Los Angeles Rams: Managing expectations for the 2021 rookie class

by Blaine Grisak
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The Los Angeles Rams wrapped up the 2021 NFL Draft over the weekend which included the signing of 10 undrafted free agents. At this point in their careers, draft grades are mostly stupid. We’re not going to be able to accurately grade these players for three years.

However, what we can do is set realistic expectations for them heading into their rookies season. Here’s what the Rams can expect from their rookies in the 2021 class.

Pick 57 – WR TuTu Atwell

It’s highly unlikely that TuTu Atwell will come in and be this team’s number two wide receiver out of the gates. The Rams have a very deep wide receiver group and because of that, it could be difficult for Atwell to break through. We saw it last season with 57th overall pick Van Jefferson.

That’s not to say that Atwell won’t play, be he likely won’t have a large role. The Rams also signed DeSean Jackson who does a lot of the same things that Atwell does, but better at this point in his career. Jackson does have injury issues, however. Could Atwell contribute as a returner? That’s to be determined. He only returned four punts in college.

As it stands, Atwell will likely get 5-10 snaps per game and maybe get a touch every now and then and fill in for Jackson if/when he gets hurt. In all likelihood, Atwell’s rookie season will be about building out his frame and learning from the player that McVay saw in Atwell – DeSean Jackson.

*Rotational player on offense and possible special teams contributor.

Pick 103 – LB Ernest Jones

Jones is one player in this rookie class that might come in and start right away. The Rams don’t have a lot of top talent at linebacker, therefore the opportunity will certainly be there. Jones isn’t necessarily top linebacker talent, but the Rams really like what they have in him.

How much Jones plays as a rookie will depend on how well he picks up the defense. The Rams lost John Johnson III in free agency and are now missing that communicator. Jones was played a huge role on the South Carolina defense and was a major vocal leader. Jones may not take that communicator role as a rookie, but it will be in consideration down the line. The Rams drafted Jones with the sense that he’ll be the future leader of the defense.

As mentioned, the opportunity to start for Jones is there. However, he’ll need to show improvement in areas, specifically in coverage before the Rams can trust him as a three-down linebacker. Of all the Rams rookies, Jones likely has the best opportunity to contribute in year one.

* Rotational linebacker with the opportunity to start

Pick 117 – DL Bobby Brown III

Bobby Brown was a surprise pick for the Rams at 117, but it’s easy to see why they took him. After losing Michael Brockers, the Rams needed a big defensive lineman to replace him. Brown may not have been someone that Rams fans knew before the draft, but they might be happy about this pick relatively soon.

The Rams will likely move forward this season with A’Shawn Robinson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Aaron Donald as the starters on the defensive line. However, behind them is where the team needed to get better. Marquise Copeland, Greg Gaines, and Eric Banks were the lone depth prior to the draft.

Brown won’t start right away, but he’ll definitely come in on a rotational basis, especially on early down. The new Rams defensive lineman excels against the run. He was one of the highest graded defensive linemen in the SEC according to Pro Football Focus.

* Rotational defensive lineman

Pick 130 – CB Robert Rochell

Rochell is an interesting prospect. He’s not going to start outside for the Rams right away. That will likely be Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams. However, the competition for the third cornerback spot is wide open as David Long has left a lot to be desired since being drafted.

The Central Arkansas needs to develop in some areas, but if he’s able to pick up the defense early and improve his technique, he could be in line for a large role early in his career. Rochell is inexperienced from the slot, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t do it. The Rams have two ‘sure-things’ in Ramsey and Williams. However, behind them is going to be a fun competition in camp.

It’s hard to predict what Rochell’s role will be due to the fact that the third cornerback position is wide open. At the very least he’ll have a special teams role early, if not more.

*Rotational player in the secondary and special teams contributor

Pick 141 – TE Jacob Harris

There has been some talk among fans that the Rams drafting Jacob Harris spells the end for Brycen Hopkins. That’s absolutely not the case. Harris is the definition of a project. Hopkins will look to step into a larger role this year as Harris develops. After all, he was a wide receiver at Central Florida.

The Rams essentially drafted an athlete at 141. Harris started his college career as a soccer player. He hasn’t been playing football for long, let alone the tight end position. There’s going to be a lot of developing needed in order for Harris to see the field on offense at any point during his rookie year. You might as well throw a red shirt on him and fast forward until next season.

