2022 was a bad season for the Los Angeles Rams, there’s just no sugar coating it. But to the L.A. braintrust’s credit, they didn’t stand pat and just shrug it off. Bad years in life, business, and football are going to happen, it’s how you react and adjust to them that sets the successful apart from the bottom dwellers.
While injuries had as much to do with the Rams on-field woes as anything, there were weak links in the monetary chain. In splashy Hollywood fashion, L.A. certainly reacted and adjusted. In four rapid-fire moves, they purged big names and incurred almost $68 mil in dead money. Allen Robinson and Leonard Floyd had bloated contracts that they simply weren’t playing up to. Jalen Ramsey ran out of future guaranteed money on his deal and forced his way out of town. Bobby Wagner decided he didn’t like his return home and leveraged his way back to Seattle.
With $74 mil in dead money and three current stars, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Matthew Stafford consuming another $73 mil, the Rams reset their financial obligations and reimagined the 2023 roster. L.A. also trimmed out from the bottom of the roster as well, deciding not to retain many of their 2022 practice squad.
F#&* them picks became stockpile them picks. 14 draftees were added along with 27 undrafted free agents (UDFA). General Manager Les Snead delivered a needs-based draft, that for the most part, was successful in bolstering the roster. Now with the OTAs in full swing and the summer roster set, it’s a good time for an early analysis of both newcomers and veterans.
Here’s L.A.’s current roster and the round each player was drafted in. I went ahead and put projected starters in bold. It’s not meant to be a hard and fast projection, just a conservative speculation, meant more as a point of reference than anything else. Players that were not originally signed by the Rams have the team they started with in parentheses.
Round 1 (2)
QB Matt Stafford (DET) and DT Aaron Donald
Two veteran stars that are still at the top of their game. Both suffered season-ending injuries last year, but are back at full health and there is no reason to expect a major drop off in production. Both their career performances are what fans expect from Round 1 picks.
Round 2 (5)
RB Cam Akers, WR Van Jefferson, WR Tutu Atwell, OL Steve Avila, and OL Rob Havenstein
Hav has been a solid tackle since his 2015 rookie season. While he struggles with speed at this stage of his career, his Pro Football Focus rating averages 73.1 over eight seasons. Fans love the Avila pick and expectations are high, but it’s too early to call his play a success. Akers, Jefferson, and Atwell have all had some injury woes and haven’t yet lived up to their draft position. Atwell is only 24 and showed progress last season, while Akers and Jefferson have both shown they can offer value when healthy. All should be solid starters in 2023.
Round 3 (7)
WR Cooper Kupp, TE Hunter Long (MIA), OL Joseph Noteboom, OL Logan Bruss, DT Kobie Turner, E Byron Young, and ILB Ernest Jones
Kupp is the real deal, limited only by some injury setbacks. He’s missed 18 games in six seasons. Long was lost in the shuffle with the Dolphins and miscast as a blocking tight end. Since the Rams seem content with “just ok” blocking in that role, his ability to catch the football should flourish. Noteboom comes back from a serious injury and is a serious question mark. If his rehab mirrors that of Cam Akers, he could/should come back in the best shape of his life. Bruss is in the same boat, basically a re-do of his rookie year. If Turner and Young, even as rookies, can show some pass rush skills, starting jobs are within their grasp. Jones has shown growth and improvement at linebacker, now must show that he can be “the man” and lead a young, inexperienced defense. Good talent in this group with all likely battling for starts or earning rotational and package snaps.
Round 4 (7)
QB Stetson Bennett, TE Tyler Higbee, TE Brycen Hopkins, OL Brian Allen, DT Bobby Brown, CB Robert Rochell, and CB DeCobie Durant
In Les Snead’s own words, Stetson was drafted as a backup. The Rams wanted a low-cost change from John Wolford and Bryce Perkins. L.A. obviously had him at the top of their backup QB chart and it was more a case of bad luck that the draft moved to backup QB tier so early. Higbee has proven, over his seven seasons, to be a solid pro and a fine draft value. Although the primary starter, he was part of a rotation until 2021 and since, played 90% of snaps. Hopkins, for whatever reason, cannot eat into Higbee’s snaps and now with Hunter Long’s addition, he could end up being TE#3 or worse. It’s nut-cutting time for Bobby Brown and Robert Rochell. The time is here for these two to translate their potential into production. Durant could breakout, he had some minor injury problems as a rookie, but three interceptions and 22 tackles are good production for 281 snaps. Allen’s Pro Football Focus scores fluctuate wildly and injury problems have kept him from being a roster value and making him a fan favorite whipping boy. The jury is still out on Round 4 and will take a lot of upgrading to be considered a roster value.
