John Johnson, Taylor Rapp are starters, but Rams need to find safety depth in NFL draft
As the Rams prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 2 of 10: Safeties.
The plan called for Taylor Rapp to play as a rotational safety, giving the Rams rookie time to learn from sage veteran Eric Weddle and ascending star John Johnson.
And through nearly six games of the 2019 season, Rapp apprenticed with aplomb.
After Johnson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against the San Francisco 49ers, Rapp was thrust into the starting lineup for the final 10 games. He showed the Rams had drafted wisely by choosing him in the second round.
Now, with Weddle having retired, Johnson and Rapp are set to start for a Rams team trying to rebound from a 9-7 non-playoff season.
Johnson said this week he could not wait to play alongside Rapp.
Because of the Rams’ salary-cap situation and need to re-sign star Jalen Ramsey, the Rams must draft in order to fortify the cornerback position.
“We’ll both be a little more versatile,” Johnson had said. “And I also think Taylor Rapp is a little more versatile than he thinks he is, so I think we’re going to have to get that out of him.”
Johnson, Rapp and all of the Rams’ defensive players will be learning a new system under first-year coordinator Brandon Staley.
Johnson, 24, was a third-round draft pick in 2017. Injuries slowed him during offseason workouts and training camp before his rookie season, but he started the final 11 games opposite Lamarcus Joyner.
In 2018, he intercepted four passes during the regular season, and also intercepted a pass in overtime of the NFC championship game to set up the game-winning field goal that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.
Rapp, 22, intercepted two passes last season. He also established himself as an outstanding tackler and drew rave reviews from Weddle.
Other safeties on the roster are second-year pro Nick Scott, who played mainly on special teams, and second-year pro Jake Gervase, an undrafted free agent who spent most of last season on the practice squad.
The Rams’ decision to part ways with Todd Gurley means Jared Goff must deliver for the Rams in 2020 after receiving a mammoth contract extension last year.
Marqui Christian, a valuable rotational safety the last few seasons, became an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season and reportedly agreed to terms with the New York Jets on a one-year, $2-million contract in March. But that deal fell through and Christian remains unsigned.
Under contract for 2020: Johnson ($2.3 million), Rapp ($1.1 million), Scott ($694,000), Gervase ($675,000),
Free agents: The Rams did not pursue safeties in the initial two waves of free agency. Christian, who played as hybrid linebacker at times in former coordinator Wade Phillips’ system, is a longshot to return. But stranger things have happened in the NFL.
Draft: Neither Johnson nor Rapp was a first-round pick, so the Rams have shown the ability to identify safety talent in later rounds. Without a first-round pick for the fourth year in a row, they will again be looking for safeties to add depth.
Roster decisions: Weddle’s retirement was not completely unexpected. He intimated throughout the 2019 season that it could be his last. Johnson is in the final year of his rookie contract. He has said he is not worried about an extension, and that his performance would speak for itself.
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