How Adding Rugby Players Could Solve the Los Angeles Rams Special Teams Conundrum

Credit: Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Is a rugby player the answer to the Los Angeles Rams special teams struggles? Jordan Shultz reported on Wednesday that the Kansas City Chiefs are attempting that having agreed to terms with Welsh Rugby star, Louis Rees-Zammit. The 23-year-old will reportedly play running back/wide receiver.

Rees-Zammit, listed at 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds has been training in Florida for the last two months with other NFL hopefuls through the league’s International Player Pathway program (IPP). At their Pro Day he a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash, with a 9-foot-7 broad jump and a 29-inch vertical jump.

In a CNN interview, he compared his style of play to that of Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers – versatile players who can take over games running the ball but are also adept route runners and pass catchers.

Well, it’s good for the Chiefs, but what does this have to do with the Rams?

Los Angeles Rams Kick Return Woes

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
Credit: Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams problems abound. The Rams have had their troubles with finding a kicker, they have also had problems finding a quality return man. Last season Austin Trammell ranked 34th among high-volume punt returners and 29th among kick returners in average yards per return. But that was in the old world of NFL kickoffs.

Watch here for an explanation of the new world of kickoffs.

Why Rugby Players?

The NFL based its new kickoff rules on the XFL rules. Here is a look at the first touchdown from a kickoff return scored in the XFL.

This kickoff looks a lot like a rugby play from set pieces. Here is a look at a bunch of these:

From purely a play design standpoint, there are clear similarities that are hard to ignore. Since the new rule allows for two players in the landing zone, the pitch element is up for grabs. Get a guy running as fast as he can and force a player to make an open-field tackle. It’s a recipe for success.

Set-piece tries are only a small part of the game. They are used to operating in confined quarters, forcing them to find running lanes. There also aren’t the same stoppages of time, so rugby engines run hot all game long. Samuel is the closest approximation of a rugby player playing in the NFL. His skill set is so unique, that many started giving him the hybrid position name, wide-back. Which is, it seems, how the Chiefs view Zammit.

Los Angeles Rams Roster and Cap Considerations

Rugby: Major League Rugby Championship
Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

This is where this plan should really appeal to the Los Angeles Rams, general manager Les Snead. The top-paid Rugby star in the world gets paid $1.3 million per season. For comparison, that is less than Hunter Long makes as a backup tight end. So attracting talent won’t be costly. Daily Mail reported that Zammit’s contract with the Chiefs is worth $884 thousand over three years.

It may seem like a costly price for a player that will only have an impact on a maximum of 70 snaps a season. But these rule changes have created an inefficiency in the game. No team will be fully prepared on either side of the equation. If the Rams act now, they will be ahead of the curve. Not only that, but these rule changes were made to make returns, not only safer but more exciting. Finding the right strategy now will mean more points and more yards. At its core, football is a war of territorial dispute. The less territory you have to fight over the better it is for the offense.

For the 2023 Los Angeles Rams, Trammell averaged almost 18 yards per kickoff return. Keisen Nixon, the NFL’s top returner, picked up 9.5 more yards per return than Trammell. He essentially handed the Packers five free first downs in every game last season. Trammell provided the Rams with only 8 yards per game.

As noted before, Zammit was acquired through the International Player Pathway program. Rules of the IPP give teams an extra spot on their practice squad. So if the recruited player doesn’t earn a spot on the 53-man roster the team can still develop him throughout the season.