The Los Angeles Rams enter a 2023 season in which expectations are much lower than they have been in the past. While this may be seen as a bad thing, it can also be taken as an opportunity for younger players to show what they’re capable of and that they are worth building around moving forward.
Over the past five years, head coach Sean McVay has shied away from playing younger player, especially rookies. This made sense as veteran players with experience would be more beneficial in a Super Bowl push. However, in a season in which so many positions are wide open and with eyes on 2024 and 2025, getting younger players more experience makes a lot of sense. Here are five players who need more playing time in 2023.
1. OT Alaric Jackson
At this point the Rams know what they have in Joseph Noteboom. He’s been on the roster since 2018 and has gotten plenty of opportunity to start and make an impact. In the two seasons that he entered the year as the starter, he’s gotten injured within the first six weeks.
In 2020, Jackson started three games at left tackle. In those three games, he had a pass-blocking grade higher than 85 in two of them. His worst game came against the San Francisco 49ers and even then he performed admirably.
The Rams have nothing to lose by playing Jackson as their starting left tackle. Playing next to Steve Avila instead of Bobby Evans will only help him. The best case scenario is that Los Angeles has their starting left tackle moving forward. If Jackson doesn’t pan out, the Rams can just as easily select a left tackle within the first two rounds of next year’s draft.
2. WR TuTu Atwell
The Rams selected TuTu Atwell in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Everything after that has left much to be desired. However, as he saw the field more towards the end of last season, Atwell started making plays and showing what he was capable of. Now, it’s up to McVay to give him those opportunities. Following the end of the 2022, McVay admitted that Atwell should have gotten more involved earlier.
“(He) probably should have gotten more opportunities earlier in the season, and that’s something I won’t run away from, because all this guy has done is answer the bell when he’s had his chances.”
Will McVay keep Atwell on the sideline once again in 2023? Atwell’s 17.9 yards led the NFL in average depth of target (aDOT). His 16.6 yards per reception also ranked inside the top-10 at number eight. On just passes of 20 yards or more, Atwell ranked second with 58 yards per reception and his aDOT of 38 yards was tied for third.
That doesn’t even mention the missed opportunities due to bad quarterback play. If the Rams don't know what they have in Atwell going into next offseason, it might be time to cut ties. Atwell needs to get involved more and it will be up to McVay to give him those opportunities.
3. TE Brycen Hopkins
Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, Brycen Hopkins was one of the better receiving tight ends coming out. The Rams have very rarely used him in that role. However, heading into 2023, the offense needs to utilize more 12 personnel and Hopkins will be the key to unlocking that package. The most efficient personnel grouping to pass out of last season was 12 personnel and the Rams ran it just four percent of the time.
the most efficient personnel grouping to pass out of last year was 12 personnel— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) May 4, 2023
12 personnel usage rate on pass plays:
34% - BAL
29% - KC
27% - SEA
23% - ATL
22% - GB
21% - NO
20% - TEN, PIT, HOU
19% - ARI
17% - DEN
16% - NYG, CLE, JAX, NYJ
15% - DAL, LAC
14% - PHI, WAS, CAR…
Unlike last season, the Rams now have four tight ends on the roster and Hopkins will be heading into his fourth season. Among tight ends with at least 10 targets, Hopkins’ 15.6 yards per reception in 2022 ranked second in the NFL. His 10.6 yards in average depth of target also ranked seventh.
It’s hard to know what goes on behind the scenes, but heading into a contract year, the Rams need to know what Hopkins brings to the table. Is this someone that can replace Tyler Higbee who is also entering the final season of his contract? Hopkins will be most remembered for the plays that he made in the Super Bowl. However, it’s time to see if the Rams and McVay can expand on that.
4. S Russ Yeast
It’s very possible that Yeast gets more playing based on the simple fact of the depth that the Rams currently have at the safety position. They lost both Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott in free agency. This leave Jordan Fuller, Quentin Lake, Yeast, and others to compete for starting roles in training camp.
Fuller will likely be slotted in as a starter given his experience. However, Yeast is someone who should be playing next to him. Due to injuries last year, Yeast got some playing time and looked like someone who fits right into the defense.
A majority of Yeast’s snaps came in one game in garbage time against the Denver Broncos. However, in this game he looked comfortable and filled run lanes really well from the safety position. Yeast also had a touchdown saving tackle that required him to run halfway across the field because Troy Hill got beat early in the play. The Rams have done a good job developing safeties in the past and yeast could be the next one.
5. RB Kyren Williams
Despite selecting Kyren Williams just last season, he seems to be a player that gets forgotten about in the Rams running back rotation. By all intents and purposes, Akers is likely going to be the guy in 2023. However, behind him it will be up to Williams and rookie Zach Evans.
Williams had just 35 carries for 139 yards in 2022, but he’s someone that the Rams were really excited about before an ankle injury on the opening kickoff derailed his rookie season. Prior to the game, Williams was getting a lot of media hype as a player that McVay really liked.
His 2.86 yards after contact per attempt led the Rams last season, albeit in a small sample size. Williams’ 0.97 yards per route run also led LA running backs and was in line with Chase Edmonds and Kenneth Gainwell who are two very good receiving backs in the NFL.
This isn’t to say that Williams should take over and be the lead back over Akers. However, he should definitely be used more in a complimentary role.