At this point in the offseason, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of getting overly excited about players doing well in Organized Team Activities or training camp. When it comes to the Los Angeles Rams, this is especially the case when it comes to the rookies as these are only major additions that the team made this offseason.
We’re already seeing this Puka Nacua as he’s gotten a lot of hype from the team and the media since being drafted. Still, it’s important to remember that these players are still rookies and they will take time to adjust and get up to NFL speed.
With that being said, it’s important to set realistic expectations for where these players should be at the end of their rookie year. If they hit those expectations, we can feel good about them going into year two.
iOL Steve Avila
Avila is a very good offensive line prospect. Still, it should be expected that there will be rookie mistakes and bumps along the way throughout his first season. The expectation for Avila shouldn't be to transform the offensive line immediately. Adding a talent like Avila will certainly help improve the offensive line, but there’s a vast difference between improve and transform.
Rodger Saffold’s rookie year or how Austin Corbett performed following the trade from Cleveland should be the bar. In Saffold’s rookie campaign, he gave up three sacks and 40 pressures as a left tackle. He had really good games, and others that he learned from. When Corbett arrived as a second-year player, he had solid games and others that he learned from. He became a solid player on the Rams offense line during the Super Bowl. If Los Angeles can get something in between those two players, Avila’s rookie season should be seen as a success.
EDGE Byron Young
There is going to be a lot of pressure on Young to come in and immediately produce. However, outside of the elite edge draft prospects, that simply doesn’t happen that often. In the 2022 NFL Draft, a there were a combined four sacks by edge rushers that were selected in the third round. Three of those came from Myjai Sanders of the Arizona Cardinals. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Alex Highsmith in the third round of the 2020 draft. Highsmith is a very good edge player now, but had just two sacks as a rookie.
Young will have more opportunity than most third-round draft picks. However, there will be times where he gets lost in space or gives up contain on the edge. Those are the types of bumps that are expected. It’s going to be important for Young to show enough this season where the Rams can feel comfortable about him going into year two. The ideal scenario would be for Young to develop and then spend big on the position during free agency next offseason rather than also having to potentially draft an edge rusher again in the first round. If Young ends with three to six sacks as a rookie, that should be considered a solid rookie season.
iDL Kobie Turner
The other Rams third-round pick enters a rotation on the defensive line. This is where the expectations get a little tricky. How much Turner will we see this season? Bobby Brown will be expected to take that next step and the Rams also have Marquise Copeland. If Turner can show that he is solid in a rotation, that would be a good start to his career and development.
QB Stetson Bennett IV
In an ideal scenario, we don’t see Bennett take the field this season. However, in the case that he does, the only thing that I would want to see from Bennett is his ability to run the offense. There were times last year that Bryce Perkins and John Wolford couldn’t run the offense at all. Bennett won’t be Baker Mayfield immediately, but he needs to show that he is ready for the moment if his number is called.
Hopefully, we don’t see Bennett as a rookie. If he is only a backup, it will be important for him to learn everything he can behind Matthew Stafford and be a professional. This role will be new to Bennett coming from Georgia, but it’s one that he can excel in.
EDGE Nick Hampton
Hamton’s expectations are going to be lower than Young’s. However, he’s also going to be expected to be able to come in and have an impact. Still, it’s not often that you find a star edge rusher in the fifth-round. The Rams selected Samson Ebukam in the fourth-round of the 2017 draft. Ebukam finished with two sacks as a rookie and showed that he was going to be able to fit in a pass rush rotation. That should be the line for Hampton, especially with who the Rams currently have at the edge rusher position.
OL Warren McClendon
Similarly to Hampton and Turner, McClendon is going to come in and be depth. Is he the swing player that the Rams used Bobby Evans in last year or is he simply depth behind player like Tremayne Anchrum? Hopefully the Rams offensive line stays healthier than it did in 2022. In the case that McClendon is thrown in the fire, I just want to see someone who’s ready for the moment. This is something that Alaric Jackson showed as a rookie when he was thrown in at left tackle. We don’t need to see if McClendon is the Rams’ right tackle of the future. All McClendon will need to show is that he has the ability to step in when he’s needed.
