What did Saturday night mean for the future of these Rams?
What happened in the Rams-Broncos preseason game on Saturday night and what could it mean for LA’s final cuts? You just want the answers immediately, I get it, so I’ll cut to the chase, and then I’ll get to being too wordy, like usual:
Bryce Perkins flashed as much potential as ever, but a lack of red zone success could be enough to get him through waivers and onto the practice squad.
Now nobody could blame the Rams if they choose Corey Bojorquez over Johnny Hekker.
Jake Funk has proven to be a protected player, which is rare for a seventh round rookie.
Micah Kiser played a lot, which might not be a good sign for his chances of making the 53-man roster.
The Rams seem likely to carry more defensive linemen and defensive backs than we expect. Based on playing time on Saturday night, we might be able to identify who those guys are.
Most of the offense, including the offensive line, seems set, but there could be a number of surprises on defense because competition may have come down to the final quarter.
Now to be more wordy:
Will Bryce Perkins make the roster?
Bryce Perkins was in a unique situation on Saturday night, playing the role of third-string quarterback who knows for sure that he’s going to play the whole game, so long as he didn’t get hurt. Not only that, but Perkins would get to face the starting defense of the Denver Broncos, another rare opportunity for a player who was only making his second career start after college.
In this situation, Perkins looked even more confident than he had in the previous two games. He stood tall in the pocket, hung in for tough completions, and was able to lead the LA Rams to four scoring drives. Until the announcements are made of who has not made the cut, the debate will continue on about whether Perkins has earned a spot on the Rams 53-man roster; however, one thing that Perkins was unable to secure during his two-and-a-half games as LA’s quarterback was a win and I’m sure that’s what stings the most.
These games do carry meaning on the field, even if not in the final standings.
The Rams finished 0-3 in the preseason by falling to the Denver Broncos 17-12 on Saturday night at Mile High Stadium, losing in the final minute in each loss. LA had a chance in the first preseason game, but Devlin Hodges threw an interception in the end zone on fourth down. Another opportunity for a win cam last Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders, but Perkins’ two-point attempt to Jacob Harris fell incomplete.
Then on Saturday night, Perkins faced a five-point deficit and had several chances to throw a game-winner into the end zone, but each pass fell incomplete and it wasn’t meant to be. Did he do enough to earn the fate of landing a spot on the final 53-man roster, thereby spelling doom for a player at another position? One who might even be able to help the Rams this season?
Well, if he did, then one must wonder if Les Snead will have to make another trade.
The Rams want exactly one thing to happen at quarterback over the next 10 years: Matthew Stafford starts 170+ games. That’s it.
Of course, that’s at least as optimistic as the idea that either of LA’s undrafted backup options will one day develop into a player who is close to the player that Stafford is, but Snead and Sean McVay will likely operate as if this team won’t ever have to see Perkins or John Wolford suit up for the Rams in a game this year. Or next. Or the next.
So could a trade be made?
On Saturday morning, the Jacksonville Jaguars received a conditional fifth round pick from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for quarterback Gardner Minshew. Though Minshew has a considerable amount more experience than Wolford, he’s essentially been treated as a QB3 — both by the Jaguars and the Eagles — and I think the two quarterbacks are comparable.
However, it sure seems like McVay has great admiration for Wolford and I couldn’t see him moving him away from the backup position for any reason.
There is no question that Perkins often made plays in the preseason when plays were needed, but perhaps more impactful than even winning the game on Saturday night would have been getting into the end zone. In the red zone, scores didn’t seem to come easy. Though LA had four scoring drives, they were all field goals by Matt Gay. And even though Perkins started the game surrounded by backups and was playing against starters of a good defense, he also played much of the game against Denver’s backups and reserves further down the depth chart.
Finding some of those “wow” plays that result in touchdowns might have helped his case even more and the red zone struggles for the Rams is the one thing that held them back from going 3-0 instead of 0-3. The record doesn’t matter, but it is still indicative of what happened whenever LA had chances in the red zone.
That could weigh heavily, not just on the Rams’ decisions ahead, but in how other teams — the ones who have enough room on their roster for a third quarterback — view Perkins as an option, should he be available. Because there is probably no question that if Snead knows that Perkins will be able to pass waivers and put him on the practice squad, LA would prefer to have him on the practice squad.
