The battle for roster position on the 2021 LA Rams has been fascinating to watch over the last three weeks. While the Rams enter the season as one of the most experienced and established veteran teams in the NFL — the only rookie who may even be competing to start at any position is Tutu Atwell as a punt returner, and it may be difficult for any first-year player to even win a job as a backup in Los Angeles — there were a number of position battles that were deep and wide open.
Especially with regards to the reserves.
So far, it looks like Brian Allen has won a job starting at center, while Justin Hollins, Kenny Young, and Troy Reeder appear to be the leaders to start at linebacker next to Leonard Floyd. Behind them, Taylor Rapp and David Long seem to have won jobs in the secondary as replacements for John Johnson and Troy Hill.
There could be some debate with the above left on the table, but for now, this is how Sean McVay is posturing with his starting offense and defense. However, the incredible depth that the Rams brought to some positions means that there will be difficult cuts ahead in the coming two weeks, beginning with five more players needing to be released by Tuesday.
Here’s where we stand on six key position battles for depth.
10th LB: Chris Garrett or Terrell Lewis
If the Rams keep nine linebackers, then Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, Kenny Young, Troy Reeder, Micah Kiser, Justin Lawler, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Travin Howard, and Ernest Jones would seem to be the first names up. LA had nine linebackers last September but eventually went up to 10.
Though Lewis was a third round pick in 2020 and Garrett was a seventh round choice in 2021, draft status should no longer be an issue when final cuts arrive and right now Garrett is playing well and Lewis isn’t playing at all.
The idea of stashing Lewis on an injury list sure would seem ideal, but it’s not as though the NFL makes that option easy and affordable to every team. If the Rams want to keep Garrett, it could come at the cost of Lewis or another player striving to make the final roster at another position. It seems improbable at this point that either Garrett or Lewis would slide through waivers without getting picked up by one of the teams in the league that can afford a roster spot to a developmental or oft-injured prospect.
Right now, it seems that Garrett is unquestionably in the lead after two preseason games and a training camp that has barely heard the name Terrell Lewis uttered other than to say he’s rarely played.
QB2/QB3?: John Wolford or Bryce Perkins or Devlin Hodges
Up for QB2: Wolford
Up for QB3: Perkins
I would say that Wolford has absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to LA’s backup quarterback position. Perkins played an outstanding preseason second half on Saturday night, but got away with a few throws that could have been intercepted, over-threw and under-threw his intended targets several times, missed the would-be winning fade attempt, and was facing a third-string Raiders defense.
How quickly we forget John Wolford performing even better than that against an NFL team’s starting defense in the Rams’ most important regular season game of 2020. Or that Sean McVay was reportedly ready to hand over the entire offense to Wolford over Jared Goff for the playoffs last season.
The Rams will start Matthew Stafford and they will keep Wolford as the backup. The only question is whether or not McVay feels strongly enough about Perkins to retain him as a number three quarterback and to sacrifice a place on the 53-man roster for a developmental player rather than one who could have a role on special teams. We don’t know yet if Hodges will play in the final preseason game — or if he’ll even be cut this week when LA trims the roster from 85 to 80 — but Perkins did enough in the first two preseason games to put himself clearly ahead of Hodges.
But not ahead of Wolford.
OL Depth: Tremayne Anchrum or Bobby Evans
By all known accounts, Evans has struggled throughout August and Anchrum has shown signs for optimism. Will Evans be cut just two years after being a third round pick? Well, a lot of fans were expecting Brian Allen to be released by now and instead he’s preparing to be LA’s starting center in Week 1.
I don’t know that McVay will have a change of heart on Evans so quickly after giving him an opportunity to replace Austin Corbett at right guard, but that depends on if he believes that some combination of Jordan Meredith, A.J. Jackson, Jeremiah Kolone, Coleman Shelton, or Chandler Brewer deserve more chances in the future than he does.
Anchrum seems to have solidified a spot on the roster at this point. He made it in 2020 and he’s giving fans a glimmer of optimism with the reserves for this season.
