Rookie role analysis: Can Greg Gaines be a solution at nose tackle?

On the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips illustrated the opportunity in front of defensive lineman Greg Gaines pretty clearly.

"We've got a place for you — you know, Ndamukong Suh left, so you've got a spot," Phillips said on the Rams' call to Gaines, letting him know the team had selected him at No. 134. "We're looking for you to get after it, OK?"

There's already a lot of talent on the Rams' defensive front, but Gaines can fill a specific role to make the team better in 2019.

OUTLOOK AT THE POSITION

Los Angeles has arguably the league's best player headlining its defensive line in Aaron Donald, who set a franchise single-season record and league record for defensive tackles with 20.5 sacks in 2018.

Veteran lineman Michael Brockers also headlines the defensive front, entering his eighth year in the NFL — all with the Rams. He has position flexibility between five-technique defensive end and nose tackle, but it appears he'll be sticking with the DE position he's played over the last couple years in Phillips' scheme.

At nose tackle — where Suh started and played 88 percent of the defensive snaps — Los Angeles appeared to have a couple internal options before the draft. Rising third-year defensive lineman Tanzel Smart spent time at the position back in 2017. And rising second-year Sebastian Joseph-Day could also play a role for the defensive line rotation.

POTENTIAL ROLE AS A ROOKIE

But as Phillips said on draft day, Gaines has a chance to come in and earn the nose tackle role in Los Angeles' base 3-4. According to Rams scouts and coaches, Gaines was a strong run stuffer at Washington, which is a big part of why L.A. wanted him.

In four collegiate seasons, Gaines recorded 21.5 tackles for loss, including 7.5 in his senior season of 2018. Gaines is the type of player who can take up double teams, allowing players around him — like Donald and the club's linebackers — the space and freedom to make more plays.

That's especially against the run, where Los Angeles surrendered a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry in the regular season last year. The Rams definitely want to improve upon that number, and Gaines has a chance to be a significant factor.

WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE

Gaines isn't necessarily known as a pass rusher, but he did record 9.5 sacks in his four years at Washington — 4.5 in 2018. In one-on-one situations, he does have the ability to push the pocket and disrupt timing in the backfield.

So while Gaines' first role as he enters the league is more likely as a pure run stuffer in early-down situations, the more he develops at the highest level, the better he'll likely be as a pass rusher. And considering the veterans he'll be able to learn from in Los Angeles, Gaines will likely be in good position to contribute in more situations as his career progresses.

The Los Angeles Rams select Washington defensive tackle Greg Gaines with the 134th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

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