Better Rams Player For Nickel. Who Wins The Role?
Nickell Robey-Coleman is just one of the notable departures from the Rams secondary. But unlike the others, there is no heir apparent to his slot cornerback spot. Fortunately, the Rams have a few contenders that could step into the nickel back role. Unfortunately, all candidates are young and untested, which of course will inspire a healthy competition for the nickel.
The top contender is David Long Jr., who was selected 79th overall by the Rams in the 2019 draft. He played in eight games in his rookie season, mainly on special teams. He played 109 snaps on defense. While his pro career only offers a small sample size, his college numbers are sterling. While a Wolverine, he allowed a 29% completion rate. It is inevitable that Long will play more snaps this season, but what remains to be seen is what kind of jump he will make in his second season. In 2019, Sean McVay praised Long’s progress as a rookie and singled him out as a young player on the rise.
In an interview with therams.com, he told Sarina Morales“…I haven’t done much except work out and study, honestly. With the surplus of time I’ve found ways to maximize my physical gains, as well as make great strides in the mental department.”
Certainly, that kind of discipline is good for any football player, but particularly for one like Long. Not only was he good on the field at Michigan, but he also graduated with a 3.9 GPA. Cornerback is a good position for the studious type, as it requires the player to process massive amounts of information at a high speed. So, the more homework that a corner can do, the faster he can process what’s happening in real-time. It sounds like Long is doing his homework. Darious Williams finished last season in outstanding fashion. He earned the highest PFF grade for cornerbacks over the last six weeks of the season. Despite that good run, he will still be singing for his supper, trying to earn playing time.
Williams may seem like a dark horse for a starting role. That could simply be because he was an undrafted free agent coming out of the University of Alabama Birmingham and was cut by the Ravens before the 2018 season was over. There has been little to no hype around Williams and his career, but a guy like this has had to work hard to get this far. More than likely, he will continue to work hard.
Williams’ best fit may be on the outside and he will certainly be competing with Troy Hill for the starting CB job, but playing in the box is nothing new to Williams.Long or Williams would be a shoo-in for the nickel, if not for freshly drafted rookie Terrell Burgess. There is an excess amount of heat around Burgess, especially considering he started one season at Utah and was drafted in the third round. The most overused word when describing Burgess is ‘versatile,’ even getting some Tyrann Mathieu comps. And to that point, Brandon Staley wanted Burgess for exactly that reason. Versatility is great, but firstly Burgess needs to prove he is competent in the NFL and proving that is not going to be easy. Given the circumstances heading into this season, it is going to be hard for any rookie to feel comfortable in a brand new system. Add a first time DC to the equation and that difficulty is compounded.
That said, inexperience doesn’t exclude any member of this secondary. The average age of the starting four is under 25. Furthermore, his ability to shift between safety and nickel will be a huge advantage when it comes to playing time. He will get reps regardless of where on the field he will be covering.
To win the battle for the nickel spot Burgess will have to live up to all this hype and prove he is the real deal because the rest of the competition will be fighting just as hard to win the role. And those guys already have in-game experience.
Luckily for all these players, Brandon Staley’s defense is going to require a lot of rotation. It will more than likely look different than what we are used to seeing. They’re going to run a lot of big nickel packages with three safeties, two cornerbacks outside and two linebackers or three safeties, three corners and one linebacker in dime sets. With an emphasis on adjustability, the players that can be a Swiss army knife will get the most playing time, but there is going to be a lot of playing time to be had for the secondary.