Rams Pre-Draft Needs
The biggest area of concern of the Rams defense--in fact probably the only concern--is the Los Angeles Rams linebacking core. The veteran leader of this group, Alec Ogletree, was traded to the New York Giants, and as this is written, Connor Barwin remains a free agent. Many people expected that Mark Barron would be released, but so far that hasn't occurred. A converted safety who many considered undersized for a 3-4 linebacker weighing about 225 pounds, he did have his moments in 2017, but his future with the Rams still seems somewhat in doubt.
I personally believe that Samson Ebukam, Cooper Kupp’s former teammate at Eastern Washington University, does have an huge upside. Ebukam is a freakish athlete, and at 6'3” and 240 pounds, he had been timed at 4.45 seconds in the 40 yard dash, posting times faster than many wide receivers. I thought he played well last season when he stepped in for Barwin.
Corey Littleton, another returning linebacker, may see a increased role, made a name for himself on special teams by blocking three punts last season. Bryce Hager, who did a reasonable job of filling in for Ogletree last season when Ogletree was out injured, is another option at the inside linebacker position.
These players by committee, you would prefer to see increased size linebackers, and not to mention increased experience, as Hager is listed at 237 pounds and Littleton at 225 pounds. The Rams had issues stopping the run last season and may benefit by at least one or two linebackers with a little heft.
James Harrison, would be a good fit free agent, but at this point, it's an open question of how much he has left in the tank. Another proven veteran Navarro Bowman, too remains as a free agent, but the Oakland Raiders are rumored to be close to resigning him to another deal.
As the Rams traded away their high draft picks, they may be looking for a "sleeper" in this 2018 NFL Draft. Then again, Wade Phillips has a well-deserved reputation as a defensive genius. Perhaps he can get enough out of the guys on the roster to make this work. After all, this team is absolutely stacked on the defensive line and in the defensive secondary.
The starting unit here is fine, in fact is very good, but depth can be of some concern. You could make an argument for left tackle Andrew Whitworth as the team's MVP last season, as he protected Jared Goff's blind side and helped turn what had been a disaster area into a team’s strength. Whitworth at the 36 years of age, is no spring chicken by NFL standards.
Rodger Saffold, starting left guard was very good as well. On the right side of the line, despite a so-so preseason, tackle Rob Havenstein and guard Jamon Brown did everything asked of them and more. Havenstein, in fact, played well as the New York Giants were reportedly asking for him as part of a trade package for Odell Beckham Jr. The Rams also re-signed center John Sullivan, keeping the entire 2017 offensive line intact for the 2018.
If everyone remains healthy as last season, no problem at this phase. But this is the NFL, and you can't count on that not happening. This group mostly avoided injury last year, we don't really know much about the new reserves. Presumably this will be a targeted area going into the draft to address the need.
Depth At Running Back
OK, I admit, I hate to point this out, in fact, I hate to even imagine the the thought. But if...heaven forbids..Todd Gurley is injured, the Rams may have a huge problem. I mean a HUGE problem.
Reserved running back Malcolm Brown, is fine in short yardage situations and as a change of pace back, but he is a bit of a plodder. I could be wrong, but I just don't believe he can be a quality featured back.
Former USC star Justin Davis is a breakaway threat....but he also seems to be extremely fumble prone, judging from his preseason performances. Tavon Austin saw action at running back last year as well, but I don't think anyone sees him as anything more than a gadget in the backfield. The problem here, as with linebacking woes and offensive line, is that with the lack of top draft choices, it's hard to project a guy that really could fill Gurley's shoes, should the need arises. Perhaps our scouts have identified a draftee they like, and expect to be available in the lower rounds. Let's remain optimistic of the fact, and keep our fingers crossed.
The overall look of this 2018 Rams team shows that this team is loaded with talent.This The Rams may indeed have the best secondary in the league, and if there is a better defensive line than Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers, I don't know where to find one. As I mentioned above, with a lack of size and experience at linebacker may be an issue...but hey we have Wade Phillips, who has forgotten more about coaching defenses than most coaches will ever know. If he is comfortable with these players, I’m certainly not worried. If not....well, there are still free agents and draft as it approaches.
On offense, once again this unit is explosively loaded with talent, barring injury. Todd Gurley is probably the best running back in the league in my opinion. The addition of Brandin Cooks to the receiving corps is an upgrade over Sammy Watkins, and the O-line is among the league's best. Jared Goff will only get better as the season progresses, and it's almost scary to think what Sean McVay will be able to do with another year under his belt. Possibly expected to have even better talent than last year.
This is a team that led the league in scoring in 2017, and there is no reason to think they won't repeat and content.
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