During his first season at the helm, Sean McVay hired Wade Phillips and that meant a 3-4 defense with multiple inside linebackers, which in turn led to a one-year pact for veteran Connor Barwin. After parting with Alec Ogletree in 2018, the team turned to undrafted free agent Cory Littleton, a Pro Bowl invitee during his first (and second-to-last) season as a starter for the Los Angeles Rams.
Rams general manager Les Snead next replaced Mark Barron with Clay “Kind of like Connor Barwin” Matthews in 2019, and then the team felt little in the way of desperation to retain Littleton or Matthews when free agency hit in 2020.
L.A. gave way to a rotation that included Troy Reeder and Kenny Young two seasons ago, but then finally relented somewhat after selecting Ernest Jones with the 103rd pick in the 2021 NFL Draft; that makes Jones the highest-drafted inside linebacker of the McVay era, and the highest for Snead since Ogletree in 2013.
Now having added Bobby Wagner to the defense for the 2022 season, clearly there’s a minor shift in philosophy with Raheem Morris as the latest Rams defensive coordinator.
Wagner signed a five-year contract and he didn’t miss a single snap of last season until Week 17, but obviously Jones is the inside linebacker who Snead and McVay hope and expect to be around for many more years after Wagner is released from that deal.
But for this Top-20 Rams of 2022 series, we are only looking at this upcoming season, and this seems like a good time for Jones to check in. Will he be top-10 by the end of the year?
of course Aaron Donald is honing in but check out #50 Ernest Jones. Staying square, shedding the Fullback and squaring up on the RB pic.twitter.com/XM0Y6Hv9dP— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) June 30, 2022
#17 - ILB Ernest Jones
Though he was certainly drafted with an opportunity to win a starting gig because Reeder, Young, and Travin Howard were the most notable names standing in his way, it would have still be impressive for Ernest Jones to be a Week 1 starter as a rookie.
A productive tackler over the previous two seasons at South Carolina (183 tackles, 10.5 TFL in 21 games), Jones posted a 4.65 40-yard dash at the combine, weighing in at 230 lbs.
Jones earned the right to call some plays in L.A.’s first preseason game of the year, but even playing in the preseason is a sign that McVay has someone else pegged to start in the regular season. But as the year went on, it became obvious that some change was needed and eventually the Rams traded Young to the Broncos and then Jones made his first career start in Week 8 against the Houston Texans.
Jones recorded nine tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception, shared in a sack, and helped lead L.A. to a 38-22 victory against an awful Texans team.
Though he never played in 100-percent of the snaps in any one game, Jones was a significant contributor over the next seven games prior to an ankle injury holding him out of the final two weeks.
Jones finished the regular season with 61 tackles, four passes defensed, two interceptions, and three QB hits.
He was back on the field for 22 snaps against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, then broke out in the Super Bowl for seven tackles, three QB hits, one sack, and one pass defensed over 57 snaps.
Though he is sure to take a little bit of playing time away from him, Jones is thrilled to be teammates with Wagner in his second NFL season, saying that it is the best thing that has happened to him so far in the league:
“Him being in the room every day and just watching him, it’s been amazing. It’s been the highlight of my career so far,” Jones said. “(I’m) learning from someone who has done everything that I aspire to do: Pro Bowls, All-Pros, Super Bowls. He’s everything that I want to (be) and more.”
Ernest Jones would rank higher on this list if we were talking about the top-20 Rams over the next five years. But at this time, he’s only been on the field for 440 snaps and we’ve yet to confirm how great he could really become. I believe he can reach the places he wants to go, the accolades, the rewards, the respect.
For the 2022 season, he can focus on proving that he’s on his way to those honors with another season like his rookie campaign but over a lot more playing time.
First one out - CB Robert Rochell
#20 - QB John Wolford
#19 - CB Troy Hill
#18 - C Brian Allen
As I said in the initial post, I will release another list AFTER my list that utilizes how you vote for each player. In the previous post on Brian Allen, it was the first time that K Matt Gay didn’t win the poll, so now I will assume that Gay ranks in the 18-20 range for most Turf Show Times readers.
Who should rank higher on the list of top-20 MOST IMPORTANT Rams for 2022?
This poll is closed
C Brian Allen
ILB Ernest Jones
CB Troy Hill