Pro Football Focus is putting together their top 101 players from the 2015 NFL season kicking things off today with Nos. 76-101. Just one Los Angeles Ram makes the back end of the list: DE William Hayes.
After not making last year's list, here's what they had to say about Brah Brah Bojangles:
Hayes was good enough this past season that the Rams were comfortable with cutting Chris Long entirely and passing the torch to the player that was outperforming him in the same position. Hayes had strong performance against both the run and pass, posting 47 total pressures from fewer than 600 total snaps of action. He earned himself a full-time starting role and could be primed for a huge season in 2016 with Aaron Donald still taking all of the attention on that D-line.
Best performance: Week 11 at Baltimore: +7.5 grade
Key stat: Hayes led all edge defenders in run-stop percentage at 11.5
Hayes is in fine company at the back of the PFF Top 101, so it's not an insult in the least. The real impact here is what they allude to with the first sentence: Hayes taking over the starting role in earnest for Week 1 for the first time since he signed with the Rams in 2012. After Hayes signed, here's what I said in reaction to PFF listing him as "a secret superstar":
He may not be a flourishing starter-caliber player, but every team needs rotational guys to come in and not be entirely deficient for whatever stretch of time they're on the field. William Hayes could well fall in that category.
One of the things helping the case for Hayes as a breakout candidate is that he's always played behind very, very talented ends - Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Derrick Morgan and Jason Babin. It's hard to criticize a player for not developing when they can't get enough time. There are plenty of other teams who likely would have pressed him into service more frequently than the Titans did.
Now with the Rams, Hayes is in a similar situation with Chris Long and Robert Quinn the week 1 starters. There likely aren't huge expectations being placed on his shoulders, so there's no reason he shouldn't feel entirely comfortable both in terms of depth chart position and role
Now heading into his ninth NFL season, Hayes is finally taking the step up to the top of the depth chart to start the season. Having signed a three-year deal in free agency this year, Hayes is likely to hold on to that spot for the near future.
If his placement on the PFF Top 101 for this offseason is any indication, he's a fine talent to have in place as the Rams begin shifting capital to address the offensive side of the ball.