Why the Rams may not draft a defensive tackle as early as some think

After Aaron Donald announced his retirement from the NFL, the immediate question was “how will the Rams replace him?” They haven’t signed anyone in free agency, which points to them drafting a defensive tackle early to fill the massive void left by No. 99.

No single player can take the place of the future Hall of Famer, but it’s possible the Rams already have his successor on the roster. That player is Kobie Turner, who should’ve won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2023.

When you think about it, the Rams actually drafted Donald’s replacement a year ago when they selected Turner 89th overall out of Wake Forest. He’s the primary reason Los Angeles may not draft a defensive tackle such as Byron Murphy II or Johnny Newton as early as many people think they will.

Though Turner played a bunch of snaps at nose tackle last season alongside Donald, he’s a much better fit at 3-technique, the position Donald played throughout his career. He’s 6-foot-2 and 288 pounds, which is only 1 inch taller and 8 pounds heavier than Donald’s listed weight. Nose tackles in a 3-4 scheme are typically much bigger – like Bobby Brown III, who’s 6-foot-4 and 324 pounds. That’s a run-stuffing nose tackle. Turner is a pass-rushing 3-technique.

In the Rams’ case, they need a nose tackle more than they need a 3-technique to replace Donald. Turner can be that player to fill Donald’s void, already showing impressive pass-rushing skills with nine sacks last season to tie the Rams rookie record, which was set by Donald in 2014.

Not to mention, the Rams probably knew Donald was only going to play two more years when he signed his new contract in 2022. VP of football operations Tony Pastoors told The Athletic that when Donald signed his deal in 2022, he “looked me in the face and said, ‘I’m playing two years.’” The structure of Donald’s contract, which came with an option in 2024, suggests the Rams had a strong feeling he’d retire after the 2023 season, too.

As a result, they knew they’d need to find Donald’s replacement sooner rather than later, which is why they drafted Turner when they did. They viewed him as Donald’s heir, not some rookie in the 2024 class.

Murphy and Newton are both fantastic players and would help the Rams right away, but it’s very possible the front office and coaching staff view Turner as their replacement for Donald. In that case, Los Angeles would be better suited to draft a 5-technique like Darius Robinson or a nose tackle such as McKinnley Jackson to play alongside Turner.

It’ll be fascinating to see if the Rams take Murphy or Newton in the first round if either is available at No. 19, or if they wait much longer to take a defensive lineman. My money would be on the latter, simply because Turner would make a fantastic full-time 3-tech after playing a bunch of nose tackle in 2023.

Story originally appeared on Rams Wire