Will the injury bug bite again? Is running back Cam Akers (and the whole unit) all the way back from injuries? Which young players are ready push out veterans?
In a little over two weeks, all the possible answers to the many questions will begin to come into view with 11 team practices and three preseason games against the Los Angeles Chargers, Houston Texans, and Cincinnati Bengals, then three cut down dates (August 16, 23, and 30) will bring the final roster into focus.
In theory, all the t’s will be crossed and the i’s dotted when the Rams open the season on Thursday, September 8 versus the Buffalo Bills.
But while fans wait for the questions to be answered, there is no reason not to speculate, pontificate, and prognosticate about who will LA’s next star, or bust, or somewhere in between. Here’s the opening salvo on who should and shouldn’t make the LA Rams opening roster.
The final 53 is in bold and italics.
In: Matthew Stafford
Bubble: John Wolford and Bryce Perkins
Is Perkins at QB3, a luxury the Rams can afford to keep? Wolford is the prototypical back up, a guy who will manage the game and can do a lot things fairly well. Fans got to see a lot of Perkins in preseason last year, he showed that he could be a dynamic playmaker against lesser competition, make pro reads and run the offense (albeit a vanilla scheme).
If Stafford would happen to go down for any length of time, either option leaves big questions. My own personal preferences lean to Perkins. He was the “the guy” in college and I like that skillset in a quarterback. The player who can pack the team on his back and figure out a way to pull off a win. Wolford fans can counter with his performance leading the team in the big 2020 win over the Arizona Cardinals. To them, I say, “Re-watch the game, it was not a thing of beauty”.
In from the bubble: John Wolford.
I think the Rams go the opposite way of my thinking. Probably because he has actual regular season experience. So, back to my original question, will the Rams keep three quarterbacks again or risk losing Perkins (or Wolford) on final cuts.
Running back (4)
In: Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, and Jake Funk
Bubble: Kyren Williams and Raymond Calais
Funk gets in on his ability to play special teams (ST) as well as tote the rock. This positional unit could come down the last man standing. Williams has already missed time with a broken foot. Calais spent most of 2021 on the Injured Reserve List (IR) with foot problems. Both Williams and Calais are small, compact runners.
Williams might be the most interesting/polarizing of all the Rams 2022 draft picks. His team-first, win-at-all-costs attitude is a perfect fit into how the L.A. Rams roster build. He could turn out to be a real value, a fifth round pick that could easily get 150 touches as a rookie. He is a willing blocker, a good receiver from the backfield or outside, follows his blockers and cuts on a dime.
Calais is true speed back who had a couple of nice kick off returns before breaking his foot and going on IR. There’s a lot college highlight film of him just running away from opponents, but if you dig deeper, you will find a runner who is patient, runs with vision and has burst to go with long speed. Not many college receptions, but there is a workout tape of him running crisp routes, tracking the ball, and catching with his hands away from his body.
In from the bubble: Kyren Williams.
The Rams seem to love him, he’s the poster model for “WE, NOT ME” and offers the possibility of real value. I’ll put in this caveat, I can see the possibility of Calais making the team as well. IF the Rams go with two QBs and IF wide receivers Tutu Atwell and Brandon Powell slip, Calais’ return ability can get him in (he also saw time as a gunner in kick coverage). Big if’s, but very possible.
Out: Xavier Jones and Asim Rose
Jones is a natural outside zone runner who had big production in college both running and receiving. He broke his ankle and hurt his Achilles tendon last season. Rose is a bigger guy with zone experience and had a good 2021 preseason with the Minnesota Vikings. Injuries could make a difference, but their destinies seem to be on the practice squad.
Wide receiver (5)
In: Cooper Kupp. Allen Robinson, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell and Bennett Skowronek
Bubble: Brandon Powell
Out from the bubble: Powell really sparked the Rams return game last season when signed in November. The big question is whether his value as a return man is enough to warrant a roster spot. He won’t get many reps behind L.A.’s first five wideouts and if Jacob Harris does double duty as a WR/TE hybrid, there just won’t be enough snaps to go around. Last season tells us that McVay wants Atwell to return kicks as he develops.
