Needing plenty of help to replace Aaron Donald, Rams draft four defensive linemen

The Rams went into the NFL draft with two pressing needs.

Star lineman Aaron Donald’s retirement left a humongous hole in the defense. And, after last season’s kicking debacle, they also had to address that position.

General manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay had said no single player could fill the void left by future-Hall-of-Famer Donald, so the Rams attempted to do it with volume.

Four of 10 players the Rams selected in a draft that ended Saturday were defensive linemen, including first-round pick Jared Verse, an edge rusher from Florida State. The Rams also selected Florida State defensive tackle Braden Fiske in the second round and Saturday added Washington State edge rusher Brennan Jackson in the fifth and Clemson nose tackle Tyler Davis in the sixth.

“To be able to get two guys on the edge, two guys inside that we feel like can affect the game in a positive way, that was something that we had identified,” McVay said. “And obviously Aaron creates a big void. You’re never going to ask somebody to replace that void he created but you can do that by the unit.”

Miami safety Kamren Kinchens, a third-round pick, also is among the new players now under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Chris Shula.

“We’ll do some similar things,” McVay said, “but I think there’s going to be some different things that we can explore of how to really be able push the envelope and do some things that are in alignment with where we feel like there’s a lot of improvement and things that we can build off of not exclusive to defense, but on offense and the kicking game as well.”

Michigan running back Blake Corum and Texas wide receiver Jordan Whittington, third- and sixth-round picks, respectively, provide McVay with two players who could immediately fill rotational roles. Arkansas center Beaux Limmer, a sixth-round pick, and Kansas State tackle KT Leveston, chosen in the seventh, could provide offensive line depth.

The Rams selected Stanford kicker Joshua Karty in the sixth round, potentially filling what Snead acknowledged was a “dire” need after Brett Maher’s and Lucas Havrisik’s inconsistency last season.

The Rams chose Karty six picks after the Minnesota Vikings selected Alabama kicker Will Reichard and three picks before the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Arkansas kicker Cam Little.

“We just knew, like as soon as one of us was going that other teams would start to bite,” Karty said of the kickers. “And I was hoping if another kicker went first it wasn’t going to be the Rams.

“And boy, I’m glad the Rams had the next pick. I’m super excited. I wanted to be here all along.”

Karty joins a special teams unit that includes second-year punter/holder Ethan Evans and second-year long-snapper Alex Ward.

The addition of Karty conceivably could give the Rams an opportunity to develop a long-term specialists group, as they did with kicker Greg Zuerlein, punter Johnny Hekker and long-snapper Jake McQuaide from 2012 to 2019.

“That’s always been an element of a vision,” Snead said, adding, “We’ve had that blueprint here — easier said than done. And we probably had to live through a little bit of stormy weather last year with the kicking position.”

The Rams began Saturday without a fourth-round pick, but with six picks in the final three rounds.

Jackson, who attended Great Oak High in Temecula, played at SoFi Stadium with Washington State in the LA Bowl in 2022.

“I was in the locker room and I sat in Aaron Donald’s locker when I was there,” he said. “So it’s come full circle.”

The Rams then selected Davis, giving them four rookie defensive linemen to augment a front that includes tackles Kobie Turner, Bobby Brown III and Larrell Murchison, end Desjuan Johnson and outside linebackers Byron Young and Michael Hoecht.

After selecting Karty, they used their last three picks for offense.

Whittington described himself as “gritty” and said he was looking forward to learning from receivers such as Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp.

“I’m a student of the game,” he said, “and Cooper Kupp I feel like is a professor.”

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