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Rams 53-man roster projection: Who is last in and first out?

Highlighting the last roster battles and final 53 channeling Sean McVay’s past

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Minicamp
Projecting the Rams final roster through Sean McVay’s eyes
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Heading towards the Los Angeles Rams final preseason game, the final tinkering on the roster is in full effect. Should L.A. bring in help from the outside? If so, are there any candidates that can actually make a difference? Or will one of the young players step up in 2023?

By using Head Coach Sean McVay’s historical roster decisions, fans can actually see that the roster is already pretty well shaken out. McVay doesn’t play his veteran starters and that’s been true since the beginning of his tenure. Other play very few, less than 25 snaps over all three games. That has totaled around 35 roster spots in the past. Watch for cut candidates to play almost all snaps of Week 3. With all the young players this season, things are slightly different, but not as far from the past as fans would think by early camp reports.

Trying to channel McVay and how he has set the final roster in the past, here’s my final 53 roster projection with the important position/roster battles highlighted and some thoughts on each.

Quarterback (3)

IN: Matthew Stafford, Brett Rypien, and Stetson Bennett

With the new QB rules, it behooves the Rams to use them. The have kept three in the past couple of years, so it’s not really a change. Not to mention that Stafford is 35 and coming off an injury-riddled season. Better safe than sorry.

Running back (4)

IN: Cam Akers and Kyren Williams

Akers looks bulked up and ready for an NFL load. We’ll see in Week 1 versus the Seattle Seahawks if he keeps his burst. Williams saw one preseason rep as punt returner, maybe that will be his role, returner/RB#2.

Position battle RB #3: Ronnie Rivers vs. Zach Evans Winner: Rivers

Both have had success in preseason. Evans has that big play potential and has shown willing to run tough between the tackles. He’s mostly played behind weaker offensive line rotation and hasn’t been able to show what he’s got in space. Rivers is a slasher with good ball security who projects naturally into the zone game. Last year, he pin balled between the active roster and practice squad. He played in eight games without many snaps, offensive (25) or special teams (36). He does have some kick return upside.

Last three in roster battle: Zach Evans

Evans natural running ability might mark him worth a roster, particularly if he can carve out something on the special teams.

OUT: Royce Freeman

Freeman adds a veteran presence and brings a power component in his game, but realistically he’s a career backup. With a bulked up Akers, the Rams need for a power guy is diminished.

Wide receiver (7)

IN: Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Bennett Skowronek, Puka Nacua

Position Battle WR#6: Demarcus Robinson vs. Tyler Johnson. Winner: Robinson

This one is a toss up. Robinson has a little more juice to his game, but Johnson has arguably been the Rams best wide out in preseason games. While neither are great blockers, they both show as making a real effort in the first two games. There could be room for both if the Rams keep seven receivers.

Last three in, roster battle: Tyler Johnson

Finding room for both Robinson and Johnson would be a solid move, Both are used to playing off the bench and while maybe not of WR#1 or #2 grade, they are very solid additions to fill in a depth chart.

OUT: Lance McCutcheon, Austin Trammel, Xavier Smith, Tyler Hudson, Braxton Burmeister

Maybe McCutcheon is a bit of a surprise, but really, take away his three nice contested catches in last years preseason and what do you have. He had his foot in the door, but couldn’t get all the way in. Trammel is a good guy to have on the practice squad, he can be called up in an emergency and help the team as a receiver/returner. Smith has so far looked shaky securing the ball away. Hudson had a couple of good catches in Week 1 and Burmeister has an interesting skillset but offer enough for a roster bid.

Tight end (3)

IN: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Davis Allen

No surprise with Higbee and Hopkins. The big surprise would Hopkins cutting into Higbee’s snaps and touches. Allen wins TE#3 by default, although he did have a good game versus the Raiders. Converting eight targets in your first game back from injury is good way to jump up the depth chart.

Last three in roster battle: Hunter Long

Still no report on the return of Hunter Long. Afraid the use-by date has elapsed, Allen passes him for TE#3. The remaining question on Long is PUP or IR?

OUT: Camren McDonald, Christian Sims, Nikola Kilinic

McDonald is but more like a wide receiver and Sims just a tad bigger. Both got a lot of snaps in preseason Weeks 1 and 2, neither used it to their advantage. Kilinic is also nicked up and hasn’t seen any preseason action.

