With things going so bad for the Los Angeles Rams, it is easy to start prognosticating on which position units need an overhaul for 2023. Fans can agree that the offensive line certainly needs an overhaul and it’s time for draftniks to start turning out mock conscriptions.
But yet, there is plenty of football left this season. Although watching the defending Super Bowl Champion falter so badly is tough, some things can still be gleaned from the carnage. The plethora of injuries that has gutted L.A. has created an opportunity to see younger players and backups get their chance for extended game time.
In the past, Head coach Sean McVay has brought young players along slowly, but this season he has been forced to throw them into the deep end and swim or sink. This was not some preseason game where the opposing gameplan and talent are of dubious quality. A handful of Rams youngsters got their first NFL start against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that has two trips to the Super Bowl in the last four seasons and came into the game sporting an 8-2 record.
So, how did the young guys do? Here’s a list of most of them, how many snaps they received, and a little opinion on their performance.
Running back Kyren Williams (38 offensive) (5 ST)
Williams is fun to watch as he squirts, cuts and shimmies through holes. He plays hard, blocks aggressively and can catch. That said, he still seems to be more suited to the dreaded complimentary back role. Way too many fans see that as a derogatory term, but in this day and age when versatile run/catch backs get plenty of reps along side the lead backs, they can create real team value.
Size is Williams problem, he is slippery but is not going to break many tackles and it’s cringe worthy whenever he gets twisted by a defender. I like the way he navigates through traffic better than his open field prowess, it is a small amount of examples, but his quick darting cuts in crowded areas stand out more than his wiggle in space.
There is no reason to not expect Williams to continue playing at his current level, the rest of this year and into the future. And since I wouldn’t expect a long term reconciliation between L.A. and Cam Akers, the Rams will likely be needing another running back to fill out their committee for next year.
Wide receiver Lance McCutcheon (26 offensive) (9 ST)
Quiet afternoon for the fan favorite. He didn’t record a catch on three targets, two of which hit off his hands. Tough catches, yes, but they still clanked off of him. He left the game with a shoulder injury, and hasn’t practiced this week, so it doesn’t look good for play time next Sunday.
Depending on the severity of his injury, it may put a damper on possible play time and cut into his chances to show that he can be more than WR#6. The same goes for his long term potential and whether or not he can climb up the depth chart.
Tackle A.J. Arcuri (54 offensive) (2 ST)
Tough day for Arcuri’s NFL baptism, he goes from the practice squad to protecting his quarterback’s blind side against Frank Clark, a wily veteran with both burst and power. He struggled in pass protection, but offered some potential on run blocking.
He struggled with speed both inside and around the edge, giving up numerous pressures. Against George Karlaftis, another rookie, he fared much better and overall, locked out on run blocks fairly well. I admit, I thought I would see more power in his run block game.
It was his first action and it wasn’t good, so it’s tough to try and rate his future value. He should be able to learn and build on this game. Ty Nseke is still limited, Bobby Evans is persona non grata, and Zachary Thomas is only 10 days into the system, so Arcuri could get another long look this Sunday.
Wide Receiver Tutu Atwell (28 offensive)
By far his most snaps in a game, but the gameplan didn’t suit his skillset. Even if the blueprint had included a myriad of deeper routes, the offensive line wouldn’t have provided the time to regularly take shots downfield.
He was targeted twice and caught both for 23 yards. He did not run any sweeps or work on special teams. He looked comfortable catching the ball and didn’t get much room for yards after catch. He did slip on one upfield cut, but didn’t leave many yards on the field.
His rise in play time is a good sign and hopefully it continues. It would be nice to include a deeper role in the offense. Atwell needs to touch the football, the Rams need a playmaker, and fans need to see him as more than the guy who L.A. drafted instead of Creed Humphrey.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins (54 offensive)
This is not a case for Perkins as an NFL backup quarterback, that remains to be seen. But I’m not calling for his head on a platter either. The Kansas Chiefs were a tough draw for his first NFL start and no matter who you had taking snaps, there was going to be a lot ass-whipping to be taken behind the Rams offensive line.
When given time Perkins was able to find receivers, which was not very often. Too often, rushers burst straight through the line. He did a reasonable job of managing the game and made only one really bad throw. If as many say, he cannot read the whole field, then it incumbent on the coaching staff to alter the scheme. Maybe make it a half-field read, similar to a college scheme or return the offense to a quicker horizontal plane.
If the Rams decide on John Wolford for the rest of the season, or if Matthew Stafford becomes a gunslinger with a death wish and wants back in, great. But behind this offensive line, Perkins running ability will make the difference and give the Rams best chance to steal a game or two down the stretch. He is not a savior, nor the QB of the future, just the best choice to run out the string.
Tight end Jacob Harris (0) (15 ST)
Other than the fun fake punt reception, it was an unremarkable day. The Chiefs only had one return and it was muffed. Harris continues to be an enigma, his speed makes him a potential playmaker on a team that desperately needs it, but he got zero offensive snaps.
