On the offensive side of the football, there hasn’t been much turnover for the Los Angeles Rams in the 2018 offseason. As it stands, the (starting) depth chart looks almost identical to that of last season’s, save for swapping Sammy Watkins with Brandin Cooks.
The same cannot be said for the defensive side of the ball. Starting linebackers Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree are out. Plug-and-play Pro Bowl corners Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are in.
For the most part, you know what you’re getting from the Rams’ players in 2018. You’d expect many of them to improve in their second year under coach Sean McVay, or to maintain the high level of play they’d established in their former homes. But there are a few question marks on the roster — positions where the Rams really need someone to step up.
Over at The Ringer, Danny Kelly highlighted every NFL team’s “X-Factor” player for this year. As he describes it:
These are the wild cards, the unknowns, the players who carry with them the potential to be the catalyst that puts their team over the top—or be just another guy standing on the sideline.
This definition would certainly exclude players like Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and the aforementioned cornerback duo. And there are many other Rams’ players that may not be as noteworthy, but are still reliable starters that play at a high level.
So who does Kelly figure to be the Rams’ X-Factor this season?
Los Angeles Rams: OLB Samson Ebukam
By pairing Ndamukong Suh with Aaron Donald, the Rams have assembled perhaps the most terrifying interior pass-rush duo in league history. Their edge-rushing group, though, is something else entirely, and with the departures of Quinn and outside linebacker Connor Barwin, L.A.’s going to need someone to step up. Ebukam is the proverbial next man up; The 6-foot-3, 245-pound pass rusher grabbed two sacks and a forced fumble in a rotational role as a rookie last year and is now poised to grab a starting job. The former Eastern Washington standout boasts intriguing athleticism—he ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and jumped 39 inches in the vert at his pro day last year—and, playing alongside Suh and Donald, should benefit from plenty of one-on-one rush opportunities.
It’s hard to disagree here, given the turnover at OLB — a position that, on the surface, appears to have taken a step back this offseason, if only from an experience standpoint. And that’s not to say that Ebukam can’t play at Robert Quinn’s or Connor Barwin’s level. Neither of those players are in their prime, and the door is now open for the 23-year old Ebukam to do exactly what Kelly suggests: be the catalyst that puts their team over the top.