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Los Angeles Rams’ Linebackers: Better, Worse, or Same in 2016?

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Rounding out the front seven on defense, today we look at the Los Angeles Rams’ corps of linebackers and ask you to help us determine whether they’ve improved, worsened, or stayed the same since 2015.

The Rams currently employ seven defensive players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Five of those play on the line (which we covered yesterday). The remaining two consume two-thirds of the starting linebacking corps the Rams utilize in their base 4-3 defense.

Before we get to the personnel, and prior to you voting, here are the links to the other position groups already covered.

* Quarterbacks
* Running Backs
* Wide Receivers
* Tight Ends
* Offensive Line
* Defensive Line

Linebackers

Weakside Linebacker
Middle Linebacker
Strongside Linebacker
Mark Barron
Alec Ogletree
Akeem Ayers
Josh Forrest
Bryce Hager
Cory Littleton
Cameron Lynch
Brandon Chubb
Ian Seau

Darreon Herring

Analysis

The biggest roster move the Rams made at the LB position this offseason, which was relatively unsurprising, was releasing James Laurinaitis. Drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, JL55 was the longest tenured Ram on the roster, aside from Chris Long. Both were cut by the team on the same day. Like Long, Laurinaitis was a fan favorite, and in large part due to the fact that he was always healthy. In his seven year stay in St. Louis, he started every single game (112 in total).

But the 8th year vet isn't the player he once was. For a deeper dive on the matter, our very own Derrik Klassen went into great detail on why the Rams are better off having moved on.

Alec Ogletree, who has played outside since being drafted by the Rams in 2013, will need to learn the intricacies of the position relatively quickly. But the Rams’ new MLB appears to be settling in nicely in his new role, and is drawing praise from both Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams.

Whether or not the transition - from weakside to Mike linebacker - proves to be a seamless one for Ogletree in 2016 remains to be seen. But what he lacks in experience, he makes up for with his tenacity, speed, and sideline-to-sideline range.

Mark Barron, who’s entering his third season with the Rams, has shaken the "safety/linebacker hybrid" moniker. He’s a linebacker. And he’s played very well for the Rams since being acquired via trade in 2014. Well enough that the Rams signed him to a 5-year ($45M) deal this offseason.

Akeem Ayers will own the other OLB spot this year, but will be the one heading off the field when the Rams line up in nickel packages. Down and distance will dictate the amount of 3rd down snaps he’ll see, but don’t be surprised to see him replaced by a defensive back on obvious passing downs.

Aside from that, the Rams did draft Josh Forrest (the only defensive player they drafted in 2016) out of Kentucky. He’ll crack the roster, but don’t expect him to make a sizable impact - at least on defense - in the upcoming year. The same can be said for the rest of the LB-depth listed above. (Klassen also took a closer look at Forrest, and his ability to make the final 53 in this roster preview piece).

Better, Same, or Worse?

Same...though I’m teetering on better. I agree that Ogletree puts the team in a better position to succeed, but how quickly? I’m not certain. He provides an instant upgrade from an athleticism standpoint, but transitioning into the quarterback of the defense may take time. And the importance of the position, along with the mental awareness needed, shouldn’t be understated.

If healthy, the Rams look to be relying heavily on the Ogletree-Barron-Ayers trio in 2016. That’s an improvement over last year, but based more on the hope that one player - who is in the process of learning a new position - proves better than one who’s just not as good as he once was.