The Los Angeles Rams do not have many crying needs entering the 2019 NFL Draft, which is good because they don’t have a second round pick and after they draft at no. 31, they don’t pick again until no. 95 overall.
Edge and linebacker certainly need to be addressed, but cornerback may be one of the more pressing concerns when evaluating the holes L.A. needs to fill to get back to the Super Bowl. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib made a lot of money to struggle badly last season, and while both are returning in 2019 to play out their contract years (it appears), the duo is unlikely to be back after that. Talib is also 33 and he struggled to stay healthy last season.
Cornerback is arguably the second or third most important position on the field, and right now the Rams have a solid nickel and two consistency question marks on the outside. Even if Peters and Talib start the 2019 season, which is likely, it is crucial for the Rams to have better depth in case of injury, and to develop a future starter so they don’t have a whole new cast in 2020.
Given their position at no. 31, here are the best scheme fits for Wade Phillips’ defense at the cornerback spot.
1. Deandre Baker, Georgia
The Rams have not shied away from enigmatic personalities before, and I doubt they will do so with Baker. I’ve heard pointed concerns about Baker’s dedication to his craft, demeanor in the locker room and practice habits since mid-college football season, but it sure didn’t seem to impact his play on the field last year.
After struggling with speedier receivers the year before, Baker was lock-down in 2018, staying on top of routes, playing physical and consistently competing for the football in the air. He plays with an edge teams will like, but can bail out against the run and put self-preservation first.
In the Rams culture, learning under Phillips, I don’t think L.A. would be as wary as some other teams about bringing him into the fold. Of course, at some point every organization reaches its’ limit, and having Talib, Peters and Baker in a locker room together might force Phillips into early retirement.
2. Justin Layne, Michigan State
Layne could be gone by the time the Rams are on the clock, but if not, his size, length and speed will appeal to Wade Phillips’ press-man tendencies. Layne also plays the run hard and comes from a versatile scheme at Michigan State, with the athletic and physical tools to develop into a long-time starter for the Rams.
He’s not as pro-ready as a guy like Baker, but you’re not getting the other concerns either. If the Rams eye is decidedly focused on the future with this pick, Layne could make more sense than the polarizing Georgia star. The only question is if he will slip past cornerback-needy teams like Seattle, Houston, Oakland (twice), Indianapolis, Kansas City and others in the 20-30 range of the draft.
3. Trayvon Mullen, Clemson/Rock Ya-Sin, Temple (**TRADE BACK SCENARIO**)
I cheated and put two corners here, because both fit what the Rams are trying to do defensively. Mullen needs more development as a press-man corner, but there is some decent upside there if the Rams can land him sometime on day 2. He’s also a good-sized corner, which has been a consistent desire of Phillips’ in his outside guys.
What’s missing? Ball skills. Mullen didn’t really create many splash plays as a defender, but Ya-Sin didn’t experience that issue as much. The Temple corner flashed the ability to play the ball in the air on the outside, despite not being the most athletic cover man. He’s terrific in press and strong against the run, but he needs physicality to stay in phase, as his transitions are not as smooth as other top corners.