(NOTE FROM 3k: TST is happy to announce we picked up a trio of new writers today in Will Horton and Tim Shields from RamsHerd and Nathan Kearns from Ramblin' Fan. We'll have a full intro post on all three later this week, but Tim woke up sprinting (sorry, not sorry) with this LB FA scan.)
The Rams first free agent signing may be at a position that is a bit off the radar – linebacker. Linebacker is not necessarily the first position that comes to mind when you think of needs but there are a couple of reasons why the Rams could be interested in adding a significant piece to the group.
For starters, although the Rams base defense (4-2-5) features two linebackers a majority of the time, there is something to be said about the lack of depth at the position. According to Football Outsiders, starters Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis played 99.2% and 99.0% of the defensive snaps last year respectively. Those percentages were good enough to finish 4th and 5th in the NFL last year among linebackers. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who is entering the final year of his contract, saw 4 less snaps this year than he did in 2013 despite playing in 4 more games in 2014. No other linebackers on the Rams roster saw more than 11 defensive snaps (Daren Bates) in 2014. While Ogletree and Laurinaitis feats are very impressive, it seems unlikely that the Rams want to continue that trend.
Additionally, the Rams are multiple look defense. Gregg Williams has said previously that his defense can "make 11 over 40 different ways". This means that the Rams have over 40 different personnel groupings. So although they are a 4-2-5, adding a significant piece to the linebacker core is within reason.
Rams' Possible Targets
Nick Wagoner and Jim Thomas have both confirmed the Rams have interest in Akeem Ayers. Ayers is a former 2nd round pick (39th overall) of the Tennessee Titans. After three years as a starter for the Titans, a scheme change to a 3-4 left Ayers without a position. After spending 5 games on the inactive list for the Titans, the Patriots swooped in near the trade deadline last year and made a move for Ayers. Ayers started 4 games for the Patriots recording 20 tackles, 4 sacks, and an interception.
Ayers would be a good fit for a Gregg Williams defense. Ayers was a sort of move-piece for the Patriots. He lined up at a traditional outside linebacker position in their 4-3 defense, but also was employed as a stand-up defensive end rushing 1-on-1 vs offensive tackles in various multiple front packages. Ayers brings a certain level of scheme versatility that would fit well for an innovator like Gregg Williams.
Another name to watch is Jacquian Williams. Williams became a full-time linebacker for the New York Giants in 2014. Williams made an impact in his first-year as a full-time starter leading the Giants in tackles until he suffered season-ending concussion in Week 10. Williams tweeted Wednesday afternoon that his agent was on the phone with the Rams.
Before last year’s draft, there was a rumor that the Rams had significant interest in Alabama’s C.J. Mosley. Couple that rumor with the interest in Ayers and Williams and it seems like only a matter of time until there is a significant addition to the linebacker core.