Fans of the Los Angeles Rams are familiar with the “AD effect”, the premise being that defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s presence makes the linemen that play around him better. And now, LA has come to terms with their superstar, squelching his retirement rumors and solidifying for the next three years, what many pundits consider, a top NFL defense.
Now that the starting down lineman roles are secured, along with the off season additions of Bobby Wagner at linebacker and Troy Hill at cornerback, the only realistic defensive position opening is at right edge, opposite veteran stalwart, Leonard Floyd.
Since coming west from the Chicago Bears in 2020, the 6’ 5” 240 lb. Floyd has been stellar setting the edge and getting after opposing quarterbacks. In two years, he has chalked up 20 regular season sacks, 37 QB hits, and 28 hurries. In six playoff games with the Rams, he’s made four sacks, five QB hits, and four tackles for loss. Floyd is also durable and tough, playing in over 85 percent of Rams defensive snaps and most of the Super Bowl winning 2021-22 slate with an ankle injury that would require off-season surgery.
Leonard Floyd captured his first INT as a Ram this past season on this athletic play against K. Murray.— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) March 8, 2022
Floyd continued to show in 2021 that he is one of the leagues most underrated players. Registering a career high 70 tackles, to go along with 9.5 sacks + 2 in the post season pic.twitter.com/xip7DeZlsb
Let the roster battle begin
All the candidates are young, athletic and have been involved in OTA’s, but the battle for the starting role begins, in earnest, at this week’s mandatory mini-camp, June 7-9 and will continue until final cuts after training camp. Interesting on its own, is that four of the six prospects, all the rookies, are from the DII ranks.
Justin Hollins - 6’ 5” 245 lbs.
The odds-on favorite. Hollins won the starting role last season, but tore a pectoral muscle in week three and missed nine games. When he returned, he rotated in behind Von Miller, playing only 130 snaps over the Rams final nine games. Hollins looked the part before his injury, and has the speed, short area quickness, and get-off to reclaim his starting spot. Draft pundits were wary about his motor, but on film, he’s played hard for the Rams. It’s time to put that away, the NFL weeds out those players quickly.
Terrell Lewis - 6’ 5” 262 lbs.
Entering his third season in LA, Lewis has yet to make the transition from unlimited potential to productive pro. He is wonderful combination of size, length, and athleticism. His injury problems have limited his snaps on defense and hasn’t been able to add value (five total snaps) on special teams. Although he improved his durability last year, Lewis may take a little longer to develop. He has missed a lot of time in both college and pros, and his lack of practice/game reps have hindered his growth. IF the Rams stay patient with him and IF he can stay healthy, he could turn out to be a monster. Two big if’s.
Chris Garrett - 6’ 3” 240 lbs.
Seventh round pick with tremendous production at the DII level, who basically took a redshirt last season. He was active in only one game, logging 10 snaps week three. Speed and get-off are Garrett’s calling cards. A year of professional strength/conditioning and learning positional nuances from Von Miller and Leonard Floyd make him a contender for a expanded role in 2022.
Bad day to be a blue blocking dummy. pic.twitter.com/C0YmAAMhFd— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) June 1, 2022
Daniel Hardy - 6’ 3” 240 lbs.
My training camp crush. I love watching players like him, at any level. Can he make the transition to the NFL? and if so, how much developing will it take? It is admittedly a steep learning curve, but honestly, at pick #235, he is a low risk/high reward prospect and it’s a win even if he just contributes on special teams.
Benton Whitley - 6’ 4” 260 lbs.
Raw, physical player with big legs and a strong lower body. Ex-state champion wrestler understands leverage and how to use it. Won on power and aggression in college, but needs a lot of work on pass rush moves and competing with NFL caliber tackles. His brand of football, right now, might make him a candidate for special teams work, but a practice squad role is probably the right place.
Brayden Thomas - 6’ 3” 260 lbs.
At first blush, he would seem to be a camp body. Thomas is cut as a run-defending edge who played a lot from a down position, he’s a power guy whose strengths are bullrush and pursuit. Like ex-Ram Justin Lawler, he’s an ultra-competitive, film-watching 100%er who would be a willing special teams guy.
Daniel Hardy was drafted with pick 235 of round 7 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.34 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 161 out of 2419 LB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/U2bKA92lFX #RAS #Rams pic.twitter.com/gE4HOsGrAf— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2022
The free agent pile
Unless salary cap or training camp cuts loosen a few prospects, there isn’t a lot to choose from. Overall, the Rams would hard pressed to add any of the available edges that would deeply improve the unit.
Jason Pierre-Paul has been a good sack man and a solid all-around pro, but at 33 years old, it might be a smarter move to wait until mid season to pick up a wily veteran like JPP.
Trey Flowers had some good seasons with the New England, but missed many games the last two seasons with the Detroit Lions. On film he looks a step slow at age 28, making him a liability dropping into either zone or man coverage.
Carl Nassib is a nice mix of good size, length and short area mobility. He’s been rotational player his whole career and might be an affordable pass rush specialist. When Nassib has gotten snaps, he’s been productive at providing quarterback pressure.
Do it by committee?
This makes logical sense. If no one player steps to the forefront and stamps his name on the role and with all the candidates lack of NFL game experience, the shrewd move might be to use a rotation early. Give the contenders a shot, starting game one, and go with the hot hand. Give the young players some space to make mistakes and then play through them.
Last season, eight different players took snaps at edge, Leonard Floyd had over 900 and no one else had over 435. Injuries did have a lot to do with that, but the Rams showed they can pull off an edge-by-committee scenario. Maybe, it’s all because of the “AD effect”.