The Los Angeles Rams’ biggest position of question this offseason is outside linebacker. The player that they traded for in mid-2018 and subsequently signed to a one-year deal, Dante Fowler Jr, is a free agent and could be leaving. Behind Fowler, there’s a lot of unproven talent and older veterans; a ton is riding on the fact the Rams can score in free agency or have hidden talent behind the scenes.
The Rams can take many different paths with the position group and with so many names to sift through, their position is not something to envy.
DANTE FOWLER JR.
Current Contract Status: UFA
Dante Fowler vs. Cory Littleton is a popular argument amongst the Rams fanbase. It is an argument for a reason: one is talented, in his prime, and put up the best numbers of his career in 2019; the other is practically a mirror image of production. Both Littleton and Fowler put up great numbers last season and in Fowler’s case, he made himself into a great EDGE compliment to Aaron Donald’s presence on former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defensive line.
Fowler resurrected his career in Los Angeles with the Rams after his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars started with a string of bad luck and subpar play. In 2019, Fowler racked up 11.5 sacks, 58 tackles, 16 QB hits and 16 tackles for loss. He also had 35 pressures on the year.
If the Rams want to have some steady play on the defensive line, and provide new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley with pass-rushing weapons, re-signing Fowler should be atop the team’s to-do list.
Current Contract Status: Rams through 2021
Samson Ebukam could be a starter again at outside linebacker next season. A statement like that can be brash, and the Rams have an entire free agency cycle and draft season to go through, but it could be a reality. As of today, if the Rams do indeed let Dante Fowler Jr. go the assumed starter to replace him would be Ebukam.
In 2019, Ebukam only started five games but had somewhat of a productive year. He finished the season with 47 tackles, five tackles for loss, and ten quarterback hits with 15 QB pressures. Ebukam was a rotational piece at most and played more of a Morgan Fox-type of role (super sub) but he was able to put up an adequate stat line. When he started, Ebukam racked up 40 tackles, 26 pressures, 19 hurries and three sacks.
In 2020, Ebukam should either see the exact same role or less (Obo Okoronkwo come-up, rookies, free agent signings, etc.) or he will see his starting job come back to fruition.
Current Contract Status: Rams through 2022
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has been nothing but a folk hero for the Los Angeles Rams. In 2019 he was inactive for six games of the year and in the ten games he played in he was mostly dormant. During a mini hot-streak near week eight of the year, Okoronkwo played an average of 20 defensive snaps and had 1.5 sacks and 4 pressures. Other than that, he was mostly a sub-package player who got action with injuries and during blowouts/garbage-time.
In 2020, however, he could be asked to do a lot more, especially if Fowler leaves in free agency and the Rams want to see what “Obo” can do when fully healthy and involved on defense.
With adequate snaps and when used in the right situations, he has shown flashes of being a disruptive EDGE presence. So if Sean McVay, Brandon Staley and rest of the Rams’ coaching staff believe he’s the best fit, Obo could be getting a lot more run in 2020.
Note: Staley’s background is coaching 3-4 OLB’s, most recently All-Pros Von Miller and Kalil Mack, so Ebukam and Okoronkwo should be his personal projects.
Current Contract Status: Rams through 2020
Big Ol’ Clay Matthews was a defining defensive player for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. When he was signed, most fans didn’t expect a ton of production. Matthews proved a ton of people wrong, and still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Matthews’ eight sacks were impressive, but even more so when you consider his three games missed with a broken jaw (most of us mortals would still be laid up in bed). He finished the year with 28 pressures and 11 quarterback hits to go along with his eight sacks and 37 total tackles.
He may not be the dominant player he once was, but Matthews is still an impact player, whether you credit Aaron Donald for his success or not. He has earned the right to man one of the OLB positions as long as he is not a cap casualty ($5.75M cap hit).
Current Contract Status: Rams through 2021
Natrez Patrick played a total of 14 snaps in 2019. He was active for only 12 games, and he didn’t do much when he got time on the field. Patrick was used as an extra body and the 23-year-old will either find a way to get more of a role or he will be playing the extra body role once again in 2020.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENT ACQUISITIONS:
Jamie Collins, New England Patriots
Jaime Collins has become somewhat of an undervalued name in the linebacker market, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a force. Collins is now a full year away from a 100-tackle season and he made 80 of them in 2019 with the Patriots. Last year, he picked off three passes and had seven sacks and ten tackles for loss. He was a force for that team all around the field.
Collins was on the books for $2 million with New England and was a steal at that price, one of the bargains of the league. If Collins commits to a deal with a tad higher yearly AAV he will be a productive piece in a good defense. The Rams should at least take a look at what he wants.
Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bud Dupree might have put himself up for a large payday this offseason. Across the country, so did Dante Fowler Jr. The Rams will have themselves a plethora of outside linebackers to pick from on the market this offseason and if they let Fowler walk, Dupree could be the man to fill his shoes. If Fowler stays, Dupree could be a great compliment piece if the money were to work.
Dupree finished his 2019 with 11.5 sacks and 28 pressures to go along with his 68 tackles and 16 tackles for loss. He was a force in the backfield, one of the best in the league. Where Dupree failed to succeed was in pass defense (87% comp. percentage, 9.6 yards/comp.) which would be a secondary concern for the Rams if they were to sign Dupree this offseason.
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