The year is 2033 and Brian Allen is still the starting center for the LA rams ☠️— return of the wat (@Giruzzi) April 15, 2023
Round 5 (7)
RB Kyren Williams, WR Puka Nacua, TE Davis Allen, OL Warren McClendon, DT Larrell Murchison (TEN), DT Earnest Brown, and E Nick Hampton.
Starting here in Round 5, teams start to squeeze tighter in wringing value out the draft. Williams had the ankle that slowed his start, but was able to log time in 10 games. Nacua is reportedly turning heads in OTAs and has a shot at WR#5. Maybe Davis Allen’s steady game puts incumbent Brycen Hopkins on the roster bubble. McClendon has some good traits for right tackle, but likely needs a year of seasoning. Murchison is an ass-kicker and one of my camp favorites. He only appeared in three games and 54 snaps, but in that short span he logged two sacks and six tackles. Don’t want too partisan or simple, but extrapolate that production out to a full season and get a monster 5T. Injuries got Brown off the practice squad and into some action in 2022, hopefully he can build on that. Hampton has the burst and length to be an NFL edge, we’ll see if how he transitions to the pro game and if his size can stand up. Overall, this is a solid group of candidates that might not shine until 2024.
Round 6 (8)
RB Zach Evans, OL Zachary Thomas (CHI), E Ochaun Mathis, S Jordan Fuller, S Quentin Lake, S Richard LeCounte (CLE), CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, and CB Derion Kendrick.
Evans could earn a role he is used to, for a bunch of reasons he’s never been “the guy” and always played in a college rotation. He’ll get a long look as RB#2. I really liked Thomas’s college film and will be rooting for him to make the team, he’s got an edge and plenty of zone blocking experience. As a late round pick, I liked Mathis as well, he needs work and polish, but has a bunch of plus traits to build on. Fuller has struggled with injuries, but in his lone full season, was very good. Lake missed most of last season and the Rams brought him right on to the roster, they must see potential. LeCounte came over after the 2022 season, he was a good college player, but had two nondescript seasons in Cleveland. If Hodges-Tomlinson had been 5’ 10”, he would have been a top draft pick. I am looking forward to his playing a big part in the Rams secondary. Kendrick is reportedly have having stellar OTAs. He should improve from year one to two, but his long speed is always going to be a question. I can easily see five of these players getting substantial play time, that is pretty solid for Round 6.
Round 7 (8)
WR Bennett Skowronek, OL Tremayne Anchrum, OL AJ Arcuri, P Ethan Evans, DT Desjuan Johnson, E Daniel Hardy, S Russ Yeast, and S Jason Taylor
WR#4 is Skowronek’s to lose, he’s earned it. One of the rookies would really have to blow up camp to push him off. Anchrum, while not my film favorite and coming off a serious injury, will still have to beaten out. He has guard/tackle versatility. Last season, Arcuri got his feet wet because of injuries, he’s could be limited to right tackle because of move skills, but he’s big, strong and got in some snaps at guard. Rookie Evans is the only punter on the roster, so his chances of manning that role is pretty damn good. Johnson has some burst and traits, but is gong to need a year of strength and conditioning. On a Rams official site video, the analysts were talking about how much bigger Hardy’s arms were this year, that’s a good sign for his ascendence. Yeast is on the small side for safety and has real competition this year, he appears suited to some slot work. Taylor is another one of my camp favorites, he can bring some pop to special teams as has the traits to be a deep safety.
