A year ago they were coming off of an NFC championship. The offense got the headlines, deservedly so, but the LA Rams defense didn’t lack stars of its own. And then in 2019, the defense did improve, from 18th in DVOA to 10th last season. But that didn’t stop the team from parting ways with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and hiring Brandon Staley to replace him and the names on the field will be considerably different too.
On April 1, 2019, the month before the draft, the Rams starting defense may have looked something like this:
Aaron Donald-Michael Brockers-Tanzel Smart/John Franklin-Myers/Sebastian Joseph-Day
Clay Matthews-Cory Littleton-Bryce Hager-Dante Fowler/Samson Ebukam
Marcus Peters-Eric Weddle-John Johnson-Aqib Talib-Nickell Robey-Coleman
By Week 1, Joseph-Day had worked his way up to eliminate some of those slash options including the departed Franklin-Myers. Hager started at linebacker, but Ebukam had more snaps. Safety Marqui Christian worked in for 41 snaps, with 31 going to Taylor Rapp.
Past the trade deadline, by Week 7, Peters and Talib were both gone, replaced in part by Jalen Ramsey. Troy Hill was now starting also. Rapp was starting too.
Cut to today and only a few of these players remain and seem likely to start whenever the next season begins. Today, a starting defense might look like this:
Aaron Donald-Michael Brockers-A’Shawn Robinson (Joseph-Day)
Ebukam-Justin Lawler-Micah Kiser-Leonard Floyd (Kenny Young, Travin Howard, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo)
Jalen Ramsey-John Johnson-Taylor Rapp-Troy Hill-David Long
Of course, John Johnson in some ways feels like a new addition because he missed 10 games last season. This is a much different defense and truth be told, it doesn’t have as many “names” as it did a year ago. It does have Donald, Ramsey, and some very good players in between. How much different will it be in April 2021? Or May 2020?