In the last week or so, the Los Angeles Rams have traded Jalen Ramsey, cut Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner, and watched as Nick Scott and Greg Gaines have signed with other teams. By no accounts will the Rams make any effort to retain A’Shawn Robinson, Taylor Rapp, Troy Hill, or David Long, four other free agents on defense who have yet to sign; Robinson is meeting with the Giants on Monday, Rapp has had meetings with the Patriots and Bengals.
Don’t worry if you’re asking the most obvious question there is left to answer: What the hell is the Rams plan and how is Aaron Donald a part of it?
The Rams have never had a terrible defense with Donald since picking him 12th overall in 2013. They have had mediocre years, they’ve had some years bordering on bad, and other than the time that they ranked first when Brandon Staley was defensive coordinator, L.A. is usually hovering right around the average. But the Rams ranked 21st in points allowed and 19th in yards allowed in 2022, 18th in DVOA at FootballOutsiders.
Without a first round pick, with needs on offense, and with no apparent intentions to improve the team through free agency or trade, will 2023 be the worst defense that Aaron Donald has ever played on?
The Rams will be forced to make some additions before Week 1, whether Les Snead and Sean McVay like it or not. But as of March 19, 2023, this is the L.A. Rams depth chart on defense under defensive coordinator Raheem Morris in his third campaign. The team’s official website is not updated yet, so I will use a combination of that with who is left and expected to be in the lead at the end of the season.
Defensive Line (2022 Snap Counts in parantheses)
DE - Marquise Copeland (342), Jonah Williams (341), Earnest Brown IV (136)
NT - Bobby Brown III (164)
DT - Aaron Donald (616), Larrell Murchison (54)
Donald missed six games last year but still played nearly twice the amount of snaps of any other player left on the defensive line. Unless they bring back Robinson, there’s a huge need at the hugest position of nose tackle. If Donald didn’t return, this group could be the worst defensive line unit in the NFL. Where it ranks with Donald is an interesting question.
OLB - Daniel Hardy (41), Keir Thomas (71)
OLB - Michael Hoecht (408), Zach VanValkenburg
ILB - Ernest Jones (723), Jake Hummel
ILB - Christian Rozeboom (7)
Without Wagner, Floyd, Travin Howard (FA), and Jake Gervase (FA), this group truly does center around Ernest Jones. It’s not that Jones had a bad season, it’s more than expectations were high going into year two and winning a mentorship under Wagner and then not taking that next step up. Jones’s playing time dwindled as the season went on.
LCB - Derion Kendrick (483), Robert Rochell (26)
RCB - Cobie Durant (281), Shaun Jolly (0)
NCB - Nobody
The fall of Rochell could be one of the underrated storylines of the 2022 season. He looked promising as a rookie, but now it’s a question of whether he can even make the team. Without Ramsey, this unit played in barely 700 total combined snaps last season. As of now, who plays nickel? It could be a safety moved over or Jolly perhaps. Jolly played no defensive snaps and six special teams snaps in 2022.
FS - Quentin Lake (63), Jordan Fuller (91)
SS - Russ Yeast (113), Richard LeCounte III (0)
Nevermind, Fuller is the biggest disappointment. The Rams official website doesn’t even list him on the depth chart.
How do the Rams get better on defense when they have made no effort this year to get better on defense? Stripping away all parts that cost money, L.A.’s defense is left with just two players who appeared in more than 50% of the snaps last season (Jones, Donald) and zero players who played in more than 70% of the snaps.
Right now, the Rams have lost their top six defensive players in snaps, and seven of the top-eight.
Even if L.A. used their first three picks on defense, that would still only be selections 36, 69, and 77 and they don’t make their fourth selection until 167 towards the end of the fifth round.
How does Snead turn this defense into a unit that won’t get buried each week? And how does Aaron Donald feel about all of this?