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A look into the unknown - Los Angeles Rams linebackers being asked to step up

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The 2018 Los Angeles Rams are looking to fill linebacker positions with plenty of mid-lower round talent. Will it work out?

Buffalo Bills v Los Angeles Rams
Mark Barron will be the lone 1st Round selection among Rams linebackers this season.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

By now, the buzz surrounding the 2018 Los Angeles Ramsoffseason has reached all corners of the football universe.

WR Sammy Watkins out, WR Brandin Cooks in. DL Ndamukong Suh is ready to plant a hand in the Coliseum turf and behind him is the newly-coined Lock Angeles secondary featuring a brand new set of Pro Bowl-worthy corners in CB Aqib Talib and CB Marcus Peters. Almost every position group on the field, including special teams, seems to indicate the Rams are ready to rumble with the other heavyweights of the NFC.

The one area that has many Rams fans feeling slightly anxious though, is the linebacking corps. Since parting ways with Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree in March, fans have wondered who will be left to flank Mark Barron.

In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Rams added mid and late round picks in Micah Kiser, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, EDGE Trevon Young and Travin Howard . They also signed former Kansas City Chiefs LB Ramik Wilson. While it will be exciting to see if any of these new faces can challenge for starting roles at some point this season, the inside track seems to currently belong to the incumbents: Samson Ebukam, Matt Longacre, Barron and Cory Littleton.

It’s been said that Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips doesn’t like to invest as heavily in the linebacker positions, and clearly they see promise in many of these newcomers. That being said, the Rams have invested far less draft capital in the linebacker corps than other teams that utilize 3-4 sets:

What Round Other Base 3-4 Defenses Selected Their Starting Linebackers

TEAM AVERAGE ROUND LBs WERE SELECTED
TEAM AVERAGE ROUND LBs WERE SELECTED
Houston Texans 1.5
Washington 2.25
Green Bay Packers 2.5
Kansas City Chiefs 2.5
Pittsburgh Steelers 2.5
Arizona Cardinals 2.85
Tennessee Titans 2.875
New York Jets 3
Chicago Bears 3.25
Denver Broncos 4.125
Baltimore Ravens 4.75
Los Angeles Rams 5.5

*4 starting LBs draft rounds added then divided by 4. Undrafted players were given a value of 8.5

*The Giants will also be switching to a 3-4. Their starter’s average round of selection score is 2.75

Even compared with Wade Phillips’ defenses during his time in Houston and his second stint in Denver, the Rams linebackers average draft position is significantly lower.

Where Recent Wade Phillips Defenses Selected Their Starting Linebackers

Wade Phillips Defense Average Round LBs were selected
Wade Phillips Defense Average Round LBs were selected
2011 Texans 1.5
2012 Texans 2
2013 Texans 1.25
2015 Broncos 3.25
2016 Broncos 3.8
2018 Rams 5.5

Clearly the Rams are looking for players that may have been less coveted on draft day to step up and fill specific roles. Does this mean Rams fans should panic? Probably not.

Rams General Manager Les Snead and his team are extremely diligent when it comes to scouting potential late-round picks, and they work closely with the coaches to get players that might fit. The question is, is it a stretch to expect Littleton, Ebukam and Longacre to all turn out to be steals? Maybe, but then the hope would be that the next man up will be ready, perhaps Okoronkwo, Wilson, or Kiser.

Also, whoever ends up manning the linebacker spots will have the advantage of playing behind perhaps the best defensive line in the NFL in DL Aaron Donald, Suh and DL Michael Brockers and in front of a star-studded secondary to boot. They won’t be asked to do too much other than to maintain discipline and make plays. It should be doable.

The list of successful NFL linebackers taken in the mid-late rounds includes names like Lorenzo Alexander (undrafted), Telvin Smith (5th Round), Zach Thomas (5th Round), Kevin Greene (5th Round), Hardy Nickerson (5th Round), K.J. Wright (4th Round), Joe Schobert (4th Round) and Elvis Dumervil (4th Round).

Perhaps names like Okoronkwo, Kiser or Ebukam might end up on that list someday. But surely, this year will either leave us celebrating another masterful job by the scouting department or scratching our heads while mulling over 2019 free agent lists to address this position yet again next year.

Stay tuned.