One of the Los Angeles Rams’ keys to success over the Sean McVay era has been their ability to identify and draft contributors in the middle to late rounds of the NFL Draft. The Rams will host one of these former draftees, OLB Ogbonnia “Obo” Okoronkwo, this weekend when the Cleveland Browns travel to SoFi Stadium for a high-stakes Week 13 matchup.
Okoronkwo was an effective but not oft-used pass rusher in his time with the Rams, especially over his last couple of seasons in Los Angeles. It was always a question over his career whether he could maintain the same effectiveness as a full-time edge defender that he had as a role player—and we are finding out that Okoronkwo can be a big contributor to one of the most vaunted pass rush units in the NFL alongside Myles Garrett.
Okoronkwo has 223 pass rushes this season, of which he’s pressured the opposing QB 27 times including four sacks. For comparison Michael Hoecht, who has pretty much been a mainstay on LA’s defense this season, has 231 pass rush snaps for 23 pressures including four sacks.
Ogbo Okoronkwo continues to prove he’s not just a— Mac (@tha_buffalo) November 21, 2023
“situational rotation player”
Currently on pace for 6 sacks, 19 TFLs, and 43 pressures
The 19 tackles for loss in a season would be the most by a Brown since Jamir Miller(22) in 2001 #DawgPound
Why did the Rams and Okoronkwo part ways in 2022 free agency?
Okoronkwo wasn’t going to break the bank in free agency after spending the last four years as a role player and situational contributor. Instead of returning to Los Angeles he signed a one-year, $3.25M contract with the Houston Texans. In his fifth-season and first outside of LA, recorded a career-high five sacks as he was set to hit the open market again. This time around, Okoronkwo commanded a much larger price tag and signed with the Browns on a three-year, $19M deal.
Coming off of a victory in Super Bowl LVI, the Rams’ focus was on retaining star edge rusher Von Miller—who they had acquired mid-season in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Miller was a pivotal piece, especially as a locker room leader, over LA’s historic playoff stretch in the 2021 season. His 2022 free agency turned into a long and drawn-out saga that ultimately ended with him signing with the Buffalo Bills on a six-year, $120M contract. This effectively put him out of the Rams’ price range and LA has still not quite solidified it’s OLB since losing the veteran.
But while the Rams were still waiting for Miller to make his decision, Okoronkwo’s deal with the Texans came in the early stages of free agency. Their homegrown player that had been effective in a smaller role and possibly reader for a larger one could have been their fall back plan, but Houston was quick to snatch Okoronkwo off the open market.
In turn, the Rams were left with a void at edge rusher and signed WR Allen Robinson in free agency. As we know Robinson spent only a single season with the team before being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers this past offseason. At edge rusher the Rams attempted to fill Miller’s absence with a combination of Terrell Lewis and Justin Hollins—both of which were cut by the team by season’s end. These struggled also sparked Michael Hoecht’s position change from interior defensive line to outside linebacker.