The story of the Rams Defensive Line is well known in our little corner of the internet. Four 1st round picks,
emerging star a bona fide stud in Robert Quinn, veteran presence, etc. etc. Everyone was expecting nothing short of greatness this year. This was going to be the unit that carried the team to it's first winning season since 2003.
I had the privilege of writing the DLs season preview, and the poll at the end of the article tells you all you need to know about the expectations regarding the Rams only elite unit. An overwhelming 97% of voters thought that the Rams DL would improve. While some of that can be chalked up to fandom, homerism, and seeing thing through rose colored glasses, it was what the national media was saying as well so no one gave it much thought.
Fast-forward through the first four games of the season, and everyone was stunned that the Rams ranked dead last in the NFL with a single sack to their credit - an NFL record that will be with the team for a loooong time. Opponents were successfully using 3-step drops and quick hitting routes to negate the effectiveness of the pass rush...it didn't help that the Rams were frequently playing from behind either.
The DL was able to gain As noted in this week's Man Crush Monday, the DL has found it's stride over the course of the 2nd quarter of the season. After that abysmal start, they have picked up some momentum to the tune of 13 sacks in games 6-8. For what it's worth, pro-rating that 4.3 sacks a game over the course of a season comes out to 69 sacks - much closer to what was expected of them at the beginning of the season.
When looking at individual players, I used the following table to (roughly) grade each player
|A||Pro Bowl Worthy|
|D||Needs to Improve|
Lets address this before we go into assessing performances of other players. Long is the emotional leader of this unit and a mentor for all of the youngsters of the group. Without having him suited up on game days, the DL is missing more than just production. They are missing some of the veteran accountability and motivation - IE intangibles - that Long brings to the field.
I'm firmly entrenched in the camp that believes Long's absence contributed greatly to the DL's early struggles in the season. Call me crazy, but this injury has shown me that intangibles are... well that they are tangible. The unit will get a shot in the arm when Long returns to the lineup.
Robert Quinn - 25 Tackles, 2 Forced Fumbles, 5 Sacks
For the first time in his career, Robert Quinn has had to perform without the luxury of the aforementioned Long on the other end of the line. And, while I think he would deny it, there was a learning curve there. After adjusting to that learning curve, he has been playing out of his mind.
The last 2 weeks, he has wrecked game plans and been the dominant force we all expected. The only reason Quinn doesn't get top marks is because of the slow start. If he keeps up his recent stellar play, he will likely earn a second consecutive Pro-Bowl berth.
Aaron Donald - 21 Tackles, 1 Forced Fumbles, 3 Sacks
Donald was drafted to be the 'missing link' on the Rams DL. While the team had edge rushers and run stuffers, they lacked a DT that could push the pocket. And for a Rookie, he has filled that role perfectly. He's earned every dime of his paycheck by living in the opponents backfield. At one point he was the highest rated DT in the NFL.
While he's been dominant most of the time, there are also times where opponents use that against him and let him into the backfield...just on the other side of the play. Giving Donald an 'A' is easy. but there has to be a slight markdown to reflect that.
Michael Brockers - 12 Tackles, 0 Forced Fumbles, 1 Sacks
This is possibly the most difficult rating I had to write for this evaluation. Brockers value lies in ensuring that the OL doesn't get a good push on the interior of the defense. It's not a glorious position, but it's a job that Brockers does well. He isn't flashy, doesn't make impact plays, but all in all he's a solid player that complements the players around him.
William Hayes - 20 Tackles, 0 Forced Fumbles, 2 Sacks
I'm going to start by saying that Hayes has done an admirable job filling in for his buddy Chris Long. He's filled the leadership role on the DL and the only knock against him is that he's not Chris Long. He has done what he's been asked to do, and he's done it to the best of his ability. The Rams are lucky to have him as their 3rd DE. He'd be a starter on most other teams.
Kendall Langford - 13 Tackles, 0 Forced Fumbles, 0 Sacks
Langford was a solid starter. He held his own at the beginning of the season, but in the end, we all knew that he would eventually lose his starting job to Donald. It was more a question of when Donald would catch up to the speed of the NFL. With the latter exploding onto the scene, Langford lost his job earlier than expected. Much like Hayes, the Rams are lucky to employ him as their 3rd DT.
Eugene Sims - 16 Tackles, 0 Forced Fumbles, 2 Sacks
Sims is another player that has seen additional playing time from the Long injury. Bumping up in the pecking order from 4 to 3 may not seem like much, but when you rotate the DL as much as the Rams do, it could be the difference between 10 and 30 snaps per game. Sims has done mostly well in his increased role.
Ethan Westbrooks - 4 Tackles, 0 Forced Fumbles, 0 Sacks
Westbrooks most notable accomplishment to date is beating out Michael Sam for the final roster slot on the DL. His ineffective play has forced the Mike Waufle to go with a strict 3 man DE rotation. Right now, this kid still falls in 'project' status and may be put on the practice squad when Long returns.
Alex Carrington - 1 Tackle, 0 Forced Fumbles, 0 Sacks
Carrington was brought in on a 1 year 'prove-it' deal that has largely blew up in his face. He has been unable to crack the DT rotation and unless he improves drastically in the 2nd half of the season he will likely not be retained.