When the Los Angeles Rams hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, they knew his expertise and wisdom would help guide the Rams defense to new highs.
The Rams defense finished 12th in PPG allowed at 20.6, though they were inside of the top-10 for majority of the season. And Football Outsiders had the Rams with the sixth-best DVOA on the year.
One big reason the Rams’ defense was as successful as they were in 2017? S Lamarcus Joyner.
When Phillips arrived in LA, he and his defensive staff identified Joyner as one of the best players on the defense and wanted to find a way to make him a central part of it. They decided to move Joyner from the nickel cornerback role, where he played around 65% of snaps, back to safety where he would play almost every snap in 2017. Not only that, but his positional versatility allowed Phillips to use him as an interchangeable safety as well as a nickel CB.
How successful was Joyner in his new role? Successful enough that Pro Football Focus has ranked Joyner as the 52nd best player in the NFL in 2017:
52. Lamarcus Joyner, S, Los Angeles Rams
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The play of Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner has improved each year of his NFL career, but 2017 was the true breakout season that showcased elite ability. His overall PFF grade of 90.3 was the third-best mark among safeties, but also more than 10 grading points better than his previous NFL high of the season before. Joyner’s coverage was excellent, and he had three picks and five pass breakups while allowing just 42.9 percent of targets sent his way to be caught.
PFF Elite Stat: Joyner was ranked fifth among safeties with at least 400 cover snaps with only 49 yards after the catch allowed during the regular season.
As noted, Joyner had an elite year. He showed the ability to do everything on the back end, and do it all at a high level. Joyner is a key piece from the defense, obviously making these next few months very pivotal as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in a little more than a month.
Many fans would agree that Joyner is the Rams’ most important free agent, as our BMule noted in his free agent piece earlier this offseason. As it stands, Spotrac currently has a $10.6M average per year for Joyner’s market value. With no shortage in cap space to spend, Rams General Manager Les Snead and the front office have a large amount of work ahead of them prior to free agency kicking off in March.
But given Joyner’s performance in 2017 as indicated by PFF’s ranking, the Rams would be wise to retain him as he enters the peak of his NFL career.