The Brave New Edge Rush – The World Of Rams Pass Rushers
The most consistent element has been changed when it comes to the Rams edge rushers. Dante Fowler is the only player to lead the team in pressures in consecutive seasons in the McVay era; 2018-2019. Furthermore, everyone backing the pressures leader has been on a rotating cast as well. Not one Rams edge rusher played in both the 2018 Super Bowl, as well as the 2021 Super Bowl.
This season will be no different. Von Miller led the team in pressures per game and he won’t be returning. Leonard Floyd will return for his third season with the Rams and, at this point, looks like he will once again be the lead edge rusher like he was in 2020.
Of course, the Rams front office isn’t afraid to wait and see how things transpire as the season progresses. The Miller trade was served up to the Rams on a silver platter and they happily scooped him up. They will do the same if the opportunity is available.
The cast of edge rusher depth behind Floyd is very intriguing. Lest we forget, the Rams had the league’s best pass rush before adding Miller and the guys from that cast are back on the roster.
All the raw potential and physical prowess are already in the building. But, it’s not without its red flags.
Edge rusher has been an interesting position to watch when it comes to the Rams team build. There are several reasons for this. One is how coveted pass rush talent has become in the league. In terms of dollar-to-dollar positional value, NFL teams value edge rushers almost as much as they do wide receivers. This has created something of an economic bubble in the edge market. This means a lot of teams are overpaying for less talented players and they are hungry to draft them early in the draft.
This flys in the face of the Rams front office team-building philosophies. One: They haven’t had picks high enough that would allow them to draft an elite pass rusher. Two: They are always looking to capitalize on market inefficiencies, not get bogged down by them. Overpaying at almost any position is something that will bog a team down.
The Rams have learned how and who to pay. In 2021, the Rams had the 29th edge-rushing payroll per Over The Cap yet they logged 50 sacks, good for third-best in the league. A great example of the Rams thinking about cashing in on inefficiencies is the Von Miller trade. It was a way to get the best of both worlds. A game-wrecking pass rusher, for almost no money.
When Miller hit free agency, he once again became exponentially more expensive to the Rams. Miller not coming back shows you just how much the Rams value they put on him. That is; Less than the Bills did.
Aaron Donald is another reason that the Rams value edge rushers the way they do. The Rams don’t really need to pay a top-end edge. They have one of the league’s best pass rushers, he just so happens to be an interior lineman, not an edge. Per PFF, Donald was second in the league among linemen and edge rushers in quarterback pressures with 86. The next best defensive lineman was Jonathan Allen with 67. That’s a difference of 19 pressures between the best interior pass rusher and the second best. That’s the same difference between Allen and DeForest Buckner, who finished the year ranked 9th.
Not only that, but the Rams are still getting Donald at a good deal. Donald is the top-paid defensive lineman with his new contract, but, depending on how you slice it, only falls at about 5th among edge rushers. This is insane considering that Donald outperforms most edge rushers, yet he is still paid like an interior lineman. Floyd is the top-paid Rams edge rusher and he isn’t even in the top 10 in the NFL. Point being: Why overpay for an edge when you are generating great pressure without. It’s one of the big bets the Rams have made and cashed in on in a big way. Donald is the ace in the hole that hedges that bet.
That’s the front office look at the edge rushers. There are also a few on-the-field things to look at as well.
One thing immediately stands out when you look at the Rams edge rushers heading into the 2022 season. They all are built the same.
Leonard Floyd: 6’5” 240 lbs, 33.13” Arm Length
Justin Hollins: 6’5” 248 lbs, 33.5” Arms Length
Terrell Lewis: 6’5” 262 lbs, 33.88” Arm Length
Chris Garrett: 6’4” 242 lbs, 33.1” Arm Length
And, not only do they look the same, they are all equally athletic. Which is key to what the Rams need them to do. The Rams need these guys not just