I don’t think Powell is in a roster battle versus any of the other receivers, I think he is battling RB Raymond Calais. Calais looked solid as a kickoff returner and logged snaps as a gunner. If Powell cannot get on the field on units other than punt returns, why not save a couple hundred grand and keep one of the young players who offers more versatility.
Out: JJ Koski, Warren Jackson, Landen Akers, and Lance McCutcheon
Koski probably had his one big break last season and didn’t capitalize on it, Jackson’s best attributes could fit into the Rams latest craze of grabbing contested catch guys. Akers has got speed, but I cannot make a case for keeping him. McCutcheon has some sweet athleticism and good contested catch ability, but almost all the players ahead of him do as well.
Tight end (4)
In: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Kendall Blanton, and Jacob Harris
This unit would seem to be cut-and-dry. Higbee has been a solid pro, Blanton and Hopkins both got important snaps last season and the bright lights of the NFL stage didn’t seem to scare them, and Harris has WR/TE versatility and enough draft pedigree/athleticism for another long look.
Out: Kyle Markway, Jamal Pettigrew, Roger Carter, and Jared Pinkney
Markway was primarily a blocker in college, he was injured a lot and has experience on ST. He was a five year member of the honor roll and is more of a physical presence than the other tight ends. Pettigrew was originally an LSU recruit who transferred to a smaller school, he has exceptional length, good hands, and experience blocking in a zone scheme. Carter is another small-school candidate who was an academic standout. He handles all facets the TE responsibilities fairly well. Pinkney had a rough college senior season and NFL Combine showing, but has some good film showing soft hands, ball skills and adequate athleticism.
Tyler Higbee was 6th in TE routes run last year.— Sal Vetri (@SalVetriDFS) July 6, 2022
He earned a better target rate than Dawson Knox who goes 63 picks before him in drafts…
And Higbee has no competition:
The 3 TEs behind him have a combined 5 NFL catches.
Offensive line (9)
In: Joseph Noteboom, David Edwards, Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton, Rob Havenstein, and Logan Bruss
Not much news here, five are holdovers from last season and Bruss, unless he’s injured, will get a long look on draft position alone. Fans would really love to see Bruss step in and team with Havenstein to form a “go-to side” of the line in short yardage situations.
Bubble: Alaric Jackson, Bobby Evans, Tremayne Anchrum, and Jack Snyder
Hard to decide if Jackson’s future is at guard or tackle. As an undrafted free agent, he earned 61 offensive snaps. Evans has been around since 2019 and has eight starts and 564 offensive snaps in his three years. Anchrum is a versatile player with decent movement skills, but hasn’t been able to crack into the lineup on offense or special teams. Snyder is a UDFA who has good size and plays with good technique.
In from the bubble: Alaric Jackson, Bobby Evans, and Jack Snyder
In time, Jackson could carve out a nice role as a backup guard/tackle and prove to be a real value. He is still in the process of rebuilding/reshaping his body with good weight. Plenty of zone experience from college with good get-off and nice length.
As for Evans, even the fact the Rams drafted him is a bit of a head scratcher. Coming out, he was considered a power player with heavy feet and questionable athleticism. My take is that Evans is not a bad lineman, just miscast in the wrong scheme. It’s the last year of his rookie contract and I would not expect him back in 2023. If the Rams would decide to release him after June 1, they could save $965,000 and incur $206,000 in dead money.
Snyder is the most polished of the remaining linemen. He offers the versatility that LA covets, has light feet, good get-off, and can play up and down the line. He plays with good leverage and technique for a young player. He does have pretty short arms and doesn’t have a lot of power to his game, but should fit comfortably into the zone blocking scheme.
Out: Chandler Brewer, AJ Arcuri, Max Pircher, Jeremiah Kolone, and Adrian Ealy
Brewer has been around since 2019, his comeback from a battle with cancer and sitting out 2020 due to COVID19 has been an inspirational story, but can he really be expected to suddenly show the Rams he deserves some snaps?
Arcuri has some skills that can be developed, He’s got great length with big strong hands and when he clamps on, he’s got you. Not a lot power to his game, he is pretty lean and could probably put on 10-15 pounds of good weight.