Did Perkins do enough during the Rams’ three preseason games in which they scored 6, 16, and 12 points to convince one of the other 31 teams that they should pick him up if he hits waivers and cut someone else on their roster in favor of him? Did he do enough to convince the Rams?
We will find out soon.
Will Johnny Hekker be the one who is traded?
The second-most pressing question with LA’s final roster is the punting competition that either did not exist and has now presented itself or if McVay and Snead had long been considering this decision because of Johnny Hekker’s contract. Whether they expected this competition to happen or not, the performance by Corey Bojorquez on Saturday night now means that the Rams might actually get trashed more by fans and media for keeping Hekker than by cutting him.
It wasn’t just that Bojorquez had a 67 and 70-yard punt at Mile High Stadium, but more so that he twice got Denver pinned at the 1.
The savings between Hekker and Bojorquez is not that great — only about $1.6 million — but some would argue that the two are trending in different directions recently and that’s really the part of the decision that would make releasing him so difficult: admitting that a change at punter was even necessary.
Is Jake Funk a key part of the 2021 Rams offense?
A player who does not have to worry about a roster spot looks to be seventh round running back Jake Funk.
You could have argued that Funk’s odds to make the final roster were low to begin with. He joined a team that seemed pretty deep at running back at the time, he suffered a torn ACL twice in college, didn’t get a ton of carries during his college career, and was selected in the seventh round of a draft that had an exceptionally low number of prospects in the talent pool because the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to every player.
Yet on Saturday night, Funk spent the entire game on the sideline, only ready to go in if LA absolutely needed a running back to go in. He was never needed and maybe part of the reason he was on the sidelines was related to his injury history, but it sure appears that he is going to be the third running back when the Rams open the season against the Chicago Bears.
The third running back has often been involved in McVay’s offense and we know that there’s a very thin wall between being the third running back and starting for the Rams.
Funk’s special team abilities also helped make him a protected player on Saturday night, which again, is so rare for a seventh rounder. LA selected Ejaun Price in the seventh round in 2017; then found Travin Howard and Justin Lawler in 2018, though both are still looking to find roles with the Rams three years later; then Nick Scott and Dakota Allen in 2019; and finally Clay Johnston, Sam Sloman, and Tremayne Anchrum in 2020.
This year, it seems Snead may have found at least two valuable players in the seventh round, if you also include linebacker Chris Garrett. Though Garrett was given a lot of playing time again and might be in a competition for one final spot with second-year linebacker Terrell Lewis, he has been impressive enough that cutting him might mean losing him to another team on the waiver wire.
More so than Perkins, I believe Garrett would be added to a roster and that’s just because of how many spots there are on a team for pass rushers and how few there are for quarterbacks.
Where does Micah Kiser stand with the Rams?
If Garrett does make the team, that could mean one spot that doesn’t go to Micah Kiser. The 2018 fifth round pick earned a lot of fans and made the team as a rookie but didn’t play often, then missed all of his second season. When he returned, the role of starting inside linebacker was his to lose and while he started nine of the first 10 games, Kiser might have officially lost that job when he went on injured reserve and was replaced by Troy Reeder.
There was some talk of Micah Kiser missing tackles in 2020 and yet he also had some strong performances and it was difficult to gauge if McVay was happy with anybody who was starting at inside linebacker last season. However, when Kiser returned from injured reserve in time for the playoffs, Reeder started and Kiser was left to special teams.
Reeder had three sacks in his first start of 2020, then when he replaced Kiser in Week 12, had three tackles for a loss and a QB hit, to go along with 60 tackles in six games. Reeder had another 20 tackles in two playoff games and it appears as though he’s been the starting inside linebacker throughout training camp.
Kiser started the game on Saturday night and was seen playing into the third quarter. Is he playing for a chance on the Rams this season or for a chance somewhere else?
Going heavier at defensive line and defensive back
One reason for that might be that Snead and McVay expect the defense to be “heavier” on numbers at defensive line and defensive back than anticipated. That was Snead’s word of choice when he went into the broadcast booth on Saturday night and was asked about those position groups.
