By Stu Jackson, The Rams
No one can deny the impact new additions like quarterback Matthew Stafford, outside linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. have had on the Rams’ current playoff run.
However, the emergence of one-time role players seizing new opportunities shouldn’t go unnoticed, either.
Alongside Stafford’s game-winning drives, Miller’s pressure on the opposing quarterback and Beckham’s production, players like safety Nick Scott, tight end Kendall Blanton, linebacker Travin Howard have also stepped up to power the Rams’ push to Super Bowl LVI.
“It’s huge,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said on Jan. 24, the day after the Rams’ Divisional Round win over the Buccaneers. “It’s a real credit to these players. The depth of all the 48 guy guys that we have up and active on game day. Really, our coaches’ ability to develop, but also (Rams general manager) Les (Snead) and his group, their ability to identify these guys that you want to be able to work with, that you want to be able to coach. There’s a lot of people that play a huge role in that. Ultimately the players go out, they deliver, (I am) so happy for those guys to have that kind of success.”
That success has been noticeable in every round of the playoffs so far.
In the Wild Card Round against the Cardinals, Scott – a seventh-round pick in 2019 who has primarily been a special teams contributor – delivered a big hit to separate Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green from the ball, resulting in an incompletion that kept them backed up deep into their own territory. The next play, Rams linebacker Troy Reeder – an undrafted free agent signee in 2019 – pressured Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray into an errant throw that was intercepted by cornerback David Long Jr. and returned three yards for a touchdown in an eventual 34-11 Rams win.
“I have a lot of fun making those plays, but I would say one of the things I take away most from that, other than I feel like honoring God with putting my talents on display, is just helping my teammates out, and being looked at as a guy for my teammates that can contribute, and somebody that they can trust to make plays to put us in positions to be successful,” Scott said on Jan. 24. “Trust is everything in this game, it’s everything on the field, so anytime you have an opportunity to build that trust and add to it, you want to take that wholeheartedly.”
In the Divisional Round against the Buccaneers, Scott intercepted Tom Brady, while Blanton – an undrafted free agent signee in 2019 – caught his first touchdown of his NFL career. Blanton’s touchdown grab gave the Rams an early 10-0 lead in an eventual 30-27 victory.
Blanton followed that up with five catches for 57 yards – including a key 8-yard grab for a conversion on 3rd and 1 on the game-winning drive – in a 20-17 NFC Championship victory over the 49ers. It was a big performance that helped alleviate tight end Tyler Higbee exiting the game with an MCL sprain. On the other side of the ball, Howard – a seventh-round pick in 2018 – corralled a tipped Jimmy Garoppolo pass for the game-sealing interception.
“I hoped for a chance and I got one,” Blanton said on Jan. 24. “Just like every other person, whether you’re drafted or not, I feel like we all just want a chance and an opportunity. So I always hoped that I would get one and that I would make big plays on the biggest of stages.”
That trio’s previous roles may have not led to much recognition externally, but internally, their Rams teammates have long known the value they bring.
“They names to us, though,” Rams defensive back Jalen Ramsey said after the NFC Championship. “They big-time players for us. We got all the faith in them.”