Sunday’s win over the Cowboys was as hard-fought a win as one could ask for in Week 1. Sure, it was ultimately sealed by Jalen Ramsey selling an offensive pass interference penalty and while that was all the talking heads focused on, the game was swung by rookie safety Jordan Fuller.
On that critical fourth down, it was Fuller that stopped CeeDee Lamb from converting and thus saving the Rams from a crushing defeat. The fascinating part of Fuller’s act of heroism aside from being the 199th pick in the draft (same as Tom Brady) was the fact that he was in the game instead of incumbent starter Taylor Rapp. This has caused a bit of a stir amongst Rams fans as it might signal that Rapp is already being phased out. Instead of looking at it as a controversy at safety, it’s best to look at it as an embarrassment of riches at safety which matters given what’s likely to happen next year.
Fuller led all the safeties on Sunday with five total tackles including perhaps the most important one. Rapp had two total tackles of his own so it wasn’t as though he wasn’t involved. The part of the story that raised eyebrows was Fuller getting time over Rapp, not due to Rapp’s recovery from injury but due to how he balled out during camp.
This is particularly notable given that Fuller also started over third-round rookie Terrell Burgess (who did not record any stats on Sunday). Fuller was praised all throughout camp so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a shocker that he’d get a lot of opportunities to shine in the first game. Rapp was the breakout guy last year having a solid rookie season and he was supposed to take over for John Johnson when he presumably leaves as a free agent after this year. Fuller’s ascendance makes that less clear but it doesn’t have to.
Rapp will continue to get healthier and more in football shape as the season progresses, and while Fuller balled out on Sunday, there is the possibility he gets tested in a way that causes him to struggle. On top of that, Terrell Burgess could have a breakout game of his own along the way. This might seem as though the Rams have too many safeties but given they’re most likely losing Johnson in the future, this is a good problem to have.
One of the strengths of the Rams’ front office is finding tremendous value in the later rounds of the draft and this is the end result. They paid Ramsey to be the anchor of the secondary and the consequence of that is needing cost-controlled corners and safeties that play like stars. It seems they have done that and if next year results in a Rapp-Fuller safety tandem with Burgess getting reps and a late-round pick to be named later in the rotation then the Rams can feel better about letting a star like Johnson go. Ideally, they’d love to keep him but given that they have Robert Woods as their next extension priority they’ve made their choice.
Brandon Staley’s defense is heavy on its secondary use by necessity because they don’t have the horses at linebacker at the moment (if ever). There will be ample opportunities amongst the young safeties so any worry about Rapp having a second-year slump will likely be quelled sooner rather than later. For now, instead of flipping out over Rapp’s status, fans should take this as an opportunity to praise the Rams for doing it again in finding a stud on defense at the low low price of a sixth-round pick.
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