We continue our Los Angeles Rams roster preview series with the quarterbacks. Earlier this week we previewed Jared Goff and backup quarterback Blake Bortles. Next in the series is unconventional backup quarterback John Wolford. The Rams signed Wolford after the Alliance of American Football (AAF) folded, giving him a chance to compete for a roster spot in the NFL. Wolford won’t win the backup spot outright as that is reserved for Bortles, however, making the 53-man roster as the team’s third, developmental quarterback is a lot more likely.
2018 Season & 2019 AAF Stint
Former Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford started off his 2018 going undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. The New York Jets signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent. He played in the preseason and mainly in the last game, completing 8-of-20 passes for 89 yards and an interception.
The unfortunate part of camp came when the Jets decided to let Wolford go, but the Jets saw enough and agreed to sign him to the practice squad for the 2018 season. Signing Wolford would allow the Jets to develop another young quarterback behind Sam Darnold.
However, that quickly changed. The New York Giants made the surprising move to waive former third-round pick, Davis Webb. A former Senior Bowl MVP, many teams around the league liked Webb and what he brought to the table – the Jets being one of those teams.
Unfortunately for Wolford, that meant the Jets had to cut him to make room for Webb on the roster.
With no other calls, that was it for Wolford’s 2018 campaign. However, he would get a chance to show his talent in another league later on.
The new developmental football league, the AAF, was set to start as early as the winter of 2019. The AAF would end up being the big break for Wolford as he was able to enter the AAF Draft. Wolford went in the second round to the Arizona Hotshots. Once again, however, Wolford would have to fight his way onto a roster, only this time, Wolford won the starting job.
In his first game of the AAF regular season, Wolford completed 18-of-29 passes for 275 yards, four touchdowns in a statement game that took the league by storm. In that game, Wolford was nearly unstoppable. He was pinpoint with all of his throws, displayed his abilities to look off defenders, threw with anticipation, and climbed the pocket at will. Wolford made the AAF his home and it started day one in his quest to win the starting job.
Unfortunately for Wolford, disaster would strike in what was a monstrous season for the Arizona Hotshots. After appearing in eight games and starting seven of them while throwing 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 1,617 yards, Wolford saw it all come crashing down.
The AAF went bankrupt, and t was over. It was a shame for the young players like Wolford looking to make a name for themselves but with Wolford. However, whether he knew it or not, NFL teams were on the prowl to pick him up.
Despite the AAF blowing up mid-season, Wolford was able to find work almost immediately and sign with the Los Angeles Rams. With head coach Sean McVay and the Rams, he’ll be ready to fight for a job like last year after having his stock reset and his name put out into the NFL networks around the league.
As previously mentioned, Wolford has a lot of work to do as he’s currently last on the depth chart in a quarterback room that has three guys ahead of him. The Rams’ quarterback room includes a four-year starter, a former five-year starter, and a two-year backup. Jared Goff, Blake Bortles and Brandon Allen are what stands in Wolford’s path.
Realistically speaking, Wolford is arguably better than Brandon Allen, but that’s why the NFL has a training camp and preseason.
The roster battle will likely be Wolford vs. Allen, but the question is whether or not the Rams would keep a third quarterback. Was Wolford always destined to be on the practice squad anyway?
This is especially interesting because Allen has lost his practice squad eligibility. Wolford is technically the last quarterback on this roster that has played in a meaningful game of football, and that could certainly benefit him.
Even with that being the case, this is going to be won or lost in the preseason. Goff most likely won’t play, therefore after Bortles, it’s up to Wolford to look more impressive in limited opportunities.
Three Plays On Tape
John Wolford throws his 3rd TD pass of the game. Then, 16 seconds later, he throws another ???
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) February 11, 2019
This first play is from the first game of the year in which Wolford threw four touchdowns and zero interceptions while setting the AAF on fire. Wolford on this play is in the shotgun and instantly has a man arrive right in his face.
Watch how quick and compact Wolford makes this throw. He puts it only where his receiver Rashad Ross could get it, and he hits the corner end zone fade to perfection. This may not be a play Wolford can execute 100 out of 100 times, but this is an excellent throw and shows that he has the talent to be in the NFL.
John Wolford ➡️ Rashad Ross ➡️ Six!
The @aafhotshots strike first with the 58-yard bomb! #AZvsSA
— PFF_AAF (@PFF_AAF) April 1, 2019
This is quite simply one of the best deep-ball throws that the AAF saw last season. When watching Wolford, it was clear that he was leaps and bounds ahead of some of the other signal-callers in the league.
Look at this bomb he unloads to his favorite target Rashad Ross. It’s worth mentioning Ross is also back in the NFL, and a lot of that has to do with Wolford’s play. Here he stands tall and confident in the pocket and then fires a perfectly placed deep ball that hits Rashad Ross in stride. This is a very high-level throw and again shows the talent that Wolford has.
John Wolford's got wheels! ?@aafhotshots | #SDvsAZ pic.twitter.com/752ip0leA4
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) March 24, 2019
This last play is one of those plays that make you smirk and think, “wow this kid looks ready to go and compete at the NFL level!” And that’s precisely what Wolford would end up doing.
The first throw displays Wolford’s quick release and ball placement. The second throw displays his arm strength and accuracy. This final play here shows just how dynamic Wolford can be if given an opportunity.
Wolford feels the pressure instantly but doesn’t panic. The Hotshot quarterback strategically dodges the incoming pass rusher and then hits the hole left by the vacated rusher.
He leaves two hands on the ball, bracing for an impact, but once he sees daylight, he trusts his abilities and continues this run for a significant gain. Wolford initially looked to move the chains, but once he breaks through the defender has a poor angle and ultimately falls which leads to a magnificent touchdown run.
Is he a legitimate threat to make the final roster?
The Rams brought in Blake Bortles as McVay didn’t have the trust in Sean Mannion that he should have in a backup quarterback. It was a big reason the Rams kept him on the roster.
As mentioned earlier, Allen is no longer practice squad eligible. Wolford brings the potential for Sean McVay to create and mold a quarterback to run his system and potentially develop into a reliable backup once Bortles’ contract expires after the season.
Wolford’s mobility is a massive bonus as his running ability in the open field, as shown above, is underrated. However, he can throw the ball with accuracy and confidence, and the arm strength is there.
He’s not a finished product by any means, but after the Rams went with Sean Mannion as their quarterback for the last three years, this is arguably the best group of quarterbacks the Rams have had in a long time.
It’s of course, up to Wolford, but if he can show in the preseason that he’s worth keeping around, he could be the Rams’ backup quarterback heading into the future.
2019 Outlook and Role
Wolford’s role in 2019 is going to depend on his camp and preseason. For a team that has so much talent, it’s going to be challenging to cut this roster down. It’s difficult to rationalize keeping a developmental third quarterback who may not ever see the field over a potential extra pass rusher or linebacker who can contribute on special teams.
Wolford is primed to show his ability in the preseason and eventually leave the Rams with no choice but to cut him and risk someone else claiming him before they can put him on their practice squad.
Chances of Making Final Roster
No, just no… Just kidding! After watching every AAF snap and multiple games that Wolford played at Wake Forest, this is a quarterback with mobility, underrated arm strength, accuracy, and confidence.
The problem is the ability to keep another quarterback. It just might not be possible. However, Wolford has a chance, and if Bortles’ one-year deal wasn’t so valuable, he very well could compete for the backup quarterback spot. The former Hotshot quarterback is not the next superstar, but he’s talented, and he’s going to thrive once he gets a shot just like he did in the AAF.