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ESPN analyst Matt Bowen on how Rams' newest rookies fit into their offense & defense

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  • ESPN analyst Matt Bowen on how Rams' newest rookies fit into their offense & defense

    ESPN analyst Matt Bowen on how the Rams' newest rookies fit into their offense and defense
    Monday, May 11, 2020 08:16 PM
    Stu Jackson

    Last month, the Los Angeles Rams added new pieces to their offense and defense by drafting running back Cam Akers, wide receiver Van Jefferson, tight end Brycen Hopkins, offensive guard Tremayne Anchrum, outside linebacker Terrell Lewis, safety Terrell Burgess, safety Jordan Fuller and linebacker Clay Johnston.

    For more on how their skillsets fit what Los Angeles like to do on both sides of the ball, spoke with ESPN's Matt Bowen, who writes about the NFL for and is an analyst on the network's NFL Matchup show. Bowen is also a former NFL defensive back who played seven seasons in the league with the Rams (2000-01), Green Bay Packers (2001-02), Washington Redskins (2003-05) and Buffalo Bills (2006).

    Cam Akers

    Bowen said he has already written about Akers a couple of times for, recently including him on his list of 10 rookies who landed with perfect teams in terms of scheme fit (ESPN+ subscription required to read).

    "I was very impressed with Cam Akers," Bowen said in a phone interview with last week. "I love the fit here. I called him a professional runner because that's what I believe he is. When you watch his film at FSU, he has the traits of a pro running back. It's the contact balance, the size, the power, he's got enough wiggle and shake to make defenders miss at the second level."

    According to Bowen, Akers also showed he could be an asset as a receiver out of the backfield – for example, on screen passes – due to his vision in the open field. Akers also has a "natural feel" for finding the endzone from inside an opponent's five-yard line.

    From a scheme standpoint, Akers will see some similarities between Florida State and the Rams. According to Bowen, Florida State used both power and zone running schemes. While Rams head coach Sean McVay's offense is more zone-based, Bowen said Akers will still be a fit for that.

    "Running an outside zone scheme where he can press the ball on the edge, look for a cutback lane or head straight up inside," Bowen said. "So it's a really good pick and with Todd Gurley moving on, allows them to have great competition there with (Malcolm) Brown and Darrell Henderson from last year's draft."

    Van Jefferson

    Widely regarded as one of the best route-runners in his draft class, Jefferson's ability to create separation from defensive backs and get open is one of the traits which immediately made him stand out to Bowen.

    "We talk about all these traits – athleticism and movement skills, that stuff all matters," Bowen said. "But the number one thing in the National Football League is, can you get open? Can you beat man coverage? Do have a feel for zone coverage? Do you have strong hands at the point of attack to catch balls outside of your frame? That's what Van Jefferson gives you. So much detail to his game."

    Jefferson's game isn't that of a receiver who will stretch the field vertically with his speed, according to Bowen, but rather one who excels at getting open on short to intermediate routes.

    "Now let's put that in Coach McVay's offense," Bowen said. "What do we see? A lot of play-action, middle-of-the-field throws, running those skinny posts, those deep square-in routes, running the isolation routes versus off-man coverage. I think he's an excellent fit."

    Brycen Hopkins

    Although the Rams already had Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett and Johnny Mundt in their 2020 tight end room, Hopkins was so highly-rated that they couldn't afford to pass on him at pick No. 136 in the fourth round. Bowen said Hopkins' skillset is most similar to Everett as a move tight end who can stretch the middle of the field vertically.

    "Really, you're drafting him to improve your passing game, create matchups in the passing game," Bowen said. "You can get him open on boot(legs), you can get him open on crossers. Especially in the Rams offense, you can get him open stretching the seams on those high-percentage throws from (quarterback) Jared Goff where he can catch it and run with the football afterwards."

    Bowen said Hopkins will need to work on his drops – Hopkins also previously said this himself during the Rams' Day 3 post-draft show – and while he won't be a tight end blocking at the point of attack in the run game like Higbee, the hope is that he can see the backside of a zone run.

    Most importantly, though, Hopkins will at least provide depth to a key position.