The good part is that Harris does have special teams experience. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see Harris get some action on special teams and contribute in that area.

*Developmental prospect and special teams contributor

Pick 174 – DL Ernest Brown IV

One of the more underrated losses of the offseason is that of Morgan Fox. Fox played an important role for the Rams last season and excelled in it. They’re certainly going to miss him. However, that’s where the Ernest Brown pick comes in. Brown has the ability to rush the passer with his hand in the dirt, or standing up. That’s very similar to Fox.

Now, Brown may not see the field immediately, but ‘Morgan Fox’ is what the Rams had in mind in a year or two with Brown. They’ll just hope that he becomes that player faster than Fox did. He’ll be a developmental prospect and may not see the field much as a rookie.

*Developmental prospect with potential for a rotational role

Pick 233 – RB Jake Funk

The Rams drafted Jake Funk for no reason other than to potentially contribute on special teams. Even still, I see it as a long shot that he makes the roster. The Rams have Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson at running back, Xavier Jones is behind them, and then Raymond Calais showed some potential as a returner on kickoffs as well.

Malcolm Brown was another underrated loss in free agency. However, it’s hard to see Funk eventually becoming the player that Brown was with the Rams.

*Potential special teams contributor

Pick 249 – WR Ben Skowronek

Taking another wide receiver late in the draft seemed puzzling for the Rams. However, prior to this year the Rams had three or four wide receivers who all did the same thing. They didn’t have a lot of variety in their receiving corps. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are both technicians and possession receivers. Van Jefferson compares very well to those two as well. Josh Reynolds also developed into that skill set.

With Skowronek, the Rams get a possession receiver, but also someone who can go up and high point the ball. Skowronek has the potential to be a effective in the red zone because of his size and ability to work off defenders. Now, he won’t take that role right away, but what the Rams were lacking with Reynolds, they’ll hope to get with Skowronek.

Skowronek may not see the field early in his career and he’ll have to work to make the roster, but he brings some intrigue.

*Developmental wide receiver

Pick 252 – EDGE Chris Garrett

With the 252nd overall pick, teams are simply looking for some potential. Garrett has exactly that. His last two years at Corcordia-St. Paul, Garrett had 30.5 sacks and his 15 forced fumbles in three years set a program record. There’s going to be a huge jump from Minnesota State to the Minnesota Vikings in terms of talent, but this is the type of player you take a chance on with pick 252.

Garrett may not make the initial roster, but it wouldn’t be surprising for them to try and sneak him onto the practice squad. If he does make the roster, he may not make an immediate impact and play ahead of players like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo or Terrell Lewis, but he won’t need to.

*Developmental Pass-rusher

Notable UDFA – OT Alaric Jackson

Alaric Jackson could add some tackle depth early in his career. It was surprising to see him go undrafted. However, he also just got drafted by the CFL and therefore, he may not even see a Rams uniform if that’s what he decides to do. If he does decide to join the Rams, he’ll compete for a backup tackle spot or a place on the practice squad.

*Developmental tackle prospect/Depth piece

Notable UDFA – OG Jordan Meredith

Meredith isn’t going to come in and start right away, but I like him as a depth piece to take Jamil Demby’s spot on the roster. He only allowed one sack in 2020 and his 81.5 overall blocking PFF grade ranked eighth in college football. He needs to develop and improve his technique, but if he can show enough in camp, he can make the final roster.

*Depth interior offensive lineman

Notable UDFA – WR Jeremiah Haydel

It’s going to be difficult for Haydel to make the final roster as he won’t add a lot as a receiver. However, his ability as a returner is exactly why he could make the final roster. He was one of two players in college football last season to score on a punt and kick return. The Texas State wide receiver was selected second-team All-America and first-team All-Sun Belt Conference as a punt returner.

Given the Rams troubles at punt returner over the last two season, I don’t think they can have too many options. Hayden could at the very least make the practice squad.

*Practice squad option and potential contributor as a returner. 

Notable UDFA – S Jovan Grant

Some might prefer to see Paris Ford here, but I really think Grant is the safety to watch among the undrafted free agents. He brings value on special teams with the potential to develop into a contributor down the line. The Rams need depth at safety, therefore, it would not be surprising to see one of the three safety signings to make the final 53. If not, at least one of them will make the practice squad.

*Practice squad option and potential special teams contributor. 



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