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Starting Derion Kendrick at corner would be big mistake for Rams

Rookie CB Tre Tomlinson impressed during preseason action and should start opposite Ahkello Witherspoon

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Few fans or insiders around the NFL expect the Los Angeles Rams’ defense to play up to the standard they’ve set in recent years. Gone are household names in Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Bobby Wagner, and Von Miller. Instead, LA will pivot to unheralded players that will look to carve out long-term careers in the NFL.

LA’s secondary in particular is littered with young talent that will look to make names for themselves. Cobie Durant seems poised for a breakout year while playing inside in the “star” corner role. Russ Yeast and Quentin Lake should play often at safety, especially when the team utilizes dime personnel packages.

With Durant on the inside and veteran Ahkello Witherspoon inked in at one of the boundary corner spots, the second starting outside job is still up for grabs.

Rookie Tre Tomlinson seemed to impress enough in the preseason to deserve the first look at this role, but it’s not yet clear whether the sixth-round pick will be among the first 11 on the field for the defense. Second-year corner Derion Kendrick would be LA’s alternative, but he missed nearly all of training camp with a soft-tissue injury after looking primed for a step forward in minicamp and offseason team activities.

But even after a single season, we may have seen enough from Kendrick already. In 483 snaps played in 2022, Kendrick was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 56 times. He allowed 39 completions for 571 yards (14.6 average), two touchdowns, and four pass deflections as a rookie. This resulted in a 114.5 passer rating when Kendrick was in coverage, according to PFF tracking data.

The former Georgia Bulldog did not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine so we don’t have an official measurement on his long speed; however, it was evident often last season that Kendrick has difficulty carrying more athletic receivers downfield. This likely limits his ceiling as a professional, and Kendrick would be the fourth or fifth corner on most NFL defenses.

In other words, we know who Kendrick is—barring a significant step forward from the second-year corner. It’s time to give the rookie in Tomlinson the starting nod and opportunity to make a name for himself.

While Tomlinson lacks size, he still was able to make life difficult on his former TCU teammate and first-round WR Quentin Johnson in the preseason against the Los Angeles Chargers. Reportedly, the young corner also matched up in coverage often against Davante Adams in joint practices against the Las Vegas Raiders.

As a former Jim Thorpe award winner—an honor intended for the best defensive back in college football—the ceiling is much higher for Tomlinson than you’d normally expect for a sixth-round draft selection.

The Rams would be making a big mistake if they give Derion Kendrick the starting nod over Tre Tomlinson, and the team needs to see what they have in the more talented rookie.