The St. Louis Rams have gotten high grades on their draft selections in the 2014 NFL draft. The names of Greg Robinson, Aaron Donald, Lamarcus Joyner and Tre Mason are likely household names to even casual Rams fans.
However, there are a few names that might not be recognizable even by die-hard Rams fanatics. Even though the names didn’t get called in the seven rounds of the NFL draft, these players still have a chance to make a big impact on the 2014 Rams squad—the undrafted free agents.
The player that is most likely to not only make the roster, but to succeed and produce for the Rams is former Florida Gator, Marcus Roberson. Roberson played cornerback for the Gators, and many ranked him as a potential second- or third-round draft pick. Injuries, off-the-field issues and inconsistent play kept all 32 teams from risking a draft pick on him. As troubling as that may sound, the Rams coaches have taken other players with off the field issues and molded them into quality starters without off the field issues—most notably Janoris Jenkins. Although Jenkins was rated higher coming out of the draft and only fell to the second round, Roberson was only graded slightly lower and may have similar potential if he, like Janoris Jenkins, is willing to get his life together and play football.
Another position the Rams chose not to draft this year was wide receiver. Incumbent receivers Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick, Chris Givens and free agent signee, Kenny Britt, all could potentially be the no. 1 receiver for the Rams. (Stedman Bailey’s four-game suspension removes him from that conversation). The Rams may have found Bailey’s replacement, though, in New Mexico State’s Austin Franklin. Franklin is 5’11 and 190 pounds. Like Bailey, route-running and speed are his best qualities. Scouts say that Franklin’s acceleration gives him a legitimate chance to create big yards after the catch—something that is needed in the Rams’ quick-hitting passing attack. Franklin did have issues with his academics, which may indicate trouble learning the playbook and limiting his route tree.
Avery Cunningham, safety out of Central Michigan, might be a sleeper in the Rams’ undrafted free agent class. Central Michigan doesn’t exactly scream Pro Bowl potential when you look at their track record of players in the NFL. However, last year’s first overall selection, Eric Fisher, is a Central Michigan alumni. Will Avery Cunningham be as productive as Eric Fisher? Probably not. What Cunningham does have on his side is that he is being asked to compete for the Rams weakest defensive position—safety. Cunningham doesn’t need to be as good as Ed Reed to make the roster; he just needs to be better than Cody Davis or Matt Daniels.
Fullback is a dying breed in the NFL. Many teams don’t even carry a fullback on the roster, including the Rams. The Rams used tight ends Corey Harkey and Lance Kendricks as fullbacks last year. Harkey and Kendricks both played well when asked to line up in the backfield, but in the hardnosed world of the NFC West, it may be hard to pass up on 5’11’’ 245 pound Kadeem Jones. Pairing 225 pound Zac Stacy with Jones could be too tantalizing to pass up for the Rams as the two power backs could bulldoze opposing defenses. Jones might have been signed to be a training camp body, but he does have a decent chance to make the roster.
Emmanuel McCray is a tackle out of Ole Miss. The Rams have four tackles who are capable starters, including the Rams first overall selection, Greg Robinson. Two of those four will be playing guard positions (Robinson and Rodger Saffold) and the two left are Jake Long and Joe Barksdale. If Jake Long isn’t ready to come back early in the season, the Rams will need capable backups: that’s where McCray could come in. The Rams, probably not accidentally, snatched up two SEC players with starting experience. The SEC is known to have bigger, stronger and faster offensive and defensive linemen, which gives the Rams good reason to pick up the Ole Miss tackle. The competition level in the SEC isn’t rivaled by much at all. McCray has a chance to prove that the SEC prepared him for the NFL, but he likely will make the roster because of injury issues, not because the Rams need a tackle.
The undrafted free agents all have specific things about them that piqued the Rams interest. Signing free agents isn’t something teams do just for fun, knowing that they can cut them at any time. The Rams chose the 15 players they did to help the team win this year, and the aforementioned players, specifically, have a good chance of helping the team win on Sundays this year.