Sept 15, 2012; Lexington, KY, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers wide receiver Kadeem Jones (32) runs with the ball as Kentucky Wildcats defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin (92) defends at Commonwealth Stadium. Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Towel Talk: Ramblin' Fan's Nathan Kearns on Kadeem Jones

Dec. 26, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers fullback Kadeem Jones (32) dives into the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter of the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

When it became official that NFL teams were receiving WKU talent, I took to the FanSided network and found the editor of all of the sites that received a Hilltopper over the Draft weekend. I asked each of them if they could spare a few moments to talk about what the acquisition of said Hilltopper would mean to their team, and we got some great answers.

In our first installment, we talked with the St. Louis Rams site editor since 2012, and is a current Cleveland resident, Nathan Kearns, who actually grew up in Kentucky and told me that he takes special notice when a player from the Bluegrass makes an NFL roster. The Rams signed former WKU fullback Kadeem Jones as an UFA, so that’s where our conversation began.

Wave The Red Towel: Kadeem Jones doesn’t have the name recognition as Antonio Andrews (or Bobby Rainey from a couple of years back), but why did the Rams wait to UFA him as oppose to draft him with a later pick?
Nathan Kearns: There are a number of reasons why any NFL squad would wait until the undrafted free agency period. In some instances, especially when someone is a borderline draftable player, coaches will assess the individual prospect’s “demand” on the market. In the case of the Kadeem Jones, head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead obviously felt as though they would get “their guy” as a free agent.
WTRT: Usually, when a team does what the Rams did and bring in a bulk of UFA’s, they’re for position battles to prove that the “big guns,” truly belong in their position. Why does Kadeem Jones not fit this mold?
NK: Well for one, Jones will be the only “true” fullback on the roster. Since Fisher took over the team in 2012, the Rams essentially transformed the position into a fullback/tight end hybrid spot on the depth chart, with players like Mike McNeill and Lance Kendricks moving into the backfield as lead blockers/extra protectors. However, given some of the inefficiencies in backfield pass protection, it isn’t surprising to see Fisher take a strong look at a traditional fullback. The Rams rarely used fullbacks, but if Jones can makes contributions on special teams, he could certainly make a case for the 53-man roster, without any true competition at the position.
WTRT: Unfortunately, we have to address both sides here – why does Kadeem fit the mold of a competition-boosting UFA?
NK: Luckily for him, there is no fullback to challenge on the roster. Unlucky for him, the St. Louis Rams do not currently have a roster spot dedicated to the fullback position.
WTRT: You’ve touched on it here, and your other editor, Blaine Griask, has also said that the Rams, in past years, haven’t had a fullback. Does that help/hurt/any way influence Kadeem’s prospect to the team?
NK: Given Jeff Fisher’s history, it is doubtful that it will truly influence his chances of making the final roster. If he can prove to be an effective blocker, both in the running and passing game, then the coaching staff will find a place for him on the roster. Luckily for Jones, the St. Louis Rams have recently “re-found” their offensive philosophy; and it is one that involved pounding the rock… a lot. Moreover, they did not re-sign McNeill, leaving only three “lock” fullback/tight ends on the roster. With Jared Cook and Cory Harkey both lacking any semblance of blocking ability, any players whose strength is clearing paths for Zac Stacy and Tre Mason or keeping rusher off of Sam Bradford would be at a premium.
WTRT: In your best guess, do you see Kadeem Jones as a first round cut, a practice team member or will he be a 3rd/4th stringer come September?
NK: Just like all of the rookies, we’ll have to wait until camp to get a good look at all of the prospects.
On a positive note, the St. Louis Rams have kept a fullback on the practice squad in the past. On an even brighter note, undrafted free agents have regularly made the final roster as special teamers in the Jeff Fisher-era, including LB Ray Ray Armstrong, S Cody Davis, LB Daren Bates, CB Quinton Pointer, and S Matt Daniels. Moreover, there have been a number of UFA’s that have actually seen some significant time on the field for the St. Louis Rams, including DT Matt Conrath (defensive tackle rotation), C Tim Barnes (started the latter half of ’13 at center), DB Rodney McLeod (special teams captain, and starting safety/nickleback in ’13), and our 1st-Team All-Pro punter, Johnny Hekker.
WTRT: Expanding on the previous question, how patient are the Rams with players (I guess one could look at Sam Bradford…), and if they don’t see any current use for Kadeem, could they keep him around for the future?
NK: The obvious negative about being an undrafted free agent is the fact these organizations have not really “invested” anything into you as a player. It is easy to be patient with Sam Bradford, a former No.1 overall selection at the most important position in the game. For an undrafted prospect at a presently nonexistent position on the roster, not so much. If Kadeem Jones can impress the coaching staff, they will keep him around (practice squad or 53-man roster). If not, they will let him explore other options.
Big thanks to Nathan for answering these questions, and by the sound of it, Jones has a rare outside shot at making the team in one capacity or another.
Be sure to check out his site, Ramblin Fan, throughout the summer and into the preseason for a Rams’ perspective on Jones.

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