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What position groups on the Rams got competitive and which players got a break?

The sweet sound of competition

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 UCF at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ve spent the last few weeks on a mission. For the first time in a while, an advertisement consciously grabbed my attention and I skipped right past refusing the call to action and went on my hero’s journey to find the product that I was probably always meant to be united with one day.

I had to have a Reese’s peanut butter cup — Peanut butter lovers edition.

After watching an ad for the cup, I put my legs in motion and actually left my home to seek a taste of it from my local corner store here in Hollywood, California. If there’s a place for peanut butter lovers, you tell me, where else could you possibly find them other than Tinseltown? The home to notable peanut butter lovers such as Mr. Ed and this kid:

When I made it to my most local corner market, I found a dozen variety’s of Reese’s products, plenty of candy’s for peanut butter likers and peanut butter tolerators, but there wasn’t a single double-pack of cups for peanut butter lovers. I had to try and the next most-local corner store, which was across the street from the most-local.

No luck there either.

Must not be in any of these mom-and-pop stores, has to be one of those premier candies that for now they’re only allowing at certain stores. Sort of like trying to buy a 15-day old cryptocurrency on Robinhood: you gotta give these newbies time to breathe and live a little while before they’ve earned their place next to Ethereum and Kit Kat duos.

So I pushed my ass over to the TD Ameritrade of convenient stores but not even 7-11 was a place for peanut butter lovers apparently. They didn’t have anything more than the standard Reese’s peanut butter cups and barely more than 10 or 11 other varieties of chocolate and peanut butter. I sulked off, some candy still in hand, and scratched off yet another store that didn’t have what I was motivated to go find at the first act break.

Was this some kind of joke by big peanut butter?

Finally, I was informed by a friend that the new peanut butter lovers edition was only available in certain regions and they Tinseltown aka Hollywood aka P.B. Central was not one of those areas yet. You see, I had been texting and messaging and calling everyone I know to even let them know: “Damn, I’m a peanut butter lover and I can’t get up.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“It’s just like...what do they want me to do? Eat a jar of Justin’s?” (I’m rich, okay? No Skippy or Jiffy here. Ironically and true, the person who informed me that these Reese’s aren’t in my region is named Justin too.)

I hit up about 10 stores in my area just in case and while I found (and ate) a lot of peanut butter, this particularly cup wasn’t in LA. I even found a smoke shop that sold bags of chip from Asia for $10 each because they’re flavors that are unavailable in this country, but I couldn’t find dual cups of peanut butter, a perfectly legal taste in America!

If anything, THE American taste of all tastes!

And I’m not saying that I went to Las Vegas, Nevada two or three weeks ago to find these peanut butter cups, but I am saying that I was in Las Vegas and I did check every foodhouse, outhouse, and Tommy Lee Jones’ house that I stopped in for this one particular make and model of peanut butter and sugar.

I had no luck in Vegas.

Time passed, I ate other kinds of candy, other forms of peanut butter, but for literally every second of every day since I saw that commercial, I know that I’ve longed to taste peanut butter on peanut butter. I mean ... what the fuck could that even taste like?!?!

I gave up my search for the peanut butter lovers’ solution and went back to my bread-and-butter of eating ice cream, milkshakes, and bread-and-butter.

Then I looked back on my journey, this insane ride I had of looking for this type of Reese’s, and I fondly remembered all the good times I had. The Reese’s Big Cup Crunchy was probably an experience that rates as two or three times better than the one I imagined for the peanut butter lovers cup.

I had also eaten forms of Snickers, Hershey’s, and M&Ms that I may have never tried before if not for my mission to eat PB-on-PB, I had met convenient store owners that I may never have met, I went to Las Vegas, I got my favorite honeycomb-flavored ice cream pie from a local store that is quite certainly the best pie in the world, I rode on the back of a komodo dragon through a crowded open air shopping mall as I was being chased by Shia LaBeouf on a razor scooter because we were both looking to recover the Queen’s jewels from pirates so that we could trade them back to the Queen for the last remaining peanut butter lovers cup in the U.K.... (this is where my love interest does a double-take like “what did he just say?”)

The point is that I thought that what I really wanted was the peanut butter lovers cup but in reality the thing that I wanted the whole time was the friendship and adventure that we all experience every time we see an advertisement for something we think looks alright.

