Ranking The Most Important Defensive Rams Players For 2023

The Rams need their bets to pay-off. Which Rams players need to make the biggest leap in 2023 on defense?

For The Most Important Offensive Rams Players For 2023, Click Here

Les Snead is famous for ‘thinking in bets.’ One bet that he and the LA Rams have made repeatedly is, through smart process and good coaching, they can turn late-round draft picks into bonafide Rams players. It’s worked out well for them. The list of won bets is very impressive. Sebastian Joseph-Day, Greg Gaines, Nick Scott, David Edwards, Jordan Fuller, and Ben Skowronek all developed from picks outside the top 100 into quality starters for the Rams. Most of these names contributed to getting to and winning the Super Bowl in 2021.

While that list is incredible, for every one of the bets that worked, there are two or three that didn’t. The Terrell Lewis’s and Jacob Harris’s of the world. It is how betting works. You win some and you lose some.

What does this have to do with the Rams 2023 season? The Rams are desperate to find out which draft bets they’ve made over the last two or three years are winners and which are not.

One goal of the 2023 season, especially on defense, is to find out which are Greg Gaines and which are Terrell Lewis.

It would be great if everyone was going to make that leap, but that is statistically improbable and even the Rams aren’t that lucky. But the Rams do need to win on 3 or 4 of these bets to lay the groundwork for their post-remodel run in 2024.

This is why the following players are so important to the season. They need to make the leap to the next level for the Rams to be successful in 2024 and the rest of the Kupp/Donald window. If they don’t they will have to continue to invest capital into these positions. While the Rams will be set up nicely in 2024, their model, in part, still relies on late-round draft picks filling key roles.

The Most Important Defensive Rams Players

3. Derion Kendrick

The NFL is a cruel place for young cornerbacks. If you make a rookie mistake, the whole world knows you screwed up. That was Derion Kendrick’s first year in a nutshell. He had the fifth-highest yards per catch allowed (14.6 yards) and allowed the third-highest passer rating (114.5) among all rookie cornerbacks last season. He also played the third most snaps of any Rams cornerbacks last year.

So regardless of how poorly he performed, he got playing time. And that will likely be the case in 2023. The Rams other options on the outside are Robert Rochell, who Kendrick beat out as a rookie last season, and Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson. Hodges-Tomlinson was drafted this year in the 6th round and at 5’9” and 180 lbs he will likely struggle against the outside threats that the Rams schedule will put him up against, even in light of his elite speed and explosiveness.

The Rams have two quality players at the two other starting cornerback positions. Ahkello Witherspoon will play the other outside spot and Cobie Durant did very well as a nickel corner in his rookie year. Kendrick must take a sophomore leap but it’s a very achievable leap to make. He doesn’t need to turn into Jalen Ramsey. The Rams will likely find his replacement in 2024 through free agency or a trade. Kendrick’s role is to turn into a player that played opposite Ramsey, Darious Williams. That is to say, a corner that the Rams can rely on for, at least, the duration of his rookie contract.

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2. Daniel Hardy

The impact and importance of edge rushing was put in stark relief when the Rams signed Von Miller. Miller, in conjunction with Leonard Floyd, propelled the Rams into the Super Bowl. But, both are now former Rams players. That leaves Michael Hoecht, hand-in-the-dirt lineman turned edge rusher, as the most experienced presence at the position. Hoecht injected the defense with a nice spark when he moved to the outside, logging 4.5 sacks in 7 weeks. But, Hoecht can be a liability against the run and in coverage. While an intriguing option at the position, Hoecht is not who the Rams need to take the biggest leap in 2023. Its Daniel Hardy

Hardy is the next most experienced edge rusher on the Rams. But that’s not saying much considering he has only played 41 snaps over six games. He would have likely played more had he not suffered an ankle injury in the preseason that kept him out for the first 12 weeks of the season. Before then he was off to a pretty good start, in just 24 pass rush snaps he racked up 3 pressures.

Hardy has all the raw athleticism one would need to excel at the position. His Relative Athletic Score evaluation gives him high marks across the board. At 6’1” and 235 lbs, he is considered to be small when compared to the quintessential size, but that has become what the Rams look for at the position. He also racked up monster stats in his senior year at Montana State, 24 tackles for loss, and 16 sacks in 15 games.

So for Hardy to take the leap, he will need to bring it on his end and get the coaching a small school prospect needs to make it in the NFL. When it comes to the latter, the Rams have not proven to be able to develop drafted pass rushers, major programs, or not. The Rams have drafted four other edge rushers between 2017 and 2021. At best, they became rotational players. And in the case of Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Samson Ebukam, they actually went on to have their best years after they left the Rams.

The Rams coaching staff does look different in a few ways that may have a more positive impact on the position group for this season. Specifically, the Rams added Joe Coniglio as the outside linebackers coach. Most recently Coniglio was promoted to Special Team Coordinator from outside linebackers coach for Navy, before taking the job with the Rams.

While Coniglio doesn’t bring with him a long track record of developing NFL pass rushers, he did develop John Marshall into the Midshipmen’s first double-digit sacker in over 20 years. Marshall went from 3.5 sacks in 2021 to 11.5 the next season. The Rams defensive coaching staff also added former Washington Huskies head coach, Jimmy Lake, as an assistant head coach. Adding another high-level coach should give the young defenders their best chance to level up.

Snead added three more young players to the Rams depth chart at edge rusher in the draft, so this coaching staff has plenty of work to do and prove that the Rams recognize the need to try to win a bet at this position through the draft.

1. Bobby Brown

Football is about controlling the line of scrimmage. That is why Bobby Brown is the most important player on the defense in 2023. The Rams have always relied heavily on the defensive line to be solid, largely because it allows Aaron Donald to wreck games. Sebastian Joseph-Day, Michael Brockers, A’Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines have all been pillars in the success of the franchise.

For example, one of the few bright spots of the Rams 2022 season was the run defense. That is to say, before Robinson went down in Week 10. In the first 10 weeks of the season, the Rams were third in DVOA against the run. In Week 11, they were 20th.

After Robinson’s injury, Marquise Copeland was tapped to play his snaps and proved to be ready for the job. But now with Gaines and Robinson gone the Rams lost a combined 642 lbs of road grading force at the line of scrimmage. Bobby Brown is the only Rams D-lineman to bring that kind of weight to the table. He also brings with him the traits of a freak athlete. I wrote two years ago about his incredible speed, explosiveness, and bend for his size.

Two years later, all that speed and size has produced next to nothing, not even much playing time. But Brown’s time to finally put it all together has arrived. With the barebones that make up the Rams defensive depth chart, he is guaranteed playing time. He has to take advantage of this opportunity. He has Jonah Williams and rookie 3rd rounder Kobie Turner breathing down his neck for that playing time.

Brown is physically the best option for the Rams, and if he doesn’t earn the starting job the Rams will have to find a starting tackle on the open market in 2024, like they did with Robinson in 2021. That is money that can be better spent elsewhere to ensure a strong bounce back in 2024.

Brown said of his 2023 journey as reported by Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic that, “I’ve been willing to learn since I got here, and that’s been one of my biggest things, and now it’s even more,” he said. “I’m learning more. Even the smallest details, as simple as backing off the ball or whatever it could be, any little thing. Lifting weights, getting stronger, as strong as I possibly can, all of that.”