The absence of a first-round pick in the 2017 and 2018 NFL drafts did not stop the Rams from finding players who immediately contributed to NFC West titles and a Super Bowl run.
Several members of the 2019 draft class – also devoid of a first-round pick – are projected to do the same during the upcoming season.
On Tuesday, rookies attended team meetings and performed drills on the field for the first time as the Rams continued voluntary offseason workouts. Organized team activities begin Monday.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Taylor Rapp, a safety selected in the second round, said afterward during a news conference, “It’s something I dreamed of my whole life, playing in the National Football League. So to actually be living it out right here, I mean it’s indescribable.”
Rapp and defensive tackle Greg Gaines, former teammates at the University of Washington, are regarded as players that can play major roles. Running back Darrell Henderson and cornerback David Long also might figure prominently as backups. Offensive linemen Bobby Evans and David Edwards will apprentice behind established veterans, and safety Nick Scott and linebacker Dakota Allen are regarded as potential special teams standouts and possibly more.
Rapp joins a safety corps that includes six-time Pro Bowl player Eric Weddle and John Johnson, regarded as a rising star after a standout second season.
Rapp described Weddle as a future Hall of Famer.
“I’m just trying to soak up everything I can from him, and even John Johnson, he’s an incredible player,” Rapp said, adding, “Just being able to be thrown into that secondary with those guys, it’s almost like the perfect fit for me because I get to learn under those guys.”
The 6-foot-1, 312-pound Gaines, a fourth-round pick, is a candidate to start at nose tackle in the Rams’ base defense, filling a void left by the departure of Ndamukong Suh.
It’s been a hectic few months for Gaines, the father of a newborn son named Colt. Gaines, who played at La Habra High, said he, his wife and his son recently drove 23 hours from Dallas to Southern California. It is good to be home near family, he said.
“We got a couple grandmas for babysitting and some aunts too,” he said.
Gaines spent Tuesday watching “every little thing” star tackle Aaron Donald and veteran Michael Brockers did on the field. He said he enjoyed taking on double teams in college, and aimed to take pressure off Donald.
“I’m trying to alleviate that for him a little bit,” Gaines said.
With star Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown on the roster, the Rams surprised many when they used a third-round pick to select Henderson from Memphis. Coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead have said that Henderson could provide the Rams with a presence similar to what versatile James White provides the New England Patriots.
Gurley passed along some advice, Henderson said.
“He just told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to mess up because the more you mess up the more you can learn from it.’” Henderson said.
Long, also a third-round pick, is part of a cornerback group that includes veteran starters Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, and slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Long, who played at Loyola High, excelled in press coverage at Michigan. Now he is learning from players he grew up watching.
“I think Aqib Talib, his rookie season, I was probably like 11 or something,” Long said. “So that’s a little wild. … You always look up to those guys and say that’s where you want to be, but now being on the same playing stage and playing field is crazy, but it’s also inspiring and makes you want to work harder.”
Evans and Edwards played tackle at Oklahoma and Wisconsin, respectively. As he did with Joseph Noteboom last season, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is expected to have the rookies learn both tackle spots and possibly both guard spots.
Starting right tackle Rob Havenstein, a fellow Wisconsin alum, offered some simple advice, Edwards said.
“I asked him just what to expect, and he was just like, ‘Dude just come in and work,’ ” Edwards said.