Gone are household names in Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, and Leonard Floyd, though Aaron Donald remains the lone star on the Rams defense. Ascending young players such as Jordan Fuller, Cobie Durant, Jordan Fuller, Bobby Brown, and Michael Hoecht will be thrust into key roles—what they make of the opportunity remains to be seen.
Then there are the new faces, which doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for Los Angeles. Tre Tomlinson, in part with Durant, could take over the slot corner role that has previously been held by two savvy veterans: Ramsey and long-time Ram Troy Hill. Kobie Turner—selected by LA in the third round of April’s NFL Draft—could overtake Marquise Copeland and Jonah Williams and carve out meaningful playing time as a rookie. Edge defender Byron Young may be limited to obvious passing downs as a situational pass rusher early on, but there are plenty of snaps up for grabs at outside linebacker.
While a surplus of fresh faces brings a great deal of uncertainty to the Rams defense, “new” does not necessarily mean “bad”. There are very real reasons why LA had to move on from their high-priced veterans this offseason.
Leonard Floyd’s price tag no longer matched his production—and his stark inconsistency seemed to wear on the coaching staff. Ramsey’s contract had little guaranteed money remaining, and the Miami Dolphins re-worked his deal shortly after acquiring him. Bobby Wagner can be effective as a run-stopper and inside pass rusher, but those skillsets no longer offset him being a liability in pass coverage. Terrell Lewis and Justin Hollins were cut mid-season last year after they couldn’t hack it as a starting duo at OLB. David Long is now a Las Vegas Raider after not being able to put it all together as a starting corner in LA.
There’s no telling how the Rams defense will come together in 2023. Perhaps they could be one of the worst units in the league and play a significant part in helping Los Angeles earn a top draft pick. It’s almost certain that the newcomers will face growing pains at times, but maybe they can pull it together to help a resurgent offense reach the playoffs and defy the odds. Whether the outcome is good or bad, the experience the young faces on defense earn along the way will pay dividends when the team gears up for a return to contention in 2024.
So if you’re starting to get nervous amount the lack of veterans on the Rams defense this year, just remember that “new” does not necessarily mean “bad”—though catastrophic results are within the realm of possible outcomes.