Same Song, Different Verse
The Rams need to improve in nearly every facet of the game. The 2023 Rams are essentially mediocre across the board. They rank 21st in rushing and 21st in defending the run. They are 17th in total offense and 17th in total defense. A 4-6 record is a fair reflection of where they are overall as a team.
An important area where the Rams need to improve is generating more pass rush. Per ESPN's pass rush win rate metrics, this is how the Rams have ranked since the 2019 season:
2019: 5th in NFL, 50% pass rush win rate
2020: 9th place, 47%
2021: 1st place, 53%
2022: 7th place, 45%
2023: 20th place, 41%
After being in the top 10 each of the previous 4 seasons, the Rams have tumbled all the way to 20th. As normal, most of the pass rush comes from Aaron Donald, who is 2nd among DTs in PRWR. The Rams have no other pass rushers who made ESPN's rankings at either EDGE or DT other than AD.
The Rams may or may not end up with a top 10 pick in the 2024 draft, but even without a high pick, they might still be able to land an EDGE rusher who was projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2023 draft. In December of 2022, NFL Draft Bible said that FSU DE, Jared Verse, had All Pro potential, was a top 10 prospect and would be an immediate contributor defending both the run and the pass.
Daniel Jeremiah also sang the praises of Verse, comparing him to Ryan Kerrigan, formerly a star DE with the Commanders. DJ said that Verse had outstanding get-off, explosive first 3 steps, shock in his hands to jolt and uproot OTs, and an array of pass rush moves. He also said that Verse was firm at the POA vs the run, a violent club move to destroy TEs, and speed to chase. For weaknesses, DJ listed COD in space, and ability to bend at the top of the pass rush, hip and ankle tightness, ability to redirect in coverage vs athletic TEs. DJ wasn't overly concerned about those limitations, saying that Verse would make his money pass rushing the QB and setting the edge vs the run. He said that Verse had Pro Bowl potential and was very impressed by his high effort level.
Is Jared Verse the answer to the pass rush woes of the Rams?
Name: Jared Verse. Turns 24 years old in November of 2024. Redshirt junior in eligibility.
School: Florida State. Transferred from Albany in 2022.
Size: Listed 6'4'' tall, 260 pounds.
Had zero FBS scholarship offers as a HS recruit in Pennsylvania. He was an undersized TE and DE in HS (reportedly 205 pounds), also played basketball and was a sprinter and 400 meter runner on the track team. Has 5 siblings.
Albany redshirted him in 2019 and listed him at 221 pounds. Was engineering major at Albany. Added weight to become a DE. Something that gave him more time to transform his body was that due to covid, Albany's 2020 season was moved to the spring of 2021. They only played 4 games in an abbreviated slate, but Verse still had 4 sacks and 10 TFLs.
In the fall of 2021, Verse continued to pile up stats, causing him to become a highly prized recruit in the transfer portal. He didn't disappoint in 2022 with FSU and was projected to be an early 1st round pick in the 2023 draft. Surprisingly, he elected to say in school instead of entering the draft. His stats have gone down in 2023, making me wonder if he made the right choice. He's had some minor injuries in both 2022 and 2023, but they haven't resulted in him missing extended action.
2020 (4 games, Albany): 22 tackles, 4 sacks, 10 TFLs, FF
2021 (11 games, Albany): 53 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 11.5 TFLs, FF
2022 (12 games, FSU): 48 tackles, 9 sacks, 17 TFLs
2023 (11 games, FSU): 29 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 6.5 TFLs
Verse could have a future in TV. He's outgoing, confident, playful, has a good sense of humor.
PFF board 13th overall prospect
Josh Edwards (CBSSports) 12th overall
PFN board 14th overall
Very good at disengaging from blocks and staying alive in the play. Uses hands well on countermoves. Spins away from the blocker. Can link together countermoves. Uses strength to rip OL down.
Excellent, quick hands. Can win quickly off the snap on both run and pass plays. Accurate hands in initial punch. Strong jolt in his hands to shock OTs.
Good play strength to stack blockers. Generally has good pad level, explodes into initial contact from low to high, transferring power into the opponent.
Very good at wedging himself into interior gaps vs OTs or driving a TE back, then moving down LOS to constrict run lanes. Despite not being a big DE, has value in short yardage run situations.
Good burst and speed to pursue runners downfield from behind.
Willing to do dirty work to push DL to free up teammate on 3 man loop.
Has some scheme versatility, because even though he's smaller than a normal 4-3 DE, he has good effective play strength, so he potentially could still play in a 4 man front. FSU uses a 4 man DL.
Potentially an ascending player who only filled out his body in 2021 and didn't play at a power school until 2022. More advanced than he should be at this stage of his development, relative to his experience and competition level.
Tight hips. Some ability to bend the edge and redirect to QB, but only average at it. Lacks flexibility to dip under the OT. By not being able to get under the OT, it allows the OT to recover and push him past the QB even if DE gets his shoulder upfield.