Ben Skoronek was used in a variety of ways last season. His best game at receiver came in the win against Las Vegas where he caught 7 balls for 89 yards, including some late game clutch receptions.— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) May 19, 2023
The Rams could certainly use this kind of production in 2023. Who will step up! pic.twitter.com/Ghv8CIdeq8
QB Brett Rypien (DEN), QB Dresser Winn, RB Ronnie Rivers (ARZ), RB Tiyon Evans, WR Lance McCutcheon, WR Austin Trammel (ATL), WR Xavier Smith, WR Sam James, WR Tyler Hudson, WR Braxton Burmeister, TE Christian Sims, OL Coleman Shelton (SF), OL Alaric Jackson, OL Sean Maginn, OL Mike McAllister, OL Grant Miller, LS Alex Ward, K Tanner Brown, K Christopher Dunn, DT Jonah Williams, DT Marquise Copeland, DT TJ Carter (ARZ), E Michael Hoecht, E Keir Thomas, E Zach VanValkenberg (LV), ILB Christian Rozeboom, ILB Jake Hummel, ILB Ryan Smenda, ILB DeAndre Square, ILB Kelechie Anyalebechie, ILB Jaiden Woodbey, S Quindell Johnson, S Tanner Ingle, S Rashad Torrence, S Collin Duncan, CB Shaun Jolly (CLE), CB Jordan Jones, CB Vincent Gray (NO), CB Timarcus Davis, CB Tyon Davis, and CB Cameron McCutcheon.
Even for the Rams, who have utilized undrafted players to afford their top-heavy salary tier, 42 UDFAs in camp is a bunch. Although L.A. has ofttimes used UDFAs to supplement the roster, there hasn’t been that many starters in the Sean McVay era, only seven have started at least eight games in a season.
The average amount of UDFAs on NFL rosters fluctuates somewhere between 20 and 33 percent (or 11 to 17 players) depending on which reportage you want to believe. For the Rams, they return 10 incumbent UDFAs that participated in at least eight games. Michael Hoecht (17), Christian Rozeboom (17), Jonah Williams (16), Marquise Copeland (15), Coleman Shelton (13), Lance Mccutcheon (10), Alaric Jackson (8), Ronnie Rivers (8), and Keir Thomas (8).
Amongst the incoming class, Alex Ward is the only long snapper in OTAs, thus shortening his odds for making the roster substantially and it’s a two-man race for kicker between rookies Tanner Brown and Christopher Dunn.
1) After the offseason purge, the Rams are now a homegrown team. Gone are the days of high-priced foreign mercenaries. Only 13 of 87 of this year’s OTA participants started their careers elsewhere, and at least seven of those could easily miss out on the opening roster. Not ready to weigh in on the merits or lack of. It’s just too early to form an opinion on whether to like it or not. Right now, it’s just another change.
2) The Rams sure aren’t going to spend much draft capital on the safety position. This year’s roster candidates are comprised of four UDFAs, two seventh rounders, and three sixth rounders. Who do we blame it on? Taylor Rapp and Terrell Burgess? Or is it some kind of long-term systemic thing dating back to John Johnson and/or Lamarcus Joyner?
3) How will the off-ball linebacker roles shake out? Ernest Jones would seem to be the odds-on favorite to move over to the every-down “Mike” position. In theory, that’s what he was drafted for in 2021. Who takes over the “Will” role? Currently, all the in-house options are UDFAs and Jones played about 66% of snaps there last year. Could the Rams lower that percentage by deciding to use more nickel and/or dime packages?
4) It doesn’t have anything to do with draft pedigree, but while digging around in the photo’s and video’s of the Rams OTAs a few things stood out. QB Matthew Stafford is really zipping the ball around and prancing around the field, he is obviously well-rested and his arm is healed. RB Tiyon Evans looks rocked in shorts and muscle shirt, a bad-assed cat, indeed. In the same vein, E Michael Hoecht has leaned out a bit and is ripped as well. DT Jonah Williams has bulked up a bit and looks like a true down lineman and not an edge rusher.
5) In closing, some of the players I will be rooting for to make the opening roster and earn snaps are DT Larrell Murchison, OL Zachary Thomas, E Ochaun Mathis, CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, and S Jason Taylor.