Thu, 01 Oct 2020

Analysis: Previewing the position battle at nickel defensive back

Los Angeles Rams
14 Aug 2020, 18:24 GMT+10

Stu Jackson

As Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union gets underway, theRams.com will be previewing four key position battles to watch. The series' third installment breaks down the competition at nickel defensive back.

Whenever an opposing offense lined up a tight end or a third wide receiver in the slot over the last three years - warranting an additional defensive back - the Rams defense could count on cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman to reliably defend either one.

This year, however, will be different. When the Rams defense faces one of those offensive formations that prompts it to use a fifth defensive back, or nickel sub package this season, it will have to count on someone else after Robey-Coleman was released earlier in the offseason and later joined the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency.

Based on the skillsets of the candidates, defensive coordinator Brandon Staley will likely collaborate with both cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant and safeties coach Ejiro Evero to find the player capable of filling that role.

Here is a look at those candidates on Los Angeles' current roster, listed in alphabetical order:

Terrell Burgess

Experience: Rookie

Notes: A 2019 Pac-12 honorable mention choice by conference coaches, Burgess made 81 tackles (7.5 for loss), one interception and five pass breakups while starting in 14 games in his final season at Utah. Burgess' 81 tackles led the Utes' defensive backfield and were third-most on the team. Staley values versatility in the secondary, and Burgess played every position in Utah's secondary. Though Burgess will start out at safety, Staley said he is capable of playing the nickel defensive back position.

Jordan Fuller

Experience: Rookie

Notes: In his final collegiate season, Fuller made 62 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups in 14 starts en route to first team All-Big Ten honors in 2019. The sixth-round pick and former Ohio State standout is "built like a damn linebacker," according to Evero. Even if that makes him a better fit defending against the run instead of the pass, it would still make him valuable at the nickel.

Dont'e Deayon

Experience: Three seasons (two with the Rams)

Notes: Deayon spent most of his second season with the Rams on their practice squad, but still appeared in three games and made a pair of tackles in 2019. While his opportunities with Los Angeles have been limited, he did have a knack for making plays in college, finishing with 17 career interceptions - two of which were returned for touchdowns - and 155 career tackles across four years at Boise State.

JuJu Hughes

Experience: Rookie

Notes: The safety and undrafted free agent signee made a career-high 80 tackles in his final season at Fresno State, a number that was also good for third-most among Bulldogs defensive players. That shows he fits the mold of what the Rams look for in their safeties. Hughes' college highlights also show him lining up at nickel defensive back at times.

Tyrique McGhee

Experience: Rookie

Notes: In 50 career games across four seasons at Georgia, McGhee made 59 total tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. During his college career, he played cornerback then safety before switching to the Bulldogs' "star" position - a hybrid defensive back-linebacker role with slot coverage and pass-rushing responsibilities.

David Long Jr.

Experience: One season

Notes: After being inactive for the first six games of the Rams' 2019 season, Long appeared in six of the their final eight and made 10 tackles and two pass breakups. Pleasant said this month that Long played an "inside-out" role as a rookie last year because of his versatility.

Darious Williams

Experience: Two seasons

Notes: Like Long, Williams was able to capitalize on opportunities created by late-season injuries at the cornerback position, making 15 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions over 12 games last year.

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