July 6, 2022

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Jalen Ramsey Can’t Do It Alone

7 min read
Jalen Ramsey Can’t Do It Alone

NFL Offseason – For this May round of Four Downs, we will be looking at each team’s biggest remaining need as well as notable undrafted free agents who will be going to camp with each franchise.

Arizona Cardinals

Biggest Post-draft Need: Cornerback

The Cardinals know who their top three corners will be, but none of them actually look like a top corner. In three qualified NFL seasons, Byron Murphy has never made the top 50 players at the position in coverage success rate. He may be best suited to a slot corner role, and his contract is up after the season—even if he plays well in 2022, he might be leaving town in 2023. Marco Wilson, a fourth-round draft pick out of Florida last year, was dreadful as a rookie, ranking 79th out of 81 qualifiers in coverage success rate. The new face is Jeff Gladney, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2020, who has generated bad headlines both on the field (70th in coverage success rate as a rookie) and off (released last preseason after a domestic violence indictment; he was found not guilty in March).

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

The Cardinals signed 15 undrafted free agents and also extended a pair of minicamp invites, per the crew at ArizonaSports.com. Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid uses a lot of wide receivers (a combined 3,295 offensive snaps in 2021, second only to Buffalo), so the Cardinals loaded up on that position after the draft, signing five UDFAs:

  • Changa Hodge, Virginia Tech: Hodge only played in five games last season after suffering an ACL injury in spring ball. In 2019, playing for Villanova, he caught 65 passes for 1,118 yards and 13 touchdowns.
  • Jontre Kirklin, LSU: A versatile athlete, Kirklin only caught 20 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in Baton Rouge, but that’s partly because he started his career as a cornerback. (Perhaps the Cardinals will switch him back.) He also played quarterback for the Tigers in the Texas Bowl against Kansas State, going 7-of-11 for 138 yards and three touchdowns (plus two interceptions). Kingsbury could have a lot of fun with this guy.
  • JaVonta Payton, Tennessee: Payton only caught 18 passes for the Volunteers last year, but he averaged 22.9 yards per catch with a half-dozen scores.
  • Stephon Robinson, Northwestern: Had a 75-1,092-9 statline in three years at Kansas, then finished with 46 catches for 625 yards and two scores for the Wildcats.
  • Chris Pierce, Vanderbilt: A big target (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), Pierce led the Commodores with 57 catches and 654 yards in 2021.

Elsewhere, Georgia Southern defensive back Darrell Baker Jr. was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference team. Another defensive back, Kekaula Kaniho, played a record 60 games at Boise State and was a three-time all-Mountain West selection. Central Methodist defensive lineman Will Miles started his career at Arizona Western, where he also played basketball. Arizona linebacker Anthony Pandy, an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection last year, was among those invited to mini-camp. Running back Ronnie Rivers is Fresno State’s all-time leader with 52 touchdowns scored, and he also finished in the top four in carries, rushing yards, and all-purpose yards. Auburn linebacker Chandler Wooten was a team captain and was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll last year.

Los Angeles Rams

Biggest Post-draft Need: Cornerback

The problem here is not Jalen Ramsey, who is coming off his second consecutive first-team All-Pro appearance. It’s everyone else. Former starter Troy Hill returns to L.A. after a year with the Browns, but he turns 31 in August and he struggled in Cleveland, posting a 48% coverage success rate that would have ranked outside the top 60 corners if he had seen enough playing time to qualify. Mind you, that’s still better than what David Long (47%) or Robert Rochell (40%) did for the Rams. Los Angeles did add a trio of Day 3 picks in the draft. Fourth-rounder Cobie Durant (South Carolina State) is fast but tiny; he could make an impact in the slot right away. Sixth-rounder Quentin Lake (UCLA) and seventh-rounder Russ Yeast (Kansas State) each played both safety and corner in college, but the Rams face a greater need at the latter position right now.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

