As he went through the NFL’s predraft process, Terrell Burgess spoke with Rams representatives multiple times. They met at the Senior Bowl in Alabama and at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. They visited again virtually during a videoconference call.
Left undetermined after their conversations was what position Burgess might play if the Rams selected him: Safety or slot cornerback? Or both?
“There was no clarification as to where,” Burgess said after the Rams chose him in the third round. “I’m just excited to be able to go in there and see what I can do to help the team win.”
Burgess began learning the Rams’ system during the virtual offseason program the team completed in early June. But coach Sean McVay, new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant and safeties coach Ejiro Evero must wait until training camp workouts begin in late July to see just what they’ve got in Burgess.
It is clear, however, that the Rams chose the 5-foot-11, 202-pound Burgess because of his versatility.
Under Staley, the Rams secondary could feature multiple players in hybrid positions. Staley has indicated that star Jalen Ramsey will be used as cornerback, safety and linebacker in various situations.
Safeties John Johnson and Taylor Rapp demonstrated their versatility in their three and one pro seasons, respectively.
Burgess might provide more flexibility.
After playing at San Marcos High, he went to Utah as a receiver and defensive back. He moved to defense full-time after his redshirt freshman season in 2015. Over the next four seasons, he evolved from special teams and part-time starter into a versatile cornerstone and leader as a senior.
Last season, Utah ranked second nationally in total defense, according to the NCAA’s website. Burgess was one of seven Utes players selected in the draft.
“This guy played everywhere for them,” Staley said.
Now Burgess will work to find roles with a Rams team coming off last season’s 9-7 record.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, McVay overhauled much of his staff and the roster. Among the changes: He hired the 37-year-old Staley to replace Wade Phillips, an NFL coach since the mid-1970s.
The Rams let linebacker Cory Littleton, edge rusher Dante Fowler and rotational safety Marqui Christian leave as free agents. They cut linebacker Clay Matthews, and they declined to pick up an option on slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.
The Rams signed edge rusher Leonard Floyd and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson and then used four of nine draft picks to select defensive players, including Burgess, outside linebacker Terrell Lewis, safety Jordan Fuller and inside linebacker Clay Johnston.
Robey-Coleman was the slot cornerback and an occasional starter the previous three seasons, so his departure to the Philadelphia Eagles creates opportunity for Burgess and others.
McVay said versatile safeties such as Jimmie Ward of the San Francisco 49ers have demonstrated their value with the ability to also cover slot receivers. Burgess fits that mold.
“He’s smart, he picks things up quickly, he’s got all those intangibles that you’re looking for,” McVay said, “and then he’s got the make-up athletically, so there’s a lot of things you like and the more you can do the more of a weapon we can utilize you as.”
Burgess and McVay credited recently retired Eric Weddle for helping Burgess land with the Rams. The six–time Pro Bowl safety was a standout for the Utes and remains close to his college program.
“It’s nice to have somebody that went to my school, went on to the league, is kind of from Southern California and be able to be kind of a mentor for me,” Burgess said.
Burgess is looking forward to playing for the Rams less than a two-hour drive from where he grew up.
I know that my mom’s really excited that I get to stay home,” he said. “My two sisters still live here in San Diego.
“My brother lives out of state, but I’m sure he’ll come back home every time I have a home game to come watch the game. They’re definitely very excited that they can just drive up and see me.”