If you thought that the Rams offseason strategy was an almost singular focus to improve the team speed all over the roster, then you certainly deserve to take a bow. While many anticipated the Rams venturing into a deep-threat receiver in the NFL free agency market, most checked the box as soon as the team signed on veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson. But that was just the appetizer for LA Rams. You see, the team was just getting started.
Speed, the ability to get from point A to point B quickly is a tremendously effective talent on a football field. For a wide receiver, it allows the offense to push the ball downfield in huge chunks, and it forces the defense to cover much more ground. On defense, it allows tight coverage, a fast pursuit of the quarterback, and the ability to pursue and tackle a ball-carrier quickly. On special teams, it creates opportunities for huge returns, while giving the ability to cover kicks instantly.
All told, it’s great to have. So great that the LA Rams made it one of their top priorities in the off-season. So significant in fact, that almost every player added in the 2021 NFL Draft had better than expected speed for their position. Folks, the Rams had “The Need for Speed”.
So now we all sit and wait to see whether that speed will truly make a difference. So what are the likely outcomes? Well, there are three outcomes from the 2021 NFL Draft that invested so heavily in speedy players. They are:
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I – No impact. In this scenario, the rookies may be fast, but they simply do not make the roster. Like the clothes bought on sale in funky colors or the Buy-5-for-$5 items at the grocery store, they look great when shopping, but don’t garner much interest when it is time to use them. In short, they are impractical extravagances.
II – Some impact. Okay, this is the tweener range where some players make the roster, but in a special teams’ capacity. The offense will find ways to use Desean Jackson’s speed. Special teams will find ways to deploy Jacob Harris, Jake Funk, and Ben Skowronek. But overall, the offense and defensive snaps will not experience a massive benefit from the fast fury of the new rookie additions.
III – Significant impact. The organization added far too many fleet-footed speedsters to park them all on the practice squad. While they are fast, they bring a significant amount of other football skillsets as well. The Rams have not only added DeSean Jackson, but Tutu Atwell, Jacob Harris, and Ben Skowronek as well to the passing game. They have even added Jake Funk to the backfield as well. Now, they do not all need to become starters in 2021 to make a significant impact. But if three players suddenly find themselves in the rotation, that’s huge.
So too can the addition of Robert Rochell to the secondary, or the promotion of Michael Hoecht into the defensive line thoroughly change the dynamics of the defense if they find success this year. The team learned that a speedy outside linebacker like Leonard Floyd (4.6-second 40-yard dash) and Justin Hollins (4.5-second 40-yard dash) gave the defense tremendous swarming ability. Now the team is building on the same strategy in 2021.
There is a lot of training camp to come, but for my money, I am hovering between II and III. Even if the rookies only make the special teams roster early in the season, there will be plenty of opportunity throughout the long season (now up to 17 games) to rotate in for either the offensive or defensive snaps. Look for the team to roll in speedy rookies throughout the season. By the time post-season play begins, they will be seasoned and ready to contribute.