Rams Draft Class Making a Splash in 2017

It should come as no surprise that the Rams' rookie class has been making an immediate impact across the board. Under head coach Sean McVay, a rookie head coach himself, the team has fostered a renewed culture of accountability — one that extends from the most veteran of players, to those in their first year in the league.

"They don't count anybody out," outside linebacker Samson Ebukam said. "Everyone is part of the team. Even if you're on scout team and you're not doing your job, they are going to call you out because they really do care about everyone on this team, they want us to be successful."

"It's a testament to the guys here in this locker room as we have stepped into it," wide receiver Cooper Kupp said. "They brought us along, they showed us the ropes, and there was never any point where we felt like we weren't part of the team yet. It was from Day 1, you are a part of the team and you're going to be able to come in here and do something."

And the 2017 draft class has done just that.

The group includes Kupp and Ebukam, along with wide receiver Josh Reynolds, tight end Gerald Everett, defensive tackle Tanzel Smart, and safety John Johnson III. Though all six players may not be starters on the Rams roster, each has made significant contributions on field through seven games this season.

"When you find those guys like we found, we were looking for good football players, smart football players that kind of had a situational and an instinctual awareness to the game that you could see show up," McVay said of the class. "We're getting contributions from really all of those guys and I think that's a credit to them."

On offense, McVay called Kupp and Reynolds "ascending receivers," also noting that Everett has been "doing a lot of really good things" as well. 

But Kupp in particular has become one of quarterback Jared Goff's favorite targets. Through seven games, Kupp has 23 catches for 216 yards — the most of any NFL rookie. Even with the success the wideout has found so far, Kupp still has high expectations for the rest of the season.

"For myself, every game has some highs and lows and I feel like there is a lot left," Kupp said. "I haven't fully hit my stride yet and I'm looking forward to coming off of this bye week and getting after that."

On the other side of the ball, Smart and Johnson have solidified their roles as starters on defense.

Smart, a defensive tackle out of Tulane, has shown his versatility on the line by transitioning to nose tackle in Week 4. The shift made it possible to move Michael Brockers to a 3-4 defensive end, a position he has since thrived in. To Smart's other side is star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has taken notice of the rookie's determination and drive.

"He's a guy that works," Donald said Tuesday. "He's always trying to get better and if he has questions, he's always going to ask you questions. But he's a hard worker and hard work always pays off, so it's going to pay off big for him and he'll keep getting better."

Johnson has also shown a lot of progress this season. Though he was mainly a special teams contributor through the first four games, he was named a starter against the Seahawks. In that contest, he grabbed his first

interception and nearly recorded his first touchdown. But his solid performance since then has come as no surprise for Johnson, who says he has "practiced like a starter" since the day he arrived.

"My expectations were to just help this team no matter if it was on special teams or defense," Johnson said. "I think I'm doing that, but there's always room for improvement. [But] just preparing like a starter has helped — game like preparation gets me ready so I will keep doing that, keep turning it up a notch and keep getting better every day."

Ebukam — a rookie out of Eastern Washington — has made a splash this year both on defense and special teams. Though admittedly, the linebacker "expected not to get too many reps" coming into his first season, he has made the most of the snaps he does get "whether that's on scout team, special teams or on defense."

Like many of the other rookies, Ebukam said he has learned a lot from the veterans in the Rams locker room. But as an outside linebacker, he has found Connor Barwin's mentorship particularly invaluable.

"It's definitely him [but] there are other guys too," Ebukam said. "These guys are selfless and I really think that's what's helping us stay together right now."

And while the six draft picks have found success early on, they understand there is a lot of football left to played and a plenty of room to grow this season. 

"We aren't undefeated so obviously there is a lot of work we still have left to do," Johnson said. "We're going to keep getting better everyday."

"I don't think any team would say they have hit their peak yet, seven weeks into the season," Kupp said. "Every day it's about one percent growth. I think there is a lot of stuff we have left on the field in every aspect of our game and it's about minimizing that and trying to be as efficient as possible."

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