Rams Hit it On the Nose With 2019 Draft
Here's the standard caveat that there are over four months to go before the Rams travel to Carolina. But it sure sounds like Greg Gaines walks into the Rams facility as the projected starter at nose in base defense. If the La Habra product delivers on that promise, he'll become a remarkable Day Three steal for Los Angeles, at 134 overall.
"I think some of the things we talked about – how we get better specific to our scheme, but then also defensively in terms of playing the run a little bit better," Sean McVay explained Saturday regarding why the Rams felt the urge to trade up for the former Washington Husky. "I think that will be a key factor of being really stout inside and we feel like Greg will provide that."
Michael Brockers moving back inside from his five-technique had been discussed, in anticipation of Ndamukong Suh signing elsewhere in free agency. Brockers, while willing, seemed lukewarm on the concept. Now, that may not be necessary. Nonetheless, his versatility on the defensive front remains a great asset to the organization.
Here are some other reactions to what the Rams were able to accomplish in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Check out the guys who make up the 2019 Los Angeles Rams draft class!
Some Dawgs on Defense
With the selections of Taylor Rapp and Gaines, the Rams could have four recent Huskies on their game day defense, as the rookies join returning starters Marcus Peters and Cory Littleton.
Chris Petersen has not only rejuvenated a championship program in Seattle, he's also hired one of the best defensive staffs in college football. Under the tutelage of Washington co-defensive coordinators Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake, the Huskies routinely churn out pro-ready talents.
Rapp and Gaines should be as well-versed as any rookies arriving at NFL camps.
Game Recognize Game Speed
Unless you're picking at the top of the first round—and even if you are—it can be difficult to find prospects who check every box. One area where the Rams evaluators tended to lean in this Draft?
It was a term McVay and Les Snead used repeatedly in their post-Draft press conferences.
Their contention is that the game speed of players like Rapp and David Long exceeds what can be measured by a 40-yard dash.
"He's one of the guys that jumps off the screen," McVay said of Rapp, who the Rams selected on Friday. "He's got unbelievable instincts – talk about a guy that has a feel for navigating traffic and being able to make knife tackles as a blitzer."
L.A. may feel fortunate Rapp didn't blow away the field with his straight-line speed in Indianapolis. If he had, it's unlikely he'd have been available with the 61st pick.
Rapp did post the top time in the long shuttle, though, and finished runner-up to Long in the short shuttle. Long also posted the top time in the three-cone drill. So while Rams scouts are encouraged to trust the tape, it doesn't hurt to have some Combine measurables reinforcing their beliefs regarding game speed.
Better Safety than Sorry
One other thought on Rapp: If he's as ready as I believe him to be, expect the Rams first pick to find the field early.
Even with Eric Weddle and John Johnson entrenched as starters, Wade Phillips and safeties coach Ejiro Evero and assistant head coach Joe Barry will find ways to leverage Rapp's ability.
One of the under-the-radar themes of 2018 was Marqui Christian playing 34 percent of defensive snaps as a hybrid linebacker. Might the defensive staff find similar ways to incorporate Rapp without taking Weddle or Johnson off the field?
It's also worth noting here that Mark Barron's void needs to be filled.
Bones to pick with you
There may not be a seventh-rounder anywhere in the league with a better chance of making a 53-man roster than safety Nick Scott.
Saturday, Les Snead said that the 243rd overall selection out of Penn State "was one of (John Fassel's) favorite ever special teams player that he's graded."
No franchise values special teams more than the Rams, and when those difficult decisions have to be made at the end of the preseason, Bones' opinion carries weight.
The impact New England's Matthew Slater made on the Rams most recent game came to mind when L.A. made the Scott selection.
Center of Attention
We have to be careful not to read too many tea leaves with respect to the positions that the Rams addressed on Draft weekend.
However, I'm inclined to interpret L.A.'s selections as yet another vote of confidence in center Brian Allen.
Instead of making a play for Garrett Bradbury, Elgton Jenkins, or Erik McCoy – centers who were taken in the first two rounds – the Rams layered in more depth and competition at tackle and guard by selecting Bobby Evans and David Edwards.
Is it possible that competition produces a strong candidate at right guard, freeing up Austin Blythe to play center? Perhaps.
But based on what the coaching staff has told us to this point, and how Allen performed in limited duty in 2018, it's increasingly likely that he's your Week One center in Carolina.
Similar dots could be connected for fellow second-year player Micah Kiser at middle linebacker, however that's not a one-player, every-down role like center.
Compensatory Picks Pay Off
In the aftermath of Draft weekend, let's circle back to see what became of the compensatory picks that were awarded to the Rams, and how valuable they proved to be.
The silver lining in losing Trumaine Johnson and Sammy Watkins in free agency (let's not pick apart their 2018 performance for other teams relative to their contracts here) was a third round pick for each player.
Anticipating one of those picks allowed the Rams to acquire Dante Fowler at the deadline, who made some of the defense's most critical plays on the path to Super Bowl LIII. The other third rounder was bundled into a move up the board to select running back Darrell Henderson on Friday.
The way the front office disciplines itself in free agency continues to pay dividends.