The Rams Wire
As teams have deployed more three- and four-receiver sets in recent years, slot players on offense have become significantly more important. Slot receivers are no longer just undersized, shifty pass catchers who are on the field 30% of the time.
Now, even the best receivers in the NFL line up in the slot.
That means having a defender capable of covering those inside receivers is critical. Luckily for the Rams, they have two solid options, according to Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire: Jalen Ramsey and David Long Jr.
Farrar ranked the13 best slot defenders in the NFL ahead of the 2022 season and both Ramsey and Long made the list. But it was Long who came in higher in the rankings.
Ramsey was ranked 9th in Farrar’s poll, while Long checked in at No. 5 – behind only Kyle Dugger, Jourdan Lewis, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu.
Impressively, Long actually allowed the lowest opponent passer rating in the league last season for any slot defenders who played at least 20% of the team’s snaps.
With all the defensive standouts on the defending Super Bowl champs’ roster in 2021, Long — selected in the third round of the 2019 draft out of Michigan — was a bit of a secret superstar in his third NFL season, specifically as a slot presence. Long barely made a dent in that defense in his first two years, seeing the field on just 227 total snaps. But in 2021, Long got 671 snaps and 510 coverage snaps, and he responded ideally to the increased opportunities. He allowed 12 catches on 21 slot targets for 66 yards, 42 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 43.0 — the lowest opponent passer rating in the NFL for any slot defender that saw at least 20% of his team’s defensive snaps.
Long is far from perfect as a cornerback, and he was at one point benched for rookie Robert Rochell last season, but when the playoffs came around, he stepped up in a big way as a starter. The Rams hope he can carry that into 2022 and help replace Darious Williams, potentially starting alongside Ramsey and Troy Hill.
He won’t be a full-time player in the slot because Ramsey and Hill can both play there, too. But Long has a chance to play a key role on defense in the final year of his contract.