Now that the picks are in, Les Snead and the LA Rams are on a path to see what’s still missing and what’s improved on both sides of the ball ahead of the new year and make the most out of a promising 2020 campaign led by new quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The positions of interest throughout their offseason included offensive line talent and fixing the linebacker position after Cory Littleton departed for Las Vegas. Going into the draft without a pick in the first, the depth at linebacker in this year’s incoming class felt extensive enough to land a talent like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round or other promising names in the middle rounds.
In the third round, after picking wide receiver Tutu Atwell with the second-round pick, Les Snead addressed the need for a linebacker with South Carolina’s Ernest Jones. Rams fans have been generally positive on the pick, but the selection itself is one to look at and wonder whether he will be of short-term service for the Rams, or play out to be an impactful part of a championship defense for the Rams. The pick can be determined in the proper context, such as where the pick happened, other names available, and how the player fits. In this linebacker-rich class, Ernest Jones may be the right player for LA, but also carries the potential for the contrary.
Ernest Jones’s hybrid skillset as an off-ball linebacker that can find the football behind the line of scrimmage and produce tight coverage over the middle gives merit to all the hype thus far. The issue falls more on how the Rams’ league-leading defensive unit will follow up last year’s performance with departing talent both on the field and in the coaching staff.
Arguably the most important coaching performance in the Rams staff, former DC Brandon Staley and the blockade defense led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey inspired many smaller role players to step up in Pro Bowl-like fashion. John Johnson III, Troy Hill, and the aforementioned Littleton won’t give the defense as much grace as last year’s squad under newly hired defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
What Ernest Jones faces in the upcoming year may be more of an accountability for coverage within the defense as Darious Williams, Taylor Rapp, and the rest of the secondary continue to fill in the 3-4 scheme left by Staley. The rookie LB will have to play a key part in this defense, through his volition or not, and hope that the line up front will continue to pressure quarterbacks into not challenging the secondary.
Following Day 2 of the draft, as the Los Angeles Rams prepared to be on the clock, there was a feeling that couldn’t help but surface once the time arrived for the 103rd pick to be delivered and Ernest Jones’s name was announced after already going with Tutu in the second. I couldn’t help but consider a possibility far more appealing after the picks were made, which sounds a little armchair GM, but what was a real shot at improving both linebacker and wide receiver for the Rams. The fantasy draft order orchestrated that day was dependent on choosing fellow SEC East linebacker out of Mizzou Nick Bolton, who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs right after the Atwell pick.
Rams fans are certainly intrigued by the prospects of another talented skill player under the Sean McVay regime with the second-round pick, though the position doesn’t feel as strained within the depth chart compared to the Rams’ current LB corps. Van Jefferson still appears as the rightful heir to the no. 3 WR slot in the depth chart behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, which gives the Atwell pick a cloud of rushed judgement by Les Snead. The alternate pick in Nick Bolton had a productive year with 95 tackles, two sacks, and five passes defended in his final year of collegiate play. Most importantly, his goal-line stuff against Tennessee is reminiscent of Jadeveon Clowney’s hit in college which delivers a seismic tackle preventing the Vols from scoring.
By addressing the void at the linebacking position with Bolton and still potentially landing a wide receiver like Amon-Ra St. Brown or Dez Fitzpatrick in the third, drafting Ernest Jones could be the pick to watch for the season that helps evaluate Les Snead’s longevity with the organization after this year. The bigger (237 lbs) and faster (4.60) Bolton could prove to be the ultimate steal from Day 2, but the Rams are eager to prove Jones will be the bigger hit from Round 3.
In the end, Ernest Jones’s ceiling as a player remains high based on his elite strength and awareness on the field. He may not feel like the EXACT linebacker for the Rams in their time of need, but the cliché remains true: it’s never a mistake to draft talent. His 199 total tackles in college give Jones the prospect of being as impactful a player as other NFL talents like Darius Leonard or Blake Martinez.
The only question remaining at this point is: how many wide receivers do we really need? Enough! How do you feel about the pick? Vote and leave you opinion below!