Everything You Need To Know About The Rams Undrafted Free Agents
WR Landen Akers, Iowa State
Landen Akers left Iowa State with a degree in finance and a master’s in family financial planning and his dream job is to be a financial consultant/advisor for an NFL organization. This kind of makes him sound like an old man and by football standards he is. (We are talking about a football player by the way.) He will be 24 in July. For perspective, Lamar Jackson is exactly six months older than him.
Akers was in school for six years. He grey-shirted in 2015, then redshirted in 2016 before finally getting on the field in 2017. Along with his two degrees, he left school with 15.6 yards per catch, one touchdown, a 20.9-yard kick return average, 19 tackles, and a blocked punt. Most of his production at wide receiver came in his senior season. He caught 18 passes for 269 yards and his only TD.
Akers compares himself to Adam Thielen and Cooper Kupp. Which is an accurate comparison when looking at combine times. Akers falls somewhere in their neighborhood in most measures, which is to say, not terribly impressive. But as we have seen with both Kupp and Thielen, success at WR doesn’t depend entirely on combine measurements.
A big difference between the three pass catchers is both Thielen and Kupp put up great numbers in college albeit playing against lower competition. But like the two, he has good hands, is a clean route runner, and explodes off the line.
What we can glean from Akers biography is a host of intangibles that have a track record of getting guys on football rosters. Grit, determination, work ethic, and hustle to name a few. Cyclones head coach, Matt Campbell describes Akers as “the glue” of what makes his football team special.
If the Rams saw flashes of Cooper Kupp in Akers, it is clear why they signed him. He would be yet another option on first or second down to get enough yards to pick up the first down. He doesn’t add versatility, but he does add depth to the bench. If the Rams receiving corps were a basketball team, adding Akers is like adding a small forward that can play 15 minutes and get two points from anywhere.
There was also a big emphasis on improving the special teams this offseason. Akers could find a roster spot returning punts that in the past would have been fielded by Kupp.
OT Alaric Jackson, Iowa
It has become abundantly obvious that the Rams have a lot of faith in their offensive linemen that were on the roster before the draft. Not taking an offensive lineman was one of the big surprises from the Rams draft, but signing Alaric Jackson may prove to be a worthy substitute. He was slated to go in the sixth or seventh round by several prominent draft gurus. Including Dane Brugler of The Athletic, Luke Easterling of Draft Wire, and Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. Pro Football Focus gave him a 74.4 rating. For reference, the last o-lineman taken in the draft, Michal Menet scored a 69.4.
Of course, no one falls out of the draft without reason. He tested poorly at his pro day, all measures were average or below average for his position, except his height and weight. He also didn’t live up to expectations at the Senior Bowl. And, he was twice suspended for violating team rules. Once in 2017 and again in 2018.
That said, Jackson started 42 games while at Iowa. This shows a high level of experience and consistency, as well as a work ethic that enabled him to earn and maintain his role as a starter. The Rams highly value linemen that are versatile and that was a big focus for Jackson heading into the draft. “I don’t mind playing either tackle or guard position. I think I can play all four positions.” Jackson said, “I’m open to whatever… I can play anywhere. I wanna be a versatile guy. If somebody goes down, you can move me to one of those positions.”
Jackson isn’t without his areas he needs to improve on, but he does have all the baseline skills to be a backup in the NFL. He is quick out of his stance and his initial strike is low with plenty of punch. Jackson’s movements from first to second blocks are clean and crisp. He will need to work on his footwork and upper body strength in general. His footwork may be the most concerning area. While strength can be gained with lifting and conditioning, his footwork may be a bad habit that will be hard to break. This is the bad side of a player with a lot of experience. Some things become second nature and that is hard to change.
As for the rule-breaking, it seems that Jackson has cleaned up his act. So much so that he was named to the Iowa Leadership Group. The group is responsible for creating team policies and is involved in team decision-making throughout the season. Players are selected by the coaching staff and teammates
The Rams depth at offensive line is still concerning, so there is a good chance that he will make the team. He may only get reps as a special teamer, but that will give him time to work and develop.
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S Paris Ford, Pittsburgh
Paris Ford likes to make big plays. Interceptions, punishing hits, forcing fumbles, swatting balls. Ford likes them all. In the last 19 games, he has six interceptions, a pick-six, three forced fumbles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 10 passes defended. In seven games last season he had three of those interceptions. And he has always been a gamer going back to high school. In his senior season, he scored 22 touchdowns in five different ways. Rushing, receiving, interception return, punt return, and fumble return.
The drawback is he doesn’t always make the play. He overcommits to try to pick off passes, gets baited out of position, takes bad angles, doesn’t wrap up when trying to punch balls loose. This feast or famine style of play is likely what dropped him out of the draft. That and a terrible showing at his pro day. Oh, and he opted out partway through last season after the team went on a four-game losing streak.
Other than those things, Ford is everything an NFL team would want from a safety. He is uber-athletic and plays hard and mean. He wants to be involved in every play. He has a quick backpedal and great lateral speed. But the question remains. Can he play like that while also playing a more disciplined brand of football?
