In last season’s opening game against the Carolina Panthers, the Los Angeles Rams gave a total of 33 snaps on either offense or defense to rookies: 31 snaps for safety Taylor Rapp and two snaps to running back Darrell Henderson. The Rams had been coming off of a Super Bowl appearance and you wouldn’t typically see a team in that position start to lean on players with no NFL experience.
Week 1 of this season figures to be a big different.
Despite the lack of a first round pick, the Rams will be relying on rookies with at least two of their most important positions and could potentially be utilizing five or six others against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. This doesn’t even exclusively consider their draft picks either as Sean McVay knows he isn’t far from having to give snaps to rookies who were not even selected this year.
The Rams first pick was running back Cam Akers and as compared to Henderson being stuck behind Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown, the Florida State product could be starting against the Cowboys because of Henderson’s current injury situation. The plan was always to have Akers develop into an all-around featured back but McVay may have to put him into an “all-around” situation immediately.
Gurley got 53 snaps last season and Brown got 21, so it’s possible that Akers alone will have more snaps than all of LA’s rookies combined against the Panthers last year.
We may not be checking kicker Sam Sloman’s number of snaps, but for the first time since Greg Zuerlein in 2012, the Rams will be asking a rookie to consistently make their field goals and PATs for them; Zuerlein, a sixth rounder in 2012, went 23-of-31 as a rookie, making seven field goals of 50+ but also missing six from that range.
Next up in order of importance could be either of the two safeties that the Rams drafted. Third rounder Terrell Burgess got high praise in camp and was drafted with the idea in mind that his versatility could allow him to play cornerback. LA enters the season with four players listed at cornerback — Jalen Ramsey, Troy Hill, Darious Williams, David Long — and we’re not sure how McVay and Brandon Staley will utilize their defensive backs yet. Even with how well Burgess has seemingly done in camp, Fuller has managed to do better, depending on who you’re talking to.
Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller already impressing in the secondary https://t.co/7DuNRP3015— Rams Wire (@TheRamsWire) August 14, 2020
It could be that without much depth at cornerback, with Rapp’s injury that has held him out of practices since August 18 and with the losses at linebacker, that McVay and Staley indeed have opportunities open for Burgess and Fuller on Sunday. Obviously if Rapp misses the game, then what other choice would the Rams have than to start one of their rookies in his place? There’s Nick Scott, but is that where the 2019 seventh rounder landed on the depth chart?
Then of course there is Van Jefferson, the receiver drafted five spots after Akers who has gotten maybe the best reviews of any rookie in camp. Jefferson figures to get more snaps than only a couple and we can’t say yet if he beat out Josh Reynolds for the number three position — but it might actually be surprising if Jefferson didn’t get more targets than Reynolds.
Aaron Donald was asked which rookies have stood out in camp. “That wide receiver 12,” Donald said.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) September 3, 2020
That’s Van Jefferson.
We don’t know of Josh Reynolds as a receiving threat. We might come to know Van Jefferson as one.
But Jefferson isn’t the only rookie receiver who could have an impact in Week 1. We’re not sure who the Rams return jobs but undrafted rookie Trishton Jackson was in the running and made the final 53-man roster. We could assume that if LA only activates five receivers, Nsimba Webster would be in over Jackson, but again we’re not really sure how things transpired in camp at either receiver or returner.
Finally, tight end Brycen Hopkins, running back Xavier Jones, guard Tremayne Anchrum and defensive lineman Eric Banks are also on the final 53 as we move into the first week or preparation for a regular season game this year. Hopkins would seem to be buried on the depth chart and could be inactive to start the season. Jones could easily be activated if Henderson isn’t, but could very well be in the role of only getting 0-2 snaps. Anchrum might be a help on special teams and we can’t say if he won or lost a backup role somewhere on the depth chart. Him being inactive would seem reasonable. Banks is entirely unknown and another good case for being inactive.
Even without those rookies, the Rams will be left with potentially their starting running back, kicker and number three option among the wide receivers being rookies. Additionally, we could expect another rookie to start if Rapp is out and for him to be spelled by the other rookie if he is called upon. And were it not for Terrell Lewis’s current injury situation that will keep him out for at least Week 1, he figures to be in the conversation as the team’s top pass rushing threat from the edge.
We know things are a different this year but for the Rams, they’re also a bit more new.