The biggest holes in the roster of the Los Angeles Rams heading into the 2022 regular season are at running back and edge defender.
LA had no shortage of options off the edge a year ago - especially after trading for Von Miller mid-season. However, the trade for Miller ended up being only a half-year rental, and the veteran teased day-after-day on social media where he would sign as a free agent before ending up with the AFC favorite Buffalo Bills.
While the Rams were busy courting Miller for a return, LA’s most efficient reserve pass rusher - Obo Okoronkwo - signed a 1-year $3.25M deal with the Houston Texans. This is a fairly low price tag for a pass rush specialist as effective as Okoronkwo, but the Rams passed up their small fish to keep their line in the water for a bigger fish - one they didn’t end up landing.
To be fair to the team’s current outside linebackers, Justin Hollins (fourth year) and Terrell Lewis (third year), we haven’t seen either individual participate in the preseason. It’s very possible that at least one of them is ready to take a step forward and become a premier pass rusher for LA; however, edge defender will remain one of the biggest question marks on this team until the duo can prove otherwise or until the Rams trade for a proven veteran.
It can’t be a good feeling for LA that the players they’ve let get away are finding success elsewhere, but significant development by Hollins or Lewis in 2022 can smooth over the uneasiness.
Samson Ebukam, San Francisco 49ers
Ebukam was selected by the Rams in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft - Sean McVay’s first season in Los Angeles. The OLB was regarded as a highly athletic prospect that could develop into a pass rush specialist, but aside from sporadic splash plays he was mostly an afterthought on the Rams’ defense.
It wasn’t much of a surprise when Ebukam signed elsewhere during the 2021 free agency period - it seemed he had run his course in Los Angeles. But now the sixth-year edge defender figures to be a key piece of the rotation for the 49ers, and it comes in a year when the Rams could use all the pass rushing help they can get off the edge.
Ebukam flashed in San Francisco’s Thursday night preseason game, being declared as a “winner” by Niners Nation:
Ebukam made the most of his playing time. He had a sack on the first drive and beat his man several times. Ebukam’s effort doesn’t go unnoticed and will be a big reason why he’ll be in the running for runner-up in sacks on the team this year (likely behind Nick Bosa).
This season is a contract year for Ebukam. He’s in a fantastic position to earn a lot of money next off-season. Remember, this is only Ebukam’s second full year as an edge rusher. He came on strong at the end of 2021 and appears to have picked up where he left off.
Samson Ebukam (@sosa50) works the long arm/lift, then uses his inside hand placement to counter inside with a snatch/swim once he was at QB depth. Gets the sack! #passrush #49ers pic.twitter.com/3G3LGMAurv— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) August 26, 2022
Obo Okoronkwo, Houston Texans
The Texans could have one of the most dynamic pass rushing units in the entire NFL this upcoming season. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard is a star in the making, Okoronkwo has been one of the most productive pass rushers this preseason, and the team also has veteran Jerry Hughes.
Texans edge defender Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has generated 9 pressures through two weeks of the preseason, tied for 2nd-most in the NFL.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) August 25, 2022
His teammate Derek Rivers ranks right behind him with 8 pressures.#SFvsHOU | #TNFonPrime pic.twitter.com/tCG1gfeGfL
Okoronkwo’s detriment in LA wasn’t his productivity - it was opportunity.
The outside linebacker missed significant time as a rookie with a shoulder injury, and he was in and out of the lineup for the better part of the next three years due to both injury and giving way to more proven players. When he was on the field as a Ram, Okoronkwo made the most of his playing time - which is why it makes sense that he left in free agency for a team that would give him a more prominent role. Only he didn’t know LA would be one of those teams after they lost out on the Von Miller sweepstakes - timing is everything.