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6 Rams that I’m excited to see get an opportunity versus 49ers

Could Zach Evans take over RB duties after a redshirt rookie campaign?

Cleveland Browns v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ric Tapia/Getty Images

Sean McVay has made his intentions clear heading into the Los Angeles Rams’ regular season finale against the San Francisco 49ers. LA will rest its key starters in hopes of having them at full force next weekend for the wildcard round of the playoffs. McVay has already announced that Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, Matthew Stafford, Kyren Williams, and Ernest Jones will not suit up this weekend in San Francisco.

It’s important to note that—while these players are not expected to dress on Sunday—the Rams only have 53 men on their roster currently. They don’t have the luxury of the 90-man preseason rosters to hold people out. Individuals such as Rob Havenstein, Ahekello Witherspoon, and Jordan Fuller will have to dress for this game because the numbers don’t go deep enough at certain positions. We will probably see these veterans in a backup or reserve role since the plan is to rest ahead of the postseason.

Who will be filling in for these key players in Week 18? There is a handful of individuals that have an opportunity to use this game as an audition—either for a larger role for the Rams moving forward or for another team around the NFL.

These are the six players I’m most excited to see when the Rams take on the 49ers this weekend in Santa Clara.

1 - Carson Wentz, QB

The Rams play the compensatory draft selection formula as well as anyone, and you can’t rule that out as a major factor in their decision to sign Carson Wentz around the midpoint of the regular season. LA had just watched backup Brett Rypien fall flat to drop a key game against the Green Bay Packers. Wentz was at home awaiting the right opportunity, but he was also passed up when the dust settled on the musical chairs of starting quarterback jobs this offseason.

Wentz’ performance in this game will determine where his career goes beyond 2023. The Rams would likely love to have him back as a high-end backup to an aging Stafford, but there will be teams looking for veteran starters or transitional quarterbacks this offseason. Wentz could start for the Atlanta Falcons next year and have a renaissance similar to what Baker Mayfield is doing this season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Teams like the Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos could be in the market for a veteran so they don’t have to force a rookie into playing time too soon.

Will Wentz make the most of his opportunity against the 49ers?

2 - Zach Evans, RB

Evans has been active on special teams this season. Early in the year when Kyren Williams and Ronnie Rivers both were injured against the Arizona Cardinals, Evans received his only opportunity for carries. Instead of giving the rookie a larger workload while Williams and Rivers went on injured reserve, the team instead signed veterans Darrell Henderson and Myles Gaskin to complement Royce Freeman who was already on the roster.

The running back position usually has a relatively shorter learning curve coming into the NFL, so it’s disappointing in many ways for the Rams to relegate Evans to a redshirt year—especially considered that at one point he was considered a borderline first round talent.

Can Evans flash his pedigree this weekend and show that he deserves a meaningful role behind Kyren Williams in 2024?

3 - Brett Maher, K

It’s no secret that the Rams have had more than their fair share of kicker struggles this season, but it’s a position they’ve put themselves. Gone is Lucas Havrisik and back in the building is veteran Brett Maher, who was LA’s kicker to start the season in Week 1.

LA is probably keeping all options open at kicker heading into the postseason, but Maher can prove with a strong performance in Week 18 that he should have been the Rams’ guy all along. Can he instill confidence in the coaching staff by taking care of business against the 49ers?

4 - Tre Tomlinson, CB

I don’t actually know that we will see Tomlinson play in this game, which is why he’s not higher in this list. The Rams seem set to activate veteran CB Duke Shelley from injured reserve. We know Shelley is higher on the depth chart than Tomlinson and would step in first if either Witherspoon, Derion Kendrick, or Cobie Durant go down in the playoffs.

Will LA use this as an opportunity to give Tomlinson his first meaningful action as a rookie? The coaching staff has suggested that he’s not yet ready for a role on defense, but this could be his chance to prove them wrong. He flashed potential in the preseason though that feels like a very long time ago.

5 - Nick Hampton, OLB

It remains to be seen whether the Rams will rest starting OLB’s Byron Young or Michael Hoecht. Nick Hampton is someone that has emerged over the last two or three weeks to push fellow rookie Ochaun Mathis a rung lower on the depth chart. Hampton projected to the NFL as a situational pass rusher, though an extended look against the 49ers could show the Rams if they’ve found a promising pass rusher that can contribute down the line.

6 - Tutu Atwell, WR

Atwell has been pushed out of LA’s starting lineup in 11 personnel by veteran WR Demarcus Robinson, and it’s the right move by the Rams because Robinson has punched above his weight over the last month. In his last six games he’s caught 21 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Robinson also works well with Matthew Stafford outside of structure.

But Atwell can play and has made significant strides in his third professional season. While he’s always going to be limited by his slight frame, he generally fights for the football and has a larger catch radius than you might expect. Atwell has 37 catches for 476 yards and three touchdowns this season, though most of that production came early in the year.

2024 would be a contract year for the receiver, and this game could be the start of his audition.