The Los Angeles Rams have one of the youngest teams in the league this season. While there are always growing pains when “retooling” a team, especially with this amount of rookies on the roster, many of them have already been stepping up and playing significant roles just two weeks into the preseason.
While rookie second round pick, left guard Steve Avila, and third round pick, linebacker Byron Young, already look to be starters and are currently penciled in at the number one spots for their respected positions, these other three players have stood out as well and have an argument to earn a starting role in the first game against the Seattle Seahawks on Lumen field.
Tre Tomlinson - Cornerback
Tre Tomlinson has jumped off the screen through his first two preseason games. His size, or lack there of, has not been an issue at all thus far and, if anything, he has been one of the most physical looking corners on the team. Last week against the Las Vegas Raiders, Tomlinson ran step for step with veteran wideout Phillip Dorsett and jumped in front of the deep ball thrown by 15 year veteran, Bryan Hoyer, swatting it away.
While we have not yet seen presumed starting corners, Cobie Durant and Ahkello Witherspoon, Tomlinson has looked far better than any of the other backfield players not named John Johnson III who are playing in the preseason.
With the Rams lack of depth at corner, Tomlinson’s success could be huge for the Rams, especially considering that he was only a 6th round pick and the team traded away perennial All-Pro, Jalen Ramsey, this offseason. The Raiders rolled out a good amount of their starters the first few drives of the game, but Tomlinson held his own and looks ready to play week one, whether that’s outside or in the nickel corner position.
Puka Nacua - Wide Receiver
Puka Nacua had a great offseason and first preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers, where he caught a touchdown from rookie quarterback, Stetson Bennett. He played so well, that it looks like Los Angeles doesn’t need to see more out of the rookie in preseason, as they sat him for the game versus Las Vegas.
Head Coach Sean McVay, when asked about Nacua’s performance after the first preseason game, said “He’s doing a great job, I’m a huge fan of him.” instilling the confidence that he could rise up the depth chart if he continues his good play.
Nacua was regularly beating Vegas’ veteran corners in 1v1 drills last week at joint practice, and while it remains to be seen if he can pass third year player Tutu Atwell, it looks as though he has at least locked up the fourth receiver spot. Atwell will need to show he’s more than just a deep threat if he hopes to keep Nacua off the field. The rookie looks to be a very well rounded receiver, playing inside and out, and already seems to have a pretty good rapport with starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, throughout the offseason.
We will see Nacua with some kind of role on the starting offense, it just remains to be seen how big that role will be. If he continues his ascension, he may see some real significant playing time this season.
Davis Allen - Tight End
Davis Allen had himself a night against the Raiders on Saturday night, catching all 8 of his targets for 53 yards. McVay seemed very happy with his tight end’s debut after being out most of the offseason with an injury. While it seems pretty unlikely that Allen would surpass veteran leader, Tyler Higbee, there is no reason that he could not jump Brycen Hopkins for the tight end position opposite of Higbee on the field.
It’s possible with LA refocused on the run game and play action pass that they may deplore more two tight end sets, making Allen’s role on the team all that more crucial.
McVay went on for a full :25 seconds in the clip below, gushing about his rookie tight end’s performance. Whether he was catching the ball or making plays without the ball while blocking, Allen seemed to do no wrong in his first outing.
“Targeted eight times, makes eight catches… but I thought he competed well without the ball also. It was an awesome debut for him.”— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 20, 2023
️Coach McVay on Davis Allen’s performance pic.twitter.com/Q78IexLQSF
Hopkins has been very quiet since being selected in the fourth round out of Purdue by the Rams in 2020, and while McVay has mentioned that he’s had a great camp, Allen looked electric in his first real playing time - something that Hopkins has not really been able to do in three years with the team. I personally would not be shocked at all to see Allen lined up against Seattle at some point week one.
Time will tell how all these rookies pan out, but in a year of remodeling, if the Rams find quality starters for years to come in Avila, Young, Tomlinson, Nacua and Allen alone, it would go down as one of the best drafts in team history.