3 Most Underrated Rams Players That Could Have A Big Impact Next Season
With free agency looming over the Rams, they will have to look to younger and less experienced players to fill the gaps by departing bloated contracts. Here are three underrated players that could have a big impact next season.
Since 2015, Hill has dutifully played backup CB and on special teams, making him one of the longest-tenured Rams. It also means he survived the coaching staff upheaval in 2017, which means he made an impression on two regimes. When the team acquired Jalen Ramsey, Hill was once again in the shadow of a superstar defensive back. Despite the shadow, Hill shined.
Hill allowed the fewest receptions, 23, of any cornerback with a minimum of 300 coverage snaps and he held quarterbacks to a 45.1% completion rate when he was targeted (third-lowest). PFF has Hill ranked 20th among all NFL cornerbacks, giving him a grade of 76.4.
Hill might be emerging at exactly the right time for the Rams. They have the option to drop the last year of Nickell Robey-Coleman’s $15.7 million dollar contract. Despite his strong season, the Rams are in a salary cap pickle. Hill is on the second year of a two year $5.25 million dollar deal. With Robey-Coleman likely being a cap casualty, Hill will see even more playing time, covering slot snaps.
So far, the more Hill plays the better he gets. According to Hill, that’s exactly what should happen. Hill said in an interview with the LA Times, “The more you play, the more you learn. The more you get the feel for the game, you understand, ‘I did that wrong with my technique,’ or, ‘I need to stay tapped in longer.’ ”
Similarly, Samson Ebukam might be the beneficiary of cap casualties. Two starting Rams linebackers are up for free agency. Dante Fowler Jr. and Cory Littleton were both on one-year deals and both will be looking to get paid. Making it unlikely that the Rams will be able to bring back one or both of them. Moving into a starting role shouldn’t be an issue for Ebukam. In 2018, Ebukam started 14 games, but with the addition of Clay Matthews he was moved down on the depth chart. In 2019, he started just five games.
Although Ebukam saw his playing time cut, he played 693 snaps in 2018 and only 565 in 2019, he increased his sack totals and total tackles. He also matched his tackles for loss totals. Less playing time usually spells less productivity, but he actually became a more impactful football player. Despite this, his best ability may be availability. He hasn’t missed a game in his three-year career.
Not only has he been available, but he has also shown up when the team needed a difference-maker. He returned a fumble for a touchdown and snagged a pick-six, in the fourth quarter, off Patrick Mahomes in their epic clash with the Chiefs in 2018. This season he had his best game against their biggest rival, San Francisco in week 6. He forced five QB pressures and his performance was graded 87.8 by PFF. It was also the game he played the most defensive snaps last season (91%).
He has definitely made the case that he can move back into a starting role. And taking a step back early in his career may benefit him in the long run. He has learned from the veteran experience of Clay Matthews despite being sidelined because of him.
Ebukam told the LA Times that Matthews showed him how to “play more free” and “He kind of like goes against a lot of the rules because he just already knows what’s going to happen on the offensive side of the ball. So I’ve just got to make sure I’m able to do the same thing and have an impact just like he did.” Modeling yourself after Clay Matthews isn’t easy, but he is a great example for any young linebacker.
Ebukam is currently on the last year of his four year rookie contract worth $3.01 million.
Josh Reynolds is another Ram that has dutifully waited in the shadow of big stars. He plays behind a few of the biggest names in the game and has been an insurance policy when one of those names is on the sidelines due to injury. While none of the starting wide receivers are up for free agency this season, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are taking up a lot of cap space. It’s conceivable that the Rams may trade one of them to alleviate some of their cap pressure.
Josh Reynolds hasn’t had many opportunities to show off. He garnered only 21 catches on 43 targets in 2019. Although, of those 21 catches he picked up 15 first downs and eight were plays of 20 yards or more. He also led the team in yards per catch with 15.5. If Reynolds was moved into a permanent starting role, getting around seven targets a game, he could truly emerge as a major downfield threat, especially on third downs.
The Rams dropped from eighth to sixteenth in third-down conversion percentage from 2018 to 2019. In 2018, Reynolds caught 29 passes, 23 of which were first downs. With Cooper Kupp and Co. commanding a lot of attention from DB’s, Reynolds has proven he can get free and convert on those desperate third downs.
Reynolds’ fortunes are on the rise while that of Brandin Cooks has seen a downturn. Cooks’ production was down significantly across the board. Trading Cooks would not be an easy task.
If the Rams are able to trade away Cooks (Four years and $65.8 million remaining on his contract) Reynolds would get the targets he needs to finally show what he can do as a starter.