In order for the Los Angeles Rams to make good on their hopes of returning to the Super Bowl this season, unheralded names will need to step up.
LA lost a number of key contributors that helped them earn the title of world champions in 2022: Andrew Whitworth retired, Von Miller and Darious Williams signed elsewhere in free agency, and Robert Woods was traded to the Tennessee Titans.
While big name additions like Allen Robinson, Bobby Wagner, and Troy Hill will make impacts in their own way, there will need to be just as many smaller names fill in like mortar between bricks.
Are there any positions on the Los Angeles roster that severely lack depth, which could possibly prevent the Rams from returning to the Super Bowl? There are three areas of the roster that could become problematic for LA:
If the Rams are able to re-sign star wideout Odell Beckham, Jr., then it’s hard to argue that Los Angeles has a lack of depth at receiver. However, as the roster currently stands, there are valid concerns at receiver.
First - Cooper Kupp was spectacular in 2021, but one of the biggest reasons why he was able to accumulate such eye popping numbers is that he was healthy for a full season for only the second time in his NFL career.
This brings us to the somewhat enigmatic Van Jefferson - who is extremely well-rounded but maybe lacks the pedigree to be a full-time starter. Would Jefferson be able to adequately fill in if either Kupp or Allen Robinson miss much time?
Fortunately for LA, they acquired a number of young receivers last offseason - and it’s time for this investment to start paying dividends.
Tutu Atwell, Jacob Harris, and Ben Skowronek are like three flavors of very different kinds of ice cream. Atwell is a severely undersized deep threat that could also prove useful as a gadget player. After being selected in the second round, the speedster needs to make strides in year 2. Harris is extremely athletic and is a massive receiving target at 6-5, 211 lbs. Skowronek offers versatility as a blocker and can be used in a hybrid, H-back type of role.
In Jacob Harris we TRUZZ.pic.twitter.com/TWPud9ZPRy— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) June 2, 2021
There isn’t room on the depth chart for all three of the younger receivers to play regularly, but their unique skillsets could allow them to carve out niche roles or step in if a starter is missing in the short term.
The Rams probably don’t win the Super Bowl last season without the timely performance of their young tight ends Kendall Blanton and Brycen Hopkins in the absence of veteran Tyler Higbee.
Based on how the duo filled in during the team’s playoff run, it’s easy to be optimistic about what Blanton and Hopkins could offer in 2022; however, it’s important to remember that we are looking at an incredibly small sample size of 2-3 games.
Higbee is an important piece of the Rams offense - and his blocking skills are just as important as his pass catching ability. LA had difficulty running the ball starting in the divisional round through the Super Bowl, which just happened to coincide with the timing of Higbee’s injury.
Maybe one of Blanton or Hopkins could develop into the Rams’ long-term answer at the tight end position. Perhaps Higbee plays all season and we never hear either of their names called often.
Of all the drops yesterday, can't stop thinking about this one. Blanton should absolutely come down with this. It's hard not to think that this would be Jacob Harris if he were healthy and I'd bet on him coming down with that. pic.twitter.com/sQsxzicQVJ— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakDTR) December 6, 2021
As of now, there’s no telling what LA will get from the young tight end duo - and that could be a significant concern over the course of the season.
The Rams’ cornerback room is in a much better position after the draft. LA traded for veteran Troy Hill during the fourth round and selected Decobie Durant shortly after. The Rams also picked Derion Kendrick during the sixth round.
With Hill and Jalen Ramsey locked in as full-time starters, the team will be expecting fourth-year defensive back David Long, Jr. to take a step forward. Long had a rough start to the 2021 regular season - getting benched after giving up a long touchdown to AJ Green in the first matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Rams first pick is in the 3rd round of this years draft. The team has drafted some key starters and contributors from the 3rd round.— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) April 20, 2022
David Long Jr was a 3rd round pick in the 2019 draft. Long finished last season/post season very strong.
1 on 1 vs DeAndre Hopkins, week 14 pic.twitter.com/Bvob5UBItp
But Long bounced back in a big way, and he had a relatively quiet post-season despite being a regular in the defensive backfield. This is typically a good sign for a corner, as if you are noticing them often they likely aren’t playing well.
Should Long falter in 2022, the team would first turn to second-year corner Robert Rochell. Rochell suffered multiple injuries last season, and head coach Sean McVay still thinks of him as a rookie. While the young corner has an ideal build and athletic profile, he comes from a small football program and is considered a relatively raw prospect.
It’s unlikely that Durant or Kendrick see the field often if things work out as the Rams intend - rookie corners have not received much playing time under McVay. If their number is called, Durant was a highly productive defender in college and Kendrick was a starter on a historic Georgia defense. If LA needs reinforcements at corner, it’s at least possible that either Durant or Kendrick could adequately fill in for a limited time.