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Rams need Ernest Jones to step up next season

In only his third season, the linebacker is one of L.A.’s most experienced defenders

Los Angeles Rams v Los Angeles Chargers
Ernest Jones slips off a blocker to make the tackle
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Ernest Jones was drafted to be the Los Angeles Rams linebacker of the future and that future is now. With L.A. facing numerous defensive personnel changes, Jones now gets his shot to be “the man” at linebacker and will wear the green dot on his hemet, signifying captaincy and the important role of Rams defensive play caller.

L.A. Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris revealed in his May 31 video press conference what he and the Rams expect from the green dot wearer and Jones in particular,

It’s like drafting a quarterback. No matter what round you get drafted in as a quarterback, you get a certain amount of leadership responsibility. It’s no different in our room as like either safety or inside linebacker... which really holds that leadership role in general around the league... And right now Ernest is our green dot going out throughout the process... so he’s certainly developed... (I’m) really fired up to see where he can go this year. Really fired up about Ernest and what he can do.”

High expectation aside, times have changed for linebackers and their value has diminished. NFL offenses have moved towards attacking the center of the field, getting desirous matchups of quicker running backs and slot receivers on linebackers. Also, today’s pro tight end is projected for his athleticism and pass catching ability over blocking prowess. Extra defensive backs in nickel and dime formations have replaced all three linebackers. Few, if any, teams employ the traditional MIKE, WILL. and SAM on the field at the same time.

During the Sean McVay era, 2017 to date, the L.A. defenses under Wade Phillips and Morris have followed the NFL’s long-developing trend of devaluation. According to, line backers are only valued above running backs, kickers, fullbacks, punters, and long snappers in positional spending.

Is Ernest Jones ready to break out?

Jones on-field growth over the past two seasons has shown a steady uphill arc and certainly his maturation and production had something to do with L.A.’s acquiescence to Bobby Wagner’s desire to leave Los Angeles, although the objective reasons are still murky. Jones, for his part, has been effusive in praise for how Wagner mentored him last season, telling JB Long and Maurice Jones-Drew in a Rams OTA Recap video,

“Bobby showed me not just what it takes to be a Hall of Fame linebacker, but to truly be a leader. Just making sure you are not only just taking care of things off the field, you’re making sure you’re studying and doing the right things. I wouldn’t be the player I am today if it wasn’t for him coming in last year and just teaching me and showing me the way. I’m really thankful for him.”

It will be interesting to see how Jones handles the physical MIKE position. You can’t question his toughness, football IQ, or run stopping defense, but at his size, 6’ 2” and 230 lbs., he appears to project more towards the role he has filled the past two seasons, WILL linebacker. For such a good run defender, he’s not a thumper who attacks the gap, stacking and shedding blockers. He’s more of a reactive chase and drag tackler who slips lead blockers and uses his length (33 3/8” arms) to keep defenders away from his body.

Jones’ durability has been good and his on-field production stellar. Out of his 34 possible regular-season and four post-season games, Jones has participated in 30. A high ankle sprain at the end of 2021 forced him to sit the final two games of the slate and the first two playoff games of L.A.’s run to the Super Bowl.

After basically being a special teamer for for his first seven NFL games (45 defensive snaps), Jones has rolled up 167 tackles (five for loss) in 26 games and 1118 snaps. Even though he often comes off the field in passing situations, he’s added three interceptions, four passes defended, five quarterback pressures and one sack. His missed tackle percentage compares favorably to top linebackers Fred Warner, C.J. Mosely, and Wagner.

As strange as it sounds, his status as a third year player makes Jones a grizzled veteran on the Rams pubescent defense. Only Aaron Donald and Jordan Fuller have more pro snaps on the L.A. defense. Jones says the young defense is flying around and having fun and that a few rookies have stood out to him.

It’s definitely a new vibe. We’re just young. We’ve got so much energy. The competition is at the highest point since I’ve been here. Even though we don’t have pads on right now, it’s just constant competition. We’re all just holding each other to a higher standard... I will say, about this rookie class, they are super intelligent... For them to be able to take the playbook the way they have and grasp it, it’s mind blowing to me...I love watching Tre (cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson), just his ball skills, how he gets to the ball...Those edge rushers, man, they get me excited. I’m excited about all of them, truly.

Good linebacker player = Rams success?

Looking back at the history of the Los Angeles Rams linebacker position. Their successful season runs were punctuated by strong inside linebacker play. Jack Pardee and Maxie Vaughn highlighted the Rams late 60’s move to the top of the Western division, Jack Reynolds and Jim Youngblood made a ferocious tandem in the 70’s and early 80’s, Carl Ekern and Jim Collins starred in the mid/late 80’s, and at the turn of the century, London Fletcher and Mike Jones led the GSOT defenses. Even in the half-a-bubble-off-plumb Jeff Fisher years, L.A. at least had good second line play with James Laurenitis and Alec Ogletree.

In McVay’s first year, Ogletree teamed with lightening-in-a-bottle star Cory Littleton, but after that the Rams took the bargain bin approach. Sure, there were some good performances, but Mark Barron, Kenny Young, Troy Reeder, Micah Kiser, and Travin Howard were not going to cost much, nor strike much fear into opponents hearts.

Ernest Jones is primed for a breakout season, the next progression in a bright, young career. And it’s almost a necessity. The cupboard beside him is not exactly bare, but very close. Of the seven candidates to take over the WILL role he vacates, there are exactly zero NFL starts and two defensive snaps.