Kolone is in the same boat as Brewer, been with the Rams awhile and has not been able to gain a foothold. Pircher had good size, but being from Italy and being part of the NFL”s International Program, he’s a long shot. Ealy is a mauler who needs technique work. Not swift afoot, he also plays with his pads too high. He is a pretty good at both pass and run blocking in tight spaces. Not so much in space.
Special teams (3)
In: Matt Gay and Matt Orzech
Bubble: Riley Dixon and Cameron Dicker
Dicker is a rare three position prospect (punting, kicking, and PAT’s), but Gay has been solid in his year and a half as the Rams place kicker and there should be no serious thought about replacing him.
Turf Show Times kicked around the punting roster battle. three weeks ago. At punter, I think it boils down experience. Dicker had only 55 punts in four college seasons and did not hold on PAT’s. While he had good punting statistics and has fans in Lance Zierlein at NFL.com and The Pro Football Network, his lack of holding experience should hold him back.
Dixon on the other hand, has six years of NFL experience both as a punter and holder. Over his years with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants, their respective place kickers had solid kick conversion percentages, leading one to believe he was an adequate, if not good, holder. Known as a “hang time” punter, he has averaged 45.3 yards per punt over his career. Dixon’s biggest advantage may be that Rams special teams coordinator had the same role with Denver back when Dixon was drafted in 2016.
In from the bubble: Riley Dixon
With more development and seasoning, Dicker could force some interesting decisions, but for now the Rams should try and stash him on the practice squad.
Defensive line (6)
In: Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, A’Shawn Robinson, Michael Hoecht, Bobby Brown
Obviously the Rams starting three compares to any in the NFL. Hoecht spent 2020 on the PS and last year played in all 21 games, logging 110 defensive snaps and 298 on ST. He is a nice package of size, athleticism, and first step burst. He deserves a shot to be the first guy off the bench.
Brown now has year of learning the pro game. It will be interesting to see if his footwork and technique have improved enough for him to get into the rotation. He is still relatively young (turns 22 this August), so it’s too early to pass judgement on his future.
Bubble: Jonah Williams, Marquise Copeland, and Earnest Brown
Although Williams made the final 53 last season, he was released without much reportage in early November. He was snatched up by the Minnesota Vikings, but could not pass the Vikes physical and was re-signed by LA a week later.
Copeland is starting his fourth year with the Rams and has been released in final cuts the three previous seasons. He saw action last season in 108 defensive snaps and another 51 on ST. He is on the short stocky side but has good short area athleticism, gets a strong push, and can play up and down the line.
E. Brown was drafted by the Rams at #174 of the fifth round last year, was released in final cuts and spent the season on the PS. Brown is built more like an edge or 4-3 end at 6’ 5” 270 lbs., he’s got good length and adequate athleticism. It will be interesting to see what a year of strength/conditioning has done to Brown. Have they bulked him up to be a down lineman or leaned him out to be an edge?
In from the the bubble: Jonah Williams
Williams was able to make last year’s 53 against the same competition. He enters his third year in LA and can play both standing up and with a hand on the ground. An older prospect, (turns 26 in August) he is starting his third year with the organization. His college Pro Day results were stellar. He measured in at 6’5” 281 lbs. with a 4.67 forty, 6.71 3cone and 4.14 shuttle. He pushed 30 reps on the bench, a 35” vertical and 9’ 7” broad. He logged 96 defensive snaps in the first seven weeks of 2021, but was not active after being released.
Out: Elijah Garcia and Keir Thomas
With the departure of S. Joseph Day, I suspect we will see a rotational camp battle within the DLine between 2nd year players Bobby Brown III (4th round pick), Michael Hoecht, and 3rd year player Marquise Copeland. It will be a fun battle of competition. Iron sharpens iron pic.twitter.com/flNdSh6O0r— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) July 8, 2022
In: Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, and Chris Garrett
Floyd has been predicted to make the Pro Bowl in 2022, but who will start opposite of him? Hollins won the role last season and was injured soon after. Lewis has flashed but injuries have not allowed him to settle in and hold a role. Garrett is athletically-gifted but a small-school late round draft pick.
