Rams Held Virtual Talk With DL Who Began With ‘Last Chance U’ School


Getty The Rams celebrate a defensive play on November 13, 2022 in Inglewood.

This upcoming NFL Draft will feature its share of past junior college prospects. But for the Los Angeles Rams, they spoke with a NAIA defensive lineman who began at a place known for “Last Chance U” on Netflix.

Via Justin Melo of The Draft Network on Friday, April 7, the Rams were among the NFL teams that met virtually with Darel Middleton of Bethel University in Tennessee. Though Middleton had a breakout season at the smaller NAIA program then became a standout at the Hula Bowl, he’s a former Southeastern Conference prospect having played for the University of Tennessee.

Before that, he lined up for East Mississippi Community College — best known as the first junior college featured in 2016 and 2017 on the widely popular Netflix documentary series. Middleton first arrived there in the ’17 season after the show wrapped up season two with EMCC.

Melo says the massive and towering 6-foot-7, 305-pound Middleton has met with a dozen teams including the Rams. Even with the label of “non-NCAA” prospect, Melo was also told this about the defensive tackle: An NFC Scout predicted he’ll start for someone in 2023.

Middleton’s Path to the NFL

Middleton again got his start going the JUCO route. As an ESPN Top 50 JUCO recruit, Middleton snatched seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage and finished with 29 total tackles. He also anchored the interior line for a Lions defense that not only led the NCJAA in scoring defense at 11.2 points per game, but earned two tackles in defeating Garden City of Kansas 10-9 for the national title.

Following his JUCO career, Middleton was given comparisons to Indianapolis Colts star DeForest Buckner by 247Sports, with national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins writing:

“One of the top prospects in the JUCO ranks and it’s easy to see why. Jumps off the screen on tape and has a rare combination of size, length, quickness and power. Has a strong, athletic 6-6 frame and looks lean but is all of 285 pounds. Shows the positional versatility to play tackle or end and could fit in any type of scheme. First step quickness is exceptional, can beat a guard or center before they get out of their stance, has the power to toss a lineman aside and the speed to run down plays from behind. Once he gets in to a real college weight program and adds even more strength, his game will rise to another level. If he stays hungry and motivated, there is no reason why he can’t be an instant impact upper tier Power 5 starter and early-mid round NFL draft pick.”

Middleton ended up playing in 2019 and 2020 in Knoxville. He collected 43 total tackles including 20 solo stops along with 3.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. He then spent one season with West Virginia where he only had two tackles (one solo stop).

He was originally committed to Jackson State of the HBCU realm on June 4 2022, but reopened his commitment 23 days later. He eventually found his way to Bethel.

Potential Late Round Find? Middleton Would Fill This Role on Rams if Taken

Say the Rams take in Middleton, his chances for starting would be for this reason: Taking over the spot left behind by free agent A’Shawn Robinson.

The nose tackle was the space eater taking on up to two blockers to free up Aaron Donald and the others. Middleton has the girth for that interior role. However, Tennessee once placed Middleton over a tight end…and the result was destruction:

Middleton would likely be available on the tail end of day three of the draft or potentially becomes an undrafted free agent. But for a defense seeking help in the trenches, the former JUCO product is now on the Rams’ radar.

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