“Hard Knocks” returned on Tuesday night with a final inside look at the dual Los Angeles training camps that took place in the run-up to the 2020 NFL season. Both teams featured, the Chargers and Rams, kick off real games this Sunday, but how did they fare in their last go-round in front of the cameras? And how would we assess this year’s “Hard Knocks” as a whole?

Good thing for you, we’ve got one last edition of “Hard Knocks” power rankings to sort it all out:

5. Missed opportunities

“Hard Knocks” was always going to be different this year. You simply don’t open training camps in unprecedented circumstances — with team facilities and protocols completely rewired amid a global pandemic — and expect things to go as planned. And don’t get it twisted: This year’s series wasn’t devoid of good moments; the rest of the list here highlights some of them. But we also can’t kid ourselves. If the dual Los Angeles spotlight succeeded at one thing, it was sticking to a boilerplate script.

Episode 1 gave us a good look at the hurdles teams faced trying to start camp while avoiding COVID-19. Episode 4 embraced a jarring tonal shift to remind us that players can also be voices for change. But pretty much everything in between was just OK. Where in the world was Jalen Ramsey, the most talkative guy on the Rams? Where in the world was Jared Goff, the quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams? (No, his two-minute golf segment doesn’t count.) Did we really need reminders in three different episodes that Rams rookie JuJu Hughes plays with a toothpick? Missed opportunities were too often the name of the game, unfortunately.

4. Derwin James

His presence in Tuesday’s finale may have felt even bigger since we knew going in that he would suffer a season-ending injury, but still, it was easy to see why the Chargers will so dearly miss him. After getting fleeting glimpses of the former Pro Bowler in previous episodes, the finale went above and beyond to highlight No. 33 as a one-man wrecking crew at the back of L.A.’s vaunted secondary. Heck, even Justin Herbert had a good line about James, saying he’d pick the safety to play any one of the 11 positions on the field. Even upon James’ anticlimactic departure via injury, we got a sense of how much the Chargers value his leadership, with veterans like Melvin Ingram hoping aloud, after James came up limp in practice, that the All-Pro had just endured a cramp.

3. Clay Johnston

Speaking of anticlimactic endings, the self-deprecating Rams rookie didn’t waste any time bolting to the Carolina Panthers after getting waived by L.A. during final cuts. It was kind of an odd, hurried sendoff for a guy who’d been a focal point of the Rams’ appearance on the show. Still, it was hard not to smile at his trademark enthusiasm in the lead-up to his move. It’s not often you see guys so happy to be welcomed into the coach’s office to be cut, and you could tell the linebacker was being genuine: “I played my nuts off,” he insisted. “It was a blast.” Here’s to at least one Clay Johnston cameo whenever the Panthers make their inevitable “Hard Knocks” debut.

2. Anthony Lynn

The Chargers coach never once seemed to be playing it up for the cameras, and that continued through the finale, particularly during his interactions with final-cut victims. You can just tell this guy is genuine, and it’s no wonder the Chargers like playing for him. Take, for example, his parting meeting with fringe running back Darius Bradwell, who was scolded in an earlier episode for showing up to camp overweight. Rather than utter the obligatory rookie-farewell, Lynn asked Bradwell what he could do to help the youngster take the next step, urged him to embrace his body type and promised to sit down and study similar styles of RB with Bradwell. Just another small piece of evidence that Lynn is a player’s coach in all the right ways.

1. Football is family

Leave it to us to end this with a sunshine-and-rainbows cliche. But the truth is, for as forgettable as so much of this season of “Hard Knocks” was, there was no fully escaping the beautiful sight of teamwork, or at least the formation of it. Episode 5 epitomized it with the montage of roster hopefuls doing everything they could just to be a part of a brotherhood for the season — like JuJu Hughes losing sleep over a missed interception that would’ve lent him the chance to share a locker room with Jalen Ramsey.

We get so used to consuming the NFL that we forget how many real young men are out there working hard not only for themselves but for their families — both at home and on their teams. Football, it turns out, really is a form of family.


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