The Los Angeles Rams enter a crucial year when it comes to the NFL draft. With limited cap space (and limited draft picks for that matter), it’s going to be more important than ever to build depth through the draft and than means hitting on the majority of their picks.
As a new series on Downtown Rams, we’ve started “Snead’s Snacks”. In other words, we’re going to find and look at common themes and traits of previous Les Snead draft picks and see which players in the upcoming NFL Draft fit the mold for the Rams.
The focus for today’s edition of “Snead’s Snacks” will be on one of the Rams’ biggest positions of need, edge rusher.
Outside of Aaron Donald, the Los Angeles Rams have struggled to get to the quarterback over the last three seasons. The team traded Robert Quinn after 2017 which didn’t sit well with fans and the team has struggled to replace him.
In fact, if you look at the sack totals over the last two years, Donald, who plays as a 5-technique (lines up on the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle) in the Rams’ 3-4 defense, has accounted for 31.6% of the team’s sacks. Typically, players that line up at the 7 or 9 technique (inside or outside shoulder of the tight end) end up with more sacks as it’s an easier path to the quarterback. That hasn’t been the case in Los Angeles.
One year after the Rams traded Quinn, Donlad recorded 20.5 sacks. The next closest Ram had 4.5 and he also played on the defensive line – Nndamukong Suh. The team’s best “edge” rusher, Samson Ebukam, had three.
General manager Les Snead traded for Dante Fowler from the Jacksonville Jaguars and he had a career year in 2019, but his contract is up and given the team’s limited cap space as well as the demand for young pass rushers, he will most likely be out of the team’s price range.
That leaves the team with Clay Matthews, Ebukam, and Obo Okoronkwo. The Rams could easily roll with what they have but that leaves them in a situation where they were at last season on the offensive line – not a lot of proven commodities. Ebukam has never eclipsed five sacks in a season while Okoronkwo has barely seen the field.
The place to address this for the Rams will be the draft. The only question is, who will they be looking at? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. The Rams don’t have a selection in the first round, but outside of Chase Young who will go top-5, this isn’t a dominant draft in terms of edge rushers, meaning the Rams could get a top-10 edge rusher in this class in the second round.
Notable Past Rams Drafted Players
Michael Sam, DE, Mizzou – 7th Round
Size: 6’2, 261
Arm Length: 33-3/8
40-yard dash: 4.91 sec
Bench Press: 17 reps
3-cone: 7.8 sec
20-yard shuffle: 4.7 sec
Vertical: 25.5 inches
Broad Jump: 114 inches
Overview of Pick
Les Snead took over for the Rams in 2012 and the team didn’t select an edge rusher until 2014. Outside of his pre-draft coverage, Sam didn’t make a lot of noise with the Rams. He did not make the final roster. Prior to the draft, Sam was considered too small to play defensive end in a 4-3 and too slow to play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Still, he was a high-motor guy with good arm length and was the AP SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
Martin Ifedi, DE, Memphis – 7th Round
Size: 6’3, 275
Arm Length: 33-7/8
40-yard dash: 4.88 sec
Bench Press: 16 reps
3-cone: 7.39 sec
20-yard shuffle: 4.58 sec
Vertical: 31 inches
Broad Jump: 111 inches
Overview of Pick
Like Sam, Ifedi was taken in the 7th round and did not make the final roster. He was a high-motor player with good arm-length.
Samson Ebukam, LB, Eastern Washington – 4th Round
Size: 6’3, 240
Arm Length: 32-3/8
40-yard dash: 4.50 sec
Bench Press: 24 reps
3-cone: 7.07 sec
20-yard shuffle: 4.34 sec
Vertical: 39 inches
Broad Jump: 122 inches
Overview of Pick
Ebukam was an explosive athlete with significant physical traits. He was seen as a guy with speed, explosiveness, and a high motor. Had he gone to the combine his 39-inch vertical would have ranked 10th overall – two inches shy of Myles Garrett – and his 4.50-40 yard dash would have been the best among any defensive end or linebacker.
