In Defense of Taylor Rapp

The disappointing 2022 season for the Rams has been full of bad vibes. When things go south, scapegoats abound and fans tend to channel their anger at specific coaches or players, regardless of whether the level of criticism is truly warranted. IMO, often those targets are selected based on emotional decisions and not from an objective or balanced review of hard facts.

To my eye, one example of this is Leonard Floyd. When he didn't have any sacks early in the season, he was singled out as being a waste of money, an labeled as a bad pass rusher. I never thought this was accurate. If you focus on him during a game, Floyd isn't a bad defender. It is fair to question whether he is worth his high salary or if the Rams could have gotten a better result by spending differently, but in terms of pure performance level, I'd argue that he's actually one of the better players on the defense.

A second member of the defense this year who I think has had his name unfairly dragged through the mud is safety, Taylor Rapp. If you relied solely on what TST has said about him, he's a dead weight anchor that has dragged down the defense and should have been at least benched, if not outright waived long ago. Here is my "fact based" argument why that stance doesn't hold water.

1. Taylor Rapp has a strong argument for being the 2nd best safety from his draft class

Rapp wasn't drafted until late in the 2nd round in 2019. He was the 5th safety selected. This season, Rapp has a 66.9 PFF grade, ranking 37th out of 88 safeties. Probably the best safety from the 2019 draft was a 4th round pick, Amani Hooker (who has a 70.6 PFF grade this season). After Hooker, the next best safety is probably Rapp. These were the other safeties drafted in the first 2 rounds:

Darnell Savage: I thought he was the best S prospect in that draft, he was my favorite. After a decent start to his career, things have gone down the tubes. He has a 46.5 PFF grade and in their last game the Packers benched him, then he got injured. He was a 1st round pick, 21st overall. A very disappointing outcome, since given his draft position he should have become a Pro Bowl level performer.

Johnathan Abram: The 27th overall pick, by the Raiders, he was waived and claimed by the Packers. He has a 49.5 PFF grade this season. He was at 56.9 and 36.8 the previous 2 seasons. Even when he was with the Raiders, calling him a safety might be a stretch, because he was more like a hybrid linebacker.

Marquise Blair: Taken 47th overall by Seattle. A series of knee injuries derailed his career and he was waived by the Seahawks. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad.

Nasir Adderley: Chargers drafted him 1 slot before Rapp. Adderley was one of the highest regarded safety prospects in that draft. He has a 62.0 PFF grade this year and was at 67.3 last season.

Juan Thornhill: Taken 2 slots after Rapp, by the Chiefs. He had a good rookie season, but tore his ACL and since that injury I don't feel that he's been the same. He has a 55.6 PFF grade in 2022.

2. Rapp doesn't miss that many tackles

There is a type of "confirmation bias" going on, where every time Rapp misses a tackle (or is perceived to have missed a tackle) the play reaffirms in the minds of Rams fans that Rapp is a bad player. The truth is that Taylor Rapp is actually one of the better tackling safeties in the NFL.

Per SIS data tracking, Rapp's rate of missed or broken tackles this season is exactly the same as his career average. This is how his 2022 rate compares with many other notable safeties (the lower the percentage, the better):

Kevin Byard 8.8%

Jessie Bates 10.7%

Harrison Smith 11.5%

Kerby Joseph 12.8%

Tyrann Mathieu 12.9%

Derwin James 13.4%

John Johnson 14.3%

Taylor Rapp 14.7%

Minkah Fitzpatrick 16.1%

Jeremy Chinn 16.2%

Jaquan Brisker 17.6%

Richie Grant 18.1%

Rodney McLeod 18.2%

Keanu Neal 18.2%

Eddie Jackson 18.8%

Jordan Poyer 19.6%

Nick Scott 19.7%

Adrian Amos 19.8%

Juan Thornhill 20.5%

Amani Hooker 21.1%

Quandre Diggs 22.1%

Budda Baker 22.6%

Justin Simmons 22.7%

Jevon Holland 23.2%

Talanoa Hufanga 23.8%

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson 23.8%

Trevon Moehrig 24.3%

Jalen Pitre 25.2%

Justin Reid 26.5%

Darnell Savage 26.8%

Rapp has coverage limitations, but for a team like the Rams that wants to play a zone heavy scheme and have their safeties rally up to the ball to make tackles after the catch or to stop runs, Rapp is the type of safety who fits that role. If you took Rapp out of the defense and tried to replace him with a randomly generated, spin the wheel NFL safety, the most likely result is the Rams would be even worse on defense, because the hypothetical replacement guy would miss even more tackles than Rapp does.

Be Careful What You Wish For

The 2022 Rams didn't have enough playmakers in the defensive secondary. Other than Jalen Ramsey no one else was a difference maker. It was probably a key factor in why Raheem Morris has played such a soft zone.

Presumably, the Rams will let Rapp walk in free agency once his rookie deal expires. When that happens, almost all Rams fans will celebrate, seeing it as addition by subtraction. I'm not convinced that will turn out to be the case. If the plan is to dedicate limited free agency spending and draft picks to other positions such as OL, EDGE, RB and roll with late round safeties like Lake and Yeast or bring in UDFAs, I'd be concerned whether the Rams in 2023 would be risking taking a step backwards at safety.