In recent offseasons the Los Angeles Rams have traded premium draft capital for proven veterans - and it’s been a successful strategy and a big reason why they were able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions.
But the star-studded LA roster is sewn together with players that were acquired for much less, and Sean McVay’s coaching staff has done an exemplary job grooming replacements before their services are typically required.
The last few offseasons are littered with examples:
The dynamic cornerback duo of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib was a key reason why the Rams earned a trip to the Super Bowl in the 2018 season. Los Angeles replaced both a year later, acquiring shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey. Troy Hill stepped up in the short-term to fill the corner spot opposite Ramsey, and then the following season Hill shifted inside to make room for Darious Williams on the boundary. Williams had been waiting in the wings on the practice squad and back-end of the 53-man roster, but he was ready when his number was called.
The Rams also spent lower round draft selections on Sebastian Joseph-Day (6th) and Greg Gaines (4th). When veteran Michael Brockers became too expensive, LA traded him to the Detroit Lions - already having Joseph-Day and Gaines on the roster likely made this decision more palatable. Along with A’Shawn Robinson, who was a value free agent signing in 2020, the Rams’ defensive line was as formidable as ever.
Now in 2021 Williams and Joseph-Day each took their turn on the open market - and they signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Las Angeles Charges, respectively. Knowing general manager Les Snead’s historical approach to roster building, the Rams likely have internal replacements for these losses lined up.
Which redshirt rookies are in line for bigger roles in 2022?
Bobby Brown, DT (2021 4th rounder)
Brown is as athletic as nose tackles come, and while this position is usually dedicated to stopping the run, the second-year defender has upside as a pass rusher. Joseph-Day offered similar upside in this regard and the Rams were able to bring some of this to the surface - though Brown is more of a twitchier athlete.
There might not be a ton of snaps available on the defensive line with Gaines and Robinson penciled in as the starters with Aaron Donald, but Brown could earn a share of the rotation and make an impact from there.
Robert Rochell, CB (2021 4th rounder)
Due to injuries in the second mid-season in 2021, Rochell was forced onto the field before he was truly ready. He made his first start as a rookie in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks and Rochell went aerial in order to swat away a potential touchdown to Tyler Lockett.
It’s worth noting that Rochell is an elite athlete with tremendous upside, but he’s a raw corner and played college football against lesser talent at Central Arkansas.
If the Rams do not acquire a veteran corner ahead of the season, Rochell will be in line for a starting role in 2022,
Robert Rochell is Darnell Mooney’s father pic.twitter.com/zkftlUtVxa— αηтнσηу (@Veins_On_Ice) September 13, 2021
Tutu Atwell, WR (2021 2nd Rounder)
Yes, Atwell’s rookie season was largely a disappointment. But NFL teams, especially the Rams, do not draft solely for first-year production. Atwell is under contract with Los Angeles for three more seasons, and if they thought he could be a good football player for them a year ago they likely still feel that way now.
While severely undersized by NFL standards, Atwell is a unique brand of athlete with the speed and quickness to be used in a variety of ways. McVay clearly feels a player of Atwell’s mold is important to his offense, as the team acquired both he and DeSean Jackson (very similar size and traits) a season ago.
It’s too early to determine how Atwell’s career will unfold, but he should have a much better opportunity to get on the field in his second season than he did as a rookie.
In three preseason games last season, Atwell was heavily targeted (29 times) by Bryce Perkins - and this could prove that there’s more to the young receiver’s game than schemed gadgetry and deep shots.
Jacob Harris, WR (2021 4th Rounder)
Entering the 2020 season, the team had Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Van Jefferson as the trio atop the depth chart - all solid possession-type receivers that rely on route running for separation. The Rams had just traded away Brandin Cooks, the designated deep threat, and the receiving corps lacked variety.
So ahead of the 2021 season the team signed Jackson as a free agent, and then drafted Atwell, Harris, and Ben Skowronek. Harris and Skowronek are large bodied receivers that offer a different flare than previous prototype for LA.
Now in 2022, by exchanging Robert Woods for Allen Robinson, the team continues to diversify the strengths of the receiving corps - further leaving behind the possession-type receiver in favor of a physical, contested-catch guy.
The Rams are ready to counter-punch whatever defenses throw at them, and Harris could prove complementary to Robinson’s skillset if teams try to play physical man coverage. The second-year receiver could also carve out an important role as a red zone threat.