Rams make draft noise on Day 3, starting with Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins
Without a first-round pick to generate splash, or a major trade to acquire a star player or a higher pick, the Rams’ 2020 draft progressed in low-key businesslike fashion.
That changed Saturday after the Rams selected Baylor linebacker Clay Johnston in the seventh round.
“I was starting to fade a little bit in the seventh round,” coach Sean McVay said, recounting his phone call with the pumped-up prospect, “and this guy gave me a shot of adrenaline that felt like I was going to put my head through a wall.”
Johnston’s excitement virtually came through the screen during a video conference with reporters.
“I’m hyperventilating,” he said. “I wanted to get under the squat rack, wanted to get some pads on.
“I’m freaking stoked!”
Commentary: The NFL’s first virtual draft was a big hit, so much so that the league must figure out how to blend its authentic style into future drafts.
McVay and general manager Les Snead sounded happy — if less colorful — assessing their nine-player draft class, a group that must help fill some needs for a team attempting to return to the postseason.
On Friday, the Rams chose Florida State running back Cam Akers and Florida receiver Van Jefferson in the second round, and Alabama outside linebacker Terrell Lewis and Utah safety Terrell Burgess in the third.
On Saturday, they added Purdue tight end Brycen Hawkins in the fourth round and Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller in the sixth. They finished by selecting Johnston, Miami-Ohio kicker Sam Sloman and Clemson offensive lineman Tremayne Anchrum in the seventh round.
“Just the ability to address a bunch of different needs with players we loved,” McVay said. “Each of these picks demonstrates value to us.”
Since the end of their 9-7 season, the Rams parted ways with running back Todd Gurley, receiver Brandin Cooks, kicker Greg Zuerlein, edge rusher Dante Fowler and linebackers Cory Littleton and Clay Matthews among others. They re-signed offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Austin Blythe and defensive lineman Michael Brockers.
When asked Saturday, neither Snead nor McVay would say definitively that the Rams roster was better now than it was at the same time last year.
“You always want to go into every year and try and be slightly better than you were,” Snead said. “It’s going to be different. There’s going to be times when some positions have less experience and some don’t.
The Rams took Florida State running back Cam Akers and Florida wideout Van Jefferson in the second round of the NFL draft among four picks Friday.
“You’re always having to navigate all of that.”
Said McVay: “The goal is, ‘All right, how can we refill and reestablish ourselves with players we identify as appropriate targets to fill some of those voids that are left by great players we’ve lost. And then, let’s continue to draft, develop and onboard the right kind of guys.’ And I think that draft class demonstrates that.”
The Rams began Saturday by trading down in the fourth round to add two seventh-round picks.
The roster already featured ascending tight end Tyler Higbee, who signed an extension before last season, and Gerald Everett, who is in the final year of his rookie contract. But the Rams used their first pick Saturday to choose Hopkins, the son of former NFL offensive lineman Brad Hopkins.
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm coached Higbee at Western Kentucky.
“A lot of the film that we watched was WKU film and Tyler Higbee,” Hopkins said.
Fuller was a member of a talented Ohio State secondary that produced three draft picks. He is the brother of former UCLA receiver Devin Fuller, so he is familiar with Southern California.
“I’m so excited to be an L.A. Ram, and being in L.A.,” Jordan Fuller said.
Johnston suffered a season-ending knee injury six games into his 2019 college season. He joins a largely inexperienced inside linebacker corps that includes Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Travin Howard and Kenny Young.
“I’m running max speed,” Johnston said when asked about his recovery from injury. “I’m cutting at about 90-95% speed, being smart about it.”
The first virtual draft in NFL history went off without a major problem for the Rams but it did include a glitch for general manager Les Snead.
Sloman said he was looking forward to competing for the opportunity to replace Zuerlein. This month, the Rams also signed free agent kickers Lirim Hajrullahu and Austin MacGinnis.
“Greg Zuerlein was a lot of fun to watch — I love watching him kick the ball,” Sloman said. “So, I think it’s pretty cool to get the opportunity to try follow in his footsteps.”
