Rams use NFL draft to try to fill voids left by departures of Cooks and Gurley
On Friday, with their first two picks in the NFL draft, the Rams moved to address the void left by the stars’ departures — and also possibly filled other needs.
The Rams chose Florida State running back Cam Akers in the second round with the 52nd pick, and five picks later they selected Florida receiver Van Jefferson. The Rams also chose Alabama outside linebacker Terrell Lewis and Utah safety Terrell Burgess in the third round with the 84th and 104th picks, respectively.
The Rams go into Saturday’s conclusion with one pick each in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds.
“We had a game plan to start and the good thing is our first two picks were the first two picks we wanted to get done,” general manager Les Snead said. “That doesn’t happen all the time. But as we prepared for this draft, planned for it, felt like those two players were realistic targets for us.”
Coach Sean McVay and Snead are remaking a team that, a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs in 2019. McVay hired three new coordinators — Kevin O’Connell (offense), Brandon Staley (defense) and John Bonamego (special teams) — and is attempting to put together a roster that can challenge the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and improving Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.
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“To be able to have the players that were there at 52, 57 at the running back and receiver spots were instrumental to start the day off on the right foot,” McVay said. “Our coaches, scouts felt really good about all four of these players and that’s instrumental in having a good day. And then tomorrow we expect the same.”
The Rams made their picks a few hours after announcing that edge rusher Leonard Floyd and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson signed free-agent contracts they agreed to in March.
Neither player has taken a team physical, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The Rams created salary-cap space in part by restructuring the $134-million contract quarterback Jared Goff signed before last season and the $32.5-million deal offensive lineman Rob Havenstein signed before the 2018 season.
After cutting Gurley on March 19, McVay and Snead said they were confident that veteran backup Malcolm Brown and second-year pro Darrell Henderson could replace a three-time Pro Bowl running back who was the 2017 NFL offensive player of the year.
But after watching a slew of receivers and offensive tackles taken in the first and second rounds, the Rams used their first pick to nab Akers, one of only three Florida State running backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards in multiple seasons.
“I’m somebody who can come in and be a game-changer,” Akers, the fourth running back selected in the draft, said on a videoconference with reporters. “Be everything this team and the fans need me to be and everything they’re expecting me to be.”
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McVay and Snead also said they were confident that the receiver corps would be fine with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. But with Kupp and Reynolds entering the final year of their rookie contracts, they used the pick they acquired in the Cooks trade with the Houston Texans and made Jefferson the 12th receiver selected in the draft.
“There’s a lot of great receivers that went before me, a lot of great receivers that got to hear their names called, but I’m just here to prove I can the best player I can be,” he said. “I’m excited to get the call from the Rams. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to play in the NFL.”
Jefferson is the son of former NFL receiver Shawn Jefferson, a coach for the New York Jets. He began his college career at Mississippi and then transferred to Florida.
Jefferson said he underwent foot surgery in March but was 90% healed and looking forward to learning from Rams receivers.
“I’m excited to come to the office and learn from the guys that are there,” Jefferson said. “Get up under a veteran’s wing and just try to learn the offense as quick as I can.”
Michael Pittman Jr. (Indianapolis), Antoine Winfield Jr. (Tampa Bay) and Van Jefferson (Rams) all made their first steps down a path their dads took.
Lewis was sidelined for much of his career at Alabama because of injuries. But he is capable of providing an effective edge-rushing presence for a team that must make up for the loss of Dante Fowler and the career-best 11½ sacks he produced last season. The Rams also released veteran linebacker Clay Matthews.
Lewis said his injuries played a factor in where he was drafted but he looked forward to showing what others missed out on.
Burgess, from San Marcos, Calif., converted to safety from cornerback. He was largely projected as a slot cornerback but said he was able to play wherever he was asked. Mainly, he was ecstatic about playing in Southern California.
“I didn’t get a chance to get everyone’s reaction,” he said of his family’s response to being drafted by the Rams. “I was crying so much.”
Cam Akers, running back
5 feet 10, 217 pounds, Florida State, Round 2, Pick 52
Notable: Akers played quarterback in high school in Mississippi. He joined Dalvin Cook and Warrick Dunn as the only Florida State players to have multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Last season: Akers rushed for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes, four for touchdowns.
Why Rams drafted him: After cutting star running back Gurley, McVay and Snead said they had confidence in Henderson and Brown to fill the void. But they obviously believed they needed another weapon. Akers is another affordable option for a team that will try to do running back by committee.
Van Jefferson, wide receiver
6 feet 1, 197 pounds, Florida, Round 2, Pick 57
Notable: Jefferson’s father, Shawn, played wide receiver for 13 seasons in the NFL. He is now the receivers coach for the New York Jets. Van Jefferson caught 175 passes for 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns in his college career.
Last season: Jefferson caught 49 passes for 657 yards and six touchdowns.
Why Rams drafted him: The Rams needed a receiver after trading deep-threat Cooks to the Houston Texans for the No. 57 pick in the draft. They used it to select Jefferson, who joins a receiver corps that includes Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. Kupp and Reynolds are in the final years of their rookie contracts.
Terrell Lewis, linebacker
6 feet 5, 262 pounds, Alabama, Round 3, Pick 84
Notable: Lewis was sidelined the final 10 games of the 2017 season because of an upper-arm injury and all of 2018 because of a torn ligament in his right knee.
Last season: Lewis recorded 11½ tackles for loss, six sacks and two pass breakups in 11 games.
Why Rams drafted him: After recording a career-best 11½ sacks for the Rams last season, edge rusher Dante Fowler signed a $45-million free-agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons. To replace Fowler, the Rams signed Floyd, a former first-round pick of the Chicago Bears, to a one-year, $10-million prove it contract. Lewis could be a situational pass rusher and, in a best-case scenario, a longer-term, cheaper alternative to Floyd.
Terrell Burgess, safety
5 feet 11, 202 pounds, Utah , Round 3, Pick 104
Notable: Lewis converted from cornerback to safety. He has been projected as a nickel back.
Last season: Burgess made 81 tackles, 7½ for losses.
Why Rams drafted him: Burgess could help fill the void left by the departure of slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, and also play as a rotational safety in the wake of Marqui Christian’s departure and Eric Weddle’s retirement. Burgess said he has been in contact with Weddle throughout his career.
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