LA Rams News: David Long Jr. healthy scratch to standout slot CB

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

LA Rams News: Consensus forming that CB David Long Jr. will rise from a healthy scratch in 2019 to a standout slot cornerback in 2020

Do the LA Rams have some sort of magic in the third round of the NFL Draft?  Perhaps that is a bias based on wishful thinking. After all, the 2020 NFL Draft third-round picks resulted in the Rams adding OLB Terrell Lewis and DB Terrell Burgess to the roster, both of whom could eventually earn significant playing time this season.

But lest we forget, the Rams had some magic in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft as well. Chosen with the 79th pick, the Rams were not drafting for an immediate need. Rather, just as they have done since bringing in GM Les Snead, the Rams drafted for next year’s needs. They selected cornerback David Long for what he gives the team this season. And what is that? A solid player to take over for the slot cornerback role.

Why so many healthy scratches?

CB David Long was the top-rated cornerback in the 2019 NFL Draft in terms of the completion rate against him. He allowed just 29 percent completion, a phenomenal number. So good, in fact, that the next best rate was a full 7.8 percent worse. Long is a good size for a defensive back, a muscular 5-foot-11, weighing 190-pounds. The Rams used Long more often on special teams but did rotate him in for 109 defensive plays. Even on so few snaps, he made 2 key pass breakups, one on a crucial third-down play.

He held his own, allowing just a 69.2 percent completion rate in his rookie season. He saw action in eight games, while he was a healthy scratch in the other eight contests. The reason? The Rams were loaded with defensive backs last year. Long is primarily a man-press coverage. But to give starting CB Marcus Peters a chance, the Rams rolled to a primary zone-defense. That kept Long on the bench last year.  And the Rams had veteran slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman as their starter. In the end, Long played behind a good player who didn’t get many plays off.

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What about Ramsey? Burgess?

Now that Robey-Coleman is gone, the Rams most certainly have some options for the slot cornerback role. They could rotate All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey at the spot, to create a significant advantage for the Rams. Or the team could consider versatile defensive back Terrell Burgess into the role. But the Rams will likely promote Long as the slot cornerback. Here’s why:

Ramsey will play all over the defense, wherever their opponent’s best receiver plays. For the San Francisco 49ers, that will likely mean lining up against George Kittle. But in other games, like the opener against the Dallas Cowboys, he will likely line up outside to neutralize Amari Cooper. So the Rams will still need a slot cornerback. Meanwhile, the team will likely develop rookie Terrell Burgess in much the same way as they had used rookie Taylor Rapp. He will be their third safety on the field who will play both run and pass defense.

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Break out year for Long? That’s the growing consensus

While Long was not used heavily in 2019, he was being groomed for 2020. That explains why the Rams opted out of the modestly priced contract for Robey-Coleman. They already had his successor on the roster. David Long Jr. is ready for a break out season.  That is not only our opinion but also the opinion of Football Outsiders’ Rivers McCown per a recent article posted on ESPN Insider (subscription required).

The consensus is that Long is the senior player on the roster in terms of experience and that he has good size and skillset to succeed for the Rams this year.  While he does not have vast NFL history, his 2019 season will give him a huge step ahead of 2020 rookies who are attempting to catch passes this year. The LA Rams secondary is deep, making Long a probable starter on many NFL rosters this year.

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The LA Rams will have some areas to focus upon, but the strength of their defensive line and secondary should help the team tweak the linebackers to optimize 2020’s defense. David Long Jr. will help a great deal in that effort.