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Rams Breakout Candidates: 2020 Draft Class | Cam Akers & Brycen Hopkins

In recent Rams history, the surge of the sophomores has been paramount to the team's success.

Going back in time, running back Darrell Henderson Jr. and Greg Gaines took solid steps in their second seasons. Joe Noteboom, Brian Allen, and Sebastian Joseph-Day are prime examples (and classmate Micah Kiser was on a similar trajectory going into Year Two before a preseason injury). John Johnson III helped drive the Rams to an NFC Championship in 2018, the same year Josh Reynolds came into his own.

That pattern should continue in 2022, as we documented last week when looking at breakout potential from the Class of 2021, with Ernest Jones IV and Robert Rochell leading the way on the defensive side of the ball.

However, this season, it's actually the Class of 2020 that might be the most influential, as nearly all of them can – and dare I suggest, must – deliver for the Rams to repeat.

As you go through this list of selections from that draft, ask yourself, "Is this player set up for a career year?" To my way of thinking, they're almost all resounding "Yes" responses.

Leading Draft Picks: RB Cam Akers, WR Van Jefferson, EDGE Terrell Lewis, S Terrell Burgess, TE Brycen Hopkins, S Jordan Fuller, OL Tremayne Anchrum Jr.

Other Candidates: N/A

The Favorite: Cam Akers

One explanation for the optimism about this class is that there were two Top-60 picks, four in the first 104 selections and five in the Top-150.

By comparison, this April, Logan Bruss was the only Ram by the time Pick 104 was announced.

So there's higher-end talent here. Plus, we've seen it on display.

Akers was ready to become a star before his achilles gave out last summer; Jefferson's over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns through his first two campaigns; Lewis rattled Rob Gronkowski's rib cage in one of the signature moments of 2021.

Fuller is an entrenched starter; Burgess has had his moments; Hopkins calmly stepped into the Super Bowl LVI spotlight, caught all four of his targets, and delivered the point-of-attack block that allowed Cooper Kupp to convert on a fourth-and-one jet sweep with the game on the line.

Now let's take it one step further: What's expected of these Rams going into their third year?

A healthy Akers in this offense is nearly limitless. He's probably going first round in your fantasy league. All-Pro honors aren't beyond his reach.

The corps around Jefferson keeps changing, but he still projects as WR3 in the team's three-receiver base formation.

Now's the time for Terrell Lewis with a slew of snaps there for the taking on the edge, after Von Miller and Obo Okoronkwo left in free agency.

Fuller returns as a starting captain. And on and on.

Not only is this class loaded and talented, but opportunity abounds within a depth chart predicated on them leveling up.

One to Watch: Brycen Hopkins

If I could only study one position group this training camp, it might be tight end. As an aside, assistant head coach Thomas Brown moving into this room plays heavily into that choice.

Tyler Higbee is the unquestioned leader and an absolute warrior, but he's been through the shredder in recent seasons as the primary option in 11-personnel groupings. Higbee played 92 percent of offensive snaps last year. That's not tenable.

After years of being stuck on the threshold, Kendall Blanton kicked the door down last January. He appears to be TE2, for now.

But Hopkins was the drafted replacement for Gerald Everett – so talented he was deemed a "luxury pick" in the fourth round of 2020. And yet it took Everett's departure, as well as injuries to Higbee, Johnny Mundt, and Blanton for him to finally be thrust into the crucible. Was that the spark he needed, and were those live moments enough to convince the coaching staff he's ready for a regular role?

While the Rams did not draft a tight end this spring, they did bring in college free agents Roger Carter Jr. and Jamal Pettigrew, making this a high stakes summer for Hopkins.

Up next: In the Class of 2019, we find the candidate who might be described as the "players' choice" to have a breakout season this fall.

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