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7 Rams who must earn their spot on the 53-man roster again

These guys played in 16 games with LA last season but need to earn a spot on the 2021 roster

NFL: JUN 10 Rams Practice Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s something that Jared Goff, Michael Brockers, Jalen Ramsey, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Higbee all failed to do last season: none of those players appeared in all 16 regular season games for the LA Rams in 2020. An NFL roster is comprised not only of stars and starters though, but of many more men beyond that who serve as key rotational players, backups, special teamers, and “break glass in case of emergency” reserves.

Some of those players become starters and even stars down the line, but that is not what the Rams are necessarily asking of them. They are tasked with filling in the gaps between the 0 snaps and 1,100 snaps of a typical NFL season at any given position. Thanks to the 17-game season, those roles will be more important than ever in 2021.

These players are not stars like Ramsey. They are not necessarily even starters like Higbee. But the following seven players played in 16 games for the LA Rams in 2020 and they must fight to earn those roles again in 2021.

Greg Gaines, DT

2020: 16 games, 18 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 201 defensive snaps, 65 special teams snaps

“I’m coming for that job” - Bobby Brown III, Earnest Brown IV, Eric Banks

After appearing in 10 games as a rookie — 4th round, 134th overall out of Washington — Gaines appeared in all 16 games and had the fifth-most snaps among Rams defensive linemen in 2020. With Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox now departed, there would seem to be an opportunity for Gaines to increase his workload, but the 2021 draft suggest that Sean McVay might not be sold on him as a future regular.

The Rams picked BB3 in the fourth and EB4 in the fifth, adding two big bodies to compete with Gaines and the other holdovers for those front-seven defensive snaps. There are also some former undrafted free agents who we can’t completely rule out, such as Banks, Jonah Williams, Marquise Copeland, and Michael Hoecht. LA added one more UDFA this year as well, signing George Silvanic.

With Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and A’Shawn Robinson as the top three defensive linemen, there’s not a ton of need in that area quite yet. But when Raheem Morris needs to spell those players with his depth, will Gaines be the first man up?

Justin Hollins, LB

2020: 16 games, 28 tackles, 3 sacks, 349 defensive snaps, 189 special teams snaps

“I’m coming for that job” - Ernest Jones, Travin Howard, Christian Rozeboom, Chris Garrett

Kenny Young, LB

2020: 16 games, 52 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 471 defensive snaps, 53 special teams snaps

“I’m coming for that job” - Ernest Jones, Travin Howard, Christian Rozeboom, Chris Garrett

Troy Reeder, LB

2020: 16 games, 81 tackles, 3 sacks, 423 defensive snaps, 204 special teams snaps

“I’m coming for that job” - Ernest Jones, Travin Howard, Christian Rozeboom, Chris Garrett

I see no reason to split up the three choices at linebacker here, as they are all fighting against each other — and against the newer, younger options at linebacker. The only person guaranteed a job right now is Leonard Floyd. That leaves three starting jobs open, but also several key reserve roles behind the starters too.

As we saw last season, any moment could be “your turn” at linebacker.

Reeder made the most starts of any of these three players, but Young and Hollins might have greater odds to become full-time starters in the future. Reeder and Young are 26, while Hollins is 25. But the Rams have others who are ready to take on those opportunities.

Ernest Jones was drafted in the third round, which is relatively high for an inside linebacker. Especially given how the Rams have often avoided expending a lot of money or draft capital at the position. Howard was a potential starter going into 2020 until suffering a season-ending injury before the season even started.

I think all of Hollins, Reeder, and Young are capable of starting for LA next season, but I could also see how with the change at defensive coordinator and the lack of real evidence to show that any of them are exceptionally good pros, any of the three could also be playing for a different team in 2021.

Not mentioned, but not forgotten either: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Derrick Moncrief, Micah Kiser, Terrell Lewis, Justin Lawler, John Daka, and UDFA Maximilian Roberts.

David Long, CB

2020: 16 games, 7 tackles, 116 defensive snaps, 260 special teams snaps

“I’m coming for that job” - Robert Rochell, Terrell Burgess

I wrote about Long not long ago, and it is still the case that it is kind of “now or never” for the third-year cornerback. Though training camp has not yet begun, it appears that Burgess could be leading to win the number three cornerback job that was previously occupied by Troy Hill.

Long played in every game last season, mostly on special teams, but those are snaps that could be replaced by anyone. Not necessarily even a cornerback. He could lose those special teams snaps to a receiver or a running back, like rookie Jake Funk. The snaps at corner are his bigger concern and the team also drafted Rochell in the fourth round this year.

Johnny Mundt, TE

2020: 16 games, 4 catches, 53 yards, 121 offensive snaps, 266 special teams snaps

“I’m coming for that job” - Brycen Hopkins, Kendall Blanton

I’m not putting Jacob Harris here because I do not believe that Harris is going to be playing any tight end next season. Mundt served as the third tight end in 2019 and 2020 but there are clear limitations in his ability to go any higher than that. With Higbee as the number one, potentially Hopkins as the number two, it’s possible that McVay will feel comfortable in releasing Mundt to open up a spot for someone with more potential at a different position.

Again, his special teams snaps could be replaced by someone who doesn’t even play tight end and instead LA could keep Harris as a pseudo “tight end” and Blanton as a blocker. Tight end might also turn out to be a position that the Rams look for after final cuts are made. Or they could stick with Mundt, a guy who did prove capable of serving that role and he’s been around the Rams for just about as long as McVay has been around. That counts for a lot.

Nsimba Webster, WR/PR

2020: 16 games, 25 punt returns, 16 kick returns, 8 offensive snaps, 257 special teams snaps

“I’m coming for that job” - Tutu Atwell, DeSean Jackson, Landen Akers, Jeremiah Haydel, Jake Funk, Raymond Calais

It seems impossible that Webster would win a job as a wide receiver with the Rams. His key component is in the return game and that has to concern the third-year pro out of Eastern Washington. Webster’s been fine at the position, but he also had three fumbles last season. He was lucky to recover two of them.

The team is trying out Atwell, their second round pick, and that’s probably the guy fans most want to see out on the field as often as they can. But he’s not all, as Akers and Haydel returned punts in college, Jackson was an elite punt returner once upon a time, and Funk, Calais are both experienced in kickoff returns.

You would think it is Webster’s job to lose, but now it looks like he’s going to have to be exceptionally fantastic just to win it back.