Smaller school, same big impression.
The Rams drafted cornerback Decobie Durant in the fourth round from South Carolina State, which plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
On Friday, Durant showed there was more than one talented rookie cornerback making plays early in training camp.
Two days after sixth-round pick Derion Kendrick stepped up with a big performance, Durant intercepted two passes as the Rams practiced in pads for the first time.
With thousands of fans on hand at UC Irvine for the Rams’ first public workout, Durant picked off passes by Matthew Stafford and John Wolford in team drills.
“Two really big-time plays,” coach Sean McVay said.
The Super Bowl-champion Rams, with an eye toward the future, drafted four defensive backs among their eight picks: Durant; Kendrick, who played at Clemson and Georgia; and safeties Quentin Lake (UCLA) and Russ Yeast (Louisville and Kansas State).
Durant — “growing up everybody just called me Cobie,” he said in an interview this week — is competing for a spot in a cornerback rotation that includes star Jalen Ramsey, veterans Troy Hill and David Long and second-year pro Robert Rochell.
“I’m just really listening to the vets,” Durant said, “so whenever my time is called, I’ll be ready.”
In four college seasons, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Durant intercepted 12 passes. Last season, Durant raised his draft profile with the Rams when he intercepted two passes in a 49-3 defeat to powerful Clemson, a performance McVay referenced Friday.
Durant was the first player drafted from South Carolina State since 2018, when the Indianapolis Colts selected linebacker Darius Leonard. Durant said that although he did not play with Leonard, the three-time All-Pro inspired him.
“Big ups to him for paving the way,” Durant said.
Now Durant said he was comfortable leading the way for his former college teammates.
“It’s different when you actually played with a person that has a chance to go to the NFL,” he said, adding, “My teammates … they feel knowing that they played with me and seeing me in the NFL now, on the field, it gives them hope.
“They’re always asking me questions. They’re proud of me and they want to be in this spot too. It makes them get on the grind even more.”
Upon his arrival for the Rams organized-team activities during spring, Durant immersed himself in the playbook.
Safety Jordan Fuller said Durant impressed him early, and the cornerback’s play has continued to rise.
“I knew he was a special talent, and I knew what he was capable of,” Fuller said Friday. “He’s not even scratching the surface of what he could be.”
Durant has made plays from the hybrid “star” position, which requires skills to play as an inside and outside cornerback.
Ramsey, a three-time All-Pro, has redefined the position but other cornerbacks are being groomed for the role.
“There’s a lot of nuances that we ask of that ‘star’ position, and he’s getting more comfortable every day,” McVay said of Durant.
McVay does not play starters or other key veteran players during preseason games. So, Durant appears on track for plenty of opportunities in games against the Chargers, Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals as the Rams prepare for their Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium.
Durant said that he, Kendrick and other young defensive backs are competing to make each other better.
“I’m just making the best of my opportunities, talking with the vets,” Durant said, “and when the time comes for preseason games, all the rookies are going to be on the field and we’ll be ready to play. “
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.