Expectations seem low for the 2023 version of the Los Angeles Rams, especially considering the frequency of veteran departures over the course of the offseason. Sean McVay’s team is returning to its 2017 roots where LA relied on younger players whose play on the field exceeded their draft positions and helped shape a nucleus that reached two Super Bowls—finally coming away with a victory in 2021.
If this year’s group is going to surpass expectations and surprise pundits across the NFL, it will come via contributions in expected corners of the roster.
These are the newcomers that could give the Rams the biggest boost in 2023:
1 - Byron Young, OLB
A third round pick from Tennessee, Young is an exciting and skilled pass rusher that will need to develop into a more well-rounded player in order to become a full-time starter. Then again, perhaps run defense is not as important in the modern NFL as it once was—especially considering the Fangio-Staley defensive scheme almost encourages opposing offenses to run the ball over a more efficient passing game.
Leonard Floyd has brought a reliable presence to the edge of LA’s defense since 2020, but there was a revolving door on the opposite side of the defense. The Rams are in desperate need of a consistent pass rusher to complement Aaron Donald, and Young is bound to at least flash on occasion. If he can contribute beyond flashes and isn’t a disaster in the running game, Young could bring stability for LA at edge defender.
2 - Hunter Long, TE
Back in the heyday of the McVay offense, running 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR’s) with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp who could play a hybrid WR/TE role allowed LA to keep the same players on the field but maintain a high level of effectiveness in the running game. Fast forward four to five years later, and the Rams still predominately play in 11 personnel though they may no longer have the horses to perform in both the run and pass games at high levels.
A shift to a higher frequency of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE’s, 2 WR’s) could provide a boost to Cam Akers and the running game—and allow McVay to take advantage of Tyler Higbee’s and Hunter Long’s versatile skillsets in the passing game. While Long only recorded a single reception in his two years with the Miami Dolphins, he was billed as someone who could vertically stretch the seam as a pass catcher.
After spending the vast majority of his career as the Rams’ tight end, Tyler Higbee is now just a tight end for LA. Long could help diversify McVay’s offense along with fourth-year TE Brycen Hopkins and rookie Davis Allen from Clemson.
3 - Zach Evans, RB
While Akers enters training camp and the season as the presumed workhorse-type running back—a role he has asked for over a rotation in a committee—the fourth-year back will be on a relatively short leash. The Rams flat-out need more production from their running game, and this is something that even dates back to their Super Bowl-winning season in 2021. LA has struggled to consistently produce on the ground since moving on from Todd Gurley.
Enter Zach Evans, who could be a “steal” for Los Angeles after falling to the sixth round. Les Snead traded a sixth round pick in next year’s draft to move up for the Ole Miss product. Evans has potential as a physical runner with the speed to threaten as a home run hitter, and he’s much better suited for a key role than Kyren Williams who projects as a third down back and high-volume pass catcher.
It’s not uncommon to see late round running backs break out in a big way—there seems to be one come from nowhere almost every year. Last season Isiah Pacheco gave the Kansas City Chiefs a tough personality and boost en route to their Super Bowl victory. Could Evans be the next to break out?
How high are you willing to draft Zach Evans in your rookie drafts? pic.twitter.com/BNg5ytZzai— The League Winners (@FFLeagueWinners) May 8, 2023