Why Rams made Jared Verse their first defensive first-rounder since Aaron Donald

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — After going nearly a decade without selecting in the first round, the author of “F them picks” wanted to savor the moment, taking his sweet time before turning in the Rams’ choice at No. 19 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft.

But then something curious happened: GM Les Snead had the wrong cell number for defensive end Jared Verse, and a little bit of a mad scramble ensued at the team’s 9,000-square-foot draft house a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean. 

“It took us eight years and we were going to wait at least eight minutes before we turned in the card,” Snead said. “Then we had trouble connecting with Jared because we had the wrong number written down, but that’s all right. We squirmed a little bit, but it worked out. Jacked to have Jared as a Ram.”

Head coach Sean McVay chuckled, saying the number the team had written down was one digit off. But no matter, in Verse the Rams selected the team’s first defensive player in the first round since another defensive lineman you may remember: future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald. 

But hey, there’s no pressure on Verse to fill the immense shoes left by Donald’s retirement. They play different positions, with the 6-foot-4, 254-pound Verse expected to line up at outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Chris Shula’s scheme. Someone else will have to man Donald’s tackle spot.

And another good omen: Verse and Donald have a coach in common. Verse’s head coach at Albany, Greg Gattuso, coached Donald at Pittsburgh and connected the two via Zoom a few years back.

Verse said he gleaned a few tricks of the trade in that conversation and intends to continue to put those techniques to use when he joins the Rams. 

“The biggest thing I took away from the questions I asked him was he said, ‘You only really need a couple good moves,'” said Verse on Thursday. “‘If you have a couple good moves, you execute them to the highest level of your ability, you’ll destroy everyone. And aggression beats everything.’ 

“Those are a couple of lessons I learned from him. But filling up his role — that’s a hard role to fill. Those are big shoes to fill. That’s an out-of-this-world player. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime Hall of Famer, future Hall of Famer. That’s one of the best players to ever live. But to be able to be in a position where they expect me to come in there and be able to fill that role, that’s something I’m ready for. Pressure makes diamonds and I love pressure.” 

The first round worked out nicely for the Rams, who were in need of defensive talent. The top 14 selections were on the offensive side of the ball, and in Verse, the Rams got just the fourth defensive player off the board. 

They explored the possibility of moving up to grab a game-changing offensive player, but they ultimately considered the price tag too steep and waited it out.

“Last year there were opportunities for us to potentially try to go up,” McVay said. “It’s been a similar path.” 

Snead said because several mocks had the Rams selecting a defensive player, they were coy in their interaction with Verse as they got closer to the draft. Verse confirmed that he met with the Rams in the lead-up to being selected on Thursday. 

“We didn’t do any privates [workouts] with him,” Snead said. “He was one of those guys we tried to somewhat keep under the radar. … He’s one of those players that from the vetting process, he was really one … of our higher-rated guys in terms of intangibles.”

[RELATED: 2024 NFL Draft: Best players available in second round]

Verse, 23, started his career at FCS level Albany, finishing with 9.5 sacks in his final season there. He transferred and played his final two seasons in college at Florida State, where he totaled 18 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss over two seasons, earning first-team All-ACC and second-team All-American honors. 

Verse then ran a 4.58 40-yard dash and posted a 35-inch vertical jump at the NFL Scouting Combine. He should fit in nicely with last year’s productive rookie duo of edge rusher Byron Young and defensive tackle Kobie Turner. 

“We are going to start him out on the edge,” McVay said. “He’ll play outside linebacker in our base defense. He’ll play end. He does have some flexibility to be able to slide and reduce down and play over a guard, but I think we’ll see. 

“We’ll get him in here. We’ll see how he adjusts. Obviously, the tape at Florida State is really encouraging, but we’ve got a lot of work to do and we’re glad to be able to get to work with him. And I think I’ll have a better answer for you once we have a little bit of time with him.”

For his part, Verse is ready to contribute wherever the Rams need him. He sees himself as an ideal fit for a defense that lost one of the best defensive players ever to play the game in Donald. 

“I feel like it’s meant for dogs,” Verse said of the Rams’ scheme. “You can’t be scared or timid in this defense. You have to be ready to hit somebody. You got to be ready to get after it, and that’s my play style for sure.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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