In from the Bubble: Daniel Hardy
Back in March, I speculated that Hardy was a draft sleeper the Rams should target,
“He has an explosive first step, great bend and flexibility to get around the corner. He plays the game with a hell-bent-for-leather style. Right now, he is able to run right by most of his current competition, but shows the ability to quickly change direction, keep his pads low for leverage, and keep his eyes on the ball to maximize his angles. All transferable traits to the pro game. His hand fighting skills are good, when he uses them. His arms were measured at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at 34”, with an 80” wingspan and he will have to use that length and his upper body strength at the next level.”
Hardy has a lot of developing to do before challenging for a deep role, but his past as a ST contributor and hot motor give him a solid chance to make the 53 on coverage and return units. If the Rams aren’t going to add a veteran edge for depth, the injury history of this unit will keep Hardy close to the roster.
Out: Benton Whitley and Brayden Thomas
Two more small-schoolers. Both had good production in college, but are most likely camp bodies that would be candidates for the practice squad and further development. Whitley is a big-effort, power guy with good length, short-area quickness, and was a high school state champion wrestler. Thomas played both standing and in-stance in college, he’s more of a power guy but has good good shuttle and 3-cone times.
Off ball linebacker (5)
In: Bobby Wagner, Ernest Jones, and Travin Howard
In Wagner and Jones, the Rams have a solid starting pair and Howard should build on the progress he made last season. Not that much should be read into his release earlier this Spring, it’s simply one of those NFL money things.
Bubble: Christian Rozeboom, and Jake Hummel
Being LB4 is all about STs. Rozeboom was released in final cuts last season and signed to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad. The Chiefs cut him a month later and the Rams re-signed him to their active roster. All his snaps were on ST. In college, Rozeboom was a tackling machine, averaging over 100 tackles in each of his four years.
Hummel is strong, athletic, and smart. Four-time First Team All-Academic Big 12 honoree. Ran 4.51 in the forty, a stellar 6.83 3cone, and a 4.30 shuttle. In explosion drills, he leapt 10’ 6” in the broad jump and 37” in the vertical. He topped it off with 21 reps on the bench. He has enough movement to play all three downs, but lacks the quick back pedal and reaction skill to cover NFL receivers and backs. He is more of a thumper and suited to a down hill style of play.
In from the bubble: Jake Hummel.
In my eyes, these two are basically the same player. Hummel has an edge in measurables and Rozeboom has 10 games of NFL game experience. Last season, the Rams let Rozeboom go in final cuts and with the addition of Wagner, the maturation of Jones, and the improved health of Howard, this unit is substantially improved. LA can save $120,000 by installing Hummel over Rozeboom.
Out: Anthony Hines spent time on the LA practice squad in 2021. He has adequate size, speed, and athleticism. Not a thumper, more of a run-and-chase tackler, who can cover tight ends and backs.
Howard is not injured and there isn’t any layer of off-field detail happening, but my current *sense* is they’re squeezing where they can because of the deals that are locking in this week. Howard’s tender wasn’t a large amount but squeezing all the same. Super talented player. https://t.co/nSpK1yVzkP— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) June 8, 2022
In: Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott, and Terrell Burgess
Fuller. Rapp, and Scott are a solid trio. Burgess’s lack of play time is an enigma to fans. I like Burgess’ potential, but watching replays of last years games, I noticed a lack of effort on ST. I don’t claim to know his responsibilities on any given play, but I do know that a total of 10 tackles on 90 defensive snaps and 303 special teams snaps is not a lot. This being said, Burgess has too much potential not to get a roster spot.
Bubble: Quentin Lake, Russ Yeast, and Jake Gervase
Lake and Yeast are both developmental prospects who were drafted in the late rounds. Neither seem to be ready for defensive snaps, but may make their bones on ST. Gervase is a safety/linebacker hybrid who has put on good weight and may be considered a full-time linebacker at training camp. Gervase has yo-yoed between the PS and active roster and been released in final cuts for three straight years, expect it to be four.
In from the bubble: Russ Yeast
This roster spot could go either way. Yeast is smaller and but is very aggressive. He is willing to come up and set an edge, is a good wrap-up tackler, and clean, hard hitter. In coverage, he tracks the ball well and has good read-and-react skills to break on the pass. Good ball skills and hand/eye coordination make him adept at breaking up passes. He led the Big 12 in passes broken up in 2021.