With historically little draft capital available (see Football Outsiders Almanac 2022 for more info!), the Rams needed to find talent in undrafted players, so they signed 16 UDFAs, per Venie Randy Soares at Turf Show Times. Cameron Dicker kicked field goals for four years at Texas and also spent one year as the Longhorns’ punter. The Rams have listed him at the latter position—no surprise given Matt Gay’s excellent 2021 season and Johnny Hekker’s departure in free agency. Mike Leach kicked safety Daniel Isom off his Washington State team in 2019 for undisclosed reasons, but when Leach moved on to Mississippi State, Isom returned to the Cougars and was named team captain. Iowa State linebacker Jake Hummel is undersized at 225 pounds, but fast (4.51s 40) and smart (four-time Big 12 All-Academic honoree). Jack Snyder started 52 games at tackle for San Jose State, but shortish arms may mean a move to guard or center in the NFL. Georgia Southern tight end Roger Carter met with the Rams before the draft, so they have had interest in him for a while. L.A. added a pair of edge rushers who won state championships in wrestling in high school: Oregon State’s Andrzej Hughes-Murray (Federal Way, Washington) and Holy Cross’ Benton Whitley (Minnechaug Regional, Massachusetts).

San Francisco 49ers

Biggest Post-draft Need: Cornerback

Free-agent signee Charvarius Ward and incumbent Emmanuel Moseley look like a fine pair of starters, but you need a good third corner in the NFL in 2022, and right now the 49ers don’t have anything but question marks—but hey, at least they have a lot of question marks. Jason Verrett has been a very good corner when healthy, but he has played more than four games just one time in the past six years. Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir (both rookies in 2021) and journeyman Dontae Johnson each allowed at least 9.6 yards per target last esason, which would have put them in the bottom five cornerbacks if they had played enough to qualify. San Francisco also drafted two cornerbacks, but fifth-rounder Samuel Womack (Toledo) may be too small and sixth-rounder Tariq Castro-Fields (Penn State) too slow to make much of an impact.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

The 49ers already had one of the league’s deepest rosters even before they added 11 players in the draft. That means the 14 free-agent rookies they signed have an especially difficult uphill climb to make the roster. Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News identified five players with the best chance to survive training camp. Fresno State defensive lineman Kevin Atkins collected 12 sacks in the last two years as an interior lineman; Crowley likes his potential on passing downs. With Jaquiski Tartt still unsigned and no safety taken in the draft, there’s an opening for San Diego State’s Tayler Hawkins and Texas A&M’s Leon O’Neal to fight for. Hawkins was a second-team all-Mountain West selection, while O’Neal was a three-year starter in the SEC. Oklahoma State wide receiver Tay Martin led the Big 12 with 1,046 receiving yards last season, and he was second in both catches (80) and receiving touchdowns (10). Arizona State’s Dohnovan West was a first-team All-Pac-12 guard in 2020 and second-teamer in 2021, and he can also play center.

Seattle Seahawks

Biggest Post-draft Need: Quarterback

The Seahawks surprised most observers by coming out of the draft without taking a quarterback, leaving them with no good options at the game’s most important position. The best of the bad options is probably Drew Lock, who led the NFL in interceptions in 2020 before spending most of 2021 as a backup to Teddy Bridgewater (who is now a backup himself in Miami). Speaking of backups, Geno Smith got a chance to start for the first time since 2017 and showed why he has spent three years nailed to the bench, taking too many sacks in critical situations. Jacob Eason is the hometown hero who played high school and college ball in Washington state, but there is a reason Indianapolis waived him in the middle of last season. The Seahawks are so desperate here they added not one, but two undrafted rookies: Louisiana’s Levi Lewis and Western Michigan’s Kaleb Eleby.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

Well, let’s talk about those quarterbacks. If you thought Russell Wilson was just too tall, you’re going to love Levi Lewis—at 5-foot-9, he’s even shorter than Wilson or Arizona’s Kyler Murray. He would be the shortest quarterback to start in the NFL since Eddie LeBaron in the 1960s. Eleby threw 45 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions in his time in Kalamazoo; that includes a three-touchdown, no-interception outing in a win over Kenny Pickett and the Pitt Panthers last season.

Seattle signed 10 other free agents, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Guard Shamarious Gilmore started 51 games in a row at Georgia State, twice earning All-Sun Belt first-team honors. The Seahawks also inked a trio of 200-plus-pound safeties in Wisconsin’s Scott Nelson, Miami’s Bubba Bolden, and Virginia’s Joey Blount. And speaking of size, Nick Paul was listed at 385 pounds as an offensive tackle at Northeastern State in Oklahoma; Pete Carroll says he’s bigger than that, and the Seahawks will try converting him to nose tackle.

Portions of this article previously appeared on ESPN+.