LA Rams no-tag on JJ III creates historic opportunity

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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LA Rams free agency John Johnson III
Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

Rams opportunities balloon for young safeties

Remote shot – The 2020 roster for the Rams carried five safeties, and the 2021 roster will likely carry no more.  So if the Rams do not add any prospects in free agency or the NFL Draft (quite possible) the team’s hottest competition may be between 6-foot1 212-pound second-round safety Jake Gervase and 5-foot-11 188-pound rookie safety JuJu Hughes. Gervase is the bigger and more seasoned player, having seen action in both 2019 and 2020.

Hughes ‘stuck’ from the ranks of the undrafted, and will not face the same challenges competing against other players in 2021 without familiarity with the NFL or the Rams. Gervase saw limited roles in both 2019 and 2020. Hughes played six defensive snaps and did one pressure on the quarterback. Hughes was very active for the Rams on special teams and recorded three tackles there. Look for Hughes to earn a larger role on defense.

Increased role – 5-foot-11, 199-pound Nick Scott played a vital role for the Rams in 2020. He was the ‘flex’ defensive back, the safety whose usage depended upon injuries to other players. He was also a staple to the special teams’ unit but began to see regular usage on defensive snaps as well. He is a sure tackler, but his irregular usage may have resulted in less proficient pass coverage in the Rams’ deceptive scheme. He’ll benefit from the opportunity, perhaps even to the point of becoming the team’s third safety on the field in some sub-packages.

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Who get’s the start?

Competing for the start –  As the LA Rams will set both Taylor Rapp and Terrell Burgess into competition for one starting role, you know the defensive secondary is in pretty good hands. I believe that either player could start on many other NFL teams. 6-foot-0 208-pound Taylor Rapp seemed to plateau a bit in 2020, resulting in losing a projected starting role on the defense and allowing him to slip on the Rams depth chart. He’ll be fighting to reclaim a starting role on the Rams defense, and he is far better suited to fill John Johnson’s role of a free safety than the role of a bigger run-supporting strong safety he sought in 2020.

But 5-foot-11 202-pound rookie safety Terrell Burgess will certainly have something to say about that. Burgess appeared on the Rams radar due to his versatility at playing both cornerback and safety for the Utah Utes defense. He is as scrappy and as fierce as his rookie teammate Jordan Fuller. Sadly, it was the Chicago Bears game in the 2020 season where he truly put on a huge flying-all-over-the-field making plays display. That was also a game where an ankle injury ended his season.