We don’t actually know what Sean McVay’s toughest decisions today and tomorrow are going to be before Saturday’s cut down to a 53-man roster. Every year offers new surprises and 2020 doesn’t seem to be one to fall short of shock value. However, we can summarize a few potentially difficult calls for McVay in the coming hours.
Which players make up his offensive line depth?
Last season, McVay kept David Edwards, Bobby Evans and Jamil Demby as his reserve offensive linemen, with Jeremiah Kolone and Chandler Brewer on the practice squad. We saw each of those backups that make the final 53 play significant snaps during the regular season — 62-percent for Edwards, 42.6-percent for Evans and 13-percent for Demby — and shouldn’t prepare as if next season will be any different.
The expectation is for Joseph Noteboom and Austin Corbett to take their place among the starters — where Noteboom was to start 2019 and where Corbett might have been if he was with the Rams at the time — but what if McVay only keeps three reserves again?
Evans, Edwards and Demby are fighting for jobs again. They’re now joined by Tremayne Anchrum, Coleman Shelton, Brian Allen (a starter turned reserve), Cohl Cabral and Kolone.
The very basic answer would be to keep the same three — Edwards, Evans and Demby — and Allen as a fourth because this might be the type of year for McVay to keep four reserve offensive linemen; there’s more room on the practice squad and on the active gameday roster. That’s just what I’m describing as the “boring” answer, not what I’m saying they should do.
But there also isn’t going to be an “exciting” option to keep or not keep. We likely know who LA’s starters will be and who their top two or three reserves will be and anything else is an even deeper shot in the dark.
How many wide receivers and tight ends to keep?
We know that Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, Van Jefferson, Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee and Brycen Hopkins are safe. And we can all safely assume that Nsimba Webster seems to have elevated himself into the “safe” category. That would be a completely usual five receivers and three tight ends.
But some are expecting the total number kept to be nine, if not 10.
That could mean Johnny Mundt, whose experience advantage over Hopkins could not only keep him on the 53, but above Hopkins on the depth chart. It could also include one of the undrafted free agent receivers, the best of which, we have no idea yet. Mundt seems the most likely to stick around and if there’s a sixth receiver, we’re not sure which of those players has emerged as the favorite.
Who starts at running back and how much does that matter?
If Darrell Henderson isn’t able to go in Week 1, which seems probable unless he gets a really good week of practice in first, then the decision comes down to Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown. But should that be a tough decision? Brown got 11 carries for 53 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 1 win over the Carolina Panthers last season but getting anything more than five or six carries doesn’t seem to be in his repertoire.
Akers was drafted as high as he was because the Rams expect handling a full game’s workload to be in his repertoire. Even if there are aspects to Akers game that he is still struggling to pick up — which we should assume there are given his experience — at least that’s something that McVay can gameplan to avoid. And the thing is, the Dallas Cowboys don’t have much intel on Akers, so they don’t know what McVay needs to hide yet.
Akers = someone the defense isn’t sure of and will consider a threat
Brown = Not considered a threat
If Henderson does have a good week of practice though and is able to get some work in, then surely two threats are better than one. Which brings McVay to another question at the position: to keep Xavier Jones or John Kelly or neither.
Who is the placekicker?
This was one of McVay’s questions and he apparently found an answer: Sam Sloman over Lirim Hajrullahu and Austin MacGinnis. McVay now needs to decide if he wants to keep one of those kickers on the practice squad, assuming another team doesn’t get to either first.
It appears the #Rams' three-way kicker derby is over: They're expected to go with rookie seventh-round pick Sam Sloman, per sources. Sloman -- from Sean McVay's alma mater, Miami (Ohio) -- had been competing with former CFL all-star Lirim Hajrullahu and Austin MacGinnis.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 4, 2020
How many linebackers and in what order?
Micah Kiser, Leonard Floyd, Samson Ebukam, Terrell Lewis, Kenny Young and Troy Reeder would seem to have locked in a place on the roster; Reeder may not be a popular answer but once Travin Howard was lost for the season, McVay mentioned Young and Reeder as picking up the slack and we know it’s going to be best for him to have multiple options there since we know that neither inspire much confidence.
That doesn’t sound like great logic but McVay’s other choice would probably be to add a veteran linebacker in the next few days and I’m not sure who those candidates would be at the moment.
In 2019, McVay kept his four starters — Cory Littleton, Ebukam, Clay Matthews, Dante Fowler — and six reserves, including Reeder, Howard, Justin Lawler, Bryce Hager, Natrez Patrick and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.
Following that line of thinking, McVay needs to choose four more reserve linebackers from what he currently has, which still includes all of those backup names sans Hager. Let’s say they choose Patrick, Okoronkwo and Lawler, then they can pick one more out of these names:
Clay Johnston, Christian Rozeboom, Daniel Bituli, Jachai Polite, Josh Carraway and Derrick Moncrief.
There may not be any surprises here other than who the Rams choose as the fifth or sixth backup linebacker. Although given what we’ve already seen, that player could end up getting more snaps than we expect.
How to sort out the injured players
The Rams have three key players who’ve missed significant time on reserve lists already: Terrell Lewis, Darrell Henderson and A’Shawn Robinson. Lewis seems to have a mysterious knee situation, as if the team has an agreement with the league that they’ll always have one player with a mysterious knee situation.
Lewis starting the year on PUP (or worse) doesn’t seem out of the question for a player who entered the draft with a lot of injury question marks.
Henderson didn’t gain a ton of experience as a rookie and has lost more valuable time in year two. The team drafted a RBOTF so how would they want to approach Henderson’s latest setback?
Robinson seems the most likely to start the season off the 53-man roster and stashed on a reserve list with a hopeful midseason return. Arguably the offseason’s most important acquisition, Robinson’s been held out all camp and to think that he’d be ready for Week 1, even if he’s a veteran, would seem to be a stretch beyond reason. It’s getting to the point where it would be hard to imagine him suiting up in September but there’s also been little information given on this front — which is reasonable. Why would McVay need to give that information up if he doesn’t have to?
But also he may honestly have no clue what’s going on with these three players and like everyone else, is hoping for the best. How he manages these three injury roster decisions will tell us a lot about which players he expects to see more of and less of in the coming six weeks.
Final cuts are due Saturday at 1 PM PT.