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3 Rams on defense who have most to prove next season

LA has questions to answer on defense

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

On Tuesday, I posted three LA Rams who had something to prove on offense. Today I’ll turn to the defense.

Leonard Floyd, OLB

As a draft prospect, Floyd was being described as a more athletic Anthony Barr, if not potentially the next Von Miller if he was the edge in a 3-4. When the Chicago Bears made him the ninth overall pick in 2016, the expectations were that he could give the Bears either a pass rusher of note or an enforcer who would solidify at least one of their linebacking positions for a decade.

Ultimately, Floyd gave them neither in spite of a rookie season with seven sacks in only 12 games.

At one point in 2016, Floyd had 6.5 sacks over a five-game stretch. He has produced 11.5 sacks total in the 45 games since that stretch. Chicago traded for Khalil Mack to get their pass rusher and drafted Roquan Smith to be their enforcer and declined his fifth-year option and that’s how he became a free agent to sign with the Rams and fill in for Dante Fowler, Jr., another disappointing blue chipper. Fowler spent the 2019 season proving he was capable of hitting his potential and he got a three-year, $45 million deal in the offseason from the Atlanta Falcons.

Floyd can either excel as an edge rusher in Brandon Staley’s defense and secure his future or he could fade into the background, leave in free agency in 2021, and get his third shot with a team based on his unique athleticism.

John Johnson, S

We saw in our poll on Sunday that TST readers see Johnson as the second-best draft pick of the Sean McVay era, beating out fellow safety Taylor Rapp. I was tempted to put Rapp here because I see how a “prove it” season might change a lot of opinions about Rapp — especially if he were to take a step forward in coverage — but in either case Rapp will get two more years on his rookie deal.

Johnson is entering the final year of his contract and a healthy season vs any potential long-term issues may be the difference in how Los Angeles approaches their future at safety.

After Johnson missed 10 games with a shoulder injury, the Rams drafted both Terrell Burgess in the third and Jordan Fuller in the sixth. Coupled with the fact that Johnson will be a free agent in 2021 and that the Rams are cap-strapped, we could easily see how this next season will determine his value to the defense and his future with the team.

For fun, these are the seven QBs that Johnson has intercepted in his career:

  • Russell Wilson
  • Derek Carr
  • Case Keenum
  • C.J. Beathard
  • Mitchell Trubisky
  • Drew Brees
  • Baker Mayfield

He also has one playoff interception, a second pick off Brees.

Samson Ebukam, LB

You could put Micah Kiser here, or someone that needs to prove themselves as the replacement for Cory Littleton. You could argue Michael Brockers proving himself as a necessary re-signing after he appeared to be lost. We could talk about A’Shawn Robinson, Troy Hill, or Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Maybe even Terrell Lewis as a rookie needing to prove he is not going to spend most of his career on injured reserve.

But I’ll go with the pass rusher who showed the most promise but has one critical year now to prove if he’s a starter or a rotational piece that teams can sign for a year and then move on from.

Like Floyd and Johnson, Ebukam is set to hit free agency in a year. Two rounds after selecting Cooper Kupp out of Eastern Washington, the Rams picked Ebukam out of the same school after he ran a 4.45 at EWU’s pro day. Ebukam has steadily increased his production, from two sacks to three sacks to 4.5 sacks and 10 QB hits in 2019, but he’s yet to show that consistency and rapid improvement that a team would hope to see by now.

However, Ebukam is only 25 and his best seasons could be ahead of him. With Fowler out of the picture, he’s got his best chance yet to establish what tier of pass rusher he belongs in.