Before the St. Louis Rams play their preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints this Friday, we’ll be ranking every player on the team, from the last man on the roster all the way up to number one. Obviously, it’s difficult to rank some of these guys because they don’t actually have any NFL game experience, so some of the players here could ultimately be far above or far below where they should be.
Today, we’ll rank the players who comprise the middle part of the roster–those who contribute on special teams and play roles, but aren’t quite impact players yet–as we count down players 50 to 30. If you have any disputes or disagreements, feel free to let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @ArchAuthorityFS.
50. Alex Bayer, TE
Bayer, an undrafted rookie out of Bowling Green State, has had some very impressive moments so far during camp. His reputation coming into camp was mainly as a blocker, but he’s also had some great catches during team drills. His fate will somewhat depend on his performance in preseason games, but Bayer has created a quality reputation for himself thus far. If he doesn’t win a battle with Mason Brodine and Justice Cunningham to make the 53-man roster, Bayer could certainly be a practice squad candidate.
49. Barrett Jones, OL
This is going to be a big year for Jones, who kind of took a redshirt year as a rookie while recovering from a foot injury. After having an offseason to reshape his body and soak in the playbook, the expectation is that Jones will be ready to serve as a utility backup in 2014. He’s had mixed results in camp this year, as he’s had some good moments but has also lacked aggressiveness at points and has been held back by an injury in recent days. With all the young depth the Rams have accumulated this year on the offensive line, it’s up to Jones to make a good impression and earn a spot this year.
48. Alex Carrington, DL
Carrington, one of the Rams’ few offseason free agent acquisitions, has struggled a bit early on in camp. However, this can likely be attributed to him transitioning from the 5-technique position he played in Buffalo to the interior defensive tackle he’s playing in St. Louis. At 6-foot-5 and 301 pounds, he provides the big, physical pass rushing presence that the Rams desire on the inside. Carrington may not dress on game days at the beginning of the season due to the presence of Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, and Aaron Donald, but he’ll almost certainly be an upgrade over Jermelle Cudjo, who was the Rams’ top backup at the position last year.
47. Chase Reynolds, RB
It seems unlikely that Reynolds is ever going to get meaningful time at his listed position of running back, but he is a great special teamer who can contribute to pretty much every unit. Reynolds is not a highlight reel player, but he’s certainly a player who makes a difference for the Rams on Sundays. His roster spot isn’t guaranteed this year, but it would be surprising if he didn’t make the team because of his significant special teams contributions.
46. Michael Sam, DE
Obviously Sam has been the target of plenty of bashing this offseason, with people degrading him because of his lack of elite size or athleticism. Like any other rookie, it will be a long process for Sam to prove himself, but thus far in training camp he looks like a very intriguing pass-rushing presence from the left end position. He’s increasing his chances of making the 53-man roster day by day, and it should be exciting to see if he ends up being part of the gameday active roster and is a contributor on special teams.
45. E.J. Gaines, CB
Gaines fell to the sixth round in this year’s draft in large part because injuries prevented him from showcasing himself in the lead-up to the draft. Despite his relative lack of size at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Gaines definitely has the ability to develop into a reliable cover corner in the NFL. The negative with him as a college player was that he wasn’t much of a playmaker, but he’s shown more of that ability during training camp, coming up with some interceptions during team drills. If he continues to perform well, Gaines could definitely end up with some meaningful playing time from scrimmage during the regular season.
44. Brandon McGee, CB
It’s safe to say that McGee had a disappointing rookie season, as he only got in at cornerback when absolutely necessary, being passed over for reps at nickelback by safety Rodney McLeod. His special teams contributions weren’t exactly noticeable, either. He’s looked better during the early going of camp this year, which is good because the Rams need someone reliable behind starting outside corners Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins. McGee needs to make sure he maintains that improvement, because there are plenty of guys gunning for his job during camp.