The Rams are a good landing spot for Ford. Raheem Morris is just the kind of coach he needs to develop into an NFL starter. He will also be playing alongside young safeties that are on the other side of the spectrum. That is to say, well-disciplined and measured players that are steeped in fundamental football. He has already trained with fellow Pitt alum Aaron Donald in an offseason workout and can use that connection to develop. Donald is the perfect confluence of discipline and unmitigated power. Ford basically needs to learn to tame the beast.
So, about those other safeties. The Rams have a lot and Ford will have to get it together quickly to compete. But, think of a guy like him on special teams. That kind of all-out effort will stand out on punt and kick returns. Keeping Ford around will also give the Rams some needed flexibility to see how Taylor Rapp and Terrell Burgess have recovered from injuries.
S Jovan Grant, Merrimack College
Jovan Grant and Paris Ford have a yin-yang feeling about them. Ford is athletic and flashy and Grant is cerebral and fundamentally sound. He is a smart solid tackler, ranking second on his Warriors squad in tackles in 2019. Merrimack didn’t field a football team in 2020. Had the season gone on as planned, Grant would have been a captain on the team. Like Akers, Grant also studied finance and has plans to tack a master’s on to that as well.
Ford is a bit undersized and Grant is super-sized. He has the same frame as Jamal Adams, 6’1” 214. He isn’t the fastest guy out there, but he does bring some interesting athletic ability. He posted a 6.81 three-cone and a 40 inch vertical. That puts him in the top 74th and 84th percentile among safeties respectively. The three-cone is a good way to measure speed while changing direction, which has obvious correlations to his position. But a 40 inch vertical is astounding and can’t be fudged in a pro day like speed drills can.
Not only does it put him near the top of leapers at strong safety, but it also puts Grant in the 94th percentile of wide receivers. So with his height and ups, he can contest jump balls with the best of NFL pass catchers.
Along with those traits his size allows him to be used in light-box sets, where he can play that LB/S hybrid role that Adams plays and the Rams love so much.
The trouble he will have will be standing out in a very crowded room of safeties. But with John Johnson gone Sean McVay will be looking for smart guys that can lead the group. That sounds like a role Grant could grow into.
S Troy Warner, BYU
So the Rams really like safeties. It was pretty broadly accepted that the Rams didn’t need more safeties. Yet, they added three more. Injury concerns at the position? Sure. Add for special teams? Certainly. So why not, some healthy competition never hurts. It’s not like they need depth elsewhere, right?
Troy Warner is Fred Warner’s little brother. There is a rule that every article about Troy has to start by stating this fact.
Troy played five seasons at BYU largely because he missed significant time due to a Lisfranc foot injury suffered in 2017. In 2018 he returned from the injury and played 11 games, but Warner was playing through pain related to the injury. So, Warner took most of 2019 off to have another surgery and let the injury rehab completely.
It must have healed well because he had a career year and was named a defensive team captain. He racked up 28 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. The Cougars went 11-1 and the defense ranked 4th in the nation, allowing only 15.3 points per game.
Warner showed flashes of high-level play in his senior season. He is a physical defender, a tough competitor, and brings it on every down. Warner has above-average awareness and football IQ. He is one of those guys that just seems at home on a football field
But, he lacks good coverage skills and high-end athleticism. He isn’t big enough to bully receivers and isn’t fast enough to go stride for stride with burners.
Warner has a high enough upside to make the roster but may be seen as a tweener with Ford and Grant having such defined talents.
WR Jeremiah Haydel, Texas State
The Rams are looking to improve on special teams. Mr. McVay, may I interest you in the third-best kick returner, by combined kick return yards, in the nation? If so, then Jeremiah Haydel is your man. He averaged 22.1 yards per return over his four seasons with the Bobcats. In his senior season, he returned a punt for a touchdown and returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown.
As a receiver, he was a solid option throughout his college career. His senior season was his best. He caught 40 passes for 408 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged over 10 yards a catch, all four seasons.
It is difficult to judge him as a pass-catcher. He played for three coaches, and with six different starting QB’s, and Texas State’s combined record was 10-38 in his four seasons.
He isn’t big. 5’11” 170. He doesn’t have duster speed associated with firefly receivers. But he does have great vision that allows him to find seams. Defenders have a tough time tackling him. He has enough wiggle to make tacklers miss, but he also has a bit of the low center of gravity pinball stability. He looks faster than he is and he also plays bigger and stronger. He isn’t afraid of contact and will strong-arm a DB to get a few extra yards.
He has improved each season and showed grit through four hard seasons, knowing persisting through the adversity would pay off. Haydel said, “I could have given up or transferred, but I fought through those times because I knew those times would make me the person I am today; it would make me mentally strong and prepare me in life.”
It isn’t likely that Haydel will make the roster this season, but he has the right attitude to defy those odds. Plus, if he can impress as a return specialist it could fast-track his spot on the team.
