The Los Angeles Rams are undergoing a defensive scheme and regime change. With that being said, former Pro Bowl starting inside linebacker Cory Littleton has departed via free agency. That leaves the Rams set to start Micah Kiser, a former fifth-round pick and one of their young crop of inexperienced talent. While the Rams have talent and potential at the position, one could make the argument that they will need to look in the NFL Draft early on for a replacement to Littleton.
That replacement could very well be Mississippi State linebacker, Willie Gay Jr.
Willie Gay Jr. was the top defensive recruit coming out Mississippi. His true freshman season he was a backup linebacker and appeared on special teams. The following season Gay Jr. started six games and then the next year in his junior season he played in five games but was suspended by the team due to violation of team rules which cost him eight games.
Gay Jr. is a very athletic linebacker who ran the second-fastest 40-time at the NFL combine. He has great speed which is coupled with his great 243-pound frame that packs a punch. The overall suddenness in his game allows him to be a part of most plays. He has the ability to come in hot as an explosive and aggressive blitzer. A violent tackler that is able to finish and rarely misses his mark. Has true chase-down ability to stick with the play and make a punch on the ball to force a turnover. Ideal coverage instincts which is displayed in his ability to break on a ball and cut off short and intermediate throws. He displays full-on sideline-to-sideline range and has enormous potential.
Gay Jr. lacks consistent production during his time in college. He doesn’t prefer to power through blocks and instead tries to avoid them. He gets hung up at times on blockers and will get blocked out of a play. He needs to take better angles on his pathway to the ball. Gay Jr. does have a red flag for an eight-game suspension due to a violation of team rules. We don’t know the nature of what happened but that is never going to slip by as anything less than a red flag heading into the draft process. While he has a high ceiling, he’s behind the other inside backers in this class due to his lack of starting experience. He has a tendency to get overzealous as compensation for his lateness on a run. Gay Jr. does take a few too many false steps or unnecessary maneuvers on the field. The football IQ is behind others in his class due to his lack of experience which makes him a bit raw in that regard.
Three Plays on Tape
Willie Gay Jr. had missed some games due to suspension. So, he comes back against Kentucky & on the first play he grabs a pick 6. Great display of his overall athleticism. He peeks before the snap and sees what the TE is doing pre-snap. He reads him and reads the QB. Boom. Pick 6 pic.twitter.com/LIkGKxO0s7
— JAKE OLIVER ELLENBOGEN (@JKBogenDTR) April 2, 2020
Willie Gay is an intriguing ILB from Miss. State. He ran the second-fastest 40-time at the combine behind only Isaiah Simmons. Gay displays that on a chase down tackle here that ends up jarring the ball loose. He plays as fast as his 40-time. He's raw but I'm intrigued. pic.twitter.com/T8d2HE2ruQ
— JAKE OLIVER ELLENBOGEN (@JKBogenDTR) March 30, 2020
It would be irresponsible to call Willie Gay Jr. the biggest boom or bust prospect in this draft but here’s a guy you are looking at that has one of the top athletic profiles in the draft, is one of the few off-field issues-ridden players in the draft and doesn’t have much starting experience compared to his peers in this draft. So, in a sense, he does have some boom or bust to his game. Gay Jr. fits the mold of a new age linebacker athletically, but he will have to develop his football IQ and mental processing speed to reach the next level. With his above-average ability in coverage and his desire to stick his face in the fan. You don’t have to worry about what Willie Gay Jr. can bring to your squad day one. However, if you want Gay Jr. to be a starter for your team or end up being a stalwart to your defense, you have to understand he simply has not played a ton due to suspension. Gay Jr. is indeed an underclassman who could have arguably stayed in school and have ended up a first-round pick next year. However, that is not the case and Gay Jr.’s immense ceiling leaves a lot of intrigue for any team looking to add a linebacker to their stable.
Draft Grade: Late 2nd round – Early 3rd round
This is a rare athlete that can come in and at worst provide relief in pass coverage out of the linebacker spot. He can start out as a special teams contributor and a sub-package linebacker and work his way into being a top-notch contributor for your starting defense. I believe when you look at Willie Gay Jr. you see a guy that has first-round potential but his mixture of off-the-field concerns and lack of true experience is concerning to take him that high. Which brings us to our next point. Gay Jr. would be a good fit for the Rams if Brandon Staley wants a true “new age linebacker” on his defense. With the right coaching and some guidance, we could be talking about Willie Gay Jr. someday as an elite linebacker. Keep in mind, this isn’t crazy to say when you consider he was an elite recruit coming out of high school. Perhaps he should have stayed in school but either way, teams should be gushing over the potential that Gay Jr. possesses.