On Saturday night, a few hours after the draft ended and the LA Rams had selected nine players who will now come compete for jobs on the 53-man roster next season, I went to a local Ralph’s grocery store to buy a snack to treat myself after a long three days and a much longer draft season. I knew that I wanted one sugar-based item, but I wasn’t exactly sure which one. I went to five or six of the 25 places in a grocery store where you can find candy or desserts and eventually settled on a very basic, but consistently satisfying Butterfinger bar.

This story makes it sound as though I must be buying Butterfinger bars and Hershey’s with almonds every other day. But I hadn’t actually gone to a store and picked up a Butterfinger and paid for it and eaten it since probably Bart Simpson was hocking them in the nineties. I don’t even eat candy most of the time. For some reason, I just wanted this damn limited edition Reese’s and it sent me into a tailspin.

I go the self-checkout and begin to scan my two or three items, when all of a sudden I’m punched in the face by the sight of a Reese’s peanut butter lovers cup sitting in a box for Hershey’s cookies and cream all by itself. I couldn’t find a single place in the store that was intentionally selling these peanut butter lovers cups, but here was one completely out of place, as if Shia LaBeouf himself had decided that after he had swiped the jewels and returned them to the Queen and gotten the cup, “Well, screw it, let the kid have it,” and knew to place it in the one place where I would happen to find it.

I did as the good lord intended by its name and let the Butterfingers slip out of my hands, replacing it with the peanut butter on peanut butter cup. I went home, cracked open an AHA, and started watching the Coen brothers’ True Grit. Taking time before I’d really enjoy it, I finally freed glue from plastic and slid the peanut butter cup out of its holster, much like Rooster Cogburn gettin’ ready to explode cornbread in the sky with his action army revolver.

Bite.

“Hmm. Nice.”

To be honest, I think I preferred the Big Cup Crunchy.

I accepted the call to action to find this one particular brand of candy and what I found out Saturday night was that the thing that I thought I desperately wanted was “Fine” but consolation prize after consolation prize that I had eaten in the interim was not only making me fat, but happy.

Emphasis on fat.

Let’s see if the Rams can get fat and happy with these nine new prospects from the draft, plus a handful of signees who didn’t hear their names called over the last few days.

Everybody expect LA general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay to be targeting at least one premier offensive line prospect in this draft, if not two or three, and they might as well use all of their day two picks on that particular area of need. What we came away with by Saturday night was 0-of-9 picks spent on offensive line help, even after Snead traded down three times and added three extra choices to his arsenal.

I implore you to appreciate that which the Rams have, not what the Rams have not. Maybe the center or tackle that you’re upset over will simply be “Fine,” or maybe fine will be a bar that said prospect never even approaches to his NFL career. And perhaps Tutu Atwell or Ernest Jones or Jake Funk will be the treat you never knew you wanted. I mean, have you ever in your life seen this:

Some call that “Kit Kat: Milk Tea Flavour,” but I see Ben Skowronek, seventh round pick, and I’m curious as hell to see him in action. You want the 12th-ranked guard over Robert Rochell?

Give me a break.

Over the last two days, the LA Rams have added five players to their defense, four players to their skill positions, and a handful of those nine prospects will absolutely be seeing the field on special teams in 2021. How do these draft picks impact those position groups and the near and long-term futures for the Rams in those areas?

They want me to call this “Winners and Losers” but we know there are no losers on the Rams. These are just players who either got a little more competition for this year’s training camp or they didn’t.

What did Snead and McVay’s draft picks say about their feelings of this current roster and the areas that could use improvement?

Things Are Getting Crunchy

Special Teams Coverage

Ironically, it’s not an area of football that ever gets covered, but many professional football players have made the bulk of their paychecks on the back of hustling on special teams. But can you even name the player who had the most special teams snaps on the Rams in 2020? How many do you think you could name out of the top-five?

Nick Scott, 332 snaps.

Johnny Mundt, 266 snaps.

David Long, 260 snaps.

Nsimba Webster, 260 snaps.

Natrez Patrick, 237 snaps.

The only one of those players who is gone now is Patrick, now a member of the Broncos, meaning that LA will return a lot of experience to their special teams unit. But we also know that McVay is unhappy with special teams.

