“Tempering expectations” is a fair request during preseason. These exhibition contests carry so many variables that differ from the regular season games that matter — from coaches dramatically altering their gameplans for various reasons to the most obvious fact of all, the lack of playing time for regular season starters — so much like watching a magician, part of the trick is attempting to see if you can figure out what’s being hidden behind the curtain.
Is a pass rushing move that works against a third-string tackle going to work in Week 6?
Is having a perfect August night at left guard going to translate to having good games in September and December?
Did the running back “struggle” or was the running back put into an impossible situation? Were they handed a Rubik’s cube that came glued together?
If you go back to the LA Rams’ preseason finale of 2019, here is what you will find:
- Brandon Allen and John Wolford split reps, with Allen completing more passes for more yards but throwing two interceptions, while Wolford had two touchdowns.
- Justin Davis led LA with 16 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown; he was followed by Matt Colburn, who had nine carries, and John Kelly, who had four.
- KhaDarel Hodge had five catches for 76 yards; the only players who had a catch that night who are still on the Rams are Johnny Mundt (two catches, 11 yards) and Kendall Blanton (two for 22 and a touchdown)
- Jake Gervase and Ramon Richards had interceptions; Ogbonnia Okoronkwo had two sacks, while Owen Roberts had one; Darious Williams had one tackle, as did Nick Scott; Marquise Copeland, Greg Gaines, David Long are the other defensive players who played that night who remain with the team; Brock Miller had five punts for 229 yards.
I don’t know if that gets the point across or not, but players you watch in the preseason are often not long for the team. That’s just a fact and it’s one that could lead to the NFL shortening the preseason to two games soon, which will also allow the league to increase the regular season to 18.
And that’ll be one less game for the Brandon Allens of the world, but one more for Matthew Stafford.
But the preseason remains for now and on Saturday, the LA Rams take on the Broncos in Denver at 6 PM PT. If you’re scouring the field during the game, looking for names you need to be aware of for the upcoming season, you may be left searching for all four quarters. Sean McVay has already lost Cam Akers and Raymond Calais for the year and he’s not going to allow that to happen to any of his starters or important reserves against the Broncos on Saturday.
So when scouring, look to the sidelines.
However, the following names couldn’t just potentially earn your trust with a show out performance on Saturday night, they might also catch the attention of another team; Brandon Allen is currently slated to be Joe Burrow’s backup with the Cincinnati Bengals and KhaDarel Hodge had 180 yards with the Browns last season and is looking to land the final receiver slot for Cleveland.
These are 10 players who are looking to show out in Denver:
QB Bryce Perkins
Barring another full-game performance by Raiders quarterback Nathan Peterman, Perkins could end up as the QB who got the most work in the NFL preseason. Perkins played half of the first game and all of the second game and after releasing Devlin Hodges last week, he’s the only quarterback left who McVay is willing to risk in the preseason.
Perkins has had 49 passing attempts in 2021 so far, but he’s also had 13 rushing attempts, many of which were successful. (I’m not going to waste anyone’s time with the statistics that came out of those plays — the key here is that he’s putting something on film.)
Were he playing with LA’s full complement of experienced stars tonight, Perkins would likely play way better. But were that offense facing the Broncos’ starting defense, he would likely play much worse. That’s the delicate balance of “figuring out” what happens in the preseason and while I don’t believe there’s anything that Perkins can do to change Wolford’s status as the backup, he could potentially force McVay to make a decision about QB3.
Hope Bryce Perkins didn't play himself out of Los Angeles (in a good way) over the past 8 days. That was a blast, and the 24yo showed a lot of moxie. Would love to see him stay in the organization. pic.twitter.com/Y2I2FptILG— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) August 22, 2021
On Saturday morning, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded quarterback Gardner Minshew to the Philadelphia Eagles for a sixth round pick, which will become a fifth round pick if Minshew appears in three or more games.
Could the Rams find a trade partner to acquire Perkins and maybe recoup a fraction of what they lost in dealing for Sony Michel this week?
Xavier Jones, RB
Jake Funk, RB
Jones and Funk are each in an unusual situation because while both need more reps, McVay also can’t spend too long risking their health. And yet, we shouldn’t necessarily feel that either have been guaranteed a spot on the roster — as odd as that sounds after weeks of speculating that the Akers and Calais injuries made it all but a sure thing.
The trade for Michel doesn’t spell doom for either but it does spell “U-N-E-A-S-Y” in regards to how McVay felt about the RB room after getting 14 carries for Jones and 13 carries for Funk through two preseason games. Michel immediately puts Jones and Funk back into the depth chart positions that they held prior to Akers’ injury and that means we must again ask, “Will the 2020 undrafted free agent and the 2021 seventh round pick both make the team?”
