Let’s face it, there aren’t many things for fans of the Los Angeles Rams to look forward to from week to week. They can’t even count on seeing their favorite players. Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford have all been sidelined with injuries. Heck, with possible retirements, the churn of free agency and the penchant of the Rams brass to make big moves, Rams fans don’t even know who will make it on the 2023 roster.
But there are still talented players to root for that will be playing the rest of the season and will fill important roster positions in the foreseeable future.
Here are a few Rams players to get excited about watching while this lost season drags toward Week 18.
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5 Rams Players To Watch To Find Excitement On The Rams Roster
Kyren Williams missed a big chunk of the season because of an injury. Since being activated to the Rams roster he has been the most effective weapon out of the backfield. He leads Rams running backs with four yards per carry. That’s 0.7 yards per carry more than Cam Akers is averaging. What has made him exciting so far as a runner is his second-effort ability. Last week against the Seahawks he picked up a key third down. He was all but stuffed a yard short but continued to churn his legs and picked up the extra yard to keep the drive alive.
What makes him even more exciting is that he brings quality pass-catching out of the backfield. In four games, Williams has already caught more passes for more yards than Akers and is on track to surpass Darrell Henderson’s mark in the next two games. It’s been a small sample size so far and his usage has swung wildly depending on the week. In his first week, he played 21 snaps, then up to 43 for the next two weeks, then back down to 19.
But, while at Notre Dame he caught for 675 yards over 26 games at an average of 8.7 yards per catch. If you translate that yards per catch into the pro game this season (which you can’t) that number would put him above Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey.
Is he Kamara or McCaffrey? Probably not, but the Rams haven’t had a pass-catching threat out of the backfield since Todd Gurley. This means the Rams have simply missed out on using a whole aspect of offensive football. Bringing a previously non-existent skill set to an offense can be very impactful for a few reasons. It makes the offense more well-rounded, but since it has been absent defenses won’t see it coming.
His success is reliant on Sean McVay putting him in the game. The caveat is that every offensive player HAS to block and block well to play in McVay’s system. And that is one area that Williams has faltered. Out of his 10 pass-blocking snaps, Williams has allowed two pressures. Akers has only allowed one in 22 snaps.
That will be the biggest thing to watch when he is in those situations. He has to do it to earn playing time and then we can see what he can really do.
Van Jefferson had one of the least recognized 900+ yard receiving seasons of recent history. He was of course in the very long shadow of Cooper Kupp’s historic season and he was also overlooked because the ever-flashy Odell Beckham sucked a lot of any additional air out of the room. Jefferson’s total yards put him in the top 40 of all pass catchers last season and his 15.3 yards per catch was 11th best among qualified receivers.
He was the Rams only consistent deep threat. His average depth of target was the deepest of all Rams pass catchers last season, offering a good balance for Kupp in the slot. And he is right back at it, his average depth of target this season is 15.9 yards. That is on a year when Stafford’s ADOT is just seven yards and only Tutu Atwell has an ADOT over 10 yards.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rams story if there wasn’t injury involved. Jefferson missed the first half of the year recovering from knee surgery. Since his return, he has made his presence felt. 136 yards, two touchdowns, and nine first downs.
With Allen Robinson and Kupp out for the remainder of the season, it is Jefferson’s time to take center stage. Given his performance thus far, he will be a fun player to watch and a rare bright spot for the offense.
Thursday night could offer a big stage for Jefferson. The Raiders rank dead last in the NFL in defensive passing DVOA. John Wolford doesn’t have the arm that Stafford does, so it will be on McVay to rethink how Jefferson will be schemed for the rest of the season. But he has proved to be a legitimate option in the offense.
Ernest Jones is what Les Snead wants every draft pick to be. Selected outside of the top 100 picks, but develops into a starter and then just keeps getting better and better. In 2021, Jones’ rookie season, he didn’t start seeing significant playing time until mid-way threw the schedule.
He logged about half as many snaps as fellow inside linebacker Troy Reeder. Reeder finished the year with 91 tackles. Jones finished with 61. That’s impressive, but he also finished the year with a 6.2 percent missed tackle rate, one of the lowest on the team. Only Jalen Ramsey and Sebastian Joseph-Day were better. Not to pick on Reeder, but he whiffed on 14.2 percent of his tackles.
Jone was a vast improvement over the Rams recent linebackers, but he still needed to improve, specifically against the run and in coverage. This season he has made huge strides in run defense. PFF graded him at just 46.2, the second worst on the team. So far this season, he is graded at 83.3, third best on the defense. Behind only Jalen Ramsey and his new mentor Bobby Wagner. It’s obvious that Jones has learned scores from Wagner. He called working with Wagner the, “highlight of his career.”
One of the biggest additions to Jones’ game is an element of excitement. Jones was making plays last season, but this year he is getting to the right spots faster. That is Wagner’s influence. He has taught Jones how to slow the game down, be patient, and strike at the right time. It’s reflected in Jones’ average depth of tackle. Last season it was 5.2 yards, this year it’s 3.3. For a guy playing at his position, two yards can be the difference between a first down and stalled drive.
Where he still needs to improve is in coverage. He allows a completion percentage of 82 and allows 8.3 yards after the catch in his career. This season he is among the worst linebackers at allowing yards after the catch and the 20th-worst competition percentage among linebackers.
It will be fun to watch just how good Jones can become. There is potential that he becomes one of the best middle linebackers in the league if he can shore up his coverage skills. Based on his progress in just his second season, he will improve in that area. This is especially true if he learns Wagner’s best quality, preparation.
There is plenty about Derion Kendrick‘s rookie season to criticize. But there is plenty of good as well. Unfortunately for him, cornerback is an easy position to condemn. But considering that he is a rookie, and a sixth-rounder at that, Kendrick has held up well under heavy scrutiny, not just from ambitious Rams fans, but from opposing quarterbacks. He has been targeted 55 times this season, that’s just two fewer times than first-rounder Sauce Gardner. Kendrick hasn’t been as good as Gardner, but he has been almost as good as third-overall pick Derek Stingley. Stingley has given up a 67.3 completion percentage and Kendrick has a 69.1 completion percentage.
Kendrick is going through a trial by fire. He is being tested like a first-rounder and he isn’t falling flat on his face. He isn’t exciting in the same way that the others on this list are, but he plays with confidence. A rookie sixth-rounder is going to get burnt. What makes Kendrick different is he isn’t phased by getting beat. He has bounced back and made huge plays against some of the league’s best receivers.
The Rams don’t often throw their players to the wolves like this. There is something special about Kendrick. He wants the ruckus. He loves the gauntlet. He doesn’t come out unscathed but he comes out a better cornerback. And that is what is exciting about him, he will boom or bust but either way its a blast
A 6’4” 310-pound former Ivy Leaguer, edge rusher? What is not exciting about that? In the last two weeks, Hoecht has played 115 snaps, which is about double what he has played in the other 29 previous games he has been available for as a Ram. In those two games, he has eight pressures: four hurries, a QB hit, and TWO sacks! In two games he has more sacks than Terrell Lewis has in his last 17 games.
When asked when he realized that Hoecht could be an edge rusher, Sean McVay said, “Probably two weeks ago. Otherwise, we would have done this shit a lot sooner.” Considering the trouble the Rams have had generating edge pressure, that would have been very helpful. What defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has realized about Hoecht is that “Hoecht is absolute energy, he’s not the guy you want to stand in front of in a walk-through because he only has one speed,” Morris said this week. “He is absolute one speed, full go, all the time, all motor, all gas, nothing else.”
Buckle up and watch Hoecht go this season. It may be the only shot we get to see him fully unleashed.