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7 players the Rams should prioritize for the 2021 practice squad

If they don’t make the final roster, that is

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Minicamp Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The LA Rams already know that they’ll have offensive lineman Max Pircher on their practice squad next season. The tackle from Italy is allowed an exception because of the International Player Pathway Program and won’t count against the Rams’ 12-player maximum practice squad roster. Los Angeles will get additional time and space with which to develop Pircher, but the timeline for most NFL players is quite short even if there is a little more leniency than there used to be.

The Rams can put players with no accrued seasons, or players with fewer than nine regular-season games over one accrued season, are eligible. LA can also have a max of four players with two or fewer accrued seasons, and up to two players with any number of accrued seasons. In 2022, that number will increase to four veterans and 14 practice squad players total, but for now, that’s how the 12-man practice squad operates.

Who should the Rams look to prioritize for the 2021 practice squad, assuming they can’t catch onto a 53-man roster?

OT Alaric Jackson

By way of LA not selecting any offensive linemen, Jackson has taken the top step on the podium to become the team’s highest-profile UDFA signing this year. Whether or not he actually has an NFL future is undetermined and Jackson may have a difficult time earning a spot on the 53-man roster given the amount of returning experience to the Rams this season.

We know the starting five, including Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein at tackle. We also know that Joseph Noteboom is the backup left tackle and that 2020 seventh round pick Tremayne Anchrum will at least be going into his second season in the program, while Chandler Brewer returns after opting out last year. Jamil Demby is another depth piece.

Jackson could always be called up or used as one of the two extra game day actives, should the Rams need help along the offensive line. It’s not that experience is an issue for Jackson, a four-year starter at left tackle for Iowa, but obviously teams weren’t that jazzed about what they saw in those 42 games. Not enough to draft him in a year with a small talent pool. But maybe with some time on the practice squad, that will change.

LB Chris Garrett

Garrett is a different case for many reasons:

  • Defensive player
  • Small school (Concordia University)
  • Crazy-good production (1.3 sacks per game)
  • Kind of drafted (252nd overall)

But similar to Jackson, he’s going to have a tough time proving himself capable of winning a spot on the 53 given the amount of experience ahead of him. Even though linebacker and offensive line are both units in need, seventh rounder and undrafted free agents just entering the league are often not the answers.

Given some time to work on his game, Garrett might emerge eventually. But to kick out a veteran like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Justin Hollins, etc., that would be surprising.

WR Ben Skowronek

WR Trishton Jackson

The Rams have Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell, and Van Jefferson. It’s a wonder how Nsimba Webster will even make the roster next season. The team also returns J.J. Koski and signed two undrafted free agents: Landon Akers, Jeremiah Haydel.

Skowronek, a seventh rounder, probably needs to fight hard to win a job as a special teamer and the number six receiver, if the team even keeps a number six.

The Rams did keep Jackson on the 53-man roster for all of 2020, then never used him. How high are they on how he practiced, given the signing of Jackson and the drafting of Atwell, Jacob Harris? Can’t be that high.

But Jackson is eligible for the practice squad and the former UDFA might buy more time to prove himself worthy of an offensive snap or a target eventually.

QB Devlin Hodges

Ultimately, the LA Rams are not going to find a future starting quarterback on this roster other than Matthew Stafford. Don’t take that as a personal attack on you, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins, or Hodges. Don’t blame me for decades of proof that being a starting quarterback in the NFL is extremely difficult. Don’t cite me the one or two exceptions that prove the rule.

Teams rarely find good starting quarterbacks. That’s why they traded the farm for Stafford.

Wolford seems to be a good backup. Perkins was undrafted in 2020 and hung on the practice squad once already. But even if Hodges was bad during his short stint with the Steelers in 2019, he wasn’t nearly as terrible as he probably should have been. If Wolford is the backup, Hodges — who is under that nine-game threshold — could make for the best emergency option on the practice squad.

Hodges miraculously won his first three starts for Pittsburgh, ultimately though falling apart in three straight losses that followed. As an EMERGENCY choice though, he’s fine and maybe a better option than Perkins.

S Paris Ford

Perhaps LA’s most well-known signing, Ford expected to get drafted but fell off of the board and the Rams grabbed him as a UDFA. Here’s what Pitt’s SB Nation blog had to say about Ford going undrafted:

Some might attribute it to his decision to leave the team in the middle of the year. Ford famously quit the team to focus on a pro career. Others point to subpar Pro Day numbers where he ran 40 times at 4.8 and 4.9. Some, of course (probably correctly), point to both of those things as deterrents. None of that even mentions his issues with targeting.

Ford going undrafted was a surprise to me. I do think questions about his attitude are warranted and his Pro Day numbers were certainly lacking. But Ford was also a preseason All-American that delivered plenty of highlights. He certainly produced on the field, too, with three interceptions in each of the last two seasons, and 90 tackles in 2019. The 41 he had last season were off of that pace when he quit the team but Ford certainly proved himself capable. If I’m going by the eye test, Ford just looked like an NFL player to me.

I don’t know — I can understand Ford not being taken early. But I think as, say, a sixth-rounder, a team would have gotten good value. He’s just a very good player in my mind and I’m surprised that a team didn’t take a chance on him in a late round.

LA has some need at safety, but Ford is not going to fill in as a starter right now. If he can give some hope to the team for two or three years down the line, he’d be great to stash on the practice squad until then.

DL George Silvanic

And finally, perhaps the most intriguing UDFA signing, Silvanic only switched from offense to defense last year after Air Force Academy had an unexpected — and DIRE — need for help after all the confusion with eligibility and suspended seasons. Here’s what The Gazette had to say of Silvanic:

Silvanic was preparing to serve as a backup offensive tackle as a senior when around 40 of his teammates, mostly from the defensive side, utilized a turnback option and left the academy for the fall 2020 season to preserve eligibility when it was announced that Mountain West teams would not play until the spring. Less than a month later the Mountain West reversed that position, leaving Air Force scrambling to find players to fill the defense.

Silvanic was one of those the team turned to, switching from offense to defense 17 days prior to Air Force’s opener against Navy. He had worked as a defensive player for much of his career but saw action in only one game — late in a season-opening blowout during his junior year.

The team had put him on the offensive line that spring and intended to use him regularly.

After the sudden switch he made seven tackles, including 1.5 sacks that day in a 40-7 blowout of the Midshipmen.

“I would say it’s definitely difficult, but it really just speaks to the growth you can make,” Silvanic said following the game against Navy of his whirlwind transition. “I don’t really think I’ve wrapped my head around tonight or what’s going forward.”

Measuring at 6-foot-5.3 and 286 pounds in a predraft workout, he continued to excel throughout his senior season, adding a sack in a shutout of New Mexico and collecting 11 tackles against Army.

The Rams are stacked for their 3-4 alignment, and they also drafted Bobby Brown III and Earnest Brown IV as developmental pieces to place alongside Greg Gaines. Jonah Williams, Eric Banks, Marquise Copeland, and Michael Hoecht add depth and there’s no reason to see Silvanic as a need for next season. But with a lot more time to refine his game as a defensive player, who knows what 2022 could bring.

It’ll at least bring two more spots on the practice squad.