It was only two years ago that McVay kept the running backs room thin at three players. A heavy workload for either Jones or Funk could signal that the player who sees the field less will actually be the one who has a leg up on the competition.
But either Jones or Funk could have a difficult time clearing waivers if released, as a number of teams are already dealing with injuries at the position, as expected. Saturday night might be the first chance for undrafted rookie Otis Anderson to make his case to the league that he’s at least a practice squad player.
Landon Akers, WR
J.J. Koski, WR
Both players have been able to add some solid tape to their resume this preseason, even if these games don’t result in a spot on LA’s final 53. If Trishton Jackson was able to secure the number six receiver role — should that role even exist on McVay’s 2021 roster — it seems hard to imagine how Koski would survive final cuts.
But I find myself especially intrigued by Koski’s college resume and McVay’s clear favoritism for what Koski’s brought to training camp in each of the last two years. That was obvious in last weekend’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in which Perkins regularly favored Koski and he’s been one of the most heavily-targeted NFL players during exhibition season. I also thought that Akers made a few plays that not everybody makes.
However, the key for these players remains: special teams. McVay has Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, and Tutu Atwell at receiver already, if not also Jacob Harris. The Rams aim to win the Super Bowl and they must put together a Super Bowl roster, which entails focusing on the now and not necessarily on the future.
Can Akers or Koski help the Rams right now?
Both seem likely to pass through waivers, though the Detroit Lions could be a threat to pick up anybody who gets cut from LA; general manager Brad Holmes obviously has favoritism towards the players he helped draft and sign, and though that will not include Akers, it could mean that he’s got all the intel he needs on Koski and the Lions are not strong at the receiver position.
Coleman Shelton, OL
Chandler Brewer, OL
More than anything, I keep confusing these two offensive linemen with last names for first names with one another, so I hope this situation gets sorted soon.
Terrell Lewis, OLB
Please just play. We want to see you play. McVay has “cause for concern” with regards to a shoulder stinger for Okoronkwo, so that could indicate greater odds for Lewis to make the final 53-man roster.
OLB Obo Okoronkwo is still experiencing some issues McVay says are related to his shoulder stinger. Unlike yesterday, McVay indicated there could be some cause for concern but said he isn’t ready to escalate his diagnosis of the situation yet.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 26, 2021
At this point, I don’t even see the point of “protecting” Lewis against a potential injury in the preseason. If anything, the team needs to put him at risk so they can move past some of these constant worries they have with his knee and to give him the reps that he’s barely had at the college and NFL levels so far.
For Lewis, “showing out” simply means “showing up.”
Brycen Hopkins, TE
If there’s any chance that Hopkins is in danger of getting cut, this is one more opportunity to correct any of the mistakes that McVay clearly feels he’s been making that have held Hopkins back from moving up the depth chart. Consider that Van Jefferson has seemingly secured himself a spot in the room of “protected players” during the preseason, but Hopkins is still out there in the fourth quarter of these games to try and do something on the field.
Hopkins certainly looks the part of a tight end — he’s got a good 30 lb advantage over Harris — but where is he at in his development?
Maybe McVay is less concerned about that than we all think but Hopkins playing late in preseason games isn’t necessarily a good sign unless he’s doing really good things. Will that happen on Saturday night?
Chris Garrett, OLB
In the first preseason game, Justin Lawler wow’d Rams fans with a strong night and what seemed to be a few series in a row where he was the clear star on the field for either side. Then Garrett became that player for a time in the second preseason game against the Raiders. But those plays were not necessarily coming against first round tackle Alex Leatherwood and surely we won’t see Denver’s first string offensive line on Saturday.
But if he stars again, the seventh round pick out of Concordia-St. Paul will be difficult to risk on waivers.
I do have to stress some reality here, however. There were 251 players drafted ahead of Garrett in May and teams have to make their own difficult cuts next week, let alone considering that they’d have to release yet another player if they want to add Garrett or anybody else from a different team. Unless they’re willing to sacrifice one of their own, Garrett will clear waivers and end up on LA’s practice squad, which could lead to an in-season activation very quickly.
A strong preseason performance tends to build excitement around that player, but those feelings tend to be much more local than global. Most of the 32 fanbases all have their own “Chris Garrett” and it is likely that you haven’t even heard of that player yet. Around the Rams, it might be Chris Garrett, but can you imagine LA making all of their cuts and then also turning around and cutting Garrett or Funk or J.R. Reed because they needed a space for James Wiggins? Or Mark Webb? Or Michal Menet?
Because that’s essentially the same as a team cutting one of their own and making room for Garrett. People in that town will be saying, “Who?” and “Why?” and that’s the nature of these preseason games.
Opportunities to show who you are and why you belong.
Saturday night will be another one of those chances and there are a lot more names than only these 10 who are wondering why they didn’t make this list. Better yet, will they make the next one?