5 younger Rams players who could take a leap forward in 2022

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When the Los Angeles Rams add rookies in the draft, they don’t typically expect them to contribute in a big way in Year 1. Les Snead and Sean McVay like to draft a year or two in advance, knowing those players will be asked to step up eventually after starters depart in free agency.

For these five players, that time could be now.

The Rams will need players to step up after the team suffered several free-agent losses, creating voids on the roster. These five younger players could take a leap forward in 2022 thanks to potentially bigger roles.

CB Robert Rochell

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Rochell could be a critical part of the Rams defense next season. Darious Williams is gone and David Long Jr. isn’t a lock to start at cornerback. Rochell was a fourth-round pick last year and made five starts, but he was limited to just 11 games due to injury.

The Rams drafted Rochell to eventually be a starter opposite Jalen Ramsey and that time could come in 2022. He has the athleticism and size to make it as an NFL cornerback, standing 6-foot-2 with 4.41 speed. Rochell just needs to improve his awareness and downfield coverage after giving up 13.5 yards per reception last season.

While cornerback help is likely to come in the draft, Rochell’s role is going to grow regardless – unless the Rams sign someone such as Stephon Gilmore or Tyrann Mathieu.

TE Brycen Hopkins

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In his first two seasons in the NFL, Hopkins caught one pass for 9 yards. He played just 10 games total since being a fourth-round pick in 2020, struggling to earn playing time on offense.

With Tyler Higbee sidelined in Super Bowl LVI, Hopkins stepped up. He played 39 snaps, caught all four of his targets for a total of 47 yards and picking up three first downs. The second-year player made a case to stick around as the No. 2 tight end next season with Johnny Mundt leaving in free agency.

Hopkins must get better as a blocker, but he’s bulked up and worked on that part of his game after initially being viewed as primarily a receiving threat. He’ll have competition with Kendall Blanton and potentially a rookie, but Hopkins looks like he could be in line for a much bigger role next season, especially if Higbee misses time again.

G Coleman Shelton

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

It was surprising to see the Rams give Shelton a two-year deal this offseason rather than just tendering him as a restricted free agent, but it’s a sign that they view him as a potential start at right guard in place of Austin Corbett. That doesn’t mean he’s being locked in at that spot already, but he’ll at least have a chance to compete with Bobby Evans and Tremayne Anchrum.

When given the chance to start, Shelton has looked pretty good. He played meaningful snaps in three games last season, with 177 of those snaps coming at center and 18 at guard. He allowed just four pressures in those games and not a single sack.

With a full offseason to work at guard, Shelton should get even better, which makes him a candidate to take a Brian Allen-type leap forward.

OLB Terrell Lewis

(AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

Lewis went from starting four games last season to being a healthy scratch late in the year, continuing an up-and-down stretch to begin his NFL career. He has five sacks in 19 games and recorded four tackles for a loss last season, showing he has the potential to be a productive player at outside linebacker.

But he’s also dealt with injuries, mostly pertaining to his surgically repaired knee. That’s the frustrating part, and it’s something the Rams knew could be an issue when they drafted him at No. 84 overall.

There’s no denying his NFL-type measurables (6-foot-2, 262 pounds) and athleticism, but he must stay healthy this year if he’s going to prove himself. With Von Miller and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo out of the picture, Justin Hollins is Lewis’ stiffest competition.

DL Bobby Brown III

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Even though he was active for 10 games, Brown played a total of 22 defensive snaps as a rookie – and that was with Sebastian Joseph-Day missing most of the season. He just did not impress the coaching staff enough to warrant more playing time, and was even a healthy scratch for part of the year.

Brown has excellent position versatility along the defensive line, possessing the ability to play defensive end, nose tackle or 3-technique behind Aaron Donald. The Rams need some depth on the defensive line after losing Joseph-Day in free agency and there are no clear-cut contributors behind the starting group of Donald, Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson.

Brown needs to step up in that group as a rotational player who can relieve Robinson and Gaines when they need some plays off during a game.

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