Ranking Rams’ rookies by potential impact in 2021

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Drafting for immediate need isn’t something Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead does often. Particularly in the last five years, he and Sean McVay have drafted based on value rather than reaching for players who might fill a hole on the roster.

That sometimes leads to limited roles for the Rams’ rookies before they get bigger opportunities two or three years down the road. Sebastian Joseph-Day, Joe Noteboom, Brian Allen, Darrell Henderson Jr. and David Edwards are all examples of that.

This year could be a similar story for the Rams’ rookies, with no draftees looking like locks to start in Year 1. There will be contributors, of course, and we ranked the all nine players in order of their potential impact for this coming season.

LB Ernest Jones, South Carolina (3rd round)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Jones has the best chance of any Rams rookie to start in 2021. There’s a cluster of players at inside linebacker on the team’s depth chart right now, all of whom could either start or be cut before the season begins. Jones might be the only lock to make the 53-man roster in that group, and he has a decent shot at starting from Day 1. The Rams like his instincts, vision, tackling skills and awareness, which should make him a quick learner as he adapts to the speed of the NFL. He’s not like some of the raw rookie linebackers entering the NFL. Jones is fairly pro-ready. Don’t be surprised if he starts next to Travin Howard in Week 1 as the team’s top run-stopping linebacker.

WR Tutu Atwell, Louisville (2nd round)

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As the Rams’ second-round pick and seemingly one of their favorite players in the class, Atwell will get the ball as a rookie. It’s unclear exactly how, but the Rams aren’t going to let his 4.32 speed and impressive elusiveness sit on the bench for a year. Whether it’s as a punt returner, screen specialist, jet-sweep runner or deep threat, Atwell will be involved in some sense – so long as he doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time to learn the Rams’ offense. Don’t expect him to catch 60 balls and rack up 1,000 yards from scrimmage, though.

DE Earnest Brown IV, Northwestern (5th round)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Rams drafted five players before selecting Brown in the fifth round, but he could be one of their most impactful rookies in 2021. As a defensive end, Brown fits the Morgan Fox mold perfectly. He’s got good length despite being a smaller 5-technique, which allows him to play either defensive end or outside linebacker as an edge-setter. The Rams don’t necessarily have a player like him on the roster right now and he could be A’Shawn Robinson’s primary backup in passing situations on third down. Jonah Williams is his closest comparison size-wise, but Brown is more of a proven player after a solid career at Northwestern. He could be a John Franklin-Myers type for L.A.

CB Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas (4th round)

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Right now, Rochell is the Rams’ No. 4 cornerback. He won’t rise above the No. 3 role with Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams atop the depth chart, but he’ll have a chance to replace Troy Hill as the nickel in 2021. He’s an NFL-caliber athlete with great ball skills, but what’s working against him is that he’s raw. Rochell is still learning the position after previously playing wide receiver in high school and only transitioning to cornerback in college. If he develops quicker than the Rams expected, he could be the team’s No. 3 corner as a rookie. That absolutely can't be ruled out, given his athleticism and potential. Regardless, he should see the field in dime packages.

DT Bobby Brown III, Texas A&M (4th round)

(AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Brown is a big, quick defensive lineman who can play nose tackle, defensive tackle or defensive end. The Rams haven't said where he’ll play as a rookie but his versatility should get him on the field relatively early. He offers some upside as an interior pass rusher, which could lead to playing time on third down and in certain sub-packages. Brown led Texas A&M in sacks (5.5) and tied for the lead in tackles for loss (7.5) last season, really coming into his own as a pass rusher. The Rams have a bunch of unproven players behind Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Robinson, so Brown could be a top backup in 2021.

TE Jacob Harris, UCF (4th round)

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Discussing a rookie’s potential impact isn't exclusive to offense and defense. A first-year player can (and probably will) also contribute on special teams, which is an area of need for the Rams. Harris was rated as one of the top special teams players in the entire 2021 draft class and was among the best evaluated by the Rams themselves. He can cover kicks and punts, use his athleticism as a field goal blocker and potentially make an impact as a backup tight end. He’s not going to unseat Tyler Higbee, nor is he likely to jump Brycen Hopkins or Johnny Mundt early on. But at 6-foot-5 with 4.39 speed, the Rams should find ways to utilize his athleticism on offense.

WR Ben Skowronek, Notre Dame (7th round)

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Skowronek’s role is difficult to project in Year 1. He’s a big, long receiver at 6-foot-3, but the Rams are already extremely deep at wideout. Some teams may have viewed Skowronek as a tight end for his size and blocking ability, which the Rams lauded with Les Snead saying the rookie is expected to be one of their best blockers. He probably won't do much in Year 1 unless he truly proves himself as a big-bodied red zone threat, but expect Skowronek to stick around on special teams.

RB Jake Funk, Maryland (7th round)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Funk is in a similar spot as Skowronek. There isn't really a role for him right now on offense with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. locked in as the top two running backs, while Xavier Jones projects to back them up. Funk is a special teams player, though, playing every phase at Maryland – from punt coverage to returning kickoffs. He’s willing to do whatever is needed to make the team, but don’t expect him to get many opportunities on offense behind a strong running back group.

OLB Chris Garrett, Concordia-St. Paul (7th round)

(AP Photo/Andy Clayton- King)

Garrett is the likeliest player to have a redshirt year in 2021. He’s jumping from Division II to the NFL, which is no small leap. It helps that he absolutely dominated at Concordia, recording 36.5 sacks, 48.5 tackles for a loss and 15 forced fumbles in 28 games played. And though the Rams could use edge-rush help, Garrett will need to come along rather quickly to carve out a role this season. He might spend a year on the practice squad before getting a better opportunity in 2022.

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