The Los Angeles Rams have an edge rusher problem. Through two weeks of the preseason, the Rams edge rushers have a combined seven pressures according to Pro Football Focus. Five of those seven pressures have come from Keir Thomas who was an undrafted free agent last season. Daniel Hardy and Nick Hampton each have one apiece to make up the last two.
Generating pressure off of the edge has been a problem for the Rams this preseason. Say what you want about PFF grades, but the Rams pass rush grade currently ranks 24th. The scary part is, the players on the field are very likely to be the ones who are starting or playing a significant amount in Week 1.
In 32 preseason snaps, Michael Hoecht hasn’t generated a single pressure. It’s worth noting that Byron Young did have a sack in his debut that was called back due to a facemask penalty. Still, in 23 snaps, he doesn’t have a pressure and didn’t play against the Raiders for resting purposes.
Out of the 138 edge rushers with at least 30 snaps this preseason, the Rams only have one player with a pass-rush grade in the top-40. Meanwhile, they have two in the bottom-15, including Hoecht. Hampton is only ranked 90th. Again, take PFF grades with a grain of salt. However, the film will also show the Rams’ ineffectiveness rushing the passer this preseason.
Having Aaron Donald on the field in Week 1 will certainly help. It will still be up to the Rams’ young pass rushers to win their one-on-one matchups which is something that they aren’t doing currently.
With the relative ineffectiveness in the preseason, this has led some to suggest that the Rams should bring in a veteran pass rusher. However, given the current market and the Rams current team-build, that seems very unlikely.
Here’s what head coach Sean McVay said during training camp about the idea of bringing in a veteran pass rusher,
“Because we have got so many young guys at that position that are really competing, it was something that we talked about but I think just based on the landscape of the roster and the way that we ended up drafting three players from that position you had some other young guys, did not want to go that direction and then there was some limitations in terms of alright, what are you able to do and what kind of player are you able to really bring in at a position like that?”
Following the loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1 of the preseason, McVay added,
“Well I think you want to continue to evaluate...And so there was a lot of things that came out of last night that we can really do a good job of communicating and emphasizing some of the areas of improvement. And there’s a lot of guys that are continuing to learn on the fly and I’m not going to make that a crutch or an excuse, but I do think that the evaluation process is something that we’ll continue to utilize in those experiences with the practices and the preseason games. But if there’s a guy out there that we feel like fits based on our cash and cap, kind of some of the restrictions there, I would definitely say you never say never. But those are hard things to be able to find, especially as it relates to those positions.”
McVay didn’t necessarily shoot the idea down, but he also laid out some of the restrictions in terms of their limited cap space that they’re working with and someone that can make an impact is going to be hard to find at this point in the offseason.
Just over the past two weeks, the edge market has gotten much more thin than it already was heading into the preseason. Justin Houston signed with the Carolina Panthers and Jadeveon Clowney joined the Baltimore Ravens. Robert Quinn would have been an option, but following some legal troubles, he’s ruled out at this point as well.
Players like Carlos Dunlap, Akiem Hicks, and Mario Addison are available, but as veterans near the end of their careers, they’re likely looking to join a contender rather than a potential rebuild situation. However, even those guys aren’t going to have that much an impact. Between those three players, they combined for six sacks last season. That’s six sacks between three players.
This is the path that the Rams chose. They chose to release Leonard Floyd and not bring him back on a lower contract. Floyd currently has a cap-hit of $2.6M with the Buffalo Bills this season.
By cutting Floyd and not signing another veteran edge rusher, the Rams have chosen to give their young, inexperienced edge rushers game experience this year. With nearly $70M in cap space next year, they’ll have the option of potentially signing a top edge rusher in what looks to be a very good free agent class. The 2024 free agent edge class is set to be led by Chase Young, Josh Allen, Brian Burns, Montez Sweat, Josh Uche, and others. The Rams will certainly be monitoring who re-signs, but as of now, it looks to be a very good class.
If the Rams don’t decide to sign a veteran edge rusher, they’ll have the option of potentially drafting one in the first round. Additionally, Les Snead has shown that he isn’t afraid of making a blockbuster trade for a premiere position.
The path that the Rams chose isn’t necessarily the wrong path. We’ll know over the next few years whether or not allowing the current rookie class to develop as the EDGE2 and bringing in a top player next season ends up paying off.
This is all to say that, yes, the Rams do need a veteran edge rusher and someone to show the young guys the ropes. James Hall was exactly that to former Rams number two overall pick, Chris Long. Long said at the time,
“I’ve probably learned more from James than anybody since I’ve been in the league. He’s just a professional. You learn how to have fun playing the game learn to play within yourself and at the same time work extremely hard, how to study film, study your opponent, learn to play within yourself.”
Hall was 31-years old at the time and was signed the year before from the Detroit Lions. That’s something that the Rams are missing. Hoecht remains the most experienced edge rusher on the roster and he just picked up the position last year. However, this type of move goes against the Rams current team-build and is much different than the signing of Ahkello Witherspoon or John Johnson III.
The edge rusher position has shown its youth in the preseason. Don’t expect the Rams to add a veteran to the roster at that position anytime soon.