What’s in a ranking? Only what you decide to make of it.
Something I’ve learned after so many years of doing this is that people love lists, they love ranking things, and they love writers. Wait, what I mean to say is, they love hating and disagreeing with those things. It is not the lists or the orders that matter, but the conversations that are generated in the wake of their release that ends up driving people towards more like articles.
It is not agreement that brings us together, but the areas where we don’t understand each other and that’s when we start to speak out.
A perfect case in point being the mere existence of ProFootballFocus grades and the innumerable conversations generated in the wake of every single one of them. PFF has done a remarkable job of entering the chat — getting Cris Collinsworth on board being the number one reason for it — and recently they released their Top 50 players for 2021.
The Rams had two entrants and it’s not hard to figure out who those players are: Aaron Donald was first, Jalen Ramsey was 16th.
Here are three other Rams who could enter that Top 50 conversation next year with a strong 2021 season.
QB Matthew Stafford
After 12 years in the league, Stafford has been named to the NFL’s Top 100 five times (including once as #100), but he’s never been in the top 30. Stafford was left off of the list in 2019 and 2020, and he may not be included in 2021 either. There were six quarterbacks on PFF’s top 50, including Dak Prescott as the last man in even though Prescott missed most of last season.
Stafford now leaves a franchise that consistently had poor coaching staffs for one that has the most influential offensive mind of the last five years. He’s also got an incredibly consistent wide receiver duo (read: Stafford steps into offense with remarkable continuity), a pretty good offensive line, and his chance to step back into the spotlight more than a decade after being one of the most highly-touted prospects in history will open up the rest of the world to his fourth quarter magic.
One of the most incredible Stafford moments pic.twitter.com/CGi2pJPSgD— Football Is Life (@FootbaIl_Tweets) June 28, 2021
Is Stafford one of the top six quarterbacks in the NFL? With Aaron Rodgers holding out, Tom Brady olding up, and Prescott last seen holding his ankle, I think he absolutely could be now that he’s with the Rams.
RB Cam Akers
It can be hard to convince many people of the value of any running back these days, but the five who made it into PFF’s top 50 (Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook) all seem to be agreeable to even the most ardent doubters. Setting aside a powerful rookie like Najee Harris, some of the other backs who could rise up include Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones, David Montgomery, Josh Jacobs, J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
I don’t see Akers as a level down from those players.
Happy birthday Cam Akers. More of this next season pic.twitter.com/hp50MrClGk— World B. Flat (@Carl_noWinslow) June 22, 2021
The only player who had more rushing yards than Akers in last season’s playoffs was Leonard Fournette, and he played in four games as compared to two for the Rams. Akers had 46 carries (also second-most) for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Sean McVay has praised his natural abilities to catch the football too, so I wouldn’t rule him out as a legitimate dual threat at the position.
CB Darious Williams
What is the toughest position to play in the NFL? Outside of quarterback and all the intricacies involved with becoming a good one of those, maybe it is cornerback, at least over the last 20 years. As NFL offenses improve, as the league continues to push for rules that help quarterbacks and wide receivers, as the players on offense get bigger and stronger and then turn into George Kittle and Alvin Kamara, how can we blame all these cornerbacks who end up shining, then disappearing?
Disappearing, and then shining again.
Williams went undrafted out of UAB, then he didn’t get his first real game action until he was 26, but he made an immediate transition from “practice squad” to “Pro Bowl caliber”. PFF didn’t put him in their top 50, but he was named to PFF’s second team all-pro and he is likely a top 100 player this year. Remember: Williams is 28, but he only has 1,049 career snaps, which is essentially just one season of football. (Read: How much will Darious Williams make on his next deal?)
Darious Williams = BALLHAWK. pic.twitter.com/2txv0KwuNd— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) November 15, 2020
PFF had four corners on their top 50, including Jaire Alexander and Jalen Ramsey as the obvious choices, then Denver’s Bryce Callahan and the Giants’ James Bradberry as the not-so-obvious. Why not Williams? It would make perfect sense with one more good season alongside Ramsey.
Honorable mentions: LB Leonard Floyd (is a 15-sack season out of the question?), S Jordan Fuller (John Johnson III was 41st on PFF’s list), NT Sebastian Joseph-Day (have we misjudged his ceiling?), WR Cooper Kupp (keep in mind that Michael Thomas and Stefon Diggs only barely made the PFF Top 50 because it is exceptionally difficult to stand out in this crowded position)