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Rams Breakout Candidates: 2021 Draft Class

There wasn't much competition for Rams Rookie of the Year in 2021. And in retrospect, that might have been one reason why the season was so successful.

Again without a first-round selection, Los Angeles enjoyed the luxury of "redshirt years" for most of their rookie class. Not all of that was by design. Injuries to Tutu Atwell, Ernest Jones IV, Robert Rochell, Jacob Harris, and Jake Funk restricted their contributions.

But in the end, the fact that the Rams didn't require more of their rookies was a positive, a reflection of the relative health of the top of their roster.

I'm sure other franchises feel this way, too. But for the Rams, the leap that players are expected to take between their first and second year is one of the underpinnings of their model. Sebastian Joseph-Day is the most prominent case study. Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom on the offensive line are other examples from the Class of 2018.

General Manager Les Snead and his staff are adept at drafting a year ahead of "need," especially with their picks outside the Top 100 (four of their eight picks this spring were defensive backs).

Turning our attention to this year, the 2022 roster is a good illustration of how that anticipation can put the coaching staff in position to retool rather than rebuild.

For instance, the Rams need to replace key players at corner, linebacker, and defensive tackle. Fortunately, the heirs apparent are… well… apparent?

Last week, in Part One of our series, we looked at rookies ready to contribute.

Now, who's the most likely to put together a breakout sophomore season in 2022?

Leading Candidates: WR Tutu Atwell, LB Ernest Jones IV, DL Bobby Brown III, CB Robert Rochell, WR Ben Skowronek

Other Draft Picks: WR Jacob Harris, RB Jake Funk, OLB Chris Garrett

The Favorite: Ernest Jones IV

Between Rochell and Jones, this was a coin flip. The answer is really both of them.

But forced to choose, I'll go with the inside linebacker.

It's interesting that their position groups added unexpected veterans this offseason, in Troy Hill and Bobby Wagner. Might that dilute some snap counts? We'll see.

Rochell and Hill (with Jalen Ramsey) as well as Jones and Wagner can play in tandem, and perhaps that's the default assumption for now.

However, there's another piece to the puzzle at corner that ultimately tipped the scales in my forecast. We'll discuss him in our next installment.

One to Watch: Ben Skowronek

My hunch was to go with Bobby Brown III here, as I cannot wait to see what a year of #Dawgwork might mean to his development at defensive tackle, especially with opportunities to be claimed following the departure of Joseph-Day. But given the way that A'Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines performed down the stretch in 2021, the top three on the interior are locked in.

Instead, for those who might be expecting a few postseason miscues to derail Skowronek's role with the Rams, pump your brakes. I don't get the sense the second-year receiver is going anywhere. For one, he's integral on special teams. At 6-foot-3, 224 pounds, he's also the closest thing the Rams have to a hybrid receiver-tight end, and I think we saw at the end of last year how head coach Sean McVay could leverage that to create mismatches, even as attrition hit the receiver and tight end rooms.

Unfortunately, Skowronek dropped a touchdown in the NFC Championship game and deflected an on-target throw that resulted in an interception in the Super Bowl. But not to be overlooked was the fact that he was open, and he was the target Stafford picked out, and now he's played in those moments.

There's still plenty of potential to be realized as a pass-catcher. Skowronek was the surprise story of Training Camp 2021. Another good summer could very well entrench him in that utility role, with a helmet on game days.

Up next: Normally, the rising sophomores are the most important draft class on the roster. However, this season, I think it's actually the Class of 2020 – nearly all of whom must deliver in defense of the Super Bowl title.

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