In his meeting with the media on Monday, New England Patriots head coach said something that stood out to me about NFL player development:
BB: I think, Bob [Socci], just the way you articulated it really makes those second to third-year players, in a way, first to second-year players because they didn’t get the full first to second-year experience. Certainly they learned from a season and going into another season but, as you pointed out, without the spring, without all the foundation of laying that you do in the spring, both training, fundamentals, scheme installation, team building and communication and so forth and all those things are part of it too. So yeah, there’s a big jump from year one to year two. The next biggest jump probably is year two to year three, but when you look at a year like last year that wasn’t a normal year two to year three, maybe there’s an element of that first to second-year jump as well that’s also added in there.
The unusual 2020 offseason meant that last year’s rookies didn’t really get the same foundational opportunities that basically all of their predecessors were able to enjoy. But on top of that, players who were going into their second season in 2020 were also the victims of setbacks that nobody could have planned for.
And yet, the LA Rams are counting on their third-year players perhaps as much as any other team in the league right now.
Of the eight players drafted by the Rams in 2019, seven are still with the team, and at least five of them appear headed for starting jobs on the 53-man roster, with the other two having an inside track to getting significant snaps next season. We know that Les Snead likes to plan ahead, but we know what they say about planning ...
Regardless of the complications of the last 18 months, LA must move forward with what they have and these 11 Rams are entering the all-important third season with the team:
S Taylor Rapp
LA’s top pick in the 2019 draft, Rapp started 10 games as a rookie and then only appeared in nine games in year two. He has started off 2021 training camp as one of the starting safeties on the field, but it is unclear what role Terrell Burgess will have on Raheem Morris’s defense and many expect somebody to push Rapp out of a job.
He may be best suited to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Maybe the full offseason will help Rapp develop into the best version of himself.
RB Darrell Henderson
He was supposed to get this opportunity when he was drafted in 2019, then he wasn’t supposed to get it when Cam Akers was drafted in 2020. Now it’s back on Henderson and while he is set to be the starting running back from Week 1 and on, the Rams will need reinforcements at the position to help get through a 17-game regular season.
CB David Long, Jr.
The free agency loss of Troy Hill was probably planned along and now Sean McVay turns to the Long plan. He has been starting as an outside cornerback at times in practice, with Darious Williams also outside, and Jalen Ramsey sometimes working in the slot as he did last season.
OL Bobby Evans
Drafted as a tackle, Evans has the inside track to start at right guard, in between Austin Corbett and Rob Havenstein. If Evans doesn’t win that job and instead the team turns to Corbett and finds a new center, then it won’t bode well for his future prospects with the Rams.
DT Greg Gaines
With Michael Brockers in Detroit and Morgan Fox in Carolina, Gaines is being asked to fulfill the potential he had coming out of Washington two years ago. The 25-year-old Gaines played in every game last season, notching 201 defensive snaps. That number should at least double in 2021.
OL David Edwards
Criticizing Snead’s offensive line picks? Really? If LA found its starting right guard in the third round and its starting left guard in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, and they’re both as good as Edwards was last season, then who cares if Snead hasn’t drafted an offensive lineman of note in the last two years? That’s a really good hit rate.
S Nick Scott
Even being behind two starting safeties last season, Scott managed 193 defensive snaps, plus 332 special teams snaps in 2020. He’s a leader in the third unit and his role on defense grew as last season went on. He may not be a future starter but he’s got a future.
OL Chandler Brewer
Undrafted out of Middle Tennessee, Brewer signed with the Rams and has officially been with the team ever since, though he did opt out last year. Brewer is back now and he has a good shot to make the roster as a reserve lineman. We’ve seen how important those reserves have been lately.
TE Kendall Blanton
Going into his third Rams training camp, Blanton could have an edge over the inexperienced Jacob Harris and Brycen Hopkins, and at least sneak his way onto the final 53 as some Tyler Higbee insurance.
LB Troy Reeder
The star of the 2019 undrafted free agent signings for LA (at least so far), Reeder has played in 34 of a possible 34 games since. That included starting both playoff games last year but Reeder might have a difficult time making the same impact in 2021. The Rams drafted Ernest Jones and they return Travin Howard, Micah Kiser, and Kenny Young to compete for inside linebacker snaps. Still, competition and being buried on the depth chart hasn’t stopped Reeder yet.
LB Jake Gervase
If Reeder has a fight at linebacker, then Gervase has two. He not only has to prove himself to the other linebackers, he has to prove that he is a linebacker. The 2019 UDFA safety has transitioned to a new position and it’s a crowded one. He may be a practice squad player again this year but perhaps the position switch will unlock something in him.