5 Dark Horse Candidates to Make St. Louis Rams' Final 53-Man Roster

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 6, 2015

5 Dark Horse Candidates to Make St. Louis Rams' Final 53-Man Roster

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Every year, a handful of dark-horse candidates emerge and threaten to make the final 53-man roster. 

    These on-the-bubble players are initially overlooked, but as training camp goes on, they turn one too many heads—eventually making them impossible to ignore. 

    Players once considered NFL longshots and total no-names suddenly find themselves strapping on the uniform and playing under the prime-time lights. It happens every year. 

    This article will outline five low-end or overlooked members of the St. Louis Rams' roster and point out why they might be dark-horse candidates at this year's training camp. 

RB Malcolm Brown

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    Chris Covatta/Getty Images

    At 5'11" and 224 pounds, Malcolm Brown has enough bulk to be a workhorse back. His 4.52-second time in the 40-yard dash is slightly on the slow side, but his strength might compensate for that. 

    Brown was fairly productive in his final year as a Texas Longhorn. He led the team with 183 carries and 708 yards, including six rushing touchdowns. His numbers were hurt due to him sharing backfield duties with Jonathan Gray and Tyrone Swoopes, who combined for 255 carries last season. 

    Brown was never heavily involved in Texas' passing attack, but he did have at least 15 catches in each of his last three seasons. 

    It's fair to say Brown is not a big-play runner. His speed is mediocre, which is why he had just three runs for 25 or more yards in 2014. However, he has the strength to break through tackles and bounce off defenders like a human pinball. 

    He'll thrive between the tackles, but he needs to prove he can work it outside if he hopes to make an NFL roster. 

RB Terrence Franks

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Brown is a former Longhorn, which is probably why he's generating the most hype among the undrafted rookies. But let's not forget the other Texas product—that is, Texas State's Terrence Franks. 

    As a run-heavy team, the Bobcats opted for a three-pronged committee approach at running back. That benefited the offense, as it kept the backs fresh, but it resulted in fairly modest numbers for Franks. However, he made his carries count. 

    He ran the ball just 107 times in 2014, which amounted to about nine carries a game. Regardless, he still turned in 712 rushing yards (6.7 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. 

    During his freshman 2011 season, he ran for 863 yards in just 146 carries (5.9 yards per carry) and scored nine touchdowns. 

    Franks is also a somewhat capable receiver. He produced more than 120 receiving yards in each of his last three seasons, including six receiving touchdowns. 

    At 5'10" and 214 pounds, Franks is a mid-sized back nearly identical in size to Rams running back Benny Cunningham, but he's much faster. 

    According to Franks himself on Twitter, he broke his school's 40-yard dash record after clocking in at 4.29 seconds. His straight-line speed is blazing, so he'll certainly make big plays if his vision is good enough to find the openings. 

     Both of the rookie backs are facing stiff competition, but the Rams have had luck with low-level gems in the past, including Cunningham and ex-Rams running back Daryl Richardson. 

OT Steven Baker

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Steven Baker entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He has since bounced around the league, including stints with the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, Miami Dolphins and, most recently, the Rams. 

    Baker spent most of the 2014 season stashed away on St. Louis' practice squad. As we've seen with Chase Reynolds and Austin Davis, sometimes players need a few years of development before they're ready for the final roster. 

    That's especially true with offensive linemen. The position is heavy on the mental side due to the numerous line calls and fat playbooks. Also, it's not uncommon for young linemen to need a few extra years for body growth and development. 

    Clearly, the Rams saw something in Baker. Not only did he remain on the team's practice squad for most of the season, but St. Louis also signed him to a 2015 contract at the conclusion of last season. The coaching staff obviously thought he was worth keeping for a longer look. 

    At 6'8", Baker is the tallest member of the roster and boasts a broad 310-pound frame. Like Rob Havenstein—St. Louis' second-round pick rookie—Baker is strictly a right tackle. Unlike Havenstein, Baker needs to work on his strength and run blocking. 

    If he used the offseason wisely and bulked up, he should be able to hold his own at camp and heat up the competition. 

DE Martin Ifedi

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Defensive end Martin Ifedi was drafted in the seventh round by St. Louis—the team's final draft pick—and he'll face formidable competition. The Rams feature arguably the most talented defensive line in all of football, including five former top 15 picks (Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley). 

    It may seem Ifedi is facing impossible odds, but the Rams have a great eye for hidden gems on the defensive line.

    Last year, undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks made the roster and flashed enormous potential during the preseason. Also, former sixth-round pick Eugene Sims and Williams Hayes, a low-level free-agency pickup from 2012, are two of the better rotational ends in the league. 

    Due to the team's past success in finding bargain linemen, it certainly wouldn't be a shock if Ifedi turned out to be competent. 

    According to his NFL.com draft profile, Ifedi is a hard worker who plays through the whistle. Head coach Jeff Fisher absolutely wants those type of players. 

    During his 2013 season at the University of Memphis, Ifedi tallied an impressive 11.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He took a step back in 2014 with just 2.5 sacks, but he only played nine games and was dealing with a sprained MCL, according to the official Rams website

    Had Ifedi avoided the MCL injury and continued his eye-popping 2013 production, he could have easily established himself as a Day-2 pick. 

    If Ifedi wants to make the final roster, there's only one way to do it: Beat out Westbrooks. 

    That's a tall order. But even if he fails, the Rams can still groom him on the practice squad for several years. 

QB Austin Davis

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Case Keenum has to be the favorite for the No. 2 quarterback job. He fits the profile as a game manager—something team's look for in a No. 2—and as opposed to Austin Davis, he's far less likely to crumble in crunch time. 

    That's the common consensus, but let's not dismiss Davis too quickly. 

    Davis started eight games for St. Louis in 2014, and that experience was surely an eye-opener. It gave him a taste of what it takes to excel at the NFL level. With a fresh new outlook, it's possible he'll enter camp with a totally different mindset. 

    If his new perspective alters the way he approaches camp and makes him an improved player on the practice field, the Rams will have a tough decision to make. 

    Keenum was an excellent pickup and should be a reliable No. 2, but let's not forget the positives from Davis' 2014 campaign. 

    He led St. Louis to wins over the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, as well as a last-minute nail-bitter victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He led some impressive late game rallies that fell just short against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. He exceeded 300 yards and tossed three touchdown passes in both of those games. 

    If you look at the stats from his 2014 season, they're right on par with many other recent first-year starters. 

    Davis' touchdown-interception ratio is a respectable 1.33. His completion rate was 63.4 percent and he finished with a 85.1 passer rating. 

    Let's compare that to some other recent prospects who were praised for their success during their rookie seasons: 

    NameTD-INT RatioCompletion RateQB Rating
    Ryan Tannehill0.9258.376.1
    Andrew Luck1.2754.176.5
    Sam Bradford1.26079.3
    Derek Carr1.7558.176.6
    Cam Newton1.246084.5

    Other than Derek Carr's touchdown-interception ratio, Davis beat all five of those passers in all three categories. That doesn't excuse his lack of a clutch gene or his habit of creating turnovers at the worst possible moments, but it's still something to consider. 

    In all likelihood, Davis could be done in St. Louis, but we shouldn't assume that he'll make it easy. Keenum isn't so superior that he'll simply run away with the job.

    When it comes to the No. 2 job in St. Louis, things could get very interesting. 

    Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams featured columnist at Bleacher Report and served as the Rams' game-day correspondent in 2014. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or following him on Twitter.