The Rams made their final preseason roster cuts Saturday, leaving them with a projected final list to start the 2018 regular season. The Rams did receive a special roster exemption due to the late signing of defensive lineman Aaron Donald on Friday, so they will temporarily be allowed to carry 54 players, rather than the 53 required of other NFL teams. Donald will not count against the roster until after week two. Here are my thoughts on the list at the various positions after the announcement of the final cuts.
Undrafted rookie Luis Perez would have been a great story, but it was pretty clear from his lack of playing time in the preseason that he was never a serious contender to make the regular roster.
Sean Mannion goes into the season as the simple backup to starter Jared Goff, but after an underwhelming preseason, you have to wonder whether that its etched in stone. Granted, Mannion played extensively with reserves, as he did show flashes of some solid play. Mannion also knows the offense. Having said all of that, he didn't do much to inspire confidence in his ability to lead the team if (heaven forbid) Jared Goff suffers a severe injury.
The fact that the Rams also chose to keep former University of Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen speaks to the fact that, public statements aside, it's hard to believe Sean McVay is all THAT confident in Mannion as the backup. Allen didn't precisely set the world on fire in the preseason either, but he outperformed Mannion.
The big knock on Allen is his overall lack of size and his small hands in particular. On the upside, he is probably a little more athletic than Mannion. I wouldn't be at all shocked to see changes made by the Rams here at some point.
The quarterback you likely heard them linked to Robert Griffin III--ended up on surviving Baltimore Ravens final roster, meaning it would take a trade of some kind to pry him loose from the Ravens (at least for now). Other possibilities are veterans Landry Jones (released by the Pittsburgh Steelers) and Tom Savage (cut by New Orleans Saints on Saturday). Out of that group, RGIII is undoubtedly the most desirable option, but precisely what the Ravens would want in return and whether the Rams would be willing to ante up are very much in question. I would take Jones over either Mannion or Savage, but what Sean McVay and Les Snead think on the subject, I have no idea.
If there is anyone on the Rams roster who impressed people with his preseason play, it would be running back John Kelly, the rookie out of the University of Tennessee. Kelly, who lasted until the sixth-round due to injury concerns and a perceived lack of speed (as well as a college pot bust), looked every bit the part of an NFL starter during the 2018 preseason.
He's a tough between the tackles runner who also showed the ability to catch the ball and a willingness to block. While Todd Gurley gets the vast majority of the touches during the regular season (assuming he's healthy), Kelly could see the field as a third down/change of pace back on a fairly regular basis.
Malcolm Brown also made the squad again, and while the former University of Texas star doesn't scare anyone, he seems to do the job when he gets the opportunity. He's a bit of a plodder, but he holds onto the ball and isn't afraid to stick his nose in there and get the tough yards.
Perhaps the only surprise in this group is that former USC star Justin Davis made the roster despite missing extensive time with a hamstring injury in the preseason. Davis offers the speed to bounce outside for some significant gains, but the big question with him is always whether he can hang onto the ball.
Guard Jamon Brown, a starter last year, begins the season on a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. All three rookie O-lineman selected by the Rams in the NFL draft- Joseph Noteboom, Brian Allen, and Jamil Demby--made the roster, and Noteboom, in particular, earned some good reviews in training camp.
Right tackle Rob Havenstein recently rewarded with a hefty new contract, so the Rams are pleased with his services for four more years. Also returning from last season is center John Sullivan, who solidified what had been a problem area for the Rams. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was named to the All-Pro team last year and was a big part of the team's offensive turnaround. He's 36 years old, but so far shows no sign of aging. Let's hope that continues, because this was one of the league's better units last season, protecting Goff and opening holes for Todd Gurley, and they need to be again for this team to contend for the Super Bowl. As long as everyone remains healthy, they should be fine, but depth could be a concern.
This unit has gone from being a significant weakness to significant strength in just two seasons, and barring injury it's one of the league's better units. The fact that wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, who had a stellar preseason, didn't make the final roster, speaks volumes. His 47-yard reception against the Raiders was highlight-reel material, and he has an excellent chance to land somewhere in 2018.
Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp figure to see the field on a regular basis in 2018, and that's a good thing. Cooks is a burner brought in to replace Sammy Watkins, a player who can stretch the field and take the top off the defense. Why the Saints and the New England Patriots let this kid get away is a mystery to me. Robert Woods opened some eyes last year, as the former USC star emerged as Jared Goff's favorite target.
