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John Johnson expects Rams defense to be better than Brandon Staley’s previous stops

Which includes three top-10 defenses in three years

Arizona Cardinals v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

First time defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has not been in the NFL for very long, but he’s thus far experienced way more successes than failures. And in the last three years, few defensive assistants could say they had better successes.

After more than a decade at the college level, Staley was hired as the outside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears in 2017, working with Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, and Sam Acho, among others. The Bears finished ninth in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed that season.

In 2018, John Fox was replaced as head coach by Matt Nagy, but he kept on defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Staley as the outside linebackers coach. Now Staley would be working with Khalil Mack, the most valuable acquisition by the Bears in years. Mack had 12.5 sacks and was a first team all-pro, Chicago ranked first in points allowed, first in net yards per pass attempt allowed, and first in takeaways.

When Fangio took his services to Mile High Beach, he brought Staley with him as outside linebackers coach. The Denver Broncos finished 10th in points allowed last season and outside linebacker Von Miller was a Pro Bowler for the eighth time, although Fangio did have higher expectations. Part of those expectations being damaged by losing outside linebacker Bradley Chubb early in the season.

Now Staley is the defensive coordinator of the LA Rams and expectations may not only be higher than what he saw in Denver last season, but perhaps will surpass what the Bears accomplished in 2018.

Or at least, that’s what safety John Johnson believes. The Rams high-ceiling free safety said this week that as far as Staley’s previous stops are concerned, “We have better guys than he did at those places” so “picture what he did” with the Bears and Broncos ... “but with better guys.”

Johnson may have a point.

The Rams feature the NFL’s best defensive player in Donald, no less than at least a minor upgrade to Mack along the defensive line. The Bears top corner in 2018 was Kyle Fuller, who had seven interceptions, but what can Staley expect to do with Jalen Ramsey as his top corner instead?

LA’s safety tandem of John Johnson and Taylor Rapp is no less than comparable to Chicago’s Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, at least as compared to what Jackson and Amos were known as prior to the 2018 season. Even today, Jackson and Johnson could be of equal value, and maybe Staley can develop Rapp in the same way that Bears coaches developed Amos, now a safety for the Packers.

If not, he also has third round safety Terrell Burgess to work with.

Mack, Jackson, and Fuller were first team all-pros in 2018, which we know is possible for Donald and Ramsey and could be possible with Johnson. A fourth Pro Bowl player on that defensive was defensive end Akiem Hicks, who at that point was going to the Pro Bowl for the first time at age 29. What could Staley do with 29-year-old Michael Brockers at this point in his career?

A first time Pro Bowl nod type season is hardly out of the question.

Thus far I am having a hard time finding the lie in what Johnson said. But Chicago did have rookie inside linebacker Roquan Smith in 2018 and he posted 121 tackles, five sacks, and one interception that year. Danny Trevathan and Floyd rounded out the group. Staley instead has Floyd, Samson Ebukam, Micah Kiser, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and others battling it out for four positions at linebacker. If we account for the fact that Donald is making up for what the Rams don’t have with Mack at linebacker, that eases the difference somewhat.

I also believe that Kiser or Floyd or someone will be able to produce 100+ tackles and four or five sacks, just as Cory Littleton did the past two seasons.

Opposite of Ramsey is Troy Hill, a comparable number two corner to Prince Amukamara. The nickel position is a training camp battle and some of the questions won’t be answered until the season is over or much closer to it. Stars will emerge. Others won’t ever come to be. But not only does Staley likely have more talent as a defensive coordinator than what he had as an assistant with the Broncos last season (Miller, Justin Simmons, Chris Harris, Derek Wolfe as the standouts), he could potentially match the very talented number one defense (first in DVOA, first in pass defense DVOA, second in rush defense DVOA) of the 2018 Chicago Bears.

And if you don’t believe it, at least some of the players do.