LA probably won’t have A’Shawn Robinson in Week 1 and one player who stood out on Saturday night was defensive tackle Michael Hoecht. An undrafted free agent in 2020, Hoecht had several good moments but his sack-strip-recovery of Drew Lock stands out as one of the best plays by any Rams player this preseason. And at least it came against a guy who has started a good number of regular season games.
— NFL (@NFL) August 29, 2021
If LA does load up at defensive line, we know that Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day, A’Shawn Robinson (who could go on IR after 53-man rosters are announced; players can now return from IR after only three weeks), and Greg Gaines are definitely in, while Bobby Brown III (he was hurt on Saturday night but McVay didn’t sound concerned after the game) would seem to be too good to let go. Eric Banks, who made the final 53-man roster last year, only appeared in the game briefly, and I think could be an overlooked player who makes it.
That would already be six, and that’s before you get to Hoecht or Earnest Brown IV, LA’s fifth round pick this year. I’m not sure that we saw enough of Brown IV in training camp or the preseason to be surprised if he doesn’t make the final roster. That’s especially if the Rams need help at defensive line over the first three weeks of the season, which is potentially where 2019 undrafted free agent Marquise Copeland or 2020 undrafted free agent Jonah Williams could step in.
We might see McVay keep eight defensive linemen, then put Robinson on injured reserve, getting it down to seven: Donald, Joseph-Day, Gaines, Brown III, Banks, Williams, Hoecht.
Brown IV and John Daka go to the practice squad.
If the Rams go heavy at defensive back, we can do the same sort of math: McVay kept four cornerbacks and five safeties to open 2020, for example. We know that the Rams are going to keep Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott, and David Long. It would be surprising if they released Terrell Burgess, so that likely makes seven defensive backs already. It would likely be fair to say that Robert Rochell isn’t one of those fourth round picks who gets cut as a rookie, and that brings LA to eight.
I say that Dont’e Deayon has to make the team. He would be the fifth cornerback and Snead said that the team might have to go “heavier” on numbers at defensive back. That’s just one more cornerback than last season.
The Rams then seem to have three more defensive backs of note this preseason: Kareem Orr, Juju Hughes, and J.R. Reed.
LA could potentially try to keep all three to start the season, but Hughes’ experience of being on the team last year might help him be number 10. That’s a little heavier than 2020’s count at defensive back. Could it be either of Orr or Reed, or neither of Orr or Reed?
That’s probably one of the tougher calls that the coaches will have to make over the next 48-72 hours.
- Xavier Jones looked good enough to make the team
- There was less of a “stand out performance” by any of the receivers this week; J.J. Koski had a slow night and might be on the practice squad; Trishton Jackson played this week and had a couple moments and certainly isn’t forgotten about; Tutu Atwell got 12 targets and we’re just waiting until he breaks one off for a long gain
- Jacob Harris was targeted three times but didn’t record a catch
- At one point, Deayon was credited for “sticky coverage” on Tim Patrick, a receiver much taller than him; Deayon needs to be on the team
- Matt Gay was a good kicker on Saturday night
- Jeremiah Haydel had a nice kickoff return; Atwell seems to be settling into the punt returner role for this season
- Ernest Jones entered the game in the second quarter and the third round pick seems to be buried on the depth chart right now. Not necessarily because he’s been disappointing, that’s just how confident McVay appears with Kenny Young, Reeder, and an experienced group at that position.
- Bobby Evans might be in that group of “surprising cuts” but I think the offensive line group won’t even have that many releases. They don’t have that many players as is — just 13, not including Max Pircher, the Italian tackle who will be on the practice squad — and we’ve seen or heard little from undrafted rookie Jordan Meredith. If LA goes with nine offensive linemen, then they have to cut three players. Undrafted rookie A.J. Jackson has a lot of playing time but might be for the practice squad. The next options to be released would be Jeremiah Kolone, Chandler Brewer, or maybe Evans. It seems like Anchrum would have a place on the team and Coleman Shelton is lining up to be the backup center.
- Christian Rozeboom had a nice interception.
- Why don’t they just make the preseason a league of its own? Made up of practice squad players and then expanded out to 30-player teams that play eight games each per year. There it is, the NFL’s minor leagues. We can see these players get starting reps, the league can put it on TV and make even more money. Competing professional football leagues always fail, but an NFL-owned league can at least sell that they sort of vet these players and you know some of them will become starters in the future. I fixed it.