Cooper Kupp was arguably the best rookie receiver in the NFL last season. While he had a couple of high-profile drops--notably on the final play of the game against the Seattle Seahawks, muffing a potential game-winning catch at the goal line--nothing seemed to faze him, and if he isn't the best number three receiver in the NFL, he's not far down on the list. A lot of people believe Josh Reynolds could emerge in 2018, mainly as a red-zone threat.
UPDATE:The Rams have added KhaDarel Hodge and former USC star Steven Mitchell Jr. to the practice squad.
The Rams opted to go with three tight ends. Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee under-performed in the opinion of many observers last season, given how much Sean McVay used his tight ends with the Washington Redskins, but the talent is indeed there to do better.
Aaron Donald (exempt)
Not a lot of comment is needed here, this is probably the most robust three-person unit in the NFL, with Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and the sometimes-underrated Micheal Brockers. Ethan Westbrooks is no slouch either. The only real concern here is injuries because when these guys are healthy, they can dominate. Quarterbacks beware. Aside from the fact, the current Rams play a 3-4 base defense; these guys could bring back memories of the Fearsome Foursome. They are just that good.
I would say first of all that I expect all of these players to see the field this season, with Littleton and Barron likely as the starters at the onset of the season. A lot of people were surprised to see the Rams trade Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants, but Littleton's emergence in a limited role last season may have a lot to do with that. Ogletree was also less than stellar against the run, and the Rams are trying to improve on last season's 29th ranking in defense against the run. Ramik Wilson, a former starter with Kansas City Chiefs, could well find himself starting for the Rams before the season is out. Micah Kiser, the rookie out of University of Virginia, was a tackling machine in college and could help shore up the Ram's rush defense. Hager is a heady veteran who knows the Wade Phillips system now and played reasonably well when given a chance in 2017. None of these guys will jump out at you as being a superstar, but as a group they are stable
OK, there could be some questions about this group, and how answered could be critical to the success of the 2018 Los Angeles Rams. Last year's starters, Connor Barwin and Robert Quinn, are gone. Obo Okoronkwo, the rookie out of the University of Oklahoma, has been slow to recover from a foot injury and will start the season on injured reserve. Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre start the season as the projected starters, and I don't consider that as a bad thing.
Ebukam is a freakishly gifted player, and I expect him to do well. Longacre had 5.5 sacks last season in a part-time role and is a solid to above average player in my opinion. Also in the mix is Dominique Easley, a former first-round pick of the Patriots who before this season mostly played defensive tackle. Justin Lawler and Trevon Young are rookies, and I guess that they will see limited action, barring injuries. How well Easley can transition to the linebacker position could be a critical question for the overall success of this unit. Indeed, there are questions here, but there is also a lot of ability, and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips has a way of getting the most out of these type of players.
Another elite-level unit for the Rams, barring injury. Peters is a young star who ran afoul of Andy Reid in Kansas City. While he has a reputation for being a bit of a hothead--he left the game in a late-season game for the Chiefs without having been ejected--there is no doubt about his physical gifts. Aquib Talib age of 32, shows no signs of slowing down. He also has the advantage of having played for Wade Phillips as a Denver Broncos, so he knows the system. Backups Sam Shields and Nickell Robey- Coleman could start for many NFL teams, and Shields is a former starter for the Green Bay Packers. He has the speed to match up with just about any receiver, while Robey-Coleman was outstanding for the Rams last season. If there is a surprise here, it's Troy Hill, who has been an up and down performer for the Rams since the Jeff Fisher days. He did have a good 2018 preseason, however. Its an excellent and in-depth group, and when you combine them with the likes of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, this defense is going offer some long-hard days for quarterbacks, especially when the Rams are playing with a lead.
Lamarcus Joyner is one of the league's best, a converted cornerback who has thrived at his new position. John Johnson III, a second-year player out of Boston College, played exceptionally well last year once he thrust into the starting lineup. The Rams should be fine here as long as no one gets hurt, but depth could be a question. Blake Countess, like Joyner, is a converted cornerback, so you would think he would be an asset in coverage. While this group may not be as broad or talented as the Rams corners, they indeed are not a problem area either, barring injuries.
Rams have a very deep and talented roster, comparable to that of any NFL team, including Philadelphia Eagles or New England. The 60 million dollar question, of course, is always injuries. A serious injury to either Gurley or Whitworth would be terrible news, but the biggest concern is keeping Jared Goff healthy. But even if Goff goes down, this team has the talent at running back and on defense to morph into an old-fashioned smash-mouth football team and still win games. And who knows, with Sean McVay's offensive brilliance, it's also possible that even with a backup at the helm at quarterback this team wouldn't miss a beat. An outstanding roster and anything less than a division title and a deep run into the postseason would be a disappointment.
12-4, NFC West Title.