McVay made a chance at special teams coordinator for the second time in as many years, then we saw longsnapper Jake McQuaide depart for the Cowboys like so many Rams special teamers before him. It’s so difficult to judge the third phase of the game, but a once-proud special teams unit in LA has now become the 29th-ranked unit in the NFL by DVOA.

If you were confused by Snead’s day three picks, perhaps you were only focused on the first two phases of football.

Fourth round pick Jacob Harris was called arguably “the best special teamer in the draft” by NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah. The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue noted that Funk and Skowronek both scream as “special teams picks” in round seven. These are not players coming after the jobs of Cooper Kupp and Cam Akers. To imply that these selections were for their offensive positions (which are fungible for most of these prospects anyway) is to ignore that their real competition is Scott, Mundt, Long, Juju Hughes, Xavier Jones, and Travin Howard.

It will be nice if Rochell wins a job on the defense by 2022, but consider that Long, a higher draft pick in 2019 than Rochell was this year, has mostly been hanging onto the roster because he’s been handling duties on special teams as coaches wait to see if he develops as a cornerback.

I wouldn’t worry about players going after jobs that will pay them millions. I would instead focus on the players who are getting nervous about whether or not they’ll get their $500,000 this year as a special teamer.

Back-end Wide Receivers

The Rams didn’t draft “eight wide receivers and no offensive linemen” this year. They didn’t even draft three wide receivers. The Rams drafted one wide receiver — Tutu Atwell with the 57th overall pick — and then they went fishing and came up with a Skowronek and a Harris and a couple UDFAs.

Not gonna throw ‘em back into the lake, but it’s not as though anyone’s expectin’ these catches to feed the Donner party for a week.

Re-evaluating the wide receiver depth after the draft though, we do see that the numbers do not bode well for the players who were hanging onto one of those final jobs on the 53. Specifically, Nsimba Webster and Trishton Jackson.

We know that four jobs on the roster are spoken for barring a shocking move: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson, and Atwell. I concede that Jackson could be released, but that would also be $2.75 million was wasted, at minimum, when the team was already up against the cap.

I can already feel the tension of not listing Van Jefferson as a lock to make the roster, but being a late second round pick typically guarantees a player at least one year on the team. History has proven time and time again that it does not guarantee that player a spot on the roster in year two. I would say that Jefferson is probably 90-percent likely to make the team, at least, but extending Kupp and Woods, then signing Jackson, then drafting Atwell, were all signs that McVay felt underwhelmed by his depth at receiver.

Each of those moves in a vacuum says nothing, but when combined together, I’d say that Van Jefferson is in a fight right now. Even if he makes the team, how often and when does he see the field?

LA kept six receivers in 2020, holding onto the undrafted Jackson for an entire season even though he wasn’t active for a single game, and that might mean there’s only one job left if we count Jefferson as “makes it.”

That’s one job for Webster, Jackson, Skowronek, J.J. Koski, and the rookie undrafted free agents to battle over, if there even is one available job.

Tight Ends/H-Backs

Does McVay like 2020 fourth round pick Brycen Hopkins? He was somehow even less apparent as a rookie than Trishton Jackson was despite being a mid-round draft pick. But that could just be a “redshirt” year for Hopkins, a term that Snead used to describe what any offensive lineman would have had to go through in 2021 if the Rams had opted to choose one.

We don’t really know how the team feels about Hopkins and we don’t really know where Harris, one of those most unique players ever drafted from a measurables standpoint, fits in either. Adding to the confusion is the current valuation of starter Tyler Higbee and the previously mentioned Mundt, a low-ceiling hustler who is looking to sneak onto the roster for the fifth year in a row.

Mundt is one of the few players left who has been on the Rams as long as McVay has been.

Assuming Higbee is the starter because we haven’t been given any reason to expect any other tight end on the roster to start next season, that leaves a competition between Hopkins, Mundt, Harris, and Kendall Blanton to scrape off the remaining tight end snaps off the field; Gerald Everett had 636 snaps last season as TE2 and is now in Seattle.

