Common critiques against the Rams are a top-heavy roster and a lack of first round draft picks. Can breakout contributors arise to take the team deep into the playoffs?
In order to get where the Los Angeles Rams want to go this season, young players will need to emerge in addition to the team’s trusted stars. A run into the playoffs and a shot at the Super Bowl requires a deep roster that can provide answers and adjustments to the various schemes and matchups that the best teams in the NFL may present.
A common critique against LA is that the team’s roster is too top-heavy, that the team relies far too much on its capable veterans and lacks depth behind the star-studded names. This narrative is driven in part by General Manager Les Snead’s propensity to trade premium draft choices for proven commodities because he believes the Rams can find quality prospects in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. Snead’s approach has mostly been successful since he was paired with Sean McVay ahead of the 2017 season; however, the concerns surrounding the roster’s depth have not faded.
The NFL is known and loved for its parity, where bottom feeders are capable of making quick turnarounds and clubs with high expectations can quickly suffer a fall from grace. Each year surprise contributors emerge to help their teams earn playoff berths and contend for championships. Nothing is guaranteed in this league.
Los Angeles has a number of breakout candidates this season that could emerge to quell concerns of a top-heavy roster and lack of high draft selections. While not all of these players listed below will be successful this season, even a 50% success rate from this group could be enough of a spark to push the Rams into serious contention. Here are 7 potential surprise contributors that could emerge for LA this season:
1 – Brian Allen, C
Perhaps the biggest training camp surprise was the re-emergence of starting center Brian Allen. In the leadup and at the start of camp, nearly all reports pointed to Austin Corbett taking over the role in the middle of the offensive line this season; however, due to eye-catching play from Allen and consistent struggles from Bobby Evans, Corbett returned to his starting job at right guard.
Allen has not played since mid-season 2019, where he suffered multiple leg injuries and missed the remainder of that season. To start 2020, the offensive lineman was among the first players in the NFL to test positive for COVID-19 and took some time to recover. The Rams seemed content to have Austin Blythe start at center in 2020, and Allen did not seem to be in serious consideration for this role last year.
The fourth year player plays with a mean streak, and may be poised to lock up his role for the foreseeable future. Allen joined the Rams Revealed podcast this week and discussed his comeback with Rams broadcaster JB Long. On the podcast the veteran seemed to be a student of the center position and pushed back against the narrative that he is undersized. This episode is definitely worth a listen and may change any views you’ve held on the player since his last appearance in 2019.
.@JB_Long talks with Rams C Brian Allen about his new QB, the season opener with the Bears + more.
Tap into the latest episode of Rams Revealed!
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 7, 2021
2 – Justin Hollins, EDGE
Justin Hollins emerging as a reliable outside linebacker would be a positive development for the Rams, especially considering that LA will be without OLB Obo Okoronkwo to start the year. Los Angeles claimed Hollins from the Denver Broncos last year during the cut down to 53-man rosters and acquired him with virtually no risk. The third year player was solid for the Rams in spot duty last season, but he will be asked to contribute often for the team in 2021.
Listed at 6’5, 248-lbs, Hollins has great size and length at the EDGE position. At a minimum he will need to hold up in the run game and set the edge. If Hollins can consistently apply pressure and effectively rush the passer opposite star Leonard Floyd, the Rams will have solid odds to repeat as one of the best defenses in the NFL.
3 – Kenny Young, ILB
Los Angeles will enter the 2021 season with the starting inside linebacker tandem of veterans Kenny Young and Troy Reeder. Young is currently the favorite to remain on the field in the Rams’ various sub packages where a linebacker is swapped for a defensive back or extra lineman.
Kenny Young (and will likely be solo in 5-1 and 6-1 fronts) and Young and Troy Reeder to start out in the tandem packages. But keep an eye on Ernest Jones because he’s gonna be a really good player for them.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 31, 2021
Young had bright moments during the 2020 season, his first full season with LA. It was a mild surprise that he was able to earn a starting job over other Rams veterans Micah Kiser and Travin Howard, though Young is more athletic than Kiser and provides a studier frame than converted-safety Howard.
From September 2nd: The 12 questions that still remain unanswered about the Rams
It may be a good sign for Los Angeles if we don’t see much of promising third-round rookie Ernest Jones, as that would mean Young has performed adequately and the Rams do not need to consider a change at the position. Young may not be the long-term answer at inside linebacker, but LA needs him to perform up to expectations this season.
4 – Van Jefferson, WR
Veteran deep threat DeSean Jackson caught attention at the start of training camp, proving that he still seems to have some gas left in the tank for LA this season. Towards the end of camp, Jefferson appeared to display a budding relationship with new signal caller Matthew Stafford.
In three wide receiver sets (mostly 11 personnel for LA), either Jackson or Jefferson will need to come off the field. If Jefferson is able to become a reliable contributor for the offense, the Rams can spell Jackson and minimize the wear and tear for use later in the season. While Jefferson was mostly used in the short/intermediate passing game during his rookie season, there is optimism that his connection with Stafford will force defenses to defend him at all levels of the field.
Matthew Stafford just hit Van Jefferson deep down the left sideline to end the first 11 on 11 period. Those two have really been developing that throw/catch window especially on that perimeter stuff in camp.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 23, 2021
5 – Johnny Mundt, TE
At a minimum Johnny Mundt figures to serve as the Rams’ run blocking tight-end in two TE sets and potentially at times as a fullback. Mundt has filled this role in recent seasons, but with Gerald Everett now a member of the Seattle Seahawks, it’s fair to wonder if he is capable of more.
Los Angeles does not necessarily need Mundt to put up big receiving numbers, barring an injury to starter Tyler Higbee; however, if he proves to be as capable of a receiving option as he is a blocker, McVay will have another important trick to pull from his bag.
6 – Terrell Burgess, S
If there’s a Ram that’s excited for a rematch against the Bears, it’s probably Terrell Burgess. If it weren’t for an injury against Chicago during his rookie campaign, we might already consider Burgess as broken out; however, his 2020 season ended in week 7.
When Jalen Ramsey is not playing inside at the “Star” position, Burgess will likely get the first opportunity to play in the slot. Position flexibility in the secondary will allow defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to move defensive backs around like chess pieces and sow confusion on opposing offenses.
The second year safety is a highly versatile player that is both solid in coverage and a capable tackler. In addition to his role in the slot, Burgess will likely rotate with Taylor Rapp at times in order to defend against known passing situations and offenses that push the ball down the field.
Burgess likely won’t be an every down player for LA this season, but he is still an important member of a strong secondary.
Bears running a mesh-sit-wheel concept and Terrell Burgess is tasked with covering one of the most elusive players ever in the NFL in Cordarrelle Patterson coming out the backfield (wheel).
Burgess is gonna be a *great* one. pic.twitter.com/XH84IEs6vF
— Sosa Kremenjas (@QBsMVP) March 19, 2021
7 – David Long JR, CB
Earlier I mentioned that the Rams even a 50% success rate among the players on this list would push the Rams into serious contention, and I think this holds especially true between Burgess and David Long, Jr.
If Burgess is a reliable option in the slot, the Rams can move Jalen Ramsey inside/outside in order to take advantage of favorable matchups. When Ramsey is in the “star” position, Long is expected to be the outside corner opposite Darious Williams.
If Burgess is ineffective in the slot, the Rams may be forced to play Ramsey inside more often. Should LA be unable to rely upon Long on the outside, the Rams will need Burgess to step up and take over the primary slot duties. These two individuals play very different positions, but their roles are inversely related. In order for the Rams to present multiple alignments in the secondary, at least one of Burgess or Long need to take a significant step forward in 2021.