Insufficient burst to convert speed to power in a bull rush. Segmented mover, not fluid changing directions when he's a looper on stunts, causing a delay in getting through openings and attacking the pocket.
Loses momentum after initial contact, not able to maintain explosiveness throughout the pass rush to continue to apply pressure and stress on the blocker.
Average closing burst to the QB when he has a clear path.
Pass rush production a result of high effort level, beating RTs and less talented LTs (in a couple cases, beating future NFL guards), not due to being a top shelf pass rush prospect.
Limited length. Misses tackles when arms not long enough to grab or trip up runner.
Poor playing in space. Upright and stiff mover. Lacks awareness in coverage to match his movement and positioning to the routes.
Consistently misses tackles in space vs superior athletes, has limited COD. The faster he runs, the less he's able to break down and mirror.
Gets driven out of gaps when his technique or approach is off. Got destroyed by Graham Barton of Duke on a snap when his pad level was high. Tried to go around puller instead of stacking block, opening up run lane for RB. Tried to swim inside vs LT, losing edge containment.
Gives up ground on his counters vs run blocks, creating more space for the runner. He tries to go around or spin off of the block instead of physically stacking it at the POA.
A scheme tweener, because he's too stiff to be a natural 3-4 OLB and he's too small to be a 4-3 DE.
Timing the snap inconsistent. Sometimes late reacting to snap, other times too early trying to anticipate it.
Rotated out, not used as a fulltime player.
Nearly 2 years older than an average draft prospect.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
3rd round grade. (Josh Paschal, 2nd round 2022, Detroit Lions, Kentucky)
Paschal has spent time on IR each of his first 2 seasons. He has 2 career sacks. He has a 62.7 PFF grade this season and was at 55.1 as a rookie. His career pressure rate is 5.6%. Despite investing several early draft picks in their DL, the Detroit Lions are 26th in pass rush win rate (37%) this season. They are worse than the Rams.
Michael Hoecht has 3.5 sacks in 2023 alone, more than Paschal has had in his career. Hoecht had a 65.4 PFF grade in 2022 and 52.8 this season. Hoecht's career pressure, sack and hurray rates are nearly twice as good as Paschal's. So, between a guy the Rams got as an UDFA and a DE the Lions drafted in the middle of the 2nd round, which player is better? The metrics suggest that there is little difference and if anything, Hoecht is the better player.
Indeed, Hoecht's numbers stack up decently vs other EDGE rushers who were drafted in the 3rd round in 2023 after Byron Young. So, while Hoecht is often a player Rams fans love to hate, the result likely would have been similar if the Rams had held another 3rd rd pick in 2023 and drafted a 2nd OLB, not just Young. This is an example of why I think the draft itself is often overrated. The draft is merely one slice of a larger pie of how an NFL team constructs a roster. If you do a good job finding an UDFA and developing him with coaching, strength and conditioning, that player can sometimes become just as valuable as a middle round draft pick. That's not to say that Hoecht should be a starter or that he's a star. It's just a result of many 3rd to 5th round players not being so great themselves. If approximately 67% of 3rd rounders turn out to either be backups or busts, then is that any different than finding a good UDFA who turns into a solid backup?
This is one reason I think NFL teams should be cautious about trading down too frequently. I like to trade down if I can do so and still get the same player I wanted to draft at the higher slot. But, if the main goal of trading down is to just get extra 3rd round picks (or later), how much value are you really getting? Every now and then, one could be very valuable (e.g. John Johnson), but many of the others will turn out to be duds. If you missed out on getting a really good player in the 1st round or early 2nd round, it can really hurt when the pick you added comes up empty.
In 2022, Brad Holmes made a bold trade, moving up for Jameson Williams and part of that trade resulted in the Lions moving lower in the 2nd round. Holmes drafted Paschal with that downgraded 2nd rounder. That trade doesn't look so hot at the moment, though it is still very early and it will take at least a couple more seasons to draw any firm conclusions. Holmes missed out on other talented pass rushers by moving down. He could have drafted Boye Mafe of the Seahawks, who has had a very strong 2nd year (76.6 PFF grade, 7 sacks). He also passed on a guy I liked named Arnold Ebiketie from Penn State, who has 3.5 sacks this season and is really coming on. Ebikitie has a 17.1% pressure rate, per SIS (Byron Young is at 13.1%), an 11.5% hurry rate (Young has a 6.8% rate) and a 4.6% sack rate (Young is at 2.1%). Ebiketie's pressure rate is so high that he's tied for the 8th best pressure rate in the NFL for DEs and LBs combined, with a minimum of 75 pass rush attempts. So, IMO, Holmes dropped down to a lower tier of EDGE prospects in the trade, costing the Lions a great opportunity to land a better DE to pair with Aidan Hutchinson.
While I like Jared Verse a little better than Paschal, I don't see him as a top tier EDGE rushing prospect. I think he can help an NFL team, because Verse is a balanced defender who does good things both vs the run and vs the pass. I see him more as a complementary piece, however, not as an elite sack artist.