When looking at the LA Rams’ roster on OurLads.com recently, the first name that popped into my eyeballs was J.J. Koski. Undrafted out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in 2020, Koski has been released at final cuts in each of the last two years but has consistently maintained an August presence as “one to watch.”
The 6’1, 25-year-old receiver has not played an offensive snap during his NFL career but Koski appeared in five games and was briefly returning kicks and punts for the Rams in 2021.
In talking about LA’s impending logjam at wide receiver, Koski’s name is never mentioned. And understandably so. Undrafted receivers—or players at any position really—who don’t see the field for the first two years of their career rarely ever then go onto see the field. While Koski was impressive in training camp and his first preseason action in 2021, Sean McVay still didn’t open the door for him to take a snap in the regular season despite enough injuries piling up to see Ben Skowronek get 178 snaps and even Brandon Powell quietly finding three of his own.
(Stump your friends trivia question answer: Landen Akers took one offensive snap for the Rams in 2021.)
I was fond of imagining Koski as a sleeper breakout hit but there don’t seem to be avenues opening up this year for Koski or Akers or even Powell and Skowronek, at least not on the Rams. Perhaps if Koski finds his way onto the waiver wire, he could land in a better situation for an undrafted receiver like with a former coach in Kevin O’Connell with the Vikings, or a former front office exec like Brad Holmes and the Detroit Lions.
But that doesn’t mean that nobody currently buried on the roster can make themselves known to fans and NFL teams at large with a breakout season in 2022.
Last year, we saw Brian Allen blow people’s minds just by proving to be an adequate center to feed the ball to Matthew Stafford; Coleman Shelton decently fill-in for over 200 snaps; Kendall Blanton become a postseason savior; while Greg Gaines and Nick Scott became more than just replacement players when they replaced players midseason.
Which Rams are looking for more action in 2022 and who will have likely have those opportunities regardless of how they’ve done so far based on which players could potentially be unaffordable and on the way out?
TE Kendall Blanton, TE Brycen Hopkins
Kendall Blanton, you had my curiosity. Now you have my attention.
WHAT A TIME for Kendall Blanton's first career touchdown!— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 23, 2022
@SNFonNBC | @TheKspecial_ pic.twitter.com/1AVleuXGZn
The 26-year-old first appeared in 2019, then didn’t reappear again until Week 7 against the Lions. He made his first catch in Week 10 against the 49ers, then played a full game and had 29 yards in that key Week 15 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Blanton had five catches for 57 yards in the NFC Championship win against San Francisco.
It would be pretty shocking if Tyler Higbee doesn’t return so McVay will probably look to these two names to be options B and C next season. Hopkins had made just about as many appearances in the last two years as Koski until blowing our minds with four catches for 47 yards in the Super Bowl.
There really wasn’t much of a “future” at the position going into the season unless you had completely blind faith in Hopkins and Jacob Harris, a fourth round pick who has never once played tight end in a football game before. Now there seem to be many reasons for optimism.
OT A.J. Jackson
There are a few OL names to throw around here. Everyone’s personal favorite should be International Pathway Program player Max Pircher but who knows when and if he’ll ever form into an NFL player. Bobby Evans enters year four in about the same place as how Brian Allen entered year four.
But Jackson was a favorite of many on the undrafted free agent market in 2021 and now he’s got a little bit of regular season experience under his belt. With Andrew Whitworth’s future uncertain, Joseph Noteboom a free agent, Jackson may turn into a starter in short order.
WR Tutu Atwell
I completely understand why fans take it so personally when a player is the team’s first pick in a draft, but let’s not forget one very important thing: Tutu Atwell has done nothing wrong.
Tutu Atwell is a super bowl champion pic.twitter.com/dYUg5EKd2c— SB LVI CHAMPS (@RamsSBChamp) February 18, 2022
I can’t say that they don’t exist, but I can say that I haven’t heard from many fans who say that they loved the pick—or even that they know why Les Snead selected a relatively-small-sized wide receiver when the team is already so backed up at the position. (Then picked Harris, then picked Skowronek, had also signed DeSean Jackson, then later signed Odell Beckham, Jr..) But I feel like I do know why Snead picked Atwell...
He thinks he’s gonna be a great football player. It’s that simple.