Obo Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma – 4th Round
Size: 6’2, 253
Arm Length: 33-3/4
40-yard dash: 4.77 sec
Bench Press: 27 reps
20-yard shuffle: 4.34 (Pro Day)
Vertical: 38 inches
Broad Jump: 121 inches
Overview of Pick
Okoronkwo was seen as someone who lacked the physical traits but played with good aggression and a motor. Taken on day three, the hope was that the Rams could refine him and develop him into a productive edge rusher.
Trevon Young, DE, Louisville – 6th Round
Size: 6’4, 258
Arm Length: 33-3/4
40-yard dash: 4.78 sec
Bench Press: 25 reps
3-cone: 6.99 sec
20-yard shuffle: 4.4 sec
Vertical: 33 inches
Broad Jump: 114 inches
Overview of Pick
Young was the second edge rusher that the Rams drafted in 2018. He played in a 4-3, but it was thought that a move to a standup role could benefit him. A player sho struggled with injuries, when healthy, Young was a guy with good physical traits, specifically when it came to arm length.
Justin Lawler, DE, SMU – 7th Round
Size: 6’4, 262
Arm Length: 32-1/2
40-yard dash: 5.03 sec
Bench Press: 22 reps
3-cone: 7.44 sec
20-yard shuffle: 4.46 sec
Vertical: 30.5 inches
Broad Jump: 106 inches
Overview of Pick
Lawler was a gym rat at SMU and someone with a high-motor. However, he lacked the size and athletic ability that many teams look for at the position.
Common Traits Rams Look For
Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Snead might look for in rookie edge rushers:
- Snead values a player with a high-motor. Many of these players were seen as “high-motor” guys. And while that sounds like a cliché, because quite frankly it is, it simply means Snead looks for guys that play hard and play through the whistle.
- Moreso than with the interior offensive linemen, Snead looks at physical traits and measurables when it comes to the edge rusher position. Ebukam was an elite physical specimen when it came to testing and Trevon Young had elite arm length. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.
- Speaking of arm length, this might be the biggest thing Snead looks at when it comes to measurables. Sam, Ifedi, Okoronkwo, and Young were all considered to have good arm length above 32-1/4 inches.
- While the elite edge rushers will run their 20-yard shuffles in the 4.3’s, since 2017 when the Rams moved to a 3-4 defense, each edge rusher that the Rams have selected has run a sub-4.5 20-yard shuffle. Then when you look at the 3-cone, two of the three players that the Rams have selected since making the switch have run a sub 7.1 3-cone. These two drills are relatively connected in the sense that the Rams value outside linebackers or edge rushers that have a good change in direction and are very fluid and quick in those movements.
- Developmental guys. Of the Rams draft selections on the edge, not a single player was taken before day three. That’s two fourth rounders, zero fifth-rounders, one sixth-rounder, and three seventh-round selections. If the Rams lose Fowler, will they still wait until day three? With Brandon Staley as the new defensive coordinator, it will also be curious to see what he values in the position.
2020 Players Who Fit the Rams
Because the Rams don’t select until No. 52 overall (and there’s no guarantee they will), it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to look at players ranked inside the consensus top-25 or 30.
Given the team’s history, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll take an edge rusher before day three, but given the need, there may be an exception. Most of my focus will be on day three players, but I’ll take a look at players ranked outside the top-30 that fit what the Rams are trying to do.
1) Darrell Taylor, EDGE, Tennessee
With 33 inch arms, Darrell Taylor checks the box for Les Snead. Standing at 6’4, 259, he is a bit heavier than most edge rushers that Snead has selected, but he’s a superb athlete showing the prototypical size, athleticism and length with good short-area quickness.
He’s a little unrefined as a pass-rusher, but in cases like Ebukam, we’ve seen Snead values the physical traits and measurables more than he values whether or not a player has multiple pass-rushing tools in the toolbox.
