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Early returns on Rams 2023 draft class are promising, all 14 make final roster

Steve Avila, Puka Nacua, and Byron Young should play major roles for 2023 Rams

Rams and Chargers preseason Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams let veteran after veteran part ways in free agency this past offseason, especially on the defensive side of the ball where Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Greg Gaines, Nick Scott, A’Shawn Robinson, and others left for greener pastures. As a result the Rams approached the draft with a high-quantity mindset and selected 14 players this spring.

The good news is that in the short-term those picks seem to be paying off, and all 14 drafted rookies made LA’s 53-man regular season roster—with one caveat that OLB Ochaun Mathis is likely headed for injured reserve but could return later in the year.

It’s rare for every draft pick to make the final roster for a team, and it’s additionally impressive that all 14 picks made the roster for the Rams—these players comprise over a quarter of LA’s roster. Even the Indianapolis Colts cut a player they drafted in the fifth round just a few months ago in Darius Rush (claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs), which makes what the Rams’ rookies accomplished even more significant.

Here’s the order of the players selected by the Rams and the role they expect to play in 2023:

Steve Avila, OG; 2nd round


Avila entered training camp as the starter at left guard and his position atop the depth chart never waivered. The rookie will likely play next to Alaric Jackson on the left side, and the duo seemed to have strong chemistry over their limited preseason action.

Byron Young, OLB; 3rd round


Michael Hoecht and Young figure to be the team’s starting edge rushers entering Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. Young flashed in the first exhibition game against the Los Angeles Chargers, reportedly played very well in joint practices against the Las Vegas Raiders, and then was held out of the remainder of the preseason.

Can Young take advantage of the “Aaron Donald effect” on the defensive line and prove he’s a long-term answer at OLB?

Kobie Turner, DT; 3rd round


Earnest Brown and Bobby Brown seem penciled in as the starters on the defensive line next to Aaron Donald, but Turner will have a role and play often. If he makes the most of his opportunities he could take over as a full-time starter by the end of the season.

Stetson Bennett, QB; 4th round


Bennett beat out veteran Brett Rypien for the primary reserve role behind Matthew Stafford. While the rookie had an up-and-down preseason, the flashes of athleticism were encouraging. It’s also worth taking into account how bad the Rams’ second and third string players on the offensive line were—including recently released OT Logan Bruss. Bennett was also running a vanilla offensive scheme and that would not be the case if he gets on the field during the regular season.

Nick Hampton, OLB; 5th round


The scouting report on Hampton indicated that he’d be best-served in a situational-type pass rushing role on obvious passing downs, similar to how the New England Patriots leverage the abilities of a Josh Uche. Can the rookie make a difference in limited opportunities, or is he headed for more of a redshirt year?

Warren McClendon, OT; 5th round


With the team releasing Bruss, McClendon has effectively won the swing tackle job and would likely be the first to fill in if either Jackson or Rob Havenstein go down with injury. McClendon started camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, so it’s impressive that he was able to play catchup and still win over the coaching staff. Does he have a ceiling as a potential starter at tackle? Even if he’s a career swing tackle the Rams should be happy with a fifth-round investment.

Davis Allen, TE; 5th round


Don’t get me wrong, Allen made quite the impression in the preseason and flashed a big catch radius; however, it’s fair to assume he’s TE#4 on the depth chart behind veterans Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, and Hunter Long (recently activated from PUP).

Will Allen be a gameday active and contribute on special teams, or will it take an injury for him to see the field?

Puka Nacua, WR; 5th round


Look at all the players Los Angeles drafted ahead of Nacua.

Despite his draft status, the wide receiver was maybe the most steady rookie in all of training camp for the Rams.

Van Jefferson’s health is a major question mark for LA. We know Tutu Atwell is likely not an every-down player. There will be opportunities for Nacua—can he continue to build on his offseason momentum and grow into a full-time starter?

Tre Tomlinson, CB; 6th round


It’s possible that Derion Kendrick gets the starting nod at outside corner over the rookie, but after what we saw from Kendrick last year I would call that ill-advised. Tomlinson was steady in the preseason and was able to hang with larger receivers downfield, including his former TCU teammate and Chargers first-round pick Quentin Johnston.

Put Tomlinson in the starting lineup and let him take his lumps. His ceiling is much higher than Kendrick, who would probably be the fourth or fifth CB on most NFL defenses.

Ochaun Mathis, OLB; 6th round


Whether we see Mathis this season or not remains to be seen. It’s notable that the Rams felt it was important to put the rookie on the 53-man roster and not subject him to waivers. Mathis missed most of camp and any impression he made most likely came from offseason minicamp.

Still encouraging nonetheless.

Zach Evans, RB; 6th round


Cam Akers is likely headed for a workhorse-type role at running back. Kyren Williams is more of a change-of-pace and third-down player. Ronnie Rivers played very well over the preseason and could be the primary backup to Akers.

That leaves Evans as the fourth RB on the depth chart, and he’s not likely to be active on game days barring an injury ahead of him. Veteran Royce Freeman was also added to the practice squad and could be called up before Evans sees action.

Ethan Evans, P; 7th round


Evans displayed incredible kicking power over the preseason, though he often out-kicked his coverage unit. While his punt distance was strong, his net yardage left a lot to be desired.

If the Rams can marry coverage with Evans’ power, Los Angeles could have their next weapon at punter after Johnny Hekker held that moniker for many seasons.

Jason Taylor, DB; 7th round


Similar to Nick Scott several years ago, Taylor was drafted for his special teams ability but has the athletic talents to develop into a regular contributor on defense. It’s possible we could see Taylor on gamedays on special teams, but it might be a while before we see him taking defensive snaps—especially after the Rams reunited with veteran DB John Johnson and moved Taylor down another rung on the depth chart.

Desjuan Johnson, DT; 7th round


Johnson made LA’s roster despite being the last player taken in this spring’s NFL Draft. He seemingly beat out multi-year veteran Marquis Copeland, who played for the Rams in Super Bowl LVI, for the last spot along the defensive line.

Johnson slots in behind the two Browns and Turner, though there are a lot of questions on the defensive line. If this unit proves porous, the rookie could see opportunities sooner rather than later.