Adding in the 121 snaps by Mundt, that’s a lot left to go around for the second and third tight ends on the Rams. Can the rookie Harris, one of the fastest but also skinniest “tight ends” in the league now, be ready to contribute in his first season in a capacity that Hopkins wasn’t able to last year?

Linebacker Depth

There’s not much to say here other than the fact that Jones, a third round pick and a comp to starter Micah Kiser, is pushing somebody onto the waiver wire. That’s as close to a fact as anything I got in this whole, drawn-out, overly long article.

It won’t be Kiser or Troy Reeder or even Kenny Young probably, but when you look around the 53-man roster from last season, you have to expect that Jones will supplant a linebacker who had a job in 2020.

The Rams had five “inside linebackers” on the roster at the end of 2020, including Kiser, Reeder, Young, Justin Hollins, and Natrez Patrick. You might think that because Patrick is gone, Jones gets to replace him and that’s very easy, but that ignores that Travin Howard returns from injured reserve (a favorite to start in training camp last year) and that Christian Rozeboom and Justin Lawler would also like to continue having their jobs with the team.

LA could keep six inside linebackers, or it could be that Jones is in and one of Young, Hollins, and Howard could be out.

Defensive Line Depth

The Rams drafted Bobby Brown III in the fourth and Earnest Brown IV in the fifth (and then in the sixth they didn’t have any picks so they pleaded the fifth) and while neither of those players are guaranteed roster spots, it’s going to be an even more uphill battle for Eric Banks, Jonah Williams, Michael Hoecht, and Marquise Copeland to make it.

Things Are Looking Smooth

Offensive Line

Hate it or Hate it, for the second draft in a row the Rams didn’t feel the slightest bit of pressure to shake up their offensive line room. Andrew Whitworth, David Edwards, Austin Corbett (at center), Bobby Evans (at right guard), and Rob Havenstein has been called the starting five headed into this summer’s competitions.

That leaves Joseph Noteboom as one of the best reserves in the NFL, followed by Coleman Shelton, Brian Allen, Tremayne Anchrum, Chandler Brewer, and Jamil Demby. I’ll be surprised if any undrafted free agents win any jobs better than the practice squad.

The Rams carried 10 offensive linemen last season. If they repeat that, then it’s not hard to see Demby and/or Brewer or Anchrum or somebody get cut, leaving the other 10 back to the jobs they’re comfortable with. LA might choose to add a veteran after other teams make their cuts, but the Rams are bringing back players who are going into their third, fourth, or fifth year in McVay’s system and now with new coach Kevin Carberry giving them guidence.

The Rams feel that’s enough for Matthew Stafford and Cam Akers to get their jobs done and I tend to believe they’re right. The idea that LA was going to draft a starting center or guard in the second, third, or fourth rounds this year is bordering on ludicrous. That is not the job that the draft is meant to typically serve.

Slot Corner/Safety

The Rams lost almost 2,000 snaps when John Johnson and Troy Hill signed with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. They didn’t add a single free agent who plays in the secondary and then after three days of the draft, they had only picked Rochell in the fourth. He’s a prospect who I had rated higher than most, but there’s little chance he contributes significantly on defense next season.

Therefore, it looks like right now Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams are safe (PHEW!), while Jordan Fuller has locked in a job at one of the safety positions. The fact that no safeties were drafted means that 2020 third round pick Terrell Burgess is eyeing a starting position next season, either at safety or in the slot.

The other players battling for space in the secondary will be Rochell, Long, Donte Deayon, Taylor Rapp, Scott, Jake Gervase, and J.R. Reed. Adding only one draft pick into the mix, it could be bad news for Deayon, but unless Long is a surprise cut after only two seasons, there was little urgency to shake up this unit in the draft.

Longsnapper

Colin Holba and Steve Wirtel, THIS IS YOUR LIFE!!!

Finally, in doing research for this article, I looked at many prospects, but I looked at way more types of candies. In doing so, I was jabbed on the nose by the realization that even though I was a clear lover of peanut butter on Saturday night, I wasn’t reaching my full potential in that area. And I hadn’t actually finished my search for the holy grail of nuts.

Yes, I had found the peanut butter lovers edition. But then seeing this, I knew, I have yet to be the ULTIMATE peanut butter lover.

The search for greatness has no endings, only beginnings. Let the journey be your home.