Tue, 27 Jul 2021

Position battle preview: Nickel defensive back

Los Angeles Rams
20 Jul 2021, 18:24 GMT+10

Stu Jackson

A handful of offseason departures have created openings for multiple key roles on both the Rams' offense and their defense that will be closely monitored during Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union.

TheRams.com will be previewing the candidates for each ahead of camp, beginning with nickel defensive back.

The skinny

According to scouting service Pro Football Focus, Troy Hill was the NFL's highest-graded slot cornerback last year with an 87.8 grade off of 620 snaps inside. During free agency, he signed a four-year deal with the Browns as an unrestricted free agent.

The most crucial component to determining his replacement will be new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris' vision for the position.

It has been said the Rams will keep last year's defense deployed by former defensive coordinator Brandon Staley in place, with Morris adding his own twist - so does Morris view the nickel cornerback as a hybrid defensive back like his predecessor did with the star position, and line up different players inside, regardless of each player's size? Or is he looking for just one player to man the position while keeping Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams outside?

The candidates (in alphabetical order) Terrell Burgess

#26 S

Height: 5-11 Weight: 202 lbs College: Utah

Experience: One season

Notes: Burgess is a wildcard because of his versatile background. He's listed as a safety, but he also played every position in Utah's secondary, which would make him a fit at safety or nickel. The 2020 third-round pick mainly contributed on special teams as a rookie, producing eight total tackles and one pass breakup in eight games prior to a season-ending ankle injury in the eighth contest.

Dont'e Deayon

#21 CB

Height: 5-9 Weight: 159 lbs College: Boise State

Experience: Three seasons (two with Rams)

Notes: Deayon's second season with the Rams was spent on their practice squad, but he later appeared in their divisional round playoff game against the Packers in Green Bay. He has contributed on defense and special teams before, though, doing so across three games in 2019.

Brontae Harris

#35 DB

Height: 5-10 Weight: 190 lbs College: UAB

Experience: Rookie

Notes: Playing cornerback at UAB, Harris tallied 27 total tackles (four for loss), one sack, four pass breakups and one interception en route to Second Team All-Conference USA recognition last fall before signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent this spring.

JuJu Hughes

#23 S

Height: 5-11 Weight: 188 lbs College: Fresno State

Experience: One season

Notes: Having played both nickel and safety in college, Hughes also offers versatility Los Angeles could potentially utilize at nickel. An undrafted free agent signee out of Fresno State in 2020, he made L.A.'s 53-man roster as a rookie and went on to appear in 12 regular season games and both playoff games, making three total tackles as a special teams contributor.

Dayan Lake

# DB

Height: 5-11 Weight: 200 lbs College: BYU

Experience: One season

Notes: Originally an undrafted free agent signee by the Rams last year, Lake was among the final round of players waived by the team ahead of the 53-man roster deadline. In October, he was chosen by the Conquerors of The Spring League - a football developmental league - but its 2020 season was postponed to the spring. He later spent time on the Patriots practice squad in December before rejoining the Rams in early June. Lake posted 62 total tackles, two interceptions, three pass breakups, two sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries during his final season at BYU in 2019.

David Long Jr.

#22 CB

Height: 5-11 Weight: 196 lbs College: Michigan

Experience: Two seasons

Notes: Under former cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, Long's versatile skillset allowed him to play an "inside-out" role as rookie in 2019, so he's another hybrid option to consider should Morris go that route. Long appeared in all 16 games in 2020, logging six tackles and one tackle on special teams.

Kareem Orr

# DB

Height: 5-11 Weight: 195 lbs College: Tennessee-Chattanooga

Experience: Two seasons

Notes: Originally an undrafted free agent signing out of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga by the Titans in 2019, Orr spent his first two NFL seasons with that franchise. He spent most of that time on their practice squad but did appear in seven games. He played cornerback for the Titans, but also has experience playing safety - he was a freshman All-American at that position at Arizona State, where he spent his first two collegiate seasons before transferring to Chattanooga.

J.R. Reed

#36 DB

Height: 6-1 Weight: 194 lbs College: Georgia

Experience: One season

Notes: Similar to Burgess and Long, Reed also offers versatility having played star in Georgia's defense. A free agent signing in early September last year, he appeared in seven regular season games on special teams and two playoff games, making two tackles in the regular season and three tackles in the postseason.

Robert Rochell

#31 DB

Height: 6-2 Weight: 195 lbs College: Central Arkansas

Experience: Rookie

Notes: The fourth-round pick out of Central Arkansas will need time to develop - Rams general manager Les Snead said after Day 3 of the draft that Rochell is still "raw" - but his athleticism and upside could provide value at nickel if Los Angeles were to use him there down the road. Rochell tallied 27 total tackles, three pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in seven games during his final season at UCA.

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