Welcome back to part two of the series with myself and Sosa Kremenjas on how to retool the Los Angeles Rams defense this off-season. We already offered up a few players available along the defensive line and today we’ll dive into the most anticipated position group on the whole team this offseason; linebackers.
The Rams are currently without their two starting EDGE defenders from 2017 and now sit second year players Samson Ebukam, Ejuan Price and RFA Matt Longacre, who is recovering from back surgery, atop the depth chart on the outside. So it should be no surprise that the Rams will place high priority, if not the most, on bringing more EDGE rushers on board.
On the inside, the Rams have two of the most overpaid NFL ILBs in Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron who have been the primary culprits in the Rams porous run defense. Needless to say, the LB situation is a fluid one.
Due to the potential massive overhaul of the linebacking corps, we’re going to split these into two separate groups as it pertains to EDGE players and ILBs. Let’s kick it off.
Arden Key - LSU
I asked Sosa about this after we got news of the Robert Quinn trade, but I have the feeling the Rams at least must feel comfortable about Key’s off the field questions because the top two EDGE players in Bradley Chubb and Harold Landry figure to be long gone and Marcus Davenport just solidified his rising stock with a great combine. But Key has on field questions too as to why his production didn’t always match up with his highly touted elite ability. A classic boom or bust pick at 23 (if available) due to the aforementioned issues, he’d certainly have all the opportunity in year one to make a major impact. He’s not my favorite prospect and I wouldn’t feel great about it but Wade Phillips and the defensive staff has earned a level of trust from me if they believe he’s worth the 23rd pick - BMule
Jeremiah Attaochu - Los Angeles Chargers
This is a guy I know Sosa liked early in the off-season. He just turned 25 years old and has been buried on the depth chart behind Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa with the Chargers. But he hasn’t been able to play more than eight games in either of the past two seasons. He had 10.0 sacks in his first 30 career games so its possible you might be able to rekindle some of that pass rush ability for a really cheap-no risk free agent deal. Assuming the Rams target a draft EDGE regardless of what happens in FA, Attaochu makes a ton of sense - BMule
Both are very interesting guys. First we can start with Key. Now, I’m not even fully sure what to make of Key yet. When you look at his prototypical build (6’5 235lbs) you’ll see a list of unsuccessful NFL plays like Randy Gregory, Dion Jordan, and Barkevious Mingo, with the only success being Jason Taylor that comes to mind. Not only that, but he’s got some strange off the field issues. Now, those questions do exist, but he’s also shown the ability to wreak havoc in the SEC. Key is interesting, but I wouldn’t spend a first round pick on a unknown, especially without a second round pick. As for Attaochu, he’s been a guy I had my eyes on, and you hit that part really well.
Harold Landry - Boston College
This is my (our) guy. Me and BMule are both extremely high on Landry, and it’s justifiable. An injury riddled 2017 season has sort of ruined his stock a little bit after only registering five sacks on the season. That was quite a step down from his 16.5 sack season in 2016, but that’s for another time. Landry is an explosive and lightning quick athlete on the EDGE who fits like a glove in a 3-4 defense. The caveat is that he might not (most likely) won’t be available at 23, but if he is, that’s a “run to the podium” type situation. - Sosa
Pernell McPhee - Chicago Bears
McPhee is a really interesting addition to me for multiple reasons. First, Ozzie Newsome originally drafted him in Baltimore, and he was a terrific player. He initially played DE in a 3-4 though he had a seamless transition to EDGE. McPhee is a powerful rusher who uses his hands and sheer strength effectively to get after QB’s, totaling 31 sacks in his career. He was paid a handsome amount by the Bears in free agency in 2015, but injuries have ruined his stay in Chicago. The most interesting part of this addition is that McPhee was cut by the Bears, so he wouldn’t count against the compensatory pick formula if that’s what the Rams are paying any mind to. - Sosa
Landry is easily the second best EDGE prospect behind Bradley Chubb and it’s probably closer than gets led on. Everyone should be dancing in the street if the Rams somehow added him to the defense. The Rams have to add a vet EDGE at some point, they just have to, and McPhee could be the best fit while the young players continue to grow. Both players would be welcome additions.
Todd Davis - Denver Broncos
This one makes too much sense for me not just for LB targets, but all FA targets the Rams will have. All of the Gary Klein story lines are there (Former Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips player, from L.A., went to school in Cali, has received numerous awards for being a great human being) but he’s also a solid down hill LB. He’ll never become a splashy player in the way Barron or Ogletree are but his best asset may be that he’s consistently boring. The Rams could definitely use a ILB unafraid to get his nose dirty and make sure tackles. For what its worth, PFF had him receiving a 77.1 grade for the 2017 season which was a great deal better than Barron and Ogletree - BMule
Christian Sam - Arizona State University
I’m still in the learning process on Sam but anytime Juniors declare early its worth a look when you don’t know much about them. It seemed as if every LB at the combine was built in a lab and crushed their test scores while Sam had a solid but unspectacular day by most year’s standards. I see a downhill ILB the Rams can target in the mid-round of the draft to eventually push into the starting lineup. He plays fast and is willing tackler with an ability to hunt ball carriers and blitz off the edge but scouts think his biggest weakness is the mental side of diagnosing plays. I don't think Sam could come in right away and contribute on defense but he has Special Teams appeal and he’s a prospect I’d be more than fine taking a flyer on as the draft unfolds into day 3 - BMule
I really like the addition of Davis, and BMule was the first to connect those dots in the offseason. Davis is a thumper who can help shore up our biggest weakness - stopping the run - and likely wont break the bank. Sam is also an interesting player who had a ton of production this past year, and would certainly fill a large need with a throw of a dart on day three. - Sosa
Nigel Bradham - Philadelphia Eagles
Bradham is probably the top Linebacker available on the free agent market, but the Eagles are pressed up tightly versus the cap and may have to let him hit the market. If they do, I’d be the first to call Bradham. Standing 6’2 and 241 lbs, Bradham is the prototypical NFL LB in 2018. He’s strong and smart enough to stuff the run vs massive lineman, but he’s also athletic enough where he can play sideline-to-sideline and be an effective player in coverage. Bradham had 88 tackles, one sack, eight pass deflections, and one forced fumble for the Eagles last season. - Sosa
Rashaan Evans - Alabama
Evans might be my favorite player in this entire draft. Being a captain and signal caller for the Crimson Tide defense is no joke, and Evans proved he was up to the task. Pound-for-pound there is no tougher, more physical, more violent, or more fearless player in this draft than Rashaan Evans. He has one speed, and that’s go. Evans is a punishing tackler who looks to have his presence felt every snap. He has lots of versatility being able to drop in coverage, line up on slot WR’s, or even rush the passer off the Edge. Evans had six sacks this past season and could be a huge addition to a Rams defense which struggles to stop the run. Evans has shown a ton of ability to stack and shed, or simply avoid lineman to knife through the line of scrimmage and make a tackle on a ball carrier. - Sosa
As so often happens with Super Bowl teams, they see a few of their impending FA’s leave for the open market and Bradham should be next. He’s a known producer and would offer Rams ability to maintain athleticism in the front seven. Evans is another player that could be a home run in the draft (if he’s even available). He plays with an aggression that reminds me a little of Jarrad Davis from last year. Evans or Bradham would be upgrades over what’s currently in place.
Well, as promised, that’s all for part two of the “How to Retool the Los Angeles Rams Defense”. If you missed part one, here’s the link where me and BMule talked about the defensive line. Last part of the series will be the secondary, so stay tuned for that!