Taylor didn’t test at the combine, but his 33” arms fit Snead’s mold and given his athletic build, I would guess that he would run a sub-4.5 20-yard shuffle.
Darrell Taylor isn’t getting enough buzz. This guy has an incredibly fun combination of explosiveness in his first step and bend around the edge. His hands are really good.
I can envision him as a starting 3-4 OLB at the next level with ease.
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) February 17, 2020
He’s explosive and has shown the ability to make second-effort plays which just showcases his motor skills which is also something that Snead values.
Projection: 2nd-3rd Round
2) DJ Wonnum, EDGE, South Carolina
Given what we know about what Snead likes to draft, we’re looking at arm length, athletic traits, and high motor. That is Wonnum in a nutshell. At 6’5, 254 pounds, he blew out the measurables portion at the Senior Bowl and did so again at the combine with a 4.44 20-yard shuffle.
He has good length with 34-inch arms and is relentless wherever he plays with his effort being one of his best traits. The Gamecocks lined him up everywhere whether it be on the interior, as a standup rusher, or with his hand in the dirt.
Sleeper: DL/LB D.J. Wonnum (South Carolina, 6’ 5”, 260 Lbs). I will post a list of my honorable mentions D-Line next. Stats: (3.25 seasons) 77 Solo Tackles, 60 Asst Tackles, 137 Combined Tackles, 29.5 TFL, 14 Savks, 1 INT, 5 PD, 1 FR & 1 FF. #DJWonnum #4EDraft2020 pic.twitter.com/l906oh3UJ5
— 49er_Edits (@49er_edits) January 31, 2020
Wonnum’s short-area quickness is where it needs to be, but as I said, we’ll know more after the combine. He’s not someone who’s going to come in and start right away and reminds me a lot of John Franklin-Myers in the sense that he can lineup anywhere and start in a rotational role. He may not be flashy, but given that he has a strong combine, he should prove that he has the physical tools to develop and be a steady player.
Projection: 4th-5th Round
3) Alex Highsmith, EDGE, UNC-Charlotte
Highsmith is a small school play, but could be a real steal on day three of the draft. Not only that, but he is a physical speciman that fits the exact Snead mold. At the combine he tested with 33-1/8 inch arms and ran his 20-yard shuttle in 4.31 seconds – tied for the tenth best time among all linebackers and defensive linemen. In fact, he tested better than Iowa’s AJ Espenesa in every single drill.
The UNC-Charlotte senior has a motor that runs red-hot. He picked up 15 sacks last year and combined for 40 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, his 21.7% productivity rate was the fifth-best among edge players in this class last season. Yes, this is a player that didn’t go up against the SEC, but with Dabbo Swinney calls you “the best player they’ve seen”, it’s high praise.
Charlotte EDGE Alex Highsmith:
– Plus athleticism at OLB
– Great first step
– Pretty good bend
– Corners around the edge well
– Hot motor
– Can drop back in coverage if asked
– High Football IQ
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) March 6, 2020
Highsmith has a great first step and shows great bend and footwork that could help him develop a variety of pass-rushing tools at the next level. He needs to get stronger, but there’s no question Highsmith can develop into a productive player at the next level.
Projection: 4th-5th round
4) Tipa Galeai, EDGE, Utah State
I’ll bite on Galeai. The Rams have typically gone for players that weight above 250, but they did go for one at 240 in Ebukan because of his incredible athleticism. Galeai fits that bill. He played at 227 last year but weighed in at 235 at the combine.
He’s 6’5 and his arm length is 33-5/8 inches. This is a player with elite size and elite explosiveness. His get-off off the line might be one of the best in the class. The Rams specifically like long wingspans with their defensive backs, and while Galeai isn’t a safety he plays like one.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) November 10, 2018
As I said, he’s explosive, he’s fast, and he actually has great footwork. However, teams really seem to be turned off by his size which is understandable. Because of his size, he lacks power in his game and for an edge rusher, that is important. His game is very reminiscent of Ebukam, but with limited draft picks, is he someone Snead would want to take a chance on?