Out: Jairon McVea and Daniel Isom
McVea has plus athleticism, but was more a ST and rotational player in college, only seven starts in his final two seasons. He is a physical and willing tackler. Isom had a checkered college career, under one coaching staff he was kicked of the team and in another, he was named a captain. Didn’t do Pro Day testing, but ran second in the 110 and 300 meter high hurdles races at his state finals meet.
In: Jalen Ramsey, David Long, Troy Hill, and Robert Rochell
Bubble: Decobie Durant and Derion Kendrick,
Two totally different types of players. Durant is a smaller, speedy slot-type defender from a small school who is aggressive, competitive and plays with great emotion. Kendrick lacks elite athleticism and can be indifferent towards engaging aggressively, but was a four year starter on two different top tier college programs. Week-in and week-out, he lined up against the best wideouts in the nation.
In from the bubble: Decobie Durant.
Kendrick could make the final squad as well and I’ll go over why later. It all boils down to his willingness to play it on the line on STs.
Durant has stellar ball skills and awareness of where the ball is going. He has the speed and burst to cover underneath drag patterns and can stay attached running the hashes with a quick flip of the hips and good hand-fighting skills. He certainly lacks size (5’ 9” 174 lbs. at the East-West Shrine Bowl weigh-in), but has the attributes to be a success in both man and zone coverages. He is more of an ankle-biter tackler, but is aggressive and willing. He fits the prerequisite of being dominant against lesser college competition.
Out: Tyler Hall, Grant Haley, Cesar Dancy-Williams, Duron Lowe, and TJ Carter
Hall has history with Rams Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris, but has only had 41 special teams snaps in LA. Haley had a few more ST snaps at 64 and had 890 defensive snaps in the three seasons before coming to the Rams. He’s got speed and quickness but size limits him to the slot and he is not an aggressive tackler.
Of the rookies, Dancy-Williams tracks passes well and has good ball skills, he’s a willing tackler, but only average athleticism. He’s got the cocky cornerback attitude and might be a candidate to move to safety. Lowe brings an extra skillset of returning kicks. He has wiggle, good vision, burst and long speed. As a defender, he is sticky in man and is thought to possess a high football IQ. Carter has the size of a slot corner, but heart of a strong safety. His speed, short area quickness and overall athleticism are good. He brings a versatility to play all the secondary positions and has an aggressive mentality.
Of bubbles, roster battles, and camp crushes
That’s it, my opening 53 projection. Certainly not all my favorites, but an honest assessment of what I believe the Rams will do, based on their past movements in the Sean McVay/Les Snead regime. On offense, two QB, four RB, five WR, four TE, and nine OL. Three on ST. Defense consists of six DL, five E, five ILB, five S, and five CB.
In my eyes, many of the players on the bubble are interchangeable and trying to project them is really up to chance. Take Derion Kendrick, Russ Yeast, Jake Hummel, and Daniel Hardy. These four are not in a positional battle, but could very well be fighting for the last defensive roster spot and the difference could be hustling down the field in punt or kickoff coverage. The same on offense with Bryce Perkins, Raymond Calais, Kyren Williams and Brandon Powell. It is a deep roster and the margins are roar thin.
Injuries, however minor, draft pedigree, and future contract status could all come into play. The Rams have certainly overcome their fair share of injuries, a testament to the actual depth of the roster.
Contract status does not seem to matter in LA, they pay the stars they deem invaluable, but negotiate tough on players who are down the food chain and jettison players who no longer fit into team plans, no matter what the cost.
There’s good news for 2022 draftees. McVay has been lavish at giving roster spots to draftees. Out of the past three draft classes, 23 of 26 draftees will enter this year’s training camp. Most first year players get a year to learn the nuances and physicality of the pro game. Only K Sam Sloman, ILB Clay Johnston, and ILB Dakota Allen have moved on.
My own camp crushes, in no particular order, are E Daniel Hardy, OL Jack Snyder and RB Raymond Calais. We’ll revisit the projections before final cuts.
Who made my final 53 that wouldn’t make yours? Who didn’t make my final 53 that should?