For anyone watching the Los Angeles Rams last year, it was clear that the pass rush needed a serious upgrade. L.A. was in the bottom quarter of NFL teams in hurries (5.7 %), quarterback knock downs (6.8%), and overall pressure percentage (17.9%). To their credit, L.A. attempted to address the need in the 2023 NFL Draft and drafted five defensive linemen. An interesting late addition was at #189 of Round 6, Ochaun Mathis out of Nebraska.
Mathis is a raw player who’s blessed with physical gifts, that with development, could offer value out on the Rams edge. The 24 year-old’s NFL Combine testing was good, he comes to L.A. with an 8.33 RAS grade. He measured in at 6’ 5, carried 250 lbs. with 10 3/4” hands and 35 1/4” arms, all stellar numbers. He ran the forty in 4.74 with a 1.59 10-yard split. His agility and short area quickness was a mixed bag, from a good 7.19 3Cone to a barely adequate 4.41 in the shuttle. In the strength/explosion category he racked 21 reps on the bench, a 33.5 vertical. and 9’ 10” long jump.
Mathis spent his first four college years at TCU, where he racked up 30.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks in 34 starts. A coaching change led him to leave the ‘Toads for 2022. He landed at Nebraska for his final season, made 50 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks in 12 games. Named to the East-West Shrine Bowl, worked out with his hand on the ground at 3T. He generated buzz amongst scouts and drew raves from coaches for his hand work and athleticism. He was an inside force in the actual game logged two sacks, one a strip.
How can he get onto the field?
His fastest path to NFL play time is as a package pass rusher. He wins with a stellar burst and is a relentless pursuer, gathering a good amount of sacks by hustle and staying engaged. Mathis has also shown glimpses of bend around the corner, a bullrush, and spin moves, but has been inconsistent in regularly applying the things he does well. As a pro, he will be expected to improve on his ability to stack moves, counter, and use that stellar length to advantage.
Today we all get to enjoy Ochaun Mathis as he goes QB hunting. Few players in the 2023 NFL Draft are as ferocious as he is pic.twitter.com/xPN5hbldR7— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) August 27, 2022
On film, it looks like he too often relies on his athleticism and pursuit ability. He understands how to play the end position and has good football instincts, but to turn his potential into value, hIs technique, moves, and rush plan will need considerable polish. Has the burst to be effective on stunts/twists/loops. If stymied he gets those long arms up to clog passing lanes. He played both as stand up edge and with a hand in the dirt.
As a run defender, there is more work to be done. Again, he has a hot motor and flows to the ball well, but his lanky, lean build and pedestrian play strength make him an easy target to be washed away by bigger defenders. Although he actually does a good job of hand fighting and using his length when tasked in read or setting an edge, when offensive linemen clamp on, he can be moved. A strength program, particularly lower body work are called for. He has that good natural athleticism, so I don’t think there’s a point to bulk up with more mass. He was often used as a QB spy when at TCU.
“Coming in and being able to put on muscle mass and keep the speed, but build on top of it is one of my biggest things to work on.”
Ochaun Mathis with the arm over to blow past the guard pic.twitter.com/ip3O4LbkEA— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 31, 2023
Only found a few reps on film of Mathis in pass coverage and he looked really fluid and smooth in space. Mostly limited to patrolling the flats and dropping into the short center zones on linebacker blitzes. On one play, the opposing running back ran a wheel route and got a little rub from the slot receiver, Mathis angled away from the rub and got on his horse, closed the gap and made the pass break up 25 yards downfield.
Is he a realistic candidate to play on Sunday’s?
For the Rams, as they try to rebuild the position, yes. A couple of things have to happen. First, Mathis has NFL physical traits and instincts, plays the game with fiery effort, and has the requisite football IQ, so it all comes down to working hard on play strength and learning to consistently apply his strengths. Second, it is imperative for new Rams outside linebackers coach Joe Coniglio to have an impact with his knowledge and communication. Because the L.A. edge unit doesn’t have much, if any, experience, the youngsters cannot get coached up from wily veterans.
Projecting him against the competition, both the bookends are up for grabs with seven players vying. The two best, Michael Hoecht and Keir Thomas are best served as down linemen. Zach VanValkenberg appears to fit that role, as well. Daniel Hardy was injured most of last season and for all intents and purposes, joins Byron Young, Nick Hampton, and Mathis as rookies. Undrafted Matthew Jester is likely a camp body. While the individual players do nice job of covering the realm of play styles and sizes, it does not appear that anyone has a clear lock on the available roles and competition will be fierce.
Since all the candidates share inexperience, high effort, and are still transitioning to the pro game, Ochaun Mathis has the physical tools and intangibles to challenge. HIs effort needs to be in the weight room and honing a consistent attack. One thing to worry about is that he didn’t show a lot of growth over his college career. There’s a long way to go, but a rotational role as a pass rusher should not be ruled out for 2023.