Forty tackles, four sacks. Not terrible numbers for a defensive end, but not what the Rams were hoping for when they took Chris Long with the second overall pick out of Virginia last April. Were St. Louis fans right to expect big things from Long right away? And can we expect a big jump from Long in his sophomore season?
In their "Four Downs" series focused on the NFC West today, Football Outsiders spends some time looking at Chris Long's rookie year results and what we might expect from the DE in his sophomore season.
As you would expect from FO, it's a great analysis, but I have just one tiny qualm with it. Long and the rest of the D-line saw their production suffer because of the Rams lack of size in the middle, something we discuss here almost every day for a long time. Without a DT commanding double blockers, opponents can have an extra offensive lineman to block pass rushers. Without a presence in the middle, the edges get dulled. It's really that simple.
The great thing about Chris Long is his devotion to the game, his constant drive to play better. By all accounts Long spent a considerable amount of time in the video room, finding ways to improve his play and learn the in-and-outs, ups-and-downs of the pro game. Dedication doesn't make a superstar, but it really does make a better, more consistent player. If the Rams address the glaring need in the middle of the defense, they'll get more production from Long, Little, Carriker, etc.