One interesting nugget that got buried in the Los Angeles Rams’ Week 5 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was the fact that veteran CB Duke Shelley was designated as the next man up to briefly replace injured starter Ahkello Witherspoon. In the four weeks prior, we had seen Tre Tomlinson in and out of the lineup when either Witherspoon or Derion Kendrick had to come off the field.
It’s not all bad news for Tomlinson, as Shelley was considered by PFF to be one of the top defensive performers against Philadelphia—so we should not necessarily take this as a sign that Tomlinson is not ready to play but more so that Shelley seems to be ascending.
Much has been made of Kendrick’s repeated penalty issues, especially how the poor timing of such errors has resulted in significant lead changes just before half time in multiple games. Through five weeks, Kendrick is tied for second in the NFL with five penalties in coverage. Jerry Jacobs of the Detroit Lions has six, but also tied with five are Xavien Howard (Dolphins), L’Jarius Snead (Chiefs) and Michael Davis (Chargers; four games).
While Kendrick could very well be in the dog house with coaches as a result of these ill-timed penalties, Shelley seems to be pushing for playing time.
It’s also worth noting that Shelley was mostly a slot corner in his time with the Chicago Bears (2019-2021). He moved outside when he joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2022 and then was the fifth-highest corner in the NFL in terms of defensive PFF grade. It seems the Rams’ plan is to keep him outside—where he may be a more effective player—but he does have experience in the slot and could be a better option than struggling second-year corner Cobie Durant.
So what does this all mean for Tre Tomlinson? Despite impressing during the preseason and training camp, we are unlikely to see much of the rookie corner barring injury to either Witherspoon, Kendrick, or Shelley. Shelley has played nine defensive snaps (all against Eagles) and Tomlinson has seen only four plays across two games. Tomlinson did draw a holding penalty on one of those plays that provided a new set of downs on what seemed like a third down stop against the Indianapolis Colts.
All-in-all it seems the cornerback depth chart is still in a state of transition for the Rams. Ahkello Witherspoon is establishing himself as the most reliable player of the bunch. Derion Kendrick and Cobie Durant are on a downward trajectory for different reasons. Duke Shelley is showing he deserves more playing time, and maybe this comes at the expense of rookie Tre Tomlinson.