Tuesday, May 28, 2024

2022 Super Bowl: Ja’Marr Chase headlines rookies who will have biggest impact when Rams, Bengals square off

For one team, this Super Bowl is so much about its veterans. The Rams have homegrown stars Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp and set a new trend with monster trades to acquire Matthew Stafford, Von Miller, and Odell Beckham Jr., all of whom have helped catalyze this run. 

But what about the Bengals? It’s a youthful, energetic, upstart club from Cincinnati. Will either team be relying on rookies with the Lombardi trophy on the line? Let’s rank the most critical first-year pros in Super Bowl LVI:

6. Ben Skowronek, WR, Rams

Skowronek, one of the Rams’ seventh-round picks in 2021, only had 11 grabs for 133 yards in the regular season but was on the field for 21 snaps in the NFC championship game. He hasn’t logged a catch in the postseason. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one coming. We’ve certainly seen players rise from obscurity to Super Bowl immortality in the past, and Skowronek would be that type of guy if he makes a huge play or two Sunday. 

5. Chris Evans, RB/KR, Bengals

Evans probably won’t get many carries — if any at all — in the Super Bowl. He’s had two in the playoffs. But he’s proven to be a useful pass catcher out of the backfield, averaging a hefty 10.1 yards per grab during the regular season. 

And he’s become Cincinnati’s primary kickoff returner, the role in which he’s almost guaranteed to impact the contest. Evans averaged 20.6 yards per return in the wild-card round win over the Raiders and had a 32-yard scamper on a return in the divisional-round win in Tennessee. Evans is a thick, bouncy, contact-balance type with surprising juice for his size. 

4. Jackson Carman, IOL, Bengals

Carman had a rough go of it at right guard early in the regular season, which led to his benching. But late in the season, he stood in at left guard with steadier results and was thrust into action in the conference title game. There’s a chance he’ll start or just play rotational reps with second-year Hakeem Adeniji in the Super Bowl. 

He did allow six pressures against the Chiefs, so keep a close eye on Carman when he’s on the field. His play will be a large factor in how well Joe Burrow is being protected against Donald and Co.

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3. Ernest Jones, LB, Rams

Jones has played the second-most snaps (462) of any linebacker on the Rams entering the Super Bowl. The rookie from South Carolina is a long, dynamic athlete who plays with his hair on fire every snap. With 61 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups, Jones was all over the field for Los Angeles this season. He missed time due to an ankle injury late in the year but played 22 snaps against the 49ers en route to the Super Bowl. How he covers and blitzes will have a low-key important factor in the Super Bowl.

2. Evan McPherson, K, Bengals

McPherson is on one heck of a legendary run. The rookie kicker made nearly 85% of his field goal attempts and went 46-of-48 on extra points during the regular season, and he enters the Super Bowl a perfect 12-of-12 in the playoffs with a trio of boots over 50 yards. McPherson’s swagger has been a spark in Cincinnati’s run, too. He’s become a serious weapon for the Bengals, a club that’s only scored five touchdowns to date this postseason.

1. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals

Chase will be the runaway Offensive Rookie of the Year, so of course he’s the most vital first-year pro in the Super Bowl. But he was more than just “good for a rookie” in his debut season. He’ll enter this game fourth in the entire NFL in yards after the catch per reception. In the regular season, Chase forced the fourth-most missed tackles (19) among receivers. In the playoffs, he’s reeled in three contested catches. 

Chase will draw Jalen Ramsey in the Super Bowl, a colossal clash between incredibly talented physical specimens that will have a giant impact on which team parties in Los Angeles until the wee hours of Monday morning. 

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