After releasing edge rusher Leonard Floyd, it’s been very clear that the Los Angeles Rams need an edge rusher. They are currently set to enter the season with Michael Hoecht as their most productive pass-rusher off of the edge with depth that includes Daniel Hardy and Keir Thomas.
In the past, Les Snead and the Rams have opted for proven pass rushers on the trade market. The team traded for Dante Fowler in 2018 and did the same in 2021 when they acquired Von Miller. Prior to the 2020 season, the Rams signed Leonard Floyd in free agency. However, with a lack of resources in the form of both salary cap and draft capital, making that type of move is unlikely.
This leaves the NFL Draft.
While the Rams have a need for an edge rusher, they don’t select until the 36th overall pick, meaning that many of the premier edge rushers in the class will be gone by the time that they are on clock. Given the need though, do the Rams force the issue at the top of the second round?
It’s something worth thinking about and that’s exactly what we’re going to do here. Here’s a case for and case against taking an edge rusher with the 36th overall pick.
Why the Rams should take an edge rusher at 36
It’s already been discussed. The Rams have a desperate need for an edge rusher after cutting Floyd prior to free agency. As it stands, Hoecht is the team’s most productive pass-rusher off of the edge. There are two large issues here. The first being that Hoecht only had 4.5 sacks last season, granted those all came in the final six games of the season. Secondly, the Rams moved Hoecht to edge because they had already cut Terrell Lewis and Justin Hollins.
Outside of Hoecht, Rams edge rushers on the current roster have combined for 0 sacks.
Playing on the edge isn’t Hoecht’s natural position and there were times last season where that showed, specifically in the run game and playing contain.
Behind Hoecht, the Rams have Hardy who they selected out of Montana State in the seventh-round in last year’s draft and Thomas, an undrafted free agent who shined during the preseason.
A serious argument could be made that the biggest need for the Rams heading into the draft is on the edge, even more so than the perceived need on the offensive line.
At the top of the second-round, the Rams may not get a premier edge rusher such as Will Anderson, Lucan Van Ness, Myles Murphy, or Nolan Smith. With that said, there is a third-tier of edge rushers that they will be able to choose from at 36. That tier includes Will McDonald IV, Isaiah Foskey, BJ Ojulari, Felix Anudike-Uzomah, and others.
The Rams would be able to draft one of those players at 36 and take another edge rusher on day three of the draft. The rookie edge rusher would be able to develop and then be ready to take the next step when the Rams have cap space and can spend on a good free agent edge class next offseason.
Why the Rams shouldn’t take an edge rusher at 36
The draft is all about finding value and the value for an edge rusher may not be there at 36. It’s unrealistic to expect a rookie to come in and immediately pick up where Floyd left off. That’s especially the case for edge rushers selected in the second-round.
Over the past three seasons, 14 edge rushers have been selected in the second-round. Out of those 14 players, only Azeez Ojulari in 2021 had more than five sacks as a rookie. The average sack total for those 14 players as rookies was 2.18. If you take out Ujulari’s eight-sack outlier, the average was just 1.73.
The immediate value for a second-round edge rusher hasn’t been there and the Rams need immediate impact contributors. While Josh Uche has turned into a good edge rusher, it has taken him almost three seasons. Uche only had one sack as a rookie in 2020.
Outside of the first-round, it’s difficult to find an edge rusher who can come in and make an immediate impact. However, the long-term value between edge rushers selected in the second and third round are nearly the same.
In 2020, both Alex Highsmith and Jonathan Greenard were found in the later stages of the third-round. Highsmith had 14.5 sacks last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Greenard had eight sacks for the Houston Texans in 2021 before spending much of last year injured.
Comparing the second-round edge rushers in the 2020 class to the edge rushers taken in the third round and the long-term value is about the same. In both rounds, there have been two players with a career sack total of greater than 10. In the second-round those players are Uche and Darrell Taylor compared to third-round players Highsmith and Greenard.
Taking the class as a whole, the average career sack total after three years for the second-round players is exactly 10 compared to 7.92 for the players selected in the third-round. The difference is minimal. Removing Zach Baun who has 0 career sacks and was taken in the third-round in 2020 by the New Orleans Saints, that becomes 10 to 9.5. That’s a half-sack difference.
This year in that third-round area, the Rams could draft players like Isaiah McGuire, Andre Carter, Byron Young, and Nick Hampton. While those guys may not have the same ceiling as someone like Will McDonald IV, the immediate impact will likely be the same and there isn’t a huge difference in the long-term value as the tier of edge rusher who will be drafted in the second-round.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams take an edge rusher at 36 given the need. You could argue that they should take an edge rusher at 36 and again later on in the draft in order to build some depth.
When it comes to what the Rams will actually do, Les Snead could wait until pick 69 or 77 to address the edge rusher position. That’s what he did in 2020 when he selected Lewis in the third-round instead of Uche in the second. Snead waiting on an edge rusher wasn’t the problem. Had Snead taken Greenard or Highsmith, this is a completely different conversation. Instead, the injury-affected Lewis was taken and the Rams sit here in 2023 once again needing an edge rusher.