Projected starters for the 2020 Los Angeles Rams defense

Projected starters for the 2020 Los Angeles Rams defense

  • Defense
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • NFL
By Raul Corona September 4, 2020 0 Comment
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As the NFL season draws closer and teams get ready to trim down their rosters to 53 players, let’s take a look at who are the projected starters for the 2020 Los Angeles Rams defense

New Defensive Coordinator

First things first, gone is coordinator Wade Phillips, a legendary defensive mastermind who coached some of the best defenses of all time. The move came as somewhat of a shock after two very successful seasons under Phillips and a disappointing 2019. The main reason: consistency.

The Rams defense under Phillips was the very definition of mercurial.

They kept games close when the offense failed to click (NFC Championship 2018 and Super Bowl LIII). Then performed well against decent offenses in 2019 (Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland). Finally they were downright awful against others (Baltimore, Dallas, vs SF), best exemplified by the 55 points allowed vs Tampa Bay in 2019, at home.

McVay then decided to part ways with Phillips and bring in some young unproven talent (much like his own story) to revitalize the defense. Enter Brandon Staley, former linebacker coach for the Denver Broncos, hailing from the Vic Fangio coaching tree.

Staley’s approach has been described as aggressive by safety John Johnson and more active than reactive.

Players have mentioned that Staley is “like the McVay of the defense“, with Jalen Ramsey adding that “nobody’s done what I’ll be asked to do“. So maybe, just maybe, we can anticipate a new defense that takes the league by storm.

Whatever it may be, the defense will still play a 3 -4 formation but expect to see different looks by using a nickelback /slot cornerback – a position in which the Rams have great depth.

Let’s breakdown the projected starters for the 2020 Los Angeles Rams defense:

Defensive Line

It all starts with defensive end/tackle Aaron Donald. The most dominant player in the league in the last 3 or 4 years. He will likely be moved around the line in order to create mismatches and wreak havoc, drawing double and triple teams.

Veteran defensive tackle Michael Brockers also returns after almost leaving for Baltimore in free agency. Brockers’ contributions to this defense are usually overlooked by Donald’s success but he is a stout run defender. He provides great leadership in the locker room, the Rams are lucky to have him back.

A’Shawn Robinson would have been the starter at the nose tackle position but he has been ruled out with a cardiovascular condition. He may not even be able to make the roster if the Rams think he will not be back before week 8.

Therefore, the nose tackle position will feature Sebastian Joseph-Day who made contributions last year. But he will need to step up his game and take advantage of all the attention garnered by AD99.

The defensive line will exert pressure consistently on the quarterback but struggle to defend the rush. Neither Joseph-Day nor Greg Gaines are true nose tackles. The Rams will have to rely on stacking the box when things get ugly down in the trenches and trust their secondary.

Linebackers

The outside linebackers are pretty much set. Leonard Floyd will start at left-outside linebacker, he was recently acquired in free agency and worked previously with Staley in Chicago.

Samson Ebukam who has been with the Rams since 2017, will be the starter at right-side linebacker. The backups at OLB are Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and rookie Terrell Lewis.

Both Floyd and Ebukam are good, talented players. But in order to get a consistent pass rush, Floyd will have to win his matchups. That will leave Ebukam to play a more traditional cover role.

The two inside linebacker spots are somewhat uncertain and are the team’s Achilles’ heel. Micah Kiser will almost certainly be the starter at the first inside linebacker position. Kiser missed all of last year with a torn pectoral and has played very few snaps in the NFL.

The second inside linebacker spot is hard to predict. Travin Howard was having a great camp but now he is out for the whole year following a torn meniscus.

It will likely be a toss-up between Kenny Young and Troy Reeder, the latter gets the nod because he played well last year when plugged into the starting line up. However, do not be surprised if Young is the starter after a few games.

If Kiser does not turn into a liability then this Rams defense might have a shot at being one of the league’s best. The other starting linebacker will not see much playing time due to the aforementioned nickel packages.

The Secondary

The Rams secondary has the potential to be scary. Led by one of the few true shutdown cornerbacks today, Jalen Ramsey. The other cornerback spot will feature Troy Hill who bounced back last year and played tremendously in the final stretch, earning a mention as the 20th best cornerback in the league by pro football focus.

At free safety, the Rams will be employing John Johnson III, after losing Eric Weddle to retirement. Johnson is one the best up-and-coming safeties in the game. Last year he was playing at a pro bowl level before suffering an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Manning the strong safety spot will be Taylor Rapp, an outstanding second-year player who excelled last season after recording 90 tackles and a pair of interceptions.

Rapp could also be used as a slot cornerback along with rookie Terrell Burgess, a player who has been turning heads at camp by making plays against the first-team offense and just might end up being the team’s breakout player.

If the reports from camp are accurate, then this might be a group that should be the team’s strength going forward.

Outlook: The Rams defense has the talent and personnel to become a top 10 defense but it all hinges on a group of unproven linebackers who might not be up for the task. Can two of the best defensive players make up for the lack of talent at other positions?

Starters:

DE/DT: Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers

NT: Sebastian Joseph-Day

OLB: Leonard Floyd, Samson Ebukam

ILB: Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder

CB: Jalen Ramsey, Troy Hill

Slot/Nickel: Terrell Burgess

SS: Taylor Rapp

FS: John Johnson

Projected starters for the 2020 Los Angeles Rams defense


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