As the Los Angeles Rams prepare for this Sunday’s division rival showdown with the Arizona Cardinals, the front office has made a flurry of roster transactions. L.A. added a couple of old friends, running back Malcom Brown and tight end Kendall Blanton, to offer support to a roster riddled with early injuries. They also signed rookie DE/E Zach VanValkenberg.
But the Rams also signed three veterans with interesting backgrounds. Sean McVay and Les Snead must be concerned with the experience level of their current backups. These older free agent signings are not keeping in form with their past. Usually the Rams add younger developmental players for the lower roster tier. What do we know about the new additions?
Edge Takkarist McKinley- 6’ 2” 250 lbs.
Potential unmet and injuries have been McKinley’s storyline as a pro. He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons at #26 of the first round in 2017. He had a stellar NFL Combine and backed up his draft pedigree with six sacks as a rookie. He followed that up with seven sacks in his second season. In 2019, a string of injuries began to wear at best attributes, speed and athleticism.
His injury woes actually started right after the Combine, he underwent surgery for a torn labrum and fractured shoulder socket. He battled groin injuries from 2018 through 2020 and lost games to a sprained shoulder joint in 2019. Injuries and squabbles led him to be released by Atlanta late in 2020. McKinley would be claimed on waivers by the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers, only to fail both teams physicals. The big one came in 2021, when, as a Cleveland Brown, he tore his Achilles tendon on a non-contact move.
Not a huge player for an edge, McKinley’s game was built on speed. At the Combine, he measured a shade under 10” hands and 35” arms. Strangely, he clocked a fine 4.59 forty, but struggled in the 3cone (7.48) and shuttle (4.62). A 33” vertical, 10’ 2” broad, and 24 reps on the bench showed good explosion/power in both the upper and lower body. His RAS score is 6.85, elite on speed, good on explosion, poor on agility, and very poor on size.
The Rams poached him off the Tennessee Titan practice squad, so he moves straight to the active roster. Can L.A.’s training and medical staff get him rehabbed back to form? Can the coaching staff work out his technique issues? Both are large unknowns. He came out college with the profile of his success being athletically dependent and needing work on footwork and fundamentals. Now that injuries have sapped him of those elite traits, he ‘ll have to dig in and work to fulfill his potential.
Out at practice - looks like Takk McKinley is wearing No. 50. pic.twitter.com/2bcPSiJrDk— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) September 22, 2022
Guard Oday Aboushi- 6’ 5” 315 lbs.
A career backup with 47 career starts over 10 NFL seasons. The Rams are the eighth stop in the 31 year-old’s journey, starting with the New York Jets in 2013 and weaving through Houston, Seattle, Oakland, Arizona, and Detroit. In 2021, he landed with the Los Angeles Chargers and began the year as a starting guard. He suffered a season-ending torn knee ACL and was not retained by the ‘Bolts.
Aboushi played left tackle in college and as rookie and was projected to serve on the on right side. His lack of length and relative athleticism led to a transition to guard, but he still offers the versatility to play up and down the line. He’s more of a power/aggression player with a strong punch and consistently keeps those hands inside. His average career Pro Football Focus rating is 62.5.
There is a lot of good tape of Aboushi, which makes him an enigma. Most of his career starts have come when a starter goes down in front of him. He is not an outside zone blocker, just doesn’t have the lateral move skills. In a phone booth and over limited space he can move defenders. That would fit into the Rams new run game schemes. In pass protection, he wins with that strong punch and aggressive effort. He has some problems with speed rushers and when he gets too high, he can lose his anchor.
These are the first four plays of film I watched of new veteran RG Oday Aboushi.— Tyler Schoon (@tylerjschoon) March 20, 2021
Am I in for a treat? pic.twitter.com/Cy42Ck1ZGW
Center Matt Skura- 6’ 3” 313 lbs.
L.A. is the 29 year-old’s fourth stop in seven years, with previous stops in Baltimore, Miami, and New York. A center by trade with 65 career starts, Skura also had 12 starts at guard in 2019 and a 14 more with the Football Giants in 2020. His six-year career Pro Football Focus rating average is 56.5.
