Bye weeks are a natural point in the season to embrace change and set the course for the remainder of the season. The Los Angeles Rams are fortunate to have their time off during Week 10, which is right in the middle of the 17-game slog.
LA has to be disappointed with their current 3-6 record, and it’s especially painful that they’ve lost three games in a row to teams that seemed beatable at times. While they aren’t officially eliminated yet, it’s unlikely that the Rams will make the playoffs. Contention isn’t in the cards this year.
Now is the time to make changes to the depth chart with the future in mind. Which players are here to stay and will play an important role on the next version of the contending roster? Who is likely on their way out, and is there anyone that has yet to be given a shot? It’s time to skim off the cream and allow opportunities to players that have been awaiting their chance.
These are three depth chart changes the Rams need to make during their bye week:
Rest Tyler Higbee; see what you have in Davis Allen, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Long
The Rams recently extended Tyler Higbee’s contract, so we know he’ll be part of the team’s long-term plans. He’s grown infamous over the years for playing through injuries. In some ways that comforting because he’ll do everything he can do be on the field. At the same time LA needs to protect one of their key players they’ve decided to invest in, especially in a year where standings and a playoff berth really isn’t on the line.
This year is has been reported that Higbee does not have a full range of motion in one of his arms and then injured his hand in the most recent loss to the Green Bay Packers.
What the future has in store for veterans Brycen Hopkins and Hunter Long is more complicated. Hopkins’ opportunities with the Rams have been very limited. He caught four passes for 47 yards in LA’s victory in Super Bowl LVI; however, he was involved out of necessity after injuries to Higbee and backup Kendall Blanton. The Rams are reluctant to give opportunities to Hopkins organically for whatever reason—and now he’s headed towards free agency this spring.
For Long, LA recently opened his window to return to practice and get activated off the injured reserve list. He missed the start of training camp with a stint on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and we didn’t see him in the preseason. While Long is under contract through next season, at some point he has to be productive on the field.
Meanwhile there’s also rookie Davis Allen in the fold, and he’s been working into the rotation some in recent weeks (29 snaps). Allen missed the first two preseason contests but than dazzled in the finale with eight catches for 53 yards. He’s somewhat of a limited athlete—which is why he was available into the sixth round for Los Angeles—but he has an impressive catching frame that comes naturally to him.
It’s time for the Rams to do the right thing with Higbee and allow him to nurse back into full health for the 2024 season. They also need to know what they have with Hopkins before he hits free agency and whether Long and Allen can contribute if he leaves town.
Bench Derion Kendrick, start Tre Tomlinson at outside corner
The first part of this ask is already happening, but it’s a little more complicated that it may seem on the surface. The Rams are working Kendrick out of the starting lineup after his struggles with committing penalties in coverage and being one of the major weak spots of the secondary.
But instead of moving Tomlinson or Duke Shelley one rung higher on the depth chart, LA has transitioned second-year corner Cobie Durant from his usual role in the slot back to the outside. Safety Quentin Lake has taken over the nickel corner duties. Shelley has stepped in while Durant battled injuries over the last couple of games.
But Shelley and CB#1 Ahkello Witherspoon are a free agents after this season. Lake may or may not have a long-term role in the slot, and if the Rams feel Durant is best-served on the outside and is a key piece moving forward they should keep him there.
Still, Tomlinson should at least be involved and the Rams must know heading into the offseason whether he’s someone they can count on as part of the future. The rookie has played only 12 defensive snaps so far. That’s simply not enough.
Rams rookie CB Tre Tomlinson with some pretty nice coverage on the vertical route from Chargers rookie WR Quentin Johnston. Tomlinson made it too tough a catch for Johnston.— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) August 13, 2023
Fun rep between two former TCU stars turned LA rivals. pic.twitter.com/h9Nh1MpUDB
Start Zach Evans at running back; bench Darrell Henderson, Royce Freeman
We know Kyren Williams is nearing full health and will be back with the team after their Week 11 game against the Seattle Seahawks. Backup running back Ronnie Rivers may be working towards a return as well, though his injury has seemed more significant than what Williams is going through.
While Henderson and Freeman have been okay in replacement of Williams and Rivers, they have no futures on this young Rams team. Henderson was available into mid-season because he’s just not a good runner. He goes down easily on first contact, though he is a steady presence in pass protection. Freeman offers a little more as a runner, but at the end of the day he’s a replacement level player.
The Rams are wasting time on rookie Zach Evans’ four-year, cost-controlled contract. If their plan is to draft running backs often and churn through them while they are affordable, they can’t afford to not get the most out of players while they are here. Evans is by far the most talented running back on the Rams roster, and that’s probably true even when Williams and Rivers are healthy.
If pass protection or lack of understanding of the offensive scheme are the reasons why Evans is not in the starting lineup, then that is a failure of the coaching staff to prepare him more than 10 weeks into the season.