The L.A. Rams may be 3-4, but not all hope is lost. The Rams have 10 games left to turn around the season, beginning this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Looking to get back to .500, L.A. will rely not only on their stars like Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald, but also the key role players doing their part to support them.
These three players don’t get much credit, but they’ve outplayed their value miles beyond expectations.
CB Derion Kendrick
As I wrote recently, the Rams have failed to land any stars or even many starters over their last five drafts. At least, that we know of. So even the fact that Derion Kendrick is a full-time player already is a feather in the cap of the sixth round pick out of Georgia.
Playing on the greatest college defense of all-time, Kendrick may have been the victim of difficult scouting assignments. There were so many good players on Georgia’s defense, and a few elite ones, so how could you separate someone’s value from one (or four) of their teammates? Ultimately, Georgia’s defense had a pipeline of five first round picks in the 2022 draft (Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, Lewis Cine) and two third round linebackers (Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall).
Kendrick was the eight player drafted from his own defense, and one of 15 players drafted out of Georgia this year.
He could also be the early frontrunner as the best of them so far.
Rams sixth-round rookie Derion Kendrick showing off big-time range to close on this and break up the Cardinals 4th down pass. pic.twitter.com/FfAlzl5XJf— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) September 25, 2022
One thing is for certain, Kendrick is the only full-time player out of the Georgia rookie class. Since returning in Week 3, Kendrick has played in 96% of the snaps, including 100% in the last two games. He’s been targeted heavily and takes some lumps, but also holds his own.
Against the Panthers two games ago, Kendrick allowed two catches for two yards on six targets.
With an injury to Troy Hill and the offseason loss of Darious Williams, Kendrick has been a pleasant surprise as a sixth round pick who is already ready to contribute. That’s not something that the Rams could say about any of their other corners drafted in the Sean McVay era, of which there are few.
LT A.J. Jackson
Jackson has basically been the full-time starter at left tackle since a few snaps into the second game of the season. An undrafted free agent out of Iowa in 2021, finding good left tackles just isn’t supposed to be that easy.
️ Film Study ️— Lorenzo J. Reyna (@LJ_Reyna) September 26, 2022
Alaric "A.J." Jackson has taken a combined 63 pass blocking attempts since being inserted into the starting lineup in the interior OL.
No sacks. Just one pressure allowed. He's had a huge presence in a reshuffled OL unit for the @RamsNFL #RamsHouse
It’s difficult to block Nick Bosa and the 49ers, so Jackson doesn’t have a perfect record this season. But how could the entire NFL whiff this evaluation of a tackle who is seemingly outplaying the highly-paid Joe Noteboom to this point? And where would the Rams be without Alaric Jackson?
One thing is for sure: The team will have to take a good, hard look at how to proceed with Noteboom if Jackson keeps playing at this level. NFL.com’s draft profile started off by saying “Athletic left tackle with potential roster value as a swing tackle and/or zone scheme guard,” but he’s been much more than that. It seems like offensive line coach Kevin Carberry may have said the right things to Jackson.
Now how can the Rams figure out the interior of the offensive line?
K - Matt Gay
The Rams’ hopeless kicker competition in 2021 to replace Greg Zeurlein ended up with Sam Sloman winning the job over two other hopefuls. Ultimately the best thing to come out of that competition was that the door would remain open for a kicker midseason and that Matt Gay was somehow beyond reason still available.
He wasn’t even one of L.A.’s other two hopefuls. He wasn’t even the guy who the Rams initially signed to replace Sloman. That was Kai Forbath. It took a long time to land Gay, but now the Rams desperately need him to keep being near-perfect.
Gay went 14-of-16 on field goals and 16-of-16 on extra points in seven games in 2020.
Gay went 32-of-34 on field goals and 48-of-49 on extra points in 2021.
Gay is 9-of-10 on field goals and 13-of-13 on extra points this season. He’s missed once, from 51 yards.
Gay is now 55-of-60 on field goals with the Rams, 77-of-78 on extra points, and 6-of-8 from 50+ yards. That’s incredible.
The Rams should hope to do so well that they don’t even need to worry about the kicker. Since the Rams haven’t played so well, Gay’s value is even more important.