The Los Angeles Rams are undergoing a significant youth movement. LA selected 14 players over the course of the 2023 NFL Draft weekend and then promptly signed another 24 undrafted free agents upon its conclusion. 38 rookies will fill out the roster as Los Angeles draws toward training camp.
The Rams entered the draft without a single specialist on its roster. Matt Gay left for the Indianapolis Colts after earning the largest free agent contract ever at the kicker position. Riley Dixon is returning to the Denver Broncos, and Matt Orzech signed with the Green Bay Packers. To top it all off, LA’s special teams unit is led by a first-time coordinator—Chase Blackburn.
It became clear over the course of draft weekend that Blackburn was one of the most important assistant coaches involved in filling out the roster, as he was tasked with finding three starting players for the upcoming season. The Rams identified Ethan Evans, a 6-4, 235 lbs. punter out of Wingate, and selected him as the prospective starter in the seventh round. Alex Ward from UCF seems primed to be the replacement for Orzech at long snapper.
At kicker Los Angeles is preparing for a showdown between two rookie UDFA’s: NC State’s Christopher Dunn and Oklahoma State’s Tanner Brown are set for one of the most important battles for training camp 2023.
Christopher Dunn, NC State
Dunn appeared in 61 games over his five years at NC State—kicking 96 field goals and another 199 extra points. He never missed an extra point during his college career. During the 2022 season Dunn converted 28 of 29 field goal attempts with a long of 53 yards.
While he is seemingly accurate from the middle range, it’s fair to say that he doesn’t have a big leg and has just a career accuracy of approximately 40% on attempts 50 yards out and longer. Because of this lack of power, Dunn also struggles with kickoff duties—though Evans seems capable of handling that responsibility as a pro.
Dunn is also the only kicker with a perfect outing at this year’s scouting combine, besting even Jake Moody who was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round. He also made two attempts from 55 yards which may help quell some concerns regarding his leg strength.
Tanner Brown, Oklahoma State
Brown also had a strong career at Oklahoma State, converting 39 of 44 field goal attempts and all 78 of his extra point kicks during his two years in Stillwater. He graduated from Saugas High School in 2018, so he’s now coming back home to Los Angeles with a chance to kick in SoFi Stadium. Brown’s career long at OSU was 52 yards.
While Dunn was rated as the sixth kicker in The Athletic and Dane Brugler’s “beast” draft guide, Brown was rated as the twelfth and seems to be a less heralded prospect.
What to watch in training camp:
The Rams could always sign an affordable veteran to compete with the two rookies, but the team has found success with pairing a rookie kicker and punter together from the get go—like back in 2012 when they drafted Greg Zuerlein and signed Johnny Hekker. The duo anchored the Rams’ special teams units together for the better part of a decade until 2020 when Zuerlein signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
The kicker job seems to be Dunn’s to lose at this point, though it’s far too early to rule out Brown. Rams fans still likely have a bad taste in their mouth leftover from LA’s last kicker competition where seventh round pick Sam Sloman narrowly edged out Lirim Hajrullahu and Austin MacGinnis before being released midway through the season. The Rams eventually stumbled upon future Pro Bowler Matt Gay who provided stability at the position en route to victory in Super Bowl LVI.