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2023 Breakout Candidates: 2nd Year Players

If it's true that players make the biggest leap from Year One to Year Two, then the fortunes of the 2023 Los Angeles Rams could come down to the increased contributions of the Class of 2022.

Welcome back to our series on breakout candidates, where we examine Rams who have clearly put in the work to prepare for a career year. 

You might recall that the Rams did not draft until the compensatory portion of the third round in 2022. Logan Bruss was their only selection of the first two days, and his rookie year never launched because of an unfortunate preseason knee injury. 

In fact, the rookies made very modest imprints on a disappointing 5-12 campaign, and therefore their sophomore seasons may lack fanfare externally. But dating back to OTAs, it's been obvious that several of them are slotted for starting and rotational roles, and there's ample reason to be bullish about their futures.

For that reason, we'll focus on draft picks and take them in the order in which they were selected. However, even undrafted second-year pros like defensive back Shaun Jolly and linebacker Jacob Hummel have had moments during the offseason and could be considered dark-horse candidates, especially if they secure a role in the kicking game.

The Short List:

Logan Bruss – It's terrific to see him back on the grass, now a full year removed from his knee surgery. The most noteworthy development about Bruss this summer has been that he's settled in as a backup right tackle, despite being drafted with the thought he'd plug into the 2022 starting lineup at guard. Not that we're rooting against Bruss individually, but it would bode well for the Rams if he isn't pressed into duty in Year Two.

Cobie Durant – A clearcut choice for last season's Rookie of the Year, Durant had a barrage of impactful moments in only 281 defensive snaps. Consider that he didn't appear at all on defense in 10 games as a rookie. Health willing, he won't lack for opportunity moving forward, projecting as a starter and perhaps an emerging star (pun on his intended role) in the Rams secondary.

Kyren Williams – Right about this time last year, the Rams were fired up to get the Notre Dame product in the lineup – in part because of how they esteemed Williams, but also because running backs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson were on the sideline for much of August.

Suffering a foot injury on the opening kickoff against the Bills derailed the early plan for Williams, and by the time their fifth-round selection returned to decent health, the offense was sputtering and the season was slipping away. He overlapped with Matthew Stafford for essentially one half of Week 11 in New Orleans.

But with QB1 back at the controls and Williams largely uncontested as the backup (or third down) running back in camp, the 22-year-old is a trendy pick to click for an offense that's publicly professing their renewed commitment to running the ball efficiently.

Quentin Lake – If those 52 snaps in Week 18 at Seattle were any indication, Lake's arrival may prove to be well worth the wait. The former UCLA Bruin had a sack and should have collected a pick in the narrow loss to the Seahawks in the finale. When the Rams return to the Pacific Northwest this September, Lake figures to be in the mix again as a hybrid third safety and-or dime linebacker – a role that could be essential to combatting an opponent like Seattle and many of the offenses L.A. will duel with early in the schedule.

Derion Kendrick – D.K.'s ability and swagger were on full display again this offseason. The only question is whether he can play at SoFi on Sundays like he does in Orange County and Ventura County. It seemed like he was well on his way to earning that opportunity. However, an injury setback in training camp combined with the addition of veteran corner Ahkello Witherspoon and the strong first impression made by rookie Tre Tomlinson  are all noteworthy developments.

Daniel Hardy – If all goes well, Aaron Donald will lead the Rams in pressures, quarterback hits, and sacks. But after that, the entire pass rush puzzle is unassembled and unpredictable. Hardy has seemingly transformed his body going into Year Two. Can he fend off a bunch of rookies for reps?

Russ Yeast  – Drafted outside the Top 250, you might say Yeast is rising to the top of the Rams dep—nah, I can't do it. But you get the point.

This guy's in position to go down as the steal of the 2022 NFL Draft. Shoot, forgot about that quarterback in San Francisco! Grrr.

Alright, let's just say that Yeast is the real deal. And combined with Lake and fellow Day Three pick Jordan Fuller, they collectively could constitute the NFL's least heralded but highest ROI safety corps.

What remains to be seen is what John Johnson III's return to the Rams secondary will mean for the back end of the L.A. defense.

Final Answer: There are some really good choices here, and I hope that buoys the spirit of Rams fans.

It's between Durant, Williams, and Yeast. Ultimately, I'll lean in favor of the most proven (relative term) and the one I've seen and heard the most about this offseason. The Landshark, Cobie Durant, could be the Rams next great corner. And if you haven't watched his Mic'd Up yet, you'll see why he's already a fan favorite.

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