The definition of consistency is described as, “the achievement of a level of performance that does not vary greatly in quality over time.” That is exactly what the Los Angeles Rams were able to get from Nickell Robey-Coleman in the nickel cornerback position in the last three seasons.
When Sean McVay was hired by Los Angeles in 2017, Robey-Coleman was part of the first wave of signings that were made in hopes to turn around the franchise. Similar to Robert Woods — who’s been extensively underrated since his arrival — Robey-Coleman spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
After flashing potential in Buffalo, Robey-Coleman quickly became a fan-favorite in Los Angeles. Most fans, regardless of their affiliation, are aware of his name due to his involvement in the non-call in the NFC Championship Game in 2018. But Rams fans know just how reliable the USC product could be when he was lined up in the slot.
In his three seasons in Los Angeles, Robey-Coleman contributed a total of 20 pass breakups, three interceptions, and three forced fumbles. Just a season ago, he created a dynamic trio at cornerback for the Rams alongside Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill.
However, Robey-Coleman was released earlier this offseason by the Rams. Of the options that Los Angeles currently has on their roster, who could emerge as the No. 3 cornerback on the depth chart? Let’s take a look at each candidate that could be inserted in Robey-Coleman’s vacant spot in 2020.
Despite the unusual circumstances of the offseason due to COVID-19, HBO is still conducting a season of Hard Knocks. For those that don’t know, the Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers are featured in this year’s installment.
If you’ve been watching the series so far, Donte Deayon has become one of the stars of the show. Deayon has won over fans across the nation by being an energetic player on and off of the field. While he’s a longshot to start at nickel, Deayon shouldn’t be overlooked by Rams fans.
The previous line could likely be seen as a comedic line due to Deayon being undersized at 5-foot-9 and nearly 160 pounds. Nevertheless, Jalen Ramsey himself has exclaimed that Deayon could be Los Angeles’ ‘secret weapon’ on defense this season.
The undrafted free agent out of Boise State signed with Los Angeles in 2019 and spent most of the season on the team’s practice squad. When he did play, he spent 44 of his 87 snaps on the field on special teams.
Given his ability to contribute on special teams, the Rams re-signed Deayon to a one-year deal in March. The idea of him making the jump from special teams to nickel cornerback this year still seems like a longshot despite Ramsey’s endorsement.
Near the end of the 2018 season, the Rams claimed Darious Williams off of waivers from the Baltimore Ravens. After being a reserve for the team for most of his first full year with the franchise, his name was called upon in the latter portion of the 2019 campaign.
And it’s safe to say he exceeded expectations in his short time as a starter for Los Angeles. According to PFF, the duo of Ramsey and Williams were the highest-graded cornerbacks in the NFL from Weeks 12-17 last season.
— PFF LA Rams (@PFF_Rams) May 22, 2020
In response to his strong finish to last season, Williams has garnered the attention of Rams’ new defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley. Even though it was a small sample size, Williams proved he can be a viable starter for Los Angeles.
As good as Williams was in the last few weeks of 2019, he’ll have some stiff competition at the nickel spot. With that being said, if Williams ends up winning the job, no one should be surprised by the decision.
It was evident in the 2020 NFL Draft that the Rams wanted more versatility on the backend of their defense. Before taking Jordan Fuller at the safety position, Los Angeles took Terrell Burgess with the No. 104 pick out of Utah.
While Burgess is listed at safety, he could find himself playing multiple positions in Staley’s defense — as he did in college. As PFF’s Sosa Kremenjas illustrated, Burgess was a Swiss Army knife in his final season at Utah in 2019.
Newly added #LARams safety Terrell Burgess lined up at these spots in 2019:
🔹 FS – 133 snaps
🔹 Box – 285 snaps
🔹 CB – 27 snaps
🔹 Nickel – 272 snaps
🔹 D-Line – 66 snaps
Versatility is the name of the game folks, especially with your 3rd safety. Shoutout @PFF for the stats.
— Sosa K (@QBsMVP) April 25, 2020
Just by looking at where he lined up, Burgess is more than capable of handling his own in the slot. Amid his time operating a considerable number of his snaps out of the slot, Burgess notched 81 tackles, five pass breakups, and an interception for the Utes.
Since the hiring of Staley at defensive coordinator, it’s apparent that Los Angeles wants to go with a variety of looks on defense. So far in training camp, Burgess has been turning heads on the field. Regardless of whether or not he prevails as the nickel cornerback, Burgess is likely going to see an immediate role in the secondary.
Dating back to last season, it has been obvious that the Rams are grooming David Long to be the team’s nickel cornerback. Still, despite being a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Long is going to have to earn his chance to start in the secondary.
To kickstart his career in the NFL, Long played in eight games for the Rams as a rookie. Similar to Deayon, Long saw most of his snaps (139 of his 248 snaps) with the special teams unit in 2019.
When he did get an opportunity in the defense, Long showed glimpses of being a sound slot defender for the Rams. Following his quiet rookie season, the former Wolverine is motivated to prove that he’s a starting-caliber cornerback in 2020.
The time is ticking down for Los Angeles to write their starters for the upcoming season in pen with Week 1 set to begin on September 13th for the Rams. Of the intriguing battles going on in training camp, it will be fascinating to see who replaces Robey-Coleman in 2020.