DB Brontae Harris, UAB
Brontae Harris originally attended Alabama A&M on a basketball scholarship and was a redshirt freshman on the team. After a two-year hiatus, The University of Alabama-Birmingham reinstituted their football program and offered Harris a walk-on spot on the team. For the first time in his life, Harris wasn’t playing sports and realized how much he missed playing football. He abandoned his scholarship to A A&M for a shot at earning one at UAB and a chance to play football. And he did earn that scholarship after a semester of hard work.
In his 28 games with the Blazers, he racked up 76 tackles, eight for loss, and a sack. He also picked off four passes, one for a touchdown and 16 passes defended, 11 in 2018 alone. 2018 was his best season attracting national attention when PFF graded him the fourth-highest CB in the nation. Harris missed the entirety of the 2019 season with a foot injury and his senior season was truncated due to COVID-19.
Harris posted some of the worst pro-day measurements of the 2021 CB draft class. He is also undersized, 5’9”, 184. So his traits make for a tough sell. His playing style, on the other hand, can raise an eyebrow. The first thing you notice about him is how physical he is at the line. He knows he can get beat off the line, so he makes sure to pop the receiver and hand fight for as long as he can. He also has good ball skills when in coverage. He puts himself in good positions to make a play on the ball.
But there are too many instances that those things aren’t enough to counter his lack of size and athleticism. It’s hard to see him making the 53-man roster.
C Jordan Meredith, Western Kentucky
Everyone was convinced that the Rams were going to take a center in the draft. They didn’t, but they did sign Jordan Meredith. Is he a starting center? No, but at least the Rams realize they need to have a few linemen in the well. This also means he is almost guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster. But there was a similar guarantee feeling about drafting a center.
As a Hilltopper, Meredith started every game for three seasons. Durability is always a good sign. In 2019, he was named an Honorable Mention All-American by PFF. They graded him 79.3 overall, 5th among FBS guards, 89.3 Pass Block Rating (2nd) 79.2 Run Block Rating (t-7th). He allowed only one sack and one QB hit in that season.
His biggest drawback is his size and length. He is in the 40th percentile by height and slightly below average in weight. His 31-inch arms, although, put him around the bottom 25th percentile.
Centers don’t necessarily have to be the biggest or the longest, but it doesn’t help. It hurts the most in pass blocking and the Rams have expected a lot from their linemen in passing situations.
He played a good amount of snaps at WKU at guard. That versatility only bolsters his chances with the Rams. Austin Corbett is a free agent after this season.
EDGE Maximilian Roberts, Boston College
Max Roberts is yet another UDFA that is pursuing a postgraduate degree. He earned his undergraduate degree from Fordham in Information Science and started his master’s in Leadership and Administration at Boston College. This also points out that Roberts is a grad transfer. He had only played one season at BC but has also played at Fordham and Maine. He left Maine for BC once the Black Bears canceled their season due to COVID-19.
Playing for the Eagles would give him a chance to develop his game and his first real opportunity to play for a big market school.
Roberts cashed in. He led the team in sacks with four and was third on the team in tackles for loss with six, all in only eight games. Landing in Boston was obviously beneficial, but bouncing around from school to school didn’t do him any favors. His game is underdeveloped and he over relies on the skills and traits he does have.
He is a pretty astounding athlete. Some of his combine numbers put him among the best defensive ends in the draft class. Roberts is strong. He posted 28 bench reps, a 36.3 vert, and a 123-inch long jump. You can see his power in his game, but his game is unrefined. He can overpower blockers, but then doesn’t often enough turn that pressure into sacks. He has a good shot to make the team, but he will need to improve his technique on the double. But if he can’t, he would be a shoo-in for the practice squad.
DL George Silvanic, Air Force
George Silvanic played on both the offensive and defensive line in his time at the Air Force Academy, but he also played some tight end too. It makes sense why they moved him around. He is an odd build, so he fits and doesn’t fit in many places. . He’s 6’5” which makes him one of the tallest defensive linemen from the 2021 draft class. He is also 286 lbs., which makes him either one of the lightest defensive tackles or the heaviest defensive ends. He isn’t particularly fast or strong when looking at his pro-day measurements. So what do we know about Silvanic?
He has started eight games for the Falcons. In the six games last season, Silvanic was second on the team in tackles with 34 and led the team in sacks with 2.5, and tackles for loss with four. So he obviously has some viability on the defensive line.
But it is hard to see exactly what Sean McVay would want from this guy. A big body on special teams? Could he be used like they used Gerald Everett as a blocking full back? The Rams are outside-the-box thinkers, so only time will tell.
OL Max Pircher, Italy
Max Pircher isn’t technically a UDFA because he wasn’t actually eligible to be drafted. In reality, he has little to no shot at making the team, but he is Italian and he’s only been playing football for two years and that’s freakin cool.
The former handball player saw an American football game in Austria and decided to try out for the team he watched, the Swarco Raiders. He made that team and also the Italian national team. Who knew?
He went on to play for the Hildesheim Invaders in Germany and now he is a LA Ram.