Taylor Rapp Seeking To Avoid Sophomore Slump

by Zach Martin
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The Los Angeles Rams went into the 2019 season with John Johnson III and Eric Weddle as their starting safeties. By the end of that season, it was Eric Weddle and Taylor Rapp holding down the fort.

Rapp, a standout from the University of Washington, was the 61st overall pick in the second round of last year’s draft. He had a decent year for a rookie, especially after being thrown into a starting role in week 7 once Johnson was injured (and subsequently placed on IR).

The 2020 season will be a defining year for Rapp to prove that he deserves to keep his starting role and to show that he can continue building off of his 2019 rookie season. 

Rapp’s Rookie Season

Initially, Taylor Rapp was drafted into the backup safety role behind John Johnson III (who was coming off a Pro Bowl-caliber 2018 season) and was expected to see the field only on specific packages. That plan, of course, was derailed due to Johnson’s injury.

By the end of the year Rapp finished with 76 solo tackles and 99 combined tackles overall. He would also manage to end the season with two interceptions and one fumble recovery. His first interception came in week 13 against the Cardinals and ended with a defensive touchdown. The second pick and the fumble recovery came in week 17 against the Cardinals, ending his season on a high note.

Granted, Rapp did have a bad finish against the 49ers in week 16, where he and recently acquired cornerback Jalen Ramsey had a miscommunication that led to a blown coverage against receiver Emmanuel Sanders. That play led to a game winning field goal and the Rams’ chances to make the playoffs fell to zero percent. Rapp of course bounced back in week 17 with several highlight plays and proved he can put his mistakes in the rear-view mirror.

According to Pro Football Focus, Rapp ended the season with a 64.5 overall grade. Furthermore, when looking at the overall ranks for safeties, he was ranked 12th for solo tackles and tied for 18th with two interceptions, while being ranked 2nd in targets (67) and 2nd in receptions allowed (47). By those numbers it would seem that Rapp was targeted a lot and unfortunately let a lot of those targets be completed.

But, one could make the case that he came in a lot sooner than expected and immediately occupied a pivotal role on a Rams’ defense that at times,  during Wade Phillips’ tenure as defensive coordinator, struggled with in-game adjustments. Hopefully a changing of the guard and another offseason will bridge the gap for Rapp.

Rapp did manage to make a lot of solo tackles and come up big in key situations when the team needed him to be productive; that’s all you can ask of a rookie safety. Also, the fact that he made more impact plays near the end of his rookie year could lead to a way better sophomore year in 2020.

Rapp’s Potential 2020

Going into the 2020 season, expect Rapp to have a great sophomore season under newly appointed defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Staley is coming over from the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears, where he and respected defensive coordinator Vic Fangio coached studs like Justin Simmons, Von Miller, Eddie Jackson and Khalil Mack. Staley was highly touted from his time with the Broncos and the Bears, due to his being immersed in Fangio’s scheme (which McVay himself said he had struggled to solve).

Staley fits into the new “young blood” staff that head coach Sean McVay is pushing this off-season, as both Staley and newly minted offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell are well under 40 years old. Under Staley we should expect the same 3-4 system and, with McVay being more involved in the defensive gameplan, more proactive in-game adjustments. Rapp, and the defense as a whole, will likely benefit from the teaching styles of the young-minded coaches as they look to relate more to the players and how they learn best. 

In conclusion, the 2020 season will be the year that Rapp could be set up to have a great sophomore year. This could be the opportunity for him to have better numbers compared to last year and who knows, maybe even a Pro Bowl nod to boot. When you look at the ascent of Bronco’s safety Justin Simmons, it’s not hard to get excited about the Rams’ safety duo.

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