43. Cody Davis, S
Davis isn’t really a playmaker, but he’s shown during practice and last year’s preseason that he can be a sound, reliable, hard-hitting safety who would fit in well if he needed to serve as an injury replacement for starters Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald. Most importantly, he’s a big player on the Rams’ special teams units, and he was an important contributor on the Rams’ record-setting punt team last year. Obviously the Rams would prefer to not have to start Davis, but he seems like he would be a fine fill-in if necessary.
42. Daren Bates, LB
Like Davis, Bates is a very important special teams contributor who, along with his fellow second-year linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, will be one of the Rams’ key players on those units this year. With the team having let go of veteran Will Witherspoon, there is also an expectation that Bates will ascend the depth chart and be prepared to play from scrimmage this year if necessary. Armstrong is the primary backup, but if the Rams would suffer two injuries at the same time Bates would likely be the next man up.
41. Mo Alexander, S
It will be interesting to see how much of a role Alexander plays this season. There was already an expectation that the rookie fourth-rounder would be a bit of a project, considering that he only played safety for one year at Utah State. To add to that, he missed almost all of OTAs after undergoing a knee scope. With that said, Alexander has been a full-go during training camp and has performed pretty well so far.
They’ll be bringing him along slowly, but the Rams could devise a package to immediately take advantage of the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder’s hitting ability. In addition, he’s likely to contribute on special teams in some way. And if he performs well enough, don’t be surprised if Alexander gets a starting opportunity before the year is over.
40. Shaun Hill, QB
Hill, a 34-year-old who has been a reliable backup for a long while, was brought in this offseason and provides a decent option if Sam Bradford should go down again. Hill has been used sporadically in recent years and hasn’t started a game since 2010, but he’s been solid when given opportunities, leading his teams to a 13-13 record and completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. At the very least, Hill should provide quality mentorship to young backups Austin Davis and Garrett Gilbert, but he also has a better track record than Kellen Clemens, the QB he replaced, if there’s a need for him to step into the starting role.
39. Austin Pettis, WR
Pettis is probably one of the slower receivers in the NFL and has struggled with consistency throughout his three-year career, but he’s a guy who has good chemistry with Sam Bradford and can provide a nice physical presence in certain game situations. It’s worth noting that during 2013, Pettis had 28 catches for 221 yards in the seven weeks where Bradford was healthy, while he had just 13 catches for 148 yards in the nine weeks where Kellen Clemens was the Rams’ starter. He’ll be behind guys like Kenny Britt and Brian Quick on the depth chart this year and may be at risk of getting cut once Stedman Bailey returns from suspension, but if they need him Pettis can be a decent contributor if Bradford is throwing to him.
38. Tim Barnes, C
Barnes won’t be the Rams’ starting center on opening day of the regular season unless something happens to veteran Scott Wells, but it’s hard to imagine the offensive line being affected too much if Barnes ends up ascending into the starting role. He replaced Wells down the stretch last year after he suffered a season-ending fractured fibula, and by many accounts Barnes actually outperformed Wells. The Rams ultimately decided to bring back Wells, likely in strong part because of the leadership he can provide with rookie Greg Robinson and inexperienced guard Rodger Saffold on either side of him. But Barnes has proven that he can be a reliable starter, and considering that Wells has missed large chunks of the last three training camps as well as 13 regular season games in the past two years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Barnes as a starter again at some point this year.
37. Jake McQuaide, LS
McQuaide is a dedicated long snapper, which means that his contributions are pretty much unnoticeable to a casual observer. But any close follower of the Rams will recognize how important the chemistry between McQuaide and punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein is. He’s been as reliable as they come since becoming the Rams’ snapper in 2011, and he should continue to fill that role for years to come.
