LA Rams Pass Rush Is Gambling On Youth
Last season the LA Rams brought in Ndamukong Suh to team up with newly signed leviathan Aaron Donald to create the most fearsome inside pass rush in recent memory. That gambit didn’t exactly pan out as Suh put it on cruise control until the playoffs. Whether it was veteran savvy or a craven push for a contract is in the eye of the beholder.
What is clear is that the Rams weren’t going to repeat the same strategy this year. Not only did they not re-sign Suh but they declined to pursue other veteran rushers such as Muhammad Wilkerson or Ezekiel Ansah. Instead, they made one major addition to the pass rush in veteran linebacker Clay Matthews and are mainly relying on youth to carry that unit. It’s a worthy gambit that if it pays off, it gives the Rams a cost controlled unit that could dominate for years to come.
Dante Fowler Jr.
The other pass rusher added to the Rams defensive line rotation was former first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler was traded for a third-round pick at the deadline after their youth movement struggled early in the season. He had his moments for sure, especially in the playoffs but Fowler didn’t look like a long term fit. That can either be chalked up to him entering the season so late and struggling to master Wade Phillips’ scheme or confirms why he failed to crack the rotation in Jacksonville. The latter reason is slightly understandable given the ungodly talent Jacksonville possessed but his failure to make an impact speaks to the idea that he was a bust after being taken third overall.
The Rams decided to roll the dice and re-sign Fowler to a one-year deal and see what happens if given a full training camp. If he isn’t the answer he’s only on the books for one year ($12 million) and that frees up space next season. If it does pay off then they’ve found themselves a long term replacement for when Clay Matthews‘ watch ends.
The Rams threw a lot of young players at the wall in search of a pass rush and when the dust settled Franklin-Myers emerged as a player to watch in 2019. He didn’t generate any major stats in his rookie season. His six tackles and two sacks aren’t anything to write home about but it’s when he made those plays that matter. He registered one of his two sacks in the Super Bowl and two of his tackles in that game and the NFC Championship.
This again might not signal him as the prince that was promised but it does point to the fact that he was given the opportunity to contribute in big moments. The Rams lacked a pass rush off the edge and he has all the tools to breathe life into that unit. The spot next to Donald and Michael Brockers (more on him later) is wide open and Franklin-Myers could be the one to win the job by the end of camp.
Last year’s fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma missed all of training camp and basically all of last season with a foot injury. Like fellow former Sooner Blake Griffin, he will get another shot at a rookie season. Coming out of college he was widely praised for his raw athleticism and tackling ability. It isn’t clear how much he was able to absorb mentally during his lost season but if he can come into camp healthy and continues to absorb Wade’s scheme he could be a major contributor next year. His athleticism is the type that can give their pass rush the Shazam-style jolt they desperately need.
Gaines was selected in the fourth-round this season and the rookie out of Washington isn’t the most athletic out of this group but he’s got a great motor. He does need to develop more pass rushing moves but it’s likely he still finds a spot in the rotation on the inside. He’s got a lot of power and can be useful especially in run situations. Like the above players, he’s not only competing for a spot in the rotation but he’s also competing to take Brockers’ spot if the Rams either cut him in the summer or choose not to re-sign him next year.
Aside from Fowler, the Rams have to make a decision on Brockers. He counts for $10 mil against the cap this year and while he’s been a solid starter he’s still expendable. If the Rams decide to keep him for the long haul then they’ll still have a group of young guys to build a solid rotation a la the ’07 Giants. With Aaron Donald anchoring everything upfront, the Rams pass rush should still be dominant and if any of their young players hit then the rest of the NFC will live in fear for many years to come.