The NFL came out and announced that in addition to the Hall of Fame Game, the league would pass on the annual four preseason game schedule which narrows down the games to two before the regular season begins. This wasn’t a complete shock due to the impact COVID-19 has had on quite frankly the world and we can’t act as though the NFL has never tried to get rid of preseason games. However, cutting two out of the four is a tough pill to swallow for the undrafted rookie free agents that are scratching and clawing their way to find a spot on an NFL regular-season roster.
The Los Angeles Rams had a whopping total of six undrafted rookie free agents on the active regular-season roster last year. Eastern Washington WR Nsimba Webster, Missouri TE Kendall Blanton, Middle Tennessee OL Chandler Brewer, Georgia LB Natrez Patrick, Delaware LB Troy Reeder and Iowa S Jake Gervase. It’s a big deal for the Rams when they bring in UDFA’s because they do not look at them as long shots but rather key opportunities to potentially do more than just fill out the roster with them. That would bring you to a different list that would include the likes of current backup QB John Wolford, RB Malcolm Brown, TE Johnny Mundt, DL Morgan Fox and former star LB Cory Littleton. Do you think these undrafted players would have made the roster without preseason to show off to the coaching staff what they could do in games when their number was called? Reeder was an undrafted rookie from last year that started eight games for the Rams. The big fact is that the Rams love using all aspects of talent acquisition and they spend a premium on going after undrafted rookies and letting them work for the top spots that can be offered.
That brings us back to the NFL’s decision to cancel the two preseason games. It’s not necessarily a bad decision and it does make a ton of sense but it hurts players like the undrafted rookies who already went through a ridiculous process before the draft due to the pandemic but now it seems like the light at the end of the tunnel is getting dimmer. This is an unprecedented season and unfortunately for the undrafted rookie free agent class of 2020, they are seeing how ruthless this year has been to not only them personally but their career professionally.
The Rams added 22 undrafted free agents which included two quarterbacks, two running backs, five quarterbacks and a bevy of defensive players. This was the year the Rams really had to let go of most of their star power on the roster due to the decrease in cap space. This is also the year that couldn’t be more appealing to undrafted free agents wanting to find a team that would give them a shot to make a regular-season roster like the Rams would. Unfortunately, this talented draft class will be playing tug of war with each other to make the roster just like any year except without two games like before. Even more so, you could make the argument the Rams might play more starters than previous years due to the lack of interaction throughout the offseason. Bear in mind, the Rams added a brand new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinator. They are likely going to have to utilize preseason in some facet to get everyone on the same page before the season. That will indeed bleed into the opportunities for the younger rookies.
It’s going to be tough this year, the Rams don’t know the correct answer and quite honestly no team does after an unprecedented offseason. They will have to likely choose between keeping players like Nsimba Webster on the roster over any of the rookie wideouts due to the small sample size of production available. That’s not to say Webster doesn’t deserve the spot but it is pretty telling that being one of the 22 undrafted rookies this year is going to be harder than any undrafted rookie has had it. Teams will likely be more inclined to stick with who they are familiar with system-wise over the newcomers who may or may not have enough time to fully get acclimated to the systems in place.
How do you decide who to make Jared Goff’s backup? Do you stick with John Wolford who has never played in an NFL game but was exciting in preseason last year, do you give it to a dual-threat rookie Bryce Perkins, a small-school rookie who is a pure passer in Josh Love or do you bring back maybe Blake Bortles to solidify the backup role with someone who has experience? This is one of many tough decisions that truly lie ahead for the Los Angeles Rams as the training camp and preseason for the NFL starts to approach faster.