    "You need depth to positions to get through a 16-game season," Bowen said. "You need multiple tight ends on your roster."

    Tremayne Anchrum

    The No. 250 pick and seventh-round selection primarily played offensive tackle at Clemson but spent time learning both guard spots during the Tigers' bowl practices.

    "You're looking at a guy who played at a championship program, that's the first thing you see," Bowen said.

    Bowen said Anchrum projects as a guard – an evaluation also shared by Rams Director of College Scouting Brad Holmes, who sees him fitting at center as well – who will fit into the offensive line as a run-blocker and provide depth to the offensive line.

    "I think he needs to develop a little bit more, in terms of his hand placement and his ability to mirror pass-rushers," Bowen said. "But the foundation is there for someone that can work with pro coaching and start developing and see a career, and wait for that opportunity, to where he becomes a guy that's active on gameday and can provide depth to the offensive line."

    Terrell Lewis

    What first stands out to Bowen about Lewis is that he came from a championship program at Alabama coached by Nick Saban and played in a pro-style defensive scheme. Despite his injury history in college, his traits as a pass rusher make him an intriguing player.

    "Did have some injuries in college, but in terms of the athletic traits, he's got everything you want," Bowen told in a phone interview last week. "He's 6-5, 262, he's got the length, he's got speed off the edge. I think he's got great flexibility and bend off the edge."

    Even with the addition of outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, Bowen said he could still see Lewis finding his way onto the field during his rookie season as a situational pass rusher in sub packages. Bowen also said he sees traits in Lewis that are similar to former Rams outside linebacker Dante Fowler, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent last month.

    "(Fowler) had a great first step, he had the twitch, the flexibility to bend off the edge," Bowen said. "I think Lewis checks those boxes and he's a good scheme fit as well. I think he's a very solid draft pick, especially with the draft value where they got him in the third round."

    Terrell Burgess

    Dubbed by his college head coach as a "football swiss-army knife," the No. 104 pick provides Staley with a versatile defensive back to use in his defense. That skillset also mirrors what safeties are being asked to do in the NFL right now, based on how Bowen evaluates them.

    "I always look at three things with a safety in today's game: Can you play the post? Can you cover down in the slot? Can you play in the run front?" Bowen said. "He checks all three of those boxes."

    Having a player like Burgess who can play multiple positions in the secondary is valuable for defensive playcallers like Staley because it allows Staley to do different things, according to Bowen.

    As an example, Bowen said a playcaller could employ a bigger nickel package – a sub package which swaps the weakside linebacker for a fifth defensive back – by using a third safety as the fifth defensive back instead of a smaller slot corner. Now, the playcaller has a run-defending safety like Burgess who can also cover the slot, something that gives said playcaller an advantage.

    "Again, another very good value pick based on draft position, where they drafted him, and how he fits their scheme as that multi-dimensional defensive back," Bowen said.

    Jordan Fuller

    The sixth-round pick and 199th overall selection from Ohio State plays faster than his combine results may have shown.

    "I don't have his testing numbers in front of me, but I know when I watched him on film, he gets to the ball fast," Bowen said. "And if you're a defensive backs coach, that's what matters, right?"

    Fuller's 6-2, 203-pound frame also stood out to Bowen, as well as his football intelligence because of how he plays on the field. Bowen said Fuller is at his best when playing downhill with speed, and is physical enough to play in the run front because of his tackling ability.

    That skillset should allow him to carve out a role on special teams.

    "If he makes the team, he should be one of your top cover guys on special teams," Bowen said. "If I'm the head special teams coach of the Rams, on the first day of camp, when we go into kickoff coverage and punt coverage, I want to see him getting down the field and making plays."

    Clay Johnston

    Similar to Fuller, Johnston was another Day 3 selection by the Rams, going off the board at pick No. 234. A late-round draft pick himself, Bowen as a former sixth-round selection said Johnston projects as an inside linebacker who will have to make the team through special teams.

    That said, it's a good developmental path to allow him to build on the traits he already possess, according to Bowen.

    "I think he's very instinctive, I think he sees the field very well, I think he's a good tackler, and I think he has upside at the position in terms of coverage traits the more experience he gets as a pro athlete," Bowen said.

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