Anchrum was the lone offensive lineman selected by a Rams team that suffered multiple injuries along the line in 2019, and remains without an obvious successor to veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
“I have played both tackles and I have practiced both guards,” Anchrum said. “I’m comfortable on the right side of the line, mostly, right tackle, right guard. But again, I am open to playing any spot on the line.”
The Rams announced they had agreed to terms with 20 undrafted free agents, including quarterbacks Josh Love of San Jose State and Bryce Perkins of Virginia, running backs James Gilbert (Kansas State) and Xavier Jones (Southern Methodist), wide receivers Earnest Edwards (Maine), Trishton Jackson (Syracuse), JJ Koski (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), Brandon Polk (James Madison) and Easop Winston (Washington State), offensive lineman Cohl Cabral (Arizona State), defensive linemen Eric Banks (Texas-San Antonio), Mike Hoecht (Brown), Sam Renner (Minnesota) and Jonah Williams (Weber State), linebackers Greg Reaves( South Florida) and Christian Rozeboom (South Dakota), defensive backs JuJu Hughes (Fresno State), Dayan Lake (Brigham Young), Tyrique McGhee (Georgia), and Levonta Taylor (Florida State).
Brycen Hopkins, tight end
6 feet 5, 245 pounds, Purdue, Round 4, Pick 136
Notable: Hopkins scored on plays of more than 70 yards in each of his final two seasons. He caught 130 passes for 1,945 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career.
Last season: Hopkins had 61 receptions for 830 yards and seven touchdowns.
Why Rams drafted him: Tight end Tyler Higbee emerged as a productive pass catcher last season after signing an extension. Gerald Everett is in the final year of his rookie contract. Johnny Mundt mainly has served as a blocker at the line of scrimmage and, last season, out of the backfield. Hopkins adds depth.
Jordan Fuller, safety
6 feet 2, 205 pounds, Ohio State, Round 6, Pick 199
Notable: Younger brother of former UCLA player Devin Fuller. Mother, Cindy Mizelle, a noted background singer for artists ranging from Whitney Houston to Rolling Stones.
Last season: Recorded 62 tackles and intercepted two passes.
Why Rams drafted him: Eric Weddle retired and the Rams let Marqui Christian become a free agent, so they are in need of safety depth behind John Johnson and Taylor Rapp. They drafted Utah safety Terrell Burgess but he might project more as a slot cornerback.
Clay Johnston, linebacker
6 feet 1, 232 pounds, Baylor, Round 7, Pick 234
Notable: Johnston’s father, Kent, was an NFL strength and conditioning coach for more than two decades, including with Chargers. As a junior in 2018, Clay averaged more than eight tackles per game.
Last season: Played six games before suffering knee injury. Made more than 10 tackles in four games.
Why Rams drafted him: Cory Littleton left to sign a free-agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Rams need depth in a largely inexperienced inside linebacker corps that includes Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Travin Howard, Kenny Young and Natrez Patrick.
Sam Sloman, kicker
5 feet 8, 205 pounds, Miami (Ohio), Round 7, Pick 248
Notable: Made 49 of 62 field-goal attempts during his career. Played at coach Sean McVay’s alma mater.
Last season: Made 26 of 30 field-goal attempts, including four of five from beyond 50 yards.
Why Rams drafted him: The Rams are seeking a replacement for longtime kicker Greg Zuerlein, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Sloman will compete with Lirim Hajrullahu, who played six seasons in the Canadian Football League, and Austin MacGinnis, who played in the AAF and XFL.
Tremayne Anchrum, offensive line
6 feet 2, 315 pounds, Clemson, Round 7, Pick 250
Notable: Two-year starter for team that won national title in 2018 season. His father, Tremayne, played basketball at USC.
Last season: Started at right tackle for the second season in a row and was voted first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference.
Why Rams drafted him: The Rams signed no free agent offensive linemen, so Anchrum could provide depth at guard and tackle for unit that is trying to bounce back from an injury-riddled season.
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