Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said what we could all have safely assumed after the NFL changed practice squad rules this year in response to how to best prepare for complications due to coronavirus: “You have to assume they’re going to play any given week.”
Making the practice squad may not pay nearly as much, but it is closer to “making the team” than ever before.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said making practice squad is like making the team this year. "You have to assume they're going to play any given week," he said.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) September 2, 2020
Practice squads have been expanded to 16 players this year because of the pandemic, and two can be activated for games.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is how much people love to find out who makes the practice squad. For some reason, practice squad and undrafted free agent trackers have always drawn a ton of interest. People like to track the “fringe” roster players, even if we know by now that so few will have long careers and there won’t be many names you’ll still be referencing in five years.
However, 2020 will literally include 128 additional names league-wide as practice squads were increased from 12 to 16 as a precaution and teams were given the chance to keep up to six veterans per practice squad. Teams can also activate two practice squad players for game day, though the actual number of active players for game day has only increased from 46 to 47.
We don’t yet know who will be on the Rams practice squad because we don’t know who will make the 53-man roster but we can make some assumptions without losing sleep. The truth is that Sean McVay’s most important practice squad player in 2020 may not be on the roster yet; if teams can keep veterans stashed there then perhaps they’ll be checking the free agent market again in a week and indefinitely.
But as far as who they’re likely to open with on the practice squad here are some options:
- Xavier Jones, RB (pictured above): The UDFA rookie could make the team due to Darrell Henderson’s recent injury and the propensity for running backs to be injured. If he doesn’t, Jones seems probable to get through waivers and be stashed on the practice squad. And because of that aforementioned injury concern, Jones could be called upon for game day at any moment.
- Sam Sloman, K: You can insert Lirim Hajrullahu or Austin MacGinnis’s name here instead if you’d like. We don’t know who will be named the kicker but I think the Rams will keep at least one of the players who lost the job on the practice squad. And of course that means they’ll always been as little as one week away from being activated for a game.
- Christian Rozeboom or Clay Johnston, LB: We already know the Rams will be down a linebacker this season after placing Travin Howard on injured reserve. This should open a spot for either Johnston, Rozeboom or both, and either or both could wind up on the practice squad. LA is once again looking for better linebackers to start and to back up the starters and these are two players who could potentially do that in the future.
- Jamil Demby, OL: The Rams have not been as impressed as they hoped they’d be with Bobby Evans, David Edwards or Brian Allen, but they all look like better bets than Demby to make the final roster. Maybe for Allen that’s only because of his experience at center. They could also keep Demby and may have room for him, but if not, the 2018 sixth round pick would likely get through waivers and make it onto the practice squad.
This may sound the least interesting to the readers, but it is also a reminder of what we should really expect from practice squad players. Even in a year like 2020, practice squad players are not 53-man roster players. It doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed to have short, unforgettable careers, but most of them will. An undrafted free agent like Cohl Cabral might be of greater interest to fans because he’s yet to have his Brian Allen or Jamil Demby moments but he’s also a longshot to have a valuable NFL career and is less likely to help the team in 2020.
- Donte Deayon, CB: Deayon could make the Pro Bowl roster this season even they open up a spot for “locker room presence guy.” But the Rams also lack experience at cornerback after Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill, so in a pinch Deayon could provide support if Darious Williams or David Long become unavailable or unproductive.
- Trishton Jackson, WR/PR: Many have assumed the Rams have their top five receivers set, with Nsimba Webster taking the number five spot and return duties. We also don’t know if Sean McVay will end up keeping six or more receivers this year after trading Brandin Cooks. Jackson is an undrafted free agent who has gotten a bit of praise in camp and also been seen handling some return duties. If Webster didn’t win the return job or the Rams needed support there one week, Jackson could be the guy on the practice squad who is only one moment away from playing.