In 2009, the St. Louis Rams were coming off of a 2-14 season and beginning the Steve Spagnuolo era by drafting tackle Jason Smith with the second overall pick. That move didn’t work out well for the Rams, but in the second round they found a linebacker out of Ohio State who’d do no less than make a lot of tackles.
As a member of the Buckeyes, James Laurinaitis became the first player to win two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards. On a defense with players like Cam Heyward, Vernon Gholston and Malcolm Jenkins, Laurinaitis stood out as a leader and an Ohio State legend. In his first game with the Rams, he finished with 15 tackles against the Seattle Seahawks, the most ever in a debut with the franchise.
Since the merger, no other Rams player has even had more than eight tackles in his debut. That didn’t change on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, but another play came into a tie for second behind Laurinaitis. And he also knows what it is like to be a defensive legend at Ohio State.
Jordan Fuller was named a captain of the Ohio State defense as a junior and made second team Big Ten and first team Big Ten in his final two season. The Ohio State website’s first comment on Fuller’s player profile page is: “One of the great student-athletes in football history.”
Overshadowed by teammates like Jeffrey Okudah, Damon Arnette, Chase Young and Nick Bosa, Fuller still led the team in tackles in 2018 and was a key to the success of his secondary teammates in 2019 with 62 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed. He didn’t get drafted until the sixth round, three rounds after LA had already selected a safety, but Fuller almost immediately started getting snaps with the starters in practice.
When Taylor Rapp was injured, his playing time became all but a guarantee and on Sunday night, Fuller played in all but one snap on defense.
In his debut NFL game, Fuller led all Rams with eight tackles, including what essentially mounts to the play of the game in a key fourth-down stop on Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver (the 17th overall pick in his same draft) CeeDee Lamb. If Lamb gets the first down, the Cowboys have first and goal and at that point may settle for no less than three points.
Instead, Fuller got Jared Goff and the offense back on the field still holding the lead.
Former NFL QB Dan Orlovsky broke down Fuller’s play on Twitter. Lamb was running a shallow route, the tight end is meant to pick the defensive player who is covering Lamb, but Fuller switches on Lamb and goes “over the top” of the tight ends block and makes a perfect tackle on the rookie receiver.
Fuller’s eight tackles is tied for the second-most in a Rams debut with linebacker Alec Ogletree in 2013 and undrafted free agent Mike Jordan in 2016.
This is not the first time Fuller and Lamb shared the field. Lamb had five catches for 61 yards while playing with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray for Oklahoma in a 2017 road game at Columbus to face Fuller’s Buckeyes. Fuller had six tackles but the Sooners won 31-16 and essentially that went on to kill their national title hopes.
Fuller got the better of Lamb and his team this time.