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Has this early Rams draft pick hit the “rookie wall”?

Rams need Byron Young to make an impact as they prepare for final stretch

NFL: NOV 26 Rams at Cardinals Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Les Snead and Sean McVay couldn’t be happier with their rookie draft class so far for the Los Angeles Rams. The degree of difficulty for this past spring’s draft was high based on the fact LA had no first round pick—and haven’t since 2016—but still Snead and McVay were still able to find impact players into the later rounds. This has helped accelerate the Rams’ roster rebuild and they now found themselves solidly in the NFC playoff picture sooner than most realistically expected.

There is one rookie in particular that stood out early in the season but has been relatively quiet of late—that is Byron Young.

While Young is second on the team in pressures with 42 (ranked 38th for all edge rushers per PFF), the majority of his pass rushing production came in Weeks 1-7. Over this stretch Young had three games with five pressures, including the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, Week 3 versus the Cincinnati Bengals, and while playing the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. The rookie has 14 pressures over his last seven games and seems to have faded. It’s been at least two months since Young has had a high-impact game.

Whether you subscribe to the “rookie wall” being fact or fiction, it seems to be a potential explanation for why Young’s production has fallen off since early in the season.

What is the “rookie wall”?

There are a couple major differences between the college and professional game that can wear on players during their first NFL season.

The first is the length of the pro year which increases the number of games from 12 in college to at least 17 in the NFL. There are also four preseason games of which Young started the first this year against the Los Angeles Chargers and played 23 defensive snaps. The so-called “rookie wall” can sometimes help explain why a player’s performance might decline after the first dozen or so games—their bodies just aren’t used to the physical toll of the NFL season yet.

Then there is also the fact rookies have to prepare for the draft. They finish college bowl games and soon start training for all-star games, combines, pro days, and the draft. While these aren’t necessarily grueling football activities, it’s possible that some individuals—especially ones that aren’t top-tier prospects—don’t get much rest throughout the draft process.

After the draft there is usually a rookie-only minicamp, though the Rams were the only team in the NFL to not partake this offseason. There’s regular minicamp in May with organized team activities taking place over the summer. Players generally get at least a month break before they rejoin the team for training camp, but they are then committed full-time until the season ends.

One of Young’s trademark traits is that he plays with a high motor and is willing to do the dirty work and chase down quarterbacks, just as he did two weeks ago versus Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. While this is a positive attribute in the rookie, it’s also possible that this lends itself toward additional wear and tear over the course of the season.

Rams 2023 Draft Class:

2nd round

Steve Avila, LG

Avila opened the season as LA’s starting LG and hasn’t looked back. He looks like a building block on the offensive line for years to come.

3rd round

Byron Young, OLB

Kobie Turner, DT

Aaron Donald (74) leads the Rams in total pressures and Young (42) and Turner (31) are second and third.

4th round

Stetson Bennett, QB

The one blemish on Snead and McVay’s 2023 class, as Bennett has been absent from the team since early in the regular season.

5th round

Nick Hampton, OLB

Warren McClendon, OT

Davis Allen, TE

Puka Nacua, WR

Hampton and Allen have been coming on of late. McClendon is a key backup. Nacua may already be a top-10 receiver in the league and is the steal of the entire 2023 NFL draft.

6th round

Tre Tomlinson, CB

Ochaun Mathis, OLB

Zach Evans, RB

Mathis has played the most of the sixth rounders. Tomlinson and Evans are contributing on special teams but seem in store for redshirt rookie years.

7th round

Ethan Evans, P

Jason Taylor, DB

Desjuan Johnson, DT

Evans has been everything we were promised at punter. Johnson has a sack on only 38 snaps. Taylor hasn’t appeared on defense yet and has battled injuries.