ESPN ranked the Los Angeles Rams as having the 21st-best “core” in the NFL, as in their top-five players pitted against the top-five of other teams, but added the caveat that the team’s ranking is heavily weighted by three over-30 players.
Looking only at five-man cores certainly works in Los Angeles’ favor, yet the Rams’ list still turns to relatively unknown players after the first three. Even so, I have a hard time keeping a group that includes Kupp and this generation’s best defensive player too low on a five-player list.
This season, Matthew Stafford is 35, Aaron Donald is 32, and Cooper Kupp is 30. The other two players on ESPN’s list are Steve Avila, who has yet to debut in the NFL, and Ernest Jones.
Jones, who is actually a month younger than Avila despite entering his third year in the pros, saw his playing time diminished as the 2022 season wore on. But both could very well be among L.A.’s top five players under 30.
Who would the rest be?
CB Cobie Durant, 25
Entering year two, Durant is often cited these days as one of the Rams core players going into next season. The 2022 fourth round pick needs more playing time, but has exceptional speed and playmaking abilities, posting three interceptions as a rookie in 13 games. He should be L.A.’s number one cornerback.
LB Ernest Jones, 24
The Rams are certainly posturing as if Jones and Van Jefferson are two players who fans can expect to see a lot of this season, as Les Snead has stripped the roster of almost all notable players except the top-three. Jones hopefully learned a lot from his one season with Bobby Wagner, but ultimately he was not a full-time starter and he only played in 66% of the snaps despite being in year two. It’s not often that linebackers expected to become superstars are held off of the field for one-third of the snaps in their second season. Why was Jones a player who Raheem Morris and Sean McVay felt they could be better on defense without for one-third of the snaps? Will he improve without Wagner taking those snaps away this time?
Jones posted 114 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble last year.
RB Cam Akers, 24
Because he missed so much time in 2021, the Rams should be able to keep Cam Akers around for two more seasons of his rookie deal. But it was less than a year ago that McVay tried to trade him to literally any bidder. There were no takers, Akers returned, and over the last eight games he had 126 carries for 610 yards with six touchdowns and “only” one fumble.
He’s not a receiving threat and there’s always going to be that concern that he won’t hold onto the ball, but the Rams have few other options to turn to on offense unless rookie Zach Evans proves to be the steal that some believe that he is. It could be six months from now that Evans or even Kyren Williams is holding this position among the top under-30 players on the roster.
LT A.J. Jackson, 25
For my top-5, I’m going to avoid picking any rookies and instead of Steve Avila, why not someone who played a premium position at a fairly high level last season, albeit in a small sample size? Jackson was doing a better job at left tackle than Joseph Noteboom—who also won’t make my list—and then he got injured after six starts. If Jackson is healthy, he should be L.A.’s starting left tackle and he could prove to be one of the best bargains in the league if the 2021 undrafted free agent can keep the job for the whole season.
Can Alaric Jackson be the franchise left tackle the LA Rams need? https://t.co/U09YmCrEFS— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 8, 2023
DL Michael Hoecht, 26
Coming down to Van Jefferson, Jordan Fuller, and few others, I’ll side with the pass rusher who had two sacks against the Seahawks, 1.5 sacks against the Broncos, and another sack against the Seahawks all in the last six games. From Week 12-Week 17, Hoecht had 19 tackles, 8 QB hits, 4.5 sacks, and one forced fumble, which is better than a whole season of most of his predecessors in L.A..
And he did it without Aaron Donald.
I don’t know exactly what position Hoecht will make the most sense at, but it will be a position more valuable than safety and he has shown more potential, for me, than Jefferson.
Who would be your top-5 under 30 on the Rams? I didn’t include rookies, but you can do whatever method you’d like.