TE Davis Allen
I was a huge fan of the Davis Allen pick at tight end in the fifth-round. With that said, it would be surprising if Allen gets a lot of playing time as a rookie. The Rams have Tyler Higbee as the starting tight end. Behind him, the Rams traded for Hunter Long and also have Brycen Hopkins. If we see Allen in heavier offensive packages or make an impact on special teams, that’s a win in his rookie season.
WR Puka Nacua
There arguably isn’t a Rams rookie who has gotten as much hype this offseason than Puka Nacua. The Draft Network argued that Nacua could carve out a WR2 role in the Rams offense. Nick Baumgardner from The Athletic tabbed him as a Day 3 sleeper who can make an immediate impact. That doesn't even mention the praise from other Rams players and coaches.
Puka Nacua could end up being really good for the #Rams. However, the expectations out of the gate seem a little high. Here are the best rookie seasons from 5th round picks dating back to 06:— JAKE ELLENBOGEN (@JKBOGEN) May 19, 2023
19: Darius Slayton 48/740/8
15: Stefon Diggs 52/720/4
13: Kenny Stills 32/641/5
It’s important to remain realistic here with Nacua. He’s been oft-injured throughout his career and was still selected in the fifth-round. There is opportunity behind Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson. Still, Ben Skowronken and TuTu Atwell both have more experience in the Rams offense. Josh Reynolds who was a fourth-round pick for the Rams in 2017, caught 11 passes as a rookie. Jefferson who was a second-round pick only had 19 receptions.
Again, it’s great to be excited about a player like Nacua. If he pans out, the Rams found a steal. Still, we’re managing expectations here. A successful rookie season for Nacua is catching 8-15 passes and staying healthy. That would give him something to build on going into year two.
CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
Out of all of the Rams rookies, this is the one that I might get a little crazy with heading into his rookie year. Let’s be honest here. The Rams are very thin at the cornerback position. Cobie Durant, Derion Kendrick, and Robert Rochell are the top three players at that spot and they don’t exude a lot of confidence.
Hodges-Tomlinson should be able to come in and make an immediate impact on special teams and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the slot. Durant can play in the slot as well, but Hodges-Tomlinson gives them some flexibility. The Rams have found sixth-round gems in the past and this might be their next one. In the essence of managing expectations, if Hodges-Tomlinson comes in and makes an impact on special teams and then carves out a role on defense as the year goes on, that would be a major success for a sixth-round pick.
EDGE Ochaun Mathis
Mathis is a tough evaluation because he’s such a raw player. The physical tools are there, but he needs to refine his game. Carving out a role on special teams would be a win for Mathis. However, my prediction is that he ends up on the practice squad. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mathis will need to use his rookie season as a “redshirt” year and then come into next season ready to show improvement.
RB Zach Evans
Evans is another player where he has potential to be a steal in the sixth-round. Still, there are two capable running backs ahead of him. Cam Akers remains the starter and the Rams drafted Kyren Williams on day three of the draft last season. Williams and Evans will compete for the RB2 spot, but it’s unlikely that Evans starts as a rookie. A successful rookie season for Evans would be much of the same for many of the day three rookies. He needs to show that he’s ready for the moment when his number is called.
P Ethan Evans
It’s hard to set expectations for a punter. However, Evans comes in as the starter. It’s going to be difficult to compare to Johnny Hekker’s rookie season. Evans will need to come in and show that he’s ready on day one. The most important thing for him will be to limit mistakes. As a rookie, there may be some errors. Evans will just need to limit those and show that he can be the punter for the future.
S Jason Taylor II
As a seventh-round pick, Taylor will likely play a role on special teams. If he ends up playing a role on defense, that would be exceeding his immediate expectations. His impact on special teams will be judged more coming out of the gates.
DL Desjuan Johnson
As Mr. Irrelevant, Johnson will provide depth on the defensive line if he makes the roster. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the practice squad to start his career.