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The 5 best options to replace Raheem Morris as the Rams defensive coordinator

Who are the five best options to replace Raheem Morris as the Rams defensive coordinator?

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Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams are currently in the market for a new defensive coordinator. With Raheem Morris getting hired by the Atlanta Falcons, head coach Sean McVay will be putting together a list of defensive coordinator candidates. It’s possible that McVay simply hires from within, but history suggests that the Rams coach will look outside the building to try and bring in a fresh set of ideas. Below are the five best candidates to replace Morris as the Rams defensive coordinator.

1. Dennard Wilson - Ravens Defensive Backs Coach

Wilson is an intriguing name as he was someone that McVay opted not to retain when he was hired by the Rams in 2017. Now the defensive backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens, Wilson started his career in St. Louis with the Rams where he was a quality control coach and then promoted defensive backs coach.

Over the past two seasons, Wilson has coached the Ravens and Eagles defensive backs. The Eagles had the number one pass defense via DVOA last season, and this year, the Ravens have the number one pass defense. With those credentials, he deserves a coordinator opportunity. He’s coached under Gregg Williams, Todd Bowles, Jonathan Gannon, and Mike MacDonald. Vic Fangio was a defensive consultant with the Eagles in 2022 and it’s possible Wilson picked some things up from him as well.

Last January Wilson said,

“Look, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve been around some great defensive coordinators in my opinion. I’ve been groomed by Gregg Williams, I’ve been groomed by Todd Bowles, who are very good in this league and are very thorough. So I’ve been tutored by them...I know how to run a ship, I know the responsibilities. If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be more than ready for it.

Wilson has a diverse background and proven record. With a Williams and Bowles background, there may be a more aggressive style here as well.

2. Jim Leonhard - Illinois Senior Football Analyst

Leonhard is a coach that McVay has shown interest in during past hiring cycles. McVay showed interest in Leonhard back in 2020, but the team ended up going with Brandon Staley instead. Leonhard has gotten some interest from the Green Bay Packers to fill the spot left by Joe Barry after the two sides parted ways following their divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The former Wisconsin defensive coordinator spent last year as a Senior Football Analyst at Illinois. However, he’s seen as one of the top young defensive minds in football. In Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator, Wisconsin was ranked among the nation’s top five in total defense and top-10 in scoring four times.

Formerly a safety in the NFL, Leonhard would likely bring some of the same concepts with Cover 3 and pattern matching that the Rams currently run, but would have his own twist. According to The Athletic, Wisconsin ran a 3-4 with a 2-4-5 system when operating out of the nickel package. In 2023, 27 percent of the Rams’ plays came in a 2-4-5. This is also similar to what the Rams ran in 2021 during their Super Bowl run.

3. Christian Parker - Broncos Defensive Backs Coach

Parker is only 32 years old, but is getting some coordinator traction already. He will be interviewing with the New England Patriots for their opening coordinator job. Despite being just 32, he’s one of the bright up-and-coming defensive minds in the NFL. Parker has survived three coaching staffs and three different defensive systems. He started with the Broncos under Vic Fangio and then coached under Ejiro Evero in 2022. Parker was retained by Sean Payton and coached under Vance Joseph last season.

Nick Kosmider of The Athletic said of Parker,

“He has held that role (secondary coach) under three head coaches — and three defensive coordinators — since joining Vic Fangio’s staff in 2021. You don’t stick through that much turnover without being a well-respected assistant, and that is true of Parker among his fellow coaches and the players he instructs. He has been instrumental in developing young defensive backs on Denver’s roster, from Pat Surtain and Ja’Quan McMillian to P.J. Locke and Riley Moss, whose work behind the scenes this season has the Broncos excited about the 2023 third-round pick’s future in the league...Vance Joseph continuously praised Parker for helping bridge the language gap as the Broncos tried to incorporate aspects of the 2022 defense they ran under Ejiro Evero with what they were implementing under Joseph.”

If McVay were to go to more of a bold hire route and still stick with the Fangio-based scheme, Parker may be the best fit. Parker might end up being the next best thing to an Ejiro Evero and could be exactly what the Rams need as they rebuild their secondary. As a younger coach, he may also be able to relate to the young players on the roster. McVay stays in-tune with the coaching landscape and Parker could be someone on his radar.

4. Aubrey Pleasant - Rams Defensive Backs Coach

If the Rams hire internally, the favorite would most definitely be Aubrey Pleasant. Pleasant goes way back with McVay to their time in Washington and was formerly the cornerbacks coach from 2017-2020 with the Rams. He left the team in 2021 to explore other opportunities after being passed over for the open defensive coordinator position that was filled by Morris. Pleasant spent a year and a half with the Detroit Lions before getting fired midway through his second season.

Colton Pouncy of The Athletic wrote about the Lions’ decision to move on from Pleasant, saying,

“Campbell said he made the decision Monday morning following Sunday’s loss. Based on his comments Monday, though, this has been building for a few weeks. He called it an accumulation of things. Detroit’s defense has allowed the sixth-most passing yards per game and an NFL-worst 32.1 points per game. He called it a ‘production-based business.’ He said he wants the message relayed a little better, adding that the secondary and coaches need to be on the same page and cut mental errors in half...Campbell said firing Pleasant ‘was a tough decision,’ but added: ‘We’re in a production-based business and after seven weeks, it felt like this change needed to be made.’”

Pleasant was brought back this past season as the defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator. While he is a well-respected coach, it’s fair to wonder what new twists he would bring as the defensive coordinator. The Lions and Rams secondaries both struggled under Pleasant in each of his past three seasons. However, both groups also lacked talent. Given the respect that he has among the players and staff, it may be his job to lose.

5. Ejiro Evero - Panthers Defensive Coordinator

Before getting too deep here with Evero, it is worth noting that he technically isn’t available. Evero is currently under contract with the Carolina Panthers. Because of that caveat, unless new head coach Dave Canales decides not to retain Evero, the Panthers could and likely would block any requests for him to interview for another defensive coordinator position. In fact, it’s something that they’ve already done this offseason. Unless it’s a promotion, the Panthers have the authority to block Evero from interviewing elsewhere.

Still, it’s an intriguing fit. Evero was with the Rams from 2017 to 2021 as the safeties and secondary coach. Over the past two seasons, he’s been one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. It’s only a matter of time before he’s a head coach. The connection is clearly there and he brings a Fangio-based scheme that McVay likes. Unfortunately, Evero simply may not be an option.

Honorable Mentions

  • Brandon Staley - Former Chargers HC
  • Jimmy Lake - Rams Assistant Head Coach
  • Joe Barry - Former Packers Defensive Coordinator
  • Chris Shula - Rams Linebackers Coach

There will be other names thrown out there like Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera, and Wink Martindale. Unfortunately for Belichick, he still has an ego and isn’t going to go from being arguably the greatest head coach of all-time to coordinator. Martindale is an interesting name, but his defense may be too aggressive for what McVay wants his defense to look like.

Staley is an obvious a name to watch as he was the former defensive coordinator with the Rams in 2020. However, he should come with a buyer beware warning label. With the Chargers, the front office spent on the defense, it was Staley’s scheme, and it was him calling the plays. Over the past two years, the Chargers had one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

Joe Barry is someone that McVay respects and was the assistant head coach for the Rams from 2017-2020. However, his time with the Green Bay Packers is concerning. The Packers never ranked higher than 19th in defense EPA. Lake and Shula may be other candidates for internal promotions. Shula has experience all over the Rams defense and Lake was brought in this offseason as the assistant head coach, but has a coordinator background at Washington in 2018 and 2019.