For the past six years, Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams have started a trend of resting all starters in the preseason. On paper, the idea of resting your starting players during games that have no real impact is completely understandable, especially when talking about guys like Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp or Aaron Donald who are long term veterans in the league and at this point in their careers know what they are doing on the field. It seemed in the past that there was just not much to gain from playing those players in what is essentially an exhibition game.
This year is very different.
Due to cap issues, Los Angeles roster is now made up of almost 50% rookies (34 total) after an exodus of veteran players this offseason. With some rookies being in a position to claim multiple starting spots, it will be very interesting to see how McVay approaches the young players in preseason that could potentially play significant roles on the team moving forward.
Will he follow what he’s done in the past, disregarding their lack of game experience in an effort to cut down on any potential injuries? Or could McVay change up his previous thoughts, given the unprecedented amount of rookies, and get some of these players some real time game experience before they are thrust in front of a famously rowdy Seattle Seahawks crowd on the road Week 1.
Rookies who most likely will not see the field in preseason
OL Steve Avila
OLB Byron Young
DL Kobie Turner
These are rookies you can pencil in as starters already. Avila was a three year starter at TCU. He comes to the Rams with plenty of collegiate game experience and even has some big game experience in SoFi, making the college football playoffs and national title game this past year. Given the Rams lack of depth at offensive line again, it makes sense that, even with his inexperience, Avila won’t play many, if any, snaps in preseason.
Byron Young and Kobie Turner both could probably use the experience of the preseason. However, since Daniel Hardy or Jake Hummel are the likely depth behind Young, he may be sat out of fear of what is behind him in relief.
Respectfully to Hardy and Hummel, the idea starting the season and having to go in with an unproven 7th round pick or undrafted 2nd year player is a bit unnerving. This is the same situation with Turner but to a lesser degree, since Bobby Brown III and Johan Williams at least both have NFL game experience behind him.
Rookies who should see some preseason playing time but not much
QB Stetson Bennett
WR Puca Nacua
CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
S Jason Taylor II
Stetson Bennett sits as the current QB2. In the past John Wolford, the Rams former backup quarterback, always played a good amount of the preseason games and Matthew Stafford will likely again not see the field in preseason at all. While Bennett should play some, I think the team really likes Bennett and won’t want to risk his future.
“I thought people said [Bennett] was just maybe, whatever kind of manage-the-game-type QB. But what you did is you just go, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Look at that guy move. Look at him buy some time. Look at him anticipate some throws.’ And just you come away thinking, ‘Wow, he was a weapon for Georgia.”
McVay also had many positive takeaways when speaking about Bennett.
“Because of the background and the way that he became the starter at Georgia is a little bit unconventional and it wasn’t the 5-star route, but I think it minimized the athleticism, the ability to create off-schedule,” McVay told reporters. “He’s a natural thrower of the football. He can play with great anticipation, throws the ball with accuracy, plays within the timing. I think [former Georgia offensive coordinator Todd] Monken, who’s now with the Ravens, they did a great job where it’s an easier eval because you can see a lot of the concepts that maybe you would ask him to execute.” said head coach, Sean McVay
While he plays, I see him playing the least with Brett Rypien and undrafted rookie Dresser Wynn getting the majority of the snaps, as neither may make the 53-man roster.
Puka Nacua is in line to compete for the third receiver job, and he will battle with Tutu Atwell and Ben Skowronek for it. He’ll need some time on the field along with the two others mentioned just to make it clear who deserves the job.
Nacua has an injury history in college, missing games last year due to a hamstring injury and an unrelated sprained ankle, as well as a broken foot in his freshman year. This may make Los Angeles more apprehensive about putting any additional stress on his body before games counts.
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Jason Taylor II could be starters by the end of the preseason. They will need to play first as there is some young depth at corner and safety, but Hodges-Tomlinson could end up winning the slot corner position early, in which case I doubt he plays much in the preseason.
Jordan Fuller should start at strong safety, but free safety is wide open with Taylor, Russ Yeast, and Quentin Lake all competing for the position. Yeast and Lake haven’t proved much yet in their young NFL careers so like Hodges-Tomlinson, if Taylor’s play is any kind of improvement at the position early, he could move above those players on the depth chart quickly and force the Rams to keep him off the field until the start of the season.
Rookies who will play all preseason
OLB Nick Hampton
OT Warren McClendon Jr.
TE Davis Allen
OLB Ochaun Mathis
RB Zach Evans
P Ethan Evans
DL Desjuan Johnson
K Tanner Brown
All undrafted players
These are all players with either depth in front of them, like Davis Allen or Zach Evans, to guys who were undrafted and attempting to make the team for the first time. The Rams may be careful with Allen and Evans as both could carve out rotation roles through the season, however with Tyler Higbee and Cam Akers locked in as starters, they will still need to prove what they can do first.
Ethan Evans should do all the punting, and potential rookie starting kicker Tanner Brown needs to show he can have the same stability in the kicking game that Rams have grown accustom to with Matt Gay.
This will be one of the first intriguing preseasons for the Los Angeles Rams in a long time. Even if most of the starters do not play the preseason, there are so many rookies on the team this season that when third and fourth string guys are playing late into the game, it could still have an effect on the team as a whole for the regular season. This was not the case in the past and it will be fascinating to see the Rams navigate such a contrasting team model to what they’ve had the previous six years.