36. Ray Ray Armstrong, LB
After taking the 2013 season to adjust to the linebacker position, Armstrong, who starred at safety at the University of Miami, is expected to push for significant playing time from scrimmage this year. As things stand now, with middle linebacker James Laurinaitis currently dealing with an injury and outside ‘backer Jo-Lonn Dunbar seeming to be a ticking time bomb, there’s a solid chance that Armstrong will get meaningful time in 2014. With that high level of athleticism that he brings from being a safety, Armstrong could be a poor man’s version of Alec Ogletree and be a nice complement to his fellow second-year linebacker if the need arises.
Beyond that, Armstrong is one of the leaders of the Rams’ special teams units, and he played a major role on the record-setting punt team in 2013. However, he does need to become more disciplined, as his costly penalties were a detriment to the Rams early on last year, and he’s continued to show some of that inconsistency during camp this year.
35. Lamarcus Joyner, DB
If Joyner’s lack of size (5-foot-8 and 184 pounds) doesn’t cause him to get injured, he can be a very impactful part of the Rams’ defense. The team traded up in the second round to take him with the intention of him being the primary nickelback, although he has not gotten much time with the first-team defense during training camp and was listed as the third-string free safety on the Rams’ initial depth chart this week.
There’s uncertainty about how much Joyner will contribute to the defense this year—it could all be a moot point, as the Rams have actually used safeties at the nickel position more than they have actual cornerbacks under Jeff Fisher—but he’s definitely shown during camp that his size won’t be a detriment to him. He’s displayed an extremely confident attitude and has not backed down at all when tasked with covering bigger guys like Kenny Britt and Brian Quick. At the very least, that toughness is going to enable him to be a big part of the Rams’ special teams this year, but more likely than not he’ll end up being a big contributor out of that nickelback role as well.
34. Davin Joseph, OG
The plan is for Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowler, to serve as the Rams’ primary backup on the offensive line and be a quality mentor for rookie Greg Robinson, who doesn’t have a whole lot of experience at guard. Joseph has worked with the starters in every practice so far, though, because of injuries to Jake Long, Scott Wells, and Rodger Saffold, and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity. Joseph probably will not be a starter on opening day, but in the likely event that the Rams need reinforcements on the line at some point during the 2014 season, Joseph looks like he’s going to be a very reliable fallback that will make life rough for opposing defensive linemen.
33. Benny Cunningham, RB
Cunningham was very solid as a rookie, running for 261 yards and a touchdown on 47 attempts, and it looks like he could end up being the primary alternative to Zac Stacy again in 2014. At 5-foot-10 and 217 pounds, he’s got nearly the same bowling ball-like build that Stacy has, and he has a very similar aggressive running style. His production in limited reps isn’t quite enough to entrench Cunningham as a reliable NFL running back, but if he can show that same level of consistency in his sophomore season, Cunningham can really prove that he belongs.
32. Tre Mason, RB
There was an expectation that the 20-year-old Mason, selected in the third round out of Auburn, could push for the starting running back job this summer after being such a highly-regarded college prospect. That’s not quite the way it’s gone so far, and it’s looking like Mason might be a candidate to be a gameday inactive during the regular season if he doesn’t either turn it up as a back or win the job as the Rams’ kick returner. As he continues to develop, though, Mason should eventually take over the starting role and provide the same physicality as Stacy, but at an even quicker pace.
31. Brian Quick, WR
It’s extremely difficult to evaluate Quick, because he’s made some really nice plays in practice during each of the three years that he’s been with the Rams, and in all of those cases the coaching staff has talked him up and voiced their plans to make him a key part of the offense. Each year, though, Quick has failed to deliver on those expectations and has only played sporadically. Once again this year, Quick looks like he’s ready to break out, and that actually happening would be a major boost to the Rams’ offense. His 6-foot-3, 218-pound presence would match up very well with the elite corners in the division, 6-foot-3 Richard Sherman and 6-foot Patrick Peterson. If Quick struggles as much as he has in the previous two years, though, it might be time for the Rams to admit defeat and move on from him once Stedman Bailey returns from his four-game PED suspension.
Join us again tomorrow as we rank players 30 to 10 on the Rams’ roster.