When the Rams turned in their card for their first pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, they picked a player in safety Taylor Rapp — a position that may have surprised those outside the building.
But even as a player in a talented and fairly crowded defensive backfield, Rapp seems to have a chance to see significant playing time as a rookie.
OUTLOOK AT THE POSITION
There's plenty of time before Week 1, but at this point it seems fairly unlikely that Rapp will be one of the two traditional starters at safety when the Rams line up against the Panthers offense on Sept. 8. John Johnson has solidified his role as one of the league's better young DBs, as he excelled at strong safety in 2018. And L.A. signed veteran free safety Eric Weddle to a two-year deal before the official start of the new league year for a reason.
Looking at the entire secondary, the majority of significant contributors from 2018 are back in 2019. Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Troy Hill are still on the roster. Then there's cornerback Dominique Hatfield and safety Marqui Christian who also provide depth and have been significant special teams contributors.
POTENTIAL ROLE AS A ROOKIE
With all of those quality players, how could Rapp see the field in 2019? Head coach Sean McVay brought it up on draft night: sub packages.
"I think to be able to get him in a group where you're playing and you're learning behind those two guys, and then based on personnel groupings that we want to activate defensively — when you've got three players that have a versatile skillset you can really put yourself in an advantage situation defensively with guys that can do a lot of different things, and some of the disguises, and different amount of coverages that you can activate, or all these guys have the ability to blitz as well," McVay said. "So, we feel like he fits really well with some of the things that we're looking for."
So what does that mean on a play-to-play basis? Well, last year Christian was able to get in some playing time on defense in Los Angeles' dime package in a hybrid linebacker/safety role. Given Rapp's versatility — he can play in the box as a strong safety and deep in coverage as a free safety — there's reason to believe he could also play that kind of hybrid role in sub packages for known-passing situations.
Plus, Rapp has shown he can get to the passer as a blitzer, recording 6.0 sacks in his college career — 4.0 of which came his junior year in 2018.
Essentially, Rapp has the potential to be kind of a wild card on the Rams' defense — a player offenses must account for, and will have a hard time figuring out what he'll do once the ball gets snapped.
WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
Weddle, who turned 34 in January, signed a two-year contract with the Rams. And if Weddle continues to play at the high level he did in Baltimore from 2016-2018, he'll likely play both of those seasons out in Los Angeles. But after that, in an ideal world Rapp would likely take over for Weddle as one of the Rams' two starting safeties.
Johnson also has two years remaining on his rookie deal, but — again, in an ideal world — with Johnson potentially on a second contract, the Rams may have set themselves up to have a high-quality safety group for years to come.
The Los Angeles Rams select Washington safety Taylor Rapp with the 61st pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.