Coming into the 2023 season, it felt like this conversation was going to be inevitable. While there was some thought that an offseason of preparation would help, Michael Hoecht’s move to edge rusher simply hasn’t be working through two weeks. His experience has left the Rams susceptible on the edge and at times he’s been a liability.
Among edge rushers with at least 75 snaps this season, Hoecht ranks 57th out of 58 edge rushers on Pro Football Focus. His run defense grade ranks 56th of 58 and out of 52 edge rushers who have been utilized in coverage, Hoecht grades 51st out of 52.
Now, Pro Football Focus isn’t the end all, be all when it comes to evaluating players. With that being said, it’s still pretty easy to see that Hoecht has been one of the worst edge rushers in the NFL this season.
Through two weeks, Hoecht has consistently given up and lost contain on the edge, allowing a runner to the outside. The primary responsibility of the edge defender is to not get caught inside and to seal the edge. As the edge defender, you want to force runners back inside towards the center of the defense where the tacklers are pursuing.
On the play below, the 49ers run a simple end around with a fake to Christian McCaffrey. Brock Purdy hands the ball to Deebo Samuel and Hoecht goes under George Kittle, giving up the outside. This play is fine if Hoecht is playing as the 3T or 5T. However, as the edge defender, that’s a play and a mistake that he can’t make.
How long until the Rams sign or trade for an edge rusher? pic.twitter.com/6Q2oKcB8si— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) September 22, 2023
Plays like the one above are much of the reason why Hoecht is graded so poorly in run defense. Now, it’s worth noting that Byron Young also needs improvement as a run defender. The difference here is that Young is a rookie that is learning to play the edge defender position at the NFL level. Hoecht is learning to play the edge defender position in general.
Of course, it hasn’t all been bad for Hoecht. There are plays in which he contains the edge fine. The issue is the consistency. At what point do you move Hoecht back to a position that he’s more comfortable with and has had success? Is there a point in this experiment where the Rams either sign a legitimate edge defender that’s available or even try someone like Nick Hampton in that spot?
It's not all bad for Hoecht as he has some good moments like the play below. However, Rams may still be forced to make a move at that spot. pic.twitter.com/PvG9gPzxWd— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) September 22, 2023
Again, this isn’t to say that Hoecht is a bad player. However, his fit on the edge may just not be working and that’s ok. His more natural position is on the defensive line as a 3-tech or 5-tech.
Containing the edge and being asked to drop back into coverage just aren’t his strengths. In coverage, he’s one of two edge defenders to allow four catches on four targets this season. He’s a player that opposing offense are targeting.
Right now, the Rams sit at 1-1 with a game against the Cincinnati Bengals coming up on Monday Night Football. Let’s say that the Rams hypothetically win that game as Joe Burrow isn’t healthy and then defeat the Indianapolis Colts to move to 3-1 the following week. If the Rams are more competitive than originally thought, should they consider making a move to sign or trade for an edge rusher?
It’s still early and we only have two weeks of data. An offense like the 49ers is difficult for any edge rusher, let along an inexperienced one. However, that’s also part of the problem. It’s not going to get any easier from here and can it be expected for the position just to all of a sudden “click” for Hoecht at some point during the season?
This is something that the Rams will have to continue to monitor week to week. Right now, the Hoecht experiment at edge isn’t working and at some point, the Rams may need to improvise at that spot.