To many fans and pundits, the naming of linebacker Jake Hummel to the Los Angeles Rams opening roster was a big surprise. As an unheralded and undrafted free agent (UDFA) out of Iowa State who beat the odds to earn a position on the slate, he is expected to toil on special teams this first season. But how high is his ceiling?
Watching both college and Rams preseason film, Hummel is not a dominating force, more of a steady defender who understands the defense and fulfills his assignments. Not surprisingly, he was a college double major and was a four-time member of the Academic All-Big 12 team. His football IQ and scheme discipline makes up for his relative lack of mass.
At Iowa State, Hummel lined up equally inside and out side the tackles, sometimes as far out as the slot. In coverage, he is able to get good depth with a fluid backpedal and he easily flips his hips open to turn and run. He is not easily fooled by misdirection, keeping his eyes and/or awareness on the ball and tracks its movement. When a short pass is caught in front of him, he has the burst to come downhill and uses good pursuit angles to limit yards after catch.
Against the run, he’s not a true thumper, but is physical and aggressive. He shows good tackling fundamentals and form, breaking down and wrapping up runners. Hummel’s ball-tracking awareness and angles come into play here as well, squaring up runners and consistently getting his pads on the runner. He is willing to step into gaps and take on offensive linemen. Hummel led the Rams in preseason tackles with 22, a record according to L.A. coach Sean McVay. and had 80 tackles in each of his last two college seasons.
Fundamentals, discipline, hustle, and high football IQ?
Sounds like the usual UDFA profile for a bottom of the roster player, a guy who’s just a step slow in both speed and reaction time. Not so with Hummel, he also has the athleticism to become a complete football package. Sure, he’ll have to learn the pro game and adjust to NFL speed, but plus athleticism, football smarts, and agressiveness play are stellar building blocks.
Players should get assisted interceptions as a stat. Great play by Jake Hummel. pic.twitter.com/V9V5krYf72— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) November 20, 2021
Hummel had a tremendous Pro Day
Most draft experts labeled him a smart, hustling, hot-motor type player, who lacked athleticism. Hummel’s Pro Day workout showed them all wrong. He measured in at almost 6’ 2” and 225 lbs. Big 10” hands, 32 3/8” arms and a touch over 77” wingspan. Not freakishly long, but certainly above the norm for his size.
Although he didn’t rate an NFL Combine invite, his speed and explosion numbers matched up with the top linebackers in the draft. He timed 4.51 in the forty yard dash, with 1.56 10 yard split, a stellar 6.83 3cone, and 4.30 in the shuttle. To give those times a little context, compared to posted 2022 Combine numbers, 4.51 would have been the third best forty, 6.83 was the best 3cone, and the 4.30 shuttle would have been another bronze medal.
In the explosion drills there was more flash. He pushed 22 reps on the bench, leapt 37” in the vertical and broad jumped 10’ 6”. More comparisons to Combine invitees? Tied for third best in the bench, sixth best in the vertical, and tied for sixth best in the broad jump. Most of the players that had better numbers, except for the undrafted Jeremiah Moon in the vertical and broad jumps and Aaron Hansford in the bench press, were high draft picks.
Jake Hummel is a LB prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.48 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 127 out of 2419 LB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/E9of7tzYar #RAS #UDFA https://t.co/36xJVDvTNL pic.twitter.com/F1DaozGapz— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 1, 2022
What will be his role with the Rams?
Hummel is the type of player who could break the Rams mold of redshirting rookies. Special teams, and his skillset fits that role, will have to be where he makes his bones, because the Rams have put significant capital into the linebacker room in the past two offseason’s. It’s difficult to make a case for him getting many defensive reps playing behind Bobby Wagner, Ernest Jones, Christian Rozeboom and to a lesser extent, Travin Howard.
Wagner has participated in over 95 percent of his defensive snaps over a 10 year career and that shouldn’t change in 2022. L.A. will expect much from third rounder Ernest Jones. In the first half of his rookie season, he fought his way into a starting role before an ankle injury shelved him in December. Still, he saw 40 percent of reps. Rozeboom is more like Hummel, a guy who is going to have to work his way onto the defensive unit by standing out on special teams. Howard’s future is up in the air when he returns from the Non-Football Injury list. During his short career in L.A., he has been prone to being nicked up and is giving two young upstarts (Rozeboom and Hummel) a big chance to make him irrelevant.
Physical differences aside, a nice comparison for Hummel would be ex-Ram Troy Reeder. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019, Reeder was a smart and athletic 100%er who made the roster on his ability to play special teams. Eventually, after being in the right place at the right time and because of a bevy of injuries, he garnered 25 starts and made 230 tackles in three years.
Hummel has a leg up on Reeder because he is a solid wrap up tackler. Many mid and lower tier players come out of college and either thump into runners or try to tackle with their arms, making them struggle against NFL runner’s contact balance and leg drive. It is not unreasonable to project Hummel on the same, or higher, plane as Reeder— a special teams stalwart who is willing and able to answer the call if unit injuries force him into the spotlight.