Defensive Line Rankings In The NFC West. Where Do The Rams Rank?

Five Rams Players To Watch For Week 1
SoFi Stadium And The Oculus. Photo Credit: Kirk Morrison | ESPN LA And Rams Analyst

The NFC West has been known for being the toughest division in the NFL for a while now. Let’s face it, all four teams have enough talent to potentially be a dangerous squad. We all remember the Legion of Boom in Seattle, and the 49er defense nearly took the Lombardi Trophy in 2019. The Los Angeles Rams had the number one defense in the NFL in 2020. The Arizona Cardinals paired J.J. Watt with Chandler Jones in the offseason.

Every team has a reason to be optimistic going into the 2021 NFL season. Every good defense needs a good defensive line. So which defensive line will rise to the top in the NFC West defensive line rankings?

4. Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks defensive line comes in at number four. Seattle is led by Carlos Dunlap, who was acquired via trade in 2020. Though Dunlap isn’t the same player he was with the Cincinnati Bengals, he is still a very good player. Poona Ford has been a solid run-stuffing nose tackle for two years. Darrell Taylor was the team’s second-round pick in 2020 but he logged zero snaps in his rookie season.

Lack Of Depth

Alton Robinson was the Seahawk’s fifth-round pick in 2020. Robinson logged 4 sacks as a rookie in 14 games with one start. Robinson could very well take a step up in his sophomore season. Seattle did acquire Kerry Hyder Jr. in free agency this year; Hyder was productive in 2020 with the San Francisco 49ers notching 8.5 sacks and 55 pressure. However, Hyder Jr. has been inconsistent throughout his five-year career, only having more than one sack in one other season which was in 2016.

After that, the depth chart is pretty bare. A collection of busts, undrafted free agents, and journeymen. The Seahawks did sign Aldon Smith in free agency who had a career resurgence with the Dallas Cowboys in 2020. However, Smith was involved in another off-field incident in April and is facing up to 8 years in jail and was recently cut from the team. It also doesn’t help that the Seattle Seahawks might have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.

3. Arizona Cardinals

At least it isn’t 4th place like they’re used to right? Every year we hear everyone say this is the year the Arizona Cardinals will make some noise. Not likely. They too have one of the worst secondaries on paper behind just a couple of talented players. The Cardinals were going to be led by Chandler Jones, however, that seems to be up in the air now. Jones is an elite talent and one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Notably, Jones missed 11 games in 2020 with a right bicep injury and now appears to be unhappy with his contract situation. If Jones departs Arizona, the Cardinals would drop to last in the division…again.

Good Additions, Not Enough

The Cardinals acquired J.J. Watt this offseason. That would be a scary addition to a defensive line if it were 2015. Injuries have taken a toll on Watt who is still a good player but not the elite player he once was. Watt missed half the season in 2019 and then only notched 5 sacks in 2020. Watt has also already missed time this offseason with a hamstring injury. Markus Golden is one of those players everyone forgets until they pay attention. He tallied 4.5 sacks and 55 pressures in 2020; he isn’t going to wow anyone but he is a solid pass rusher.

Devon Kennard is a solid rotational piece for the Cardinals but that is it. Jordan Phillips was signed in free agency in 2020 after notching 10 sacks in 2019 with the Buffalo Bills. That 2019 season was an outlier though, only posting 7.5 sacks total in five of his six seasons in the league. Outside of these players, it’s a lot of question marks.

2. San Francisco 49ers

49ers fans won’t like this ranking and I’ll be honest I debated where exactly to place them. The San Francisco 49ers defensive line is led by Nick Bosa. Bosa is one of the most talented defensive linemen in the NFL. He totaled 14 sacks and a whopping 102 pressures as a rookie in 2019 (postseason included). Unfortunately, he missed 14 games in 2020 with an ACL tear. Arik Armstead is a good run stopper and pretty decent in pass rush opportunities but his 10 sacks and 73 pressures in 2019 were an outlier in his career.

Javon Kinlaw is a massive and athletic defensive tackle. Kinlaw was selected 14th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft and he showed flashes as a rookie but ultimately left a lot to be desired as well. An underwhelming season after some work ethic concerns in college doesn’t sound great. However, if Kinlaw taps into his potential and fully buys in he could be a real problem.

Best Of The Rest

Dee Ford has struggled to stay healthy in his career, missing a total of 33 games with back and knee issues. Despite being a high-priced free agent at one point he has always been a pretty average and inconsistent pass rusher. The 49ers signed Samson Ebukam as a free agent this offseason. Ebukam’s production was largely because of others around him giving Ebukam easy sacks. He continually lost more and more playing time throughout the 2020 season because of being inconsistent and missing easy sacks and tackles consistently.

San Francisco has three solid rotational defensive tackles in Zach Kerr, D.J. Jones, and Maurice Hurst but none of them should be starters by any means. Hurst started seven games in the last two seasons and while he is a solid pass rusher, he leaves a lot to be desired as a run defender. Kerr has produced pretty well when given the opportunity but there is a reason he’s on his fifth team in eight years.

1. Los Angeles Rams

The obvious name here is Aaron Donald. Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL and continues to be a dominant force every time he is on the field. The Rams also saw Sebastian Joseph-Day have a break-out season in 2020 and looks to continue his rise. Leonard Floyd was a Chicago Bears castoff who had a career season in 2020. Floyd offers elite run defense and coverage ability and has come into his own a little bit more as a pass rusher.

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Breakout Candidates

The Rams also have the forgotten A’Shawn Robinson who has slimmed down this offseason and got healthy, Robinson poses a real threat as a run stopper. Los Angeles also has some good rotational players in; Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Justin Hollins, and Terrell Lewis. Okoronkwo has a shot to have a breakout season now that he is healthy as does Justin Hollins who the Rams have been impressed with. Lewis has all the talent in the world but his success will largely depend on staying healthy.

Greg Gaines is another run-stuffing nose tackle who is good in a rotation. We also saw what Justin Lawler could bring to the team against the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night. If he can continue his level of play, he could be a nice addition to the Rams depth. The Rams are also very high on a trio of undrafted free agents from 2020 in; Eric Banks, Jonah Williams, and Michael Hoecht. Those guys definitely have to prove themselves but Banks and Williams both had solid performances against the Chargers as well.

Rookies To Watch

The Rams added some rookies who should figure into the rotations this year. Bobby Brown III, Earnest Brown IV, and Chris Garrett will all likely make the 53-man roster. They all need some seasoning but they also won’t need to be depended on in large roles just yet. The Rams have some other players on the roster right now but they all have a big hill to climb in order to earn spots above the already mentioned players.

The Rams defensive line is once again a strength of the team and will play a huge role in the quest for an NFC West title and a Super Bowl ring. Los Angeles also has a great secondary that makes the defensive line’s job a little easier. Hopefully, Aaron Donald and his linemates can finally bring the Lombardi to Los Angeles.