The Los Angeles Rams aren’t calling this offseason a “rebuild” in terms of the overall roster, but they are currently undergoing a complete overhaul on the defensive side of the football.
After trading away Jalen Ramsey and releasing Bobby Wagner and Leonard Floyd, the sole household name remaining on the defense is Aaron Donald. Key contributors such as Greg Gaines and Nick Scott have left for fresh starts in free agency—A’Shawn Robinson and Travin Howard are reportedly visiting other teams as well.
It’s a total youth movement for Los Angeles, and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris certainly has his work cut out for him.
Aside from Donald, what’s left on this Rams defense? Let’s rank the current starting 11 from top to bottom.
1 - Aaron Donald, DE
He’s a front-runner for the Defensive Player of the Year award any season that he’s healthy, though he hasn’t played on a defense that lacks the supporting cast as this year’s team seems to. There’s currently not much help in terms of pass rush. The Rams still need to find an edge rusher that can complement the star defensive tackle, though at this point in the offseason any reinforcements are likely to come from the NFL Draft class.
There’s not much more to say about Donald, other than holding this unit together might be too tall of an order—even for him.
2 - Cobie Durant, CB
If there’s a second year player ready to break out on the LA defense, it’s Durant. An early season injury limited his availability to only seven games during 2022, but when he was on the field the young corner made plays. Durant recorded three interceptions and a sack during his rookie campaign. Even more impressive is his PFF targeting data, where he allowed just a 76.3 QB rating in coverage.
At 5-11, 180 lbs., size could certainly keep Durant from taking the next step—and it’s probable that he will play in the slot for most of his career. Of his 281 defensive snaps last season, 72% were from an alignment in either the slot or box. Will that trend continue into 2023?
3 - Michael Hoecht, OLB
Hoecht is a converted interior defensive lineman, and he’s still going through some growing pains as he learns the intricacies of playing on the edge. His athleticism and motor aren’t concerns, but he needs to become more stout and set the corner in the run game. As an Ivy League grad from Brown, it won’t be a surprise if Hoecht makes short order of the learning curve at his new position.
4 - Jordan Fuller, DB
There might not be a bigger enigma on the Rams roster currently than safety Jordan Fuller and what the future may have in store for him.
Fuller was inserted into the starting lineup almost immediately after his selection in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. The following season he was named a team captain and the defensive signal caller. But the 2021 also brought a major injury just ahead of the team’s playoff run and eventual victory in Super Bowl LVI, one that sidelined the safety through the offseason. He played only 90 snaps last year and was limited with a hamstring injury.
5 - Ernest Jones, MLB
Some are probably surprised to see Jones so low on this list, but he has big shoes to fill in replacement of Bobby Wagner. Jones is capable of making splash plays, such as his fourth down stop in the Super Bowl against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, but he’s allowed a 82.6% completion mark against him in coverage during his first two seasons.
6 - Bobby Brown, DT
This is a bit of a projection with Brown, but there are few players (outside of Donald) on the defensive line capable of splash plays in the way Brown is. The issue with the third-year defensive tackle is consistency, but he will likely have plenty of playing time this season to figure things out.
7 - Robert Rochell, CB
Rochell impressed as a rookie in limited opportunities—he fought multiple injuries throughout the 2021 campaign. He made an impressive pass deflection against the Chicago Bears’ speedy receiver Darnell Mooney in the season opener, he soared to force an incompletion in coverage against Tyler Lockett, and he notched his first career interception against the New York Giants.
His second season was more of a disappearing act, but the Rams are so thin at corner heading into 2023 that he will likely be forced onto the field. Rochell has a unique combination of size and speed that no other LA corner currently offers, and he has the highest ceiling of all the secondary players.
With the loss of D. Williams, 2nd year CB Robert Rochell will be competing for starting snaps in the 2022 season. The 4th round pick had his rookie season cut short due to injury last year. Rochell is an athletic DB with plenty of potential. Expect him to be in the mix pic.twitter.com/xNvFWNeILW— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) April 26, 2022
8 - Quentin Lake, DB
Lake played 63 defensive snaps in 2022 with 52 of those coming in the season finale against the Seattle Seahawks. A knee injury kept him from participating in offseason team activities, training camp, and the majority of the regular season—though it was encouraging to see him involved on both special teams and defense by year’s end.
Lake is billed as a skilled coverage player and should be a strong schematic fit in the Rams defense.
9 - Jonah Williams, DT
A better run defender than pass rusher, Williams has been a key depth player along the defensive line of late. He’s mostly played in a rotational role, but he could be in line to compete for a starting job with late-season acquisition Larrell Murchison if the team does not make any major additions through free agency or the draft.
10 - Daniel Hardy, OLB
Hardy certainly has the athletic profile that the Rams look for in an edge defender, but it’s unrealistic to expect a second-year, former seventh round draft pick to contribute as a full-time starter. Keir Thomas also figures to have a role in 2023, and Los Angeles needs to find a future cornerstone at OLB whether that comes early in the draft or through a trade—think how the Rams balanced short-term gains with the long-term outlook when they traded for Jalen Ramsey in 2019.
Daniel Hardy was drafted with pick 235 of round 7 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.34 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 161 out of 2419 LB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/U2bKA92lFX #RAS #Rams pic.twitter.com/gE4HOsGrAf— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2022
11 - Derion Kendrick, CB
Kendrick had plenty of playing time as a rookie and was targeted often, though his lack of speed makes him a tough projection as a NFL starter. It’s fair to expect players to improve after their rookie season, but Kendrick’s limited athletic profile may prevent him from taking the next step in his career—he ran a 4.75 second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
As the closest defender in coverage Kendrick was targeted 56 times, allowing 39 completions for 571 yards, two TD’s, and a QB rating of 114.5. The Rams will likely invest in CB during the draft, and the second-year corner will likely be relegated to reserve duties.