In many ways, trying to make predictions for a 53-man roster is similar to trying to predict all of the games in the NCAA basketball tournament correctly. Make one mistake and the whole thing can be flushed away.
After a full offseason of organized team activities, minicamps, training camp practices and four preseason games, it’s usually pretty easy to identify the players that have earned roster spots or at least should make the initial cut to 53.
The Rams will have roster exemptions for Pead (one week) and Dunbar (four weeks), so they can keep both players around but fill their spots on the roster in the meantime. Injuries at tight end and a new-look offense also make things a bit more difficult to figure.
After Thursday night’s preseason finale, Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear the roster could take on a different look than it normally might given all the moving parts.
“We have some tough choices, yeah, that we have to sort out, with depth at different positions,” Fisher said. “The roster may look, initially, a little different than it has in the past. We may carry more at one position and fewer at the others and look for outside help.”
Looking for outside help could be the key phrase there. Fisher and general manager Les Snead did not hesitate to make waiver claims and moves after the final cuts in 2012. By the time the weekend was over, they had already switched out four players who made it through the cuts.
With that in mind, here’s a final, best guess at how the Rams’ initial 53-man roster will look by the deadline at 6 p.m. ET Saturday.
(Note: the list does not include Dunbar and Pead, who will both be kept).
Quarterback (2): Sam Bradford, Austin Davis -- The Rams released Kellen Clemens and brought him back on a non-guaranteed deal after week one last year. Don’t see what has changed this year, so I expect them to do it again.
Running back (4): Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, Chase Reynolds -- Reynolds might be a bit of a surprise, and his stay might only last a week, but he’s been a core special teams player throughout preseason.
Wide receiver (5): Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey -- The Rams could keep a sixth, and if they do, it will likely be Justin Veltung, but it seems they’re more likely to keep two on the practice squad.
Tight end (5): Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, Mike McNeill, Zach Potter -- They might keep just four, but with Harkey missing some time and Kendricks returning from injury, it stands to reason they’ll keep five for the time being, especially considering the amount of multiple tight end sets they want to employ.
Offensive line (9): Jake Long, Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl, Chris Williams, Shelley Smith, Joe Barksdale, Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes -- Fisher has hinted that the Rams will keep an extra lineman or two, or maybe even three, but it’s hard to see on the current roster where those might come from. Jones and Barnes are a bit redundant, but the Rams have always liked Barnes and might not be comfortable with Jones yet as he works back from a Lisfranc injury.
Defensive line (9): Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Matt Conrath, Jermelle Cudjo, Gerald Rivers -- Standing by the idea that Rivers might not make it through waivers to the practice squad, the Rams keep him instead of the more versatile Mason Brodine in a tough call.
Linebacker (6): James Laurinaitis, Will Witherspoon, Alec Ogletree, Josh Hull, Ray Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates -- Armstrong was one of the stars of the preseason, and is a no-brainer at this point. Bates wins a spot as a potential core special teams player.
Cornerback (5): Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee, Quinton Pointer -- The Rams kept five last year and look poised to do so again. The first four are clear-cut, but Darren Woodard made a late push for a potential fifth spot, especially with Pointer battling injury. Pointer wins out because of versatility and special teams value.
Safety (5): T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod, Darian Stewart, Matt Daniels, Cody Davis -- All signs point to McLeod winning the starting job opposite McDonald, and Stewart’s continued injury issues would normally put his roster spot in danger altogether. But if the Rams parted ways with Stewart, the backups would have no experience to speak of. Davis edges Rashard Hall for the final spot.