He has a strong, blocky frame, good length (35” arms at NFL Combine), big strong hands, and 27 reps on the bench press. He knows how to use his length to advantage. It sounds kind of contrary, but even with his frame and strength, he's not a mauler but more of a technique and finesse blocker.
On tape, his lack of lateral movement skills hurts his outside zone production, but with the Rams essentially shelving that scheme in 2022, that’s not a major problem. He does fare much better on straight ahead blocking, and can win on the inside zone. Skura has enough footwork to turn and seal and gets to the second level on a straight plane.
Skura suffered a major knee injury in 2019 but has been relatively healthy otherwise. Strangely, he has had problems with shotgun snaps on two different teams. He offers the Rams a veteran presence on the practice squad, but his best work is probably behind him.
Edge Zach VanValkenberg- 6’ 4” 263 lbs.
Originally signed by the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa, VanValkenberg was released in final cuts. He worked out for the Pittsburgh Steelers after Week 1 before inking with L.A.’s practice squad on August 20.
Definitely a development project. A couple things stand out on his college tape. One is his relentless pursuit, he really keeps working hard and makes a fair amount of plays from the backside on sheer hustle. Another is his discipline, he's not a flashy playmaker but rather a guy who keeps his contain and really holds his gaps/lanes. Not a great pass rusher, he needs a lot of polish in this area. But he does have violent hands and gets a lot of secondary quarterback pressure because of his constant effort. He played from both down and standing positions and on the few taped plays where he dropped into coverage, he hustled to get to his landmarks.
At the Iowa 2022 Pro Day, he ran a 4.97 forty, a 7.03 3cone, and 4.41 shuttle. In the explosion drills he leapt a 31.5” vertical and 9’ 5” broad jump. He pushed 22 reps on the bench. His Relative Athletic Score is 6.02, rating good in size and agility, okay in explosion and poor in speed. VanValkenberg is the prototype Rams bottom of the roster player, a hustling, overachiever who is coachable and athletic enough to help out on special teams.
Can the three veterans come back from major injuries?
All three of these recently-signed veterans have had past NFL success and seemingly are safe, solid additions. But McKinley, Aboushi, and Skura have all had recent major injuries. I guess Skura’s problem is three years in the past, but it was a major knee injury and his play since has dropped off. Aboushi’s knee was damaged last October and while coming back from ACL injuries are nowadays standard, he’s doing it at age 31, after a long career in the trenches. McKinley had the dreaded Achilles tear in December 2021. Earlier this year, I wrote about how hard it is to completely come back from this grade of injury.
Malcom Brown and Kendall Blanton are back, too
L.A. also announced the the return of Malcom Brown. They let the 5’ 11” 224 lb. running back go after the 2020 season and he moved onto Miami. He didn’t get much traction with the ‘Phins (36 touches for 135 yards) and closed out the season on the Injured Reserve List with a quadricep injury.
When McVay took over the Rams in 2017, he used Brown as a steady backup, leaning on his blocking and short yardage running abilities. He wasn’t a natural fit into the the outside zone run game, more of a between-the-tackles power guy. But in the 2022 run schemes, he is well suited to the downhill game.
Kendall Blanton was poached off the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad and thus, fills out the Rams active roster. L.A. cut him loose in preseason, but he knows the offense and with Brycen Hopkins suspension, he probably steps right into the TE#2 role. Who knows how the Rams will handle Hopkins return, he didn’t played much in the first two games and hasn’t seen much of the field in his previous two seasons.
Who will help L.A. the most?
Obviously, Zach VanValkenberg is a development project and won’t be ready for quite awhile. Oday Aboushi may very well be the first lineman off the bench against the Cards. It seems like the group is healthy going into the weekend, but things have been crazy on the injury front. Unless L.A. completely lacks confidence in Jeremiah Kolone and Shelton Coleman, it’s hard to see what Matt Skura offers at this stage of his career. I would love to see Takk McKinley return to form, speed off the edge and the ability to tun the corner are coveted traits. Since the the Rams released E#4 Keir Thomas, he should get a long look, at least until Daniel Hardy gets healed up. Kendall Blanton, if he has the same snap count as Brycen Hopkins, is not going to add much more than insurance against a Tyler Higbee injury. Malcom Brown is a known quantity and although signed to the practice squad will probably be elevated and play right away, He seems a natural fit into the I-formation fullback role.