This week’s Top 5 list is essentially an exercise in futility, given the fact that its contents could change dramatically when the dust has settled after the Rams second preseason game against the Packers on Saturday afternoon.
Keep that in mind while reading, as it’s still early in the roster-shaping process. However, in the interest of generating conversation, today’s Top 5 will #EmbraceDebate and try to pinpoint the leaders of some of the Rams’ position battles mid-way through the preseason (at least among those where a leader has emerged). Whether you believe they’re the top contender for the spot or not, their respective levels of play against Green Bay will be major discussion points in the week to follow. Let’s get started:
5. No. 3 defensive tackle – Aaron Donald
With a nod to his level of play pushing him into the starting conversation given the absence of incumbent starter Kendall Langford. However, even despite Langford missing time due to injury, it wouldn’t yet be wise to pencil in Donald as the Week 1 starter next to Michael Brockers. At this point, Langford’s known run-stopping and gap-eating abilities still trump Donald’s pass-disrupting specialty on the depth chart. However, Donald’s productivity in camp and solid showing in the team’s preseason opener against New Orleans should make him the clear choice as the first defensive tackle off the bench at this point over the likes of Matt Conrath and free agent signee Alex Carrington.
4. No. 2 running back – Benny Cunningham
This particular battle still has much sorting out to be done, but at this point it seems that Cunningham still has the edge over 2014 third round pick Tre Mason. Rams brass appear to favor Cunningham by most accounts, who – according to ESPN’s Nick Wagoner – “returned to St. Louis bigger, stronger and faster.” While Mason got the most work at running back in the team’s preseason opener (15 carries, 51 yards), Cunningham looked sharp in his limited action and appears to still have the edge on his young counterpart.
3. No. 1 wide receiver – Kenny Britt
The receiving corps was the one of the offseason’s top areas of conjecture, as the Rams opted not to bring in any help through the draft and brought in only two outside reinforcements via free agency in Mizzou product T.J. Moe and former Titan Kenny Britt. Britt had his fair share of ups-and-downs both on the field and off during his time in Nashville, but the low-risk “prove it” type of contract with which the Rams acquired his services meant Britt had to deliver the goods in order to secure a long-term future with the team. To this point in camp, he looks poised to do just that. Britt has emerged as one of the stars of training camp practices and has also earned accolades for his positive influence on fellow wide receiver Brian Quick. Britt looks poised to open the regular season as the Rams No. 1 wide receiver.
2. No. 9 defensive lineman (No. 5 defensive end) – Ethan Westbrooks
In what has become the most widely-followed bottom-of-the-roster battle in recent memory, it appears that Westbrooks has a slight edge at this particular time for the ninth defensive line spot over the likes of Sammy Brown and Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player to be drafted into the league. While all three made their presence felt in the team’s first game against the Saints, Westbrooks undoubtedly had the top showing among the group. He finished with two quarterback hits and three hurries, while also having the better showing against the run and earning Pro Football Focus’ highest grade among all Rams defenders (for what it’s worth). However, this battle looks far from over.
1. No. 4 tight end – Alex Bayer
The Rams’ first three tight end spots are all but set with Jared Cooks, Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey the deserving top candidates. That created competition for the fourth tight end spot among the undrafted Bayer, Rams practice squad member Justice Cunningham, and the now-injured Mason Brodine. Of the three, Cunningham was arguably the early nod for the spot given his relative level of experience. However, after the first preseason game, Bayer looks like major competition and (for me) has emerged as the leader at the position. His strong five catch, 71-yard performance against the Saints included a 42-yard hookup from quarterback Austin Davis late in the fourth quarter set up kicker Greg Zuerlein’s ultimately failed game-winning field goal attempt.