If you don’t think that Atwell is going to be a great football player then that is well within your rights, even though I’ve been lobbying congress for years to change the Declaration of Independence or the Ten Commandments or whatever documents I have to in order for me to be in charge of your football opinions. Until that time though, believe what you want to believe about the future of Tutu Atwell. However, I think we can all agree on one thing:
If a 5’9, 165 lb speedy wide receiver named “Tutu” does breakout for the Rams—even a little bit—and starts going “highlight mode” on Twitter, the hype train for fans and greater media will be unstoppable. Atwell is EXACTLY the type of player who fans of all teams will love if he does become a great one.
#Rams WR Tutu Atwell isn't just fast-fast (he is tho) – he's got some serious receiving chops & is as elusive as they come pic.twitter.com/bm72ePdzbh— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) May 17, 2021
The reason I hold no judgment for Atwell at this time is because a) I do that for almost all rookies and b) he didn’t even start really playing wide receiver until three years ago and he wasn’t even a punt or kick returner at Louisville.
DL Michael Hoecht, DT Bobby Brown III
I couldn’t choose just one defensive lineman, so I went with two of a fairly similar size (6’4 and between 310-320 lbs).
Hoecht, undrafted in 2020, is three years older than Brown and that could be some of the reason why he saw action in all 17 games. Though most of that was on special teams. Hoecht was a surprise on the final 53-man roster but part of that is that he was among those subject to a 2020 without preseason and limited practices due to the pandemic.
We’ve seen a lot of defensive linemen emerge from ether on the Rams because of Aaron Donald and the coaching staff. Recently that could include Morgan Fox, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Gaines. Now it might be Hoecht’s turn, unless the 21-year-old Brown III steps up first.
Bobby Brown is one of the youngest players in the league, getting drafted when he was only 20, and he played in 22 defensive snaps as a rookie. Like it was for Gaines, it could be two to three years before Brown really steps up for a full-time role, but he’s his own person and we can’t say for sure what his actual timeline could be. Joseph-Day is a free agent and it may be unlikely that he’s re-signed, so the opportunity should present itself.
OLB Chris Garrett
It won’t necessitate Von Miller leaving for the 2021 seventh round pick to get a shot, because Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is also a free agent this year. Garrett was a dominant small school player who has an intriguing physical skillset so for those of us who’ve had patience with him and understand it could take a while for him to get his feet under him in the NFL, the 6’4, 245 lb second-year linebacker may yet emerge to become a legit pass rushing threat.
CB Robert Rochell
Another FCS player, Rochell was drafted in the fourth round out of Central Arkansas and eventually injuries pushed the rookie to make five starts at cornerback for the Rams last season.
With 32.5” arms, a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 43” vertical, 11’1” broad, and 1.51 in the 10-yard split, Rochell is a unique prospect in terms of combine attributes. Will that translate to him being the next Darious Williams, who is also a free agent?
College Football returns tonight as Central Arkansas faces Austin Peay (9 pm ET, ESPN).— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) August 29, 2020
Meet UCA CB Robert Rochell. A profile of his journey and why scouts have him labeled as “the most interesting” prospect playing this weekend.
: https://t.co/ejHwrCX0Bw pic.twitter.com/HSG3Idewqy
S Terrell Burgess
This is certainly not a “now or never” season for Burgess, but like Hopkins it’s a little disconcerting that his first two years have been so quiet given that “raw” wasn’t in the draft profile for either player. Despite so many injuries at safety last season, including to Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp, Burgess saw just 90 regular season snaps and then he lost all his playoffs playing time to Eric Weddle and Nick Scott.
Snead has drafted players like John Johnson III, Rapp, and Fuller and seen them all perform right out of the gate. Burgess has not been blocked at any position—maybe the issue has been that his versatility hasn’t stuck him in one spot and simply learned that one thing. Who knows?
Weddle is retired again, but Fuller, Scott, and Rapp should all return. The Rams also have Jake Gervase, Kareem Orr, Antoine Brooks, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Snead draft another safety or two. If cornerback is Burgess’s position, then Donte Deayon and Williams are free agents and certainly LA could use more reinforcements there.
It’s not “now or never” but it is probably “if not now, when?”
Who do you see as the Rams’ most likely breakout player in 2022 among these names? Not among these names?