his second training camp and because the Rams picked up running back Raymond Calais this week, it makes it seem like they’re not expecting to have Henderson.
Jones carried the ball 244 times for 1,276 yards and 23 touchdowns with SMU last season and he had 660 carries and 72 receptions during a five-year career. If LA only has Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown headed into Sunday night’s game, Jones could be playing a key role on the offense almost immediately.
Jachai Polite, LB
The New York Jets drafted Polite (last name said like the word, but his first name is “Juh-KYE”) with the fourth pick of the third round last year after he had 11 sacks and 19.5 TFL as a junior at Florida, but cut him before the season started. Polite had apparently totaled around $100,000 in fines already for being late to meetings.
He barely managed three weeks on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad and then was released and picked up by the Rams to put on their practice squad. Polite was rarely discussed in training camp even though he was quite a big story in 2019, and it wasn’t really until the final 53 was announced that it became obvious that he was going to have a role on the team.
What that role is and if he has an NFL future is not yet defined, but the fact that Polite has made it to this point would appear to suggest he’s put his tardiness issues behind him for now. The Rams lost their two best starting linebackers to free agency and then Travin Howard after he had emerged as a starting linebacker in camp this year.
Howard’s injury means that the only thing stopping Polite from starting at linebacker could be Troy Reeder or Kenny Young and I think there’s more than zero Rams fans who’d like to see what that looks like instead. Polite isn’t without potential and he’s not new, having spent almost a year with the team now. He’s had a full offseason with whatever Brandon Staley plans to do and this is not an opportunity he’ll want to be late for.
OLB Jachai Polite, a third-round pick by the NY Jets in 2019, has made the Rams roster. He spent last season on the Rams practice squad after the Jets released him.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) September 5, 2020
I considered putting Justin Hollins, the recently-added linebacker from the Denver Broncos, here because that’s how quickly the team might need reinforcements. He’s going to be up to speed because of his relationship with Staley and we can’t say for sure he won’t play this week, but I’d assume Polite is ahead of him at this point.
Also, does Denver wish they had Hollins back now?
Jordan Fuller, S
The Rams enter the season set at safety with John Johnson and Taylor Rapp, but they also drafted Fuller and Terrell Burgess and those players could come into play at any point. Even including this point.
Johnson missed most of 2019 and Rapp has missed most of the padded practices in training camp, so depth at safety is plenty important to Staley’s defense. Thankfully for the defense, Burgess and Fuller have been touted as basically being “better than expected” and ahead of the curve for their rookie seasons.
Rams HC Sean McVay says rookie RB Cam Akers, WR Van Jefferson and safeties Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller “have continued to shine” in training camp.— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) September 3, 2020
But the way that they talk about Fuller and the fact that he was getting reps with the starters after Rapp got hurt tells me that he might be the better option for the Rams at this stage, if Rapp is out or needs to get relieved during the game on Sunday. Burgess may also just be a better fit for helping elsewhere, including at corner.
In the case of most of these players, we can also expect them to contribute on special teams a lot if they’re active.