In theory Harris plays two positions, wideout and tight end, so it would seem there would be some snaps in there somewhere. The first two tight ends, Tyler Higbee nor Brycen Hopkins were not really part of the passing offense versus the Chiefs, left in mostly for blocking and neither can claim that as a strong suit.
If Harris is to have a future in L.A., other than special teams, he needs snaps to grow. He has not scratched his potential. The current group just doesn’t any more ceiling and while Higbee is serviceable, it seems unlikely that Hopkins is going to develop to that level.
Defensive tackle Marquise Copeland (24 defensive) (7 ST)
Undrafted out of Cincinnati, Copeland was profiled as a versatile lineman who was willing to do the dirty work. At 6’ 2” and 285 lbs., he is under-sized for the interior and can be washed out in run blocking because of it, but overall, he sets a pretty good anchor uses good technique and effort.
He has logged five starts in 2022 because of injuries. Although in any other season but this strange one, Copeland’s work ethic and motor make him a good guy to keep around on the bottom of the roster. He can fill in on defense and offer some snaps on special teams.
Defensive tackle Jonah Williams (24 defensive) (8 ST)
This is the guy I thought might have the speed and athleticism to be able to get some snaps on the edge, but it was his fellow undrafted linemate that got the call. Williams rotated in on the interior, filling the hole left by the deactivation of A’Shawn Robinson. He garnered three tackles and was part of a Rams pass rush that kept Patrick Mahomes on the move.
Williams along with Marquise Copeland and Michael Hoecht form a solid backup resource to bolster the starting three. All offer rotational experience and value at a low cost.
Edge Michael Hoecht (64 defensive) (19 ST)
A two-way player like Deion Sanders? Hoecht has now added edge to his resume, along with defensive tackle, tight end and kickoff returner. He stepped in against the Chiefs and took 84% of snaps at defensive end. Sure, his pass rush repertoire is limited mostly to a bullrush and dropping into coverage was bit lumbering, but this cat is over 300 lbs.
He played like you would expect from a hot-motored, overachiever. Full effort every play, dogged pursuit of the ball, and emotional exuberance. His stats were modest, he lost a sack to a secondary penalty and totaled six tackles and one pressure. He set a good edge and only got pinned inside a couple of times.
He’s not going to make people forget about Lawrence Taylor and the edge role might be just for this season, but guys with his work ethic and versatility are invaluable to a team. He needs to be on the field now and in the future.
Edge Terrell Lewis (14 defensive)
It was Lewis’ first game in the spotlight, a huge chance to impress and lock down a future as a pro edge player. A bad back put the lights out.
After the release of Justin Hollins, the edge role opposite Leonard Floyd appeared to be his. But after a handful of plays on the first series, the Rams staff decided to hand things over to a 310 lb. undrafted rookie with less than 10 snaps at the position.
I hope this game was an outlier and he’s not become another of the walking wounded, but he hasn’t practiced this week.
Cornerback Derion Kendrick (49 defensive)
If you set aside the the poor attempt at tackling Travis Kelce on the Chiefs first touchdown, Kendrick played pretty much to form. His coverage can be sticky underneath, but when he has to turn and run with opposing receivers, he struggles. Quarterbacks have thrown for a 100.2 rating and complete 63.5 percent of passes when targeting.
His speed may limit him to a role player in future seasons and it has to be taken into account that he’s only a rookie and expectations say he should get better with experience. He isn’t an aggressive enough tackler to play safety or stand out on special teams
Roger Carter (1 offensive) (15 ST)
An uneventful first NFL game for Carter, except for a fine sideline head shot to Sean McVay. I thought the refs might flag him for targeting, but it’s always better to just let them play.
Bobby Brown (5 defensive) (9 ST)
Brown got his snaps late in the game. It says something that both Jonah Williams and Marquise Copeland, both undrafted, have passed him by. And it’s not good.
Ronnie Rivers (7) Russ Yeast (11) Quinten Lake (15) DeCobie Durant (3)
Only special teams work for these youngsters. Most likely the same going forward.
Any keepers in this bunch?
Oh yes, maybe all of them. Their play doesn’t have to be All-Pro grade, just in the serviceable to solid range. There is value in roster continuity from season to season and the Rams only need a few impactful additions to get back into contention. If the injury bug bites and gets infected again next year, it won’t really matter if L.A. gets a whole new team.
On defense, Copeland, Hoecht and Williams are all solid backups on the defensive interior. Offensively, Williams will offer regular value. Atwell and Harris flash at playing well, but need snaps to advance their learning curve. And although it’s easy to bad mouth Perkins this week, if he strings together a few starts, we’ll get a better read on what his future should be.
Are they “locks” to be retained without question? Of course not. If the Rams can upgrade, they should make the move. But a bunch of parallel moves is not a recipe for success, especially when you have developmental talent currently on contract.