TE3: Brycen Hopkins or Kendall Blanton
Jacob Harris is going to make the 2021 LA Rams as a gunner on special teams and nothing else. I don’t consider him to be a tight end until he takes some snaps at the tight end position, so the fight to be number three behind Tyler Higbee and Johnny Mundt really comes down to Hopkins and Blanton.
While Hopkins had an offensive pass interference penalty, he did come away with two solid catches in the second half, his first notable action of the preseason. It’s the silence around Hopkins that hurts him the most, so getting involved in any way possible is a good thing for the second-year tight end.
Blanton caught a touchdown and continues to assert himself as an option, but the decision will come down to more than one play. Harris may be a choice in the red zone, but he has not been a tight end at any point in his life before.
Let’s be clear: the third tight end will play very little, barring injury. What we’ve really learned is that Mundt may have TE2 locked down and McVay needs to make a difficult decision with regards to his depth at the position, should LA need to dip into the reserves this year. Can they risk losing Hopkins when he could still develop into a blocking tight end with receiving ability?
Can they afford to lose Blanton when he may have jumped ahead of Hopkins at this point?
ILB Backup: Ernest Jones or Micah Kiser or Travin Howard or Troy Reeder
Down: Christian Rozeboom
Stable: Kiser, Howard, Reeder, Kenny Young
I wouldn’t read into too much that happens in a preseason game. I would read into the fact that Young and Reeder sitting out could solidify their positions as the starting inside linebackers for Raheem Morris in Week 1.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Rams won’t utilize their depth at linebacker since that appears to be a strength right now, rather than a weakness.
I expect Young and Reeder to start, but Kiser and Howard bring multiple years of experience as starter-ready options for the beginning of the season. They played a bit on Saturday night and the two 2018 draft picks would be surprising cuts in September if it happened to either of them.
The Rams also won’t be cutting Jones, the third round rookie who has no issues building a support group among LA fans because he’s going to be expected to have the highest upside of anyone at the position due to his draft status and preseason play. Jones has been a standout player on defense in both games but it would be mildly shocking to see McVay sit an experienced starter for a rookie day two pick. Though Jordan Fuller was a rookie starter in year one, Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott didn’t represent that type of barriers to starting that Kiser, Reeder, Howard, and Young do.
Rozeboom is so far down the depth chart that he stood little chance of doing better than practice squad, and some inconsistency on Saturday could assure that’s where he lands.
DB Depth: J.R. Reed or Donovan Olumba or Brontae Harris or Kareem Orr or Troy Warner or Paris Ford
Up: Reed, Harris, Orr
Down: Olumba, Warner, Ford
We didn’t see Dont’e Deayon on Saturday night, perhaps signaling that the veteran practice squad corner may soon become a veteran member of the 53-man roster. LA knows that Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, David Long, and Robert Rochell will likely be at corner, with Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Terrell Burgess (not on the bubble, but stock is up), and Nick Scott likely assured places at safety.
That’s eight defensive backs on a 53-man roster, and nine if Deayon finally secured his place on the roster.
While I welcome debate on those nine names, maybe Long or Rapp or Deayon could be surprising moves, there seems to be no doubt that Reed, Harris, Orr, Hughes, Warner appear to be fighting for anywhere between zero and two spots on the roster. It really could be zero, but Reed seems to be everyone’s favorite choice for the final position on the team.
Harris made an impressive interception on Saturday and has had a heavy workload in the preseason, but the undrafted free agent cornerback would have a high probability of passing waivers to the practice squad. And while it’s not that Olumba or Warner or Ford were blatantly bad, so much as the fact that none of them have especially stood out for good reasons like the other three have at times.
Oh and I’m not leaving out Juju Hughes either. He just seems to be really stuck in a bubble of his own — Hughes played 204 special teams snaps for the Rams in 2020 and he’s been a notable member of the defense in the preseason. Will Hughes be the last defensive back on the roster? Is his position in jeopardy if LA feels that a bubble player at another position can replace him on special teams coverage?