Offensive line (9)

IN: Alaric Jackson, Steve Avila, Brian Allen, Tremayne Anchrum, Rob Havenstein, Joseph Noteboom, Coleman Shelton

Position Battle, OL#8-9: Zach Thomas vs. Warren McClendon vs. Logan Bruss. Winners: Thomas and McClendon

These two would add a comfort level as backups. Thomas has played well, arguably as good as any of the Rams offensive lineman in preseason. He brings positional versatility at guard and tackle. McClendon plays pretty well as a swing tackle. He does need conditioning work, his game begins to recede as the game wears on.

Last three in roster battle: Bruss

He could make it on draft status and has big potential as a run blocker, but his pass protection is lacking. It may be too soon after his horrific knee injury.

OUT: A.J. Arcuri, Mike McAllister, Mike Maginn, Grant Miller

McAllister has played well, but being behind both Allen and Shelton puts him a tough choice. If the Rams get nervous (and maybe should) about his clearing waivers, it creates a another decision. Arcuri has seemed to lose ground this preseason and his fate is likely sealed. Can’t make much of a case for Maginn and Miller, even on the practice squad.

Special teams (3)

IN: Punter Ethan Evans, place kicker Tanner Brown, long snapper Alex Ward

Unless something goes crazy awry, the rookies will handle specialist duties. Evans and Ward have looked solid in preseason games. Brown and his early miss, will likely keep fans puckered up on FGs all season.

Cornerback (5)

In: DeCobie Durant, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, Robert Rochell, Derion Kendrick

Could the preseason defensive worry become its strength? Early in games, the secondary that will make the roster has been pretty good, Durant and Witherspoon have not dressed out. Kendrick is back this week, fully healed. Fans may not be excited but coaches seem to be. Hard to be really sure of what to think of that.

Last three in roster battle: Shaun Jolly

Jolly has been working at the “Star” position and by coaching reports, doing well. But he’s been in and out with soft tissue woes and now others have passed him on the depth chart.

OUT: Timarcus Davis, Jordan Jones, Cam McCutcheon, Tiyon Davis, and Vincent Gray

Both Jones and McCutcheon have shown some potential, but need more time and would probably be best coming up from the practice squad. Timarcus Davis has had a rough go in preseason allowing catches, making penalties, and missing tackles on kick coverage. The other Davis and Gray haven’t really shown of anything to upgrade their status.

Safety (5)

IN: John Johnson, Jordan Fuller, Russ Yeast, Quentin Lake, Jason Taylor

Johnson and Fuller make for an experienced back end, while Yeast and Lake can offer backup or injury relief and special teams work. Taylor played a lot against the Chargers and then not at all in the Raiders game. In the Week 1 Bolts game, he was quiet playing deep safety, but looked good as a gunner on punt and kickoff coverage.

Out: Tanner Ingle, Rashard Torrence, Quindell Johnson

Two for sure, Ingle and Johnson, and maybe all three would be good PS candidates. Ingle had a couple of solid hits versus the Chargers in blitz situations, but other than that he's been quiet. Torrence bounced off of a couple of tackles, but plays aggressively. Johnson made a really nice run red zone stop against the Raiders, taking a good angle from his safety position and keeping the running back from getting outside. That’s an NFL play.

Off ball linebacker (3)

IN: Ernest Jones, Christian Rozeboom, Jake Hummel

Three’s a crowd, or at least, enough, linebackers. Jones should stay on the field for 90+ percent of snaps. Last year, L.A. used his previous “Will” linebacker role around 66% of defensive plays, substituting in an extra safety on the others and have also been doing it this preseason as well, although not at that high of a rate. If the Rams continue to struggle against the run, they could decide to use two linebackers much more often.

Position Battle, starting “Will”: Rozeboom vs. Hummel

Rozeboom and Hummel can both offer value as special teams players, but have differing play styles that would actually compliment each other for a rotational role. Rozeboom is the aggressive, thumper who instinctually flies to the football. More of a downhill player who’s willing to bang heads in gaps. Hummel is not lacking in physicality, just more of a read/react player who moves better in space.

Out: Kelechie Anyalebechie, Jaiden Woodbey, DeAndre Square, and Ryan Smenda.

While the Rams have shown a tendency towards UDFA linebackers, none of this current group has made an impact. Whether as the second line of defense or on special teams, these player don’t appear to be stand ready for a roster spot. The battle will be for one likely practice squad berth.

Edge (5)

IN: Michael Hoecht, Byron Young, Daniel Hardy

Hoecht and Young haven’t played much and that won’t likely change in the final preseason game. If they play at all. Hardy, as of now, is the primary backup and a special teams fixture. Hoecht if he doesn’t play on special teams in 2023, it leaves a big hole. He was in on 83% of ST snaps, doing everything but blocking on PATs and FGs. According to Sean McVay, Young was outstanding in the Rams/Raiders joint practices. Hardy has plenty of “want to”, but lacks nuance. He plays one speed, full. Learning to use some feint/burst moves and breaking down to tackle would improve his game.

Position Battle, Edge #4: Keir Thomas vs. Zach VanValkenburg. Winner: Thomas

Just through my personal lens, Thomas and ZVV were the best overall players on the Rams defensive front. Yes, a low bar, but showing out is showing out. The big step for both of them is whether or not they can sustain their progress and compete against opposing #1’s. For a guy not known for athleticism, Thomas showed some bend and a little giddy-up around the edge. Overall, ZVV was solid against the run and while he may not have a high ceiling, he seems to get better the more he sees the field. Both have 4-3 and 5-2 scheme versatility.

Last three in roster battle: Zach VanValkenburg

In 2022, it was Lance McCutcheon whose preseason flash plays forced his way onto the final roster. Is ZVV next? While he hasn't made splash plays, his play on the edge has really been consistently solid.

OUT: Nick Hampton and Ochaun Mathis

No real surprises here. Hampton has been nearly invisible and spending his rookie year on the practice squad, working on play strength and technique will serve him well. Mathis has not been on the field with no updates on the return from his knee. The Rams could give him a PUP designation and delay a decision on his future status, if they think highly enough of him. If not the other options are the Injured Reserve List or waivers.

Defensive line (6)

IN: Aaron Donald, Bobby Brown, Jonah Williams, Kobie Turner

I don’t see practice, but if the preseason games have any veracity as indicators, the defensive line has replaced the green cornerback unit as the question mark on the 2023 defense. As of today, the AD effect will have to bend both time and space, stringing down the whole defensive front.

Is it BBrown’s effort level or talent level? He has not been good. Turner gets in on draft pedigree and has shown great effort, but at 285 lbs., it’s going to be tough to hold ground on the nose. Williams has proven a steady rotation guy, with 400+ snaps over two seasons. He’s also been a regular on special teams.

Position Battle, DL #5-6: Larrell Murchison vs. Marquise Copeland vs. Earnest Brown. Winners: Murchison and EBrown

Can’t see the Rams keeping seven defensive linemen, particularly when none have separated themselves from the pack. So, one of these players is likely out. Murchison has the best all-around game, EBrown is still improving after a couple seasons on the practice squad and is the best pass rusher. Copeland has struggled in both preseason games, being regularly over-powered by the opposition.

Last three in roster battle: Marquise Copeland

Although Copeland hadn’t played much until last year (342 snaps), he’s stuck around in L.A. for four years crossing three different defensive coordinators. His size has been exploited all preseason, particularly versus the run.

OUT: Desjuan Johnson, T.J. Carter, and Taron Vincent

There’s a lot to like about Johnson’s college film, but a year play strength work on the practice squad is in his best interest. The other two? Not so much.

Battle for the last three roster spots

RB Zach Evans

WR Tyler Johnson

TE Hunter Long

T Logan Bruss

CB Shaun Jolly

E Zach VanValkenburg

DT Marquise Copeland

Long’s injury and the fact that any decision on his status can be put off four weeks by starting the season on the PUP or IR puts him out. In a secondary that is looking pretty good in preseason, I’m not sure how much help Jolly can add. Bruss is having real balance issues in pass protection, he may need more time to rehab and get his lower body stronger. And finally, Copeland has really been pushed around all preseason.

That leaves Evans, Johnson, and VanValkenburg as my final three. It may leave the Rams a bit top heavy at running back and wide receiver, but both Evans and Johnson seem like the best of the rest. VanValkenburg has 4-3/5-2 versatility, can play special teams and has played solidly in preseason.

It’s now less than three weeks to the Rams opening game with Seattle and the roster is starting to take shape. What does your roster look like?