Rams make a rare first-round NFL draft pick, taking Florida State defensive end Jared Verse 19th

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams went seven years without a first-round pick in the NFL draft, in part, because they felt urgency to make the most of Aaron Donald's exceptional presence.

After selecting Florida State defensive end Jared Verse with the 19th overall pick on Thursday night, the Rams hope he can help them ease into life without one of the most disruptive players in the history of the sport.

“Filling up his role, that’s a hard role to fill,” Verse said on a video call from Phoenix, where he was watching the draft with family and friends. “That’s 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 the position where they expect me to be able to come in there and be able to fill that role, that’s something I’m ready for.”

Verse had two productive seasons for the Seminoles, finishing with 18 sacks and 29 1/2 tackles for loss in 25 games. He was a second-team All-American last season after choosing to return for his junior campaign, helping Florida State win its first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 2014.

“Might have gone about where he went tonight last year, but he decided to stay,” Rams general manager Les Snead said. “He's one of those guys that you just want to watch another game on because you can tell he cares about football. He has fun playing football. And, oh by the way, he's pretty disruptive, violent.”

The 23-year-old Verse started his career at FCS-level Albany, where he worked delivery jobs to help finance his education.

His coach playing for the Great Danes was Greg Gattuso, who was Donald’s position coach at Pittsburgh. Verse got to ask Donald about rushing the passer during a video call during the COVID-19 pandemic, something that helped set the stage for Verse’s outstanding college career.

“I asked him a couple questions that actually helped me elevate my game,” Verse said. “He said you don’t need a huge arsenal of moves. If you have a couple of good moves and execute them to the highest level of your ability, you will destroy everyone.”

Donald retired in March. The three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time first-team All-Pro had been the centerpiece of the Rams’ defense since their return to Los Angeles in 2016.

The Rams started the process of overhauling their defensive front last year, taking outside linebacker Byron Young and defensive tackle Kobie Turner in the third round. Young and Turner combined for 17 sacks and 16 tackles for loss as rookies, and Turner finished third in defensive rookie of the year voting. But the pair benefited from the presence of Donald, who had eight sacks and 16 tackles for loss in his 10th and final season.

Verse, who is 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, is confident the energy and emotion he will bring can help offset the absence of Donald.

“I come in with a lot of physical traits, I come in with a chip on my shoulder, and and that chip’s gonna continue,” Verse said. “I’m hungry for this.”

Verse was the Rams’ first first-round pick since the team traded up to select quarterback Jared Goff first overall in 2016. Sean McVay became Los Angeles’ coach the following year.

The Rams included their 2017 selection in the deal with Tennessee that allowed them to take Goff. The next year, Los Angeles sent its top pick to New England to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The Rams traded out of the first round in 2019, moving back in a deal with Atlanta.

The Rams’ 2020 and 2021 first-rounders went to Jacksonville in a trade for defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Their 2022 and 2023 picks went to Detroit in the move that landed quarterback Matthew Stafford.

All that wheeling and dealing helped Los Angeles reach the Super Bowl after the 2018 season and win the Lombardi Trophy in its home stadium three years later. Snead wore a T-shirt during the Rams’ Super Bowl parade that profanely mocked critics who suggested he should hold onto more draft picks.

McVay has had significant influence over the selections the Rams did make in that span, using their first pick on an offensive player in six of the past seven drafts. There was plenty of conjecture they would do that again, especially after a post on Reddit claimed to have inside information that Los Angeles would move up to draft an offensive tackle. The post was brought to Snead's attention.

Verse, however, was too good to pass up.

“Told you guys we weren't gonna go offense,” a smiling McVay said.

“We're never gonna ask anybody to replace Aaron, but you do want to continue to build the front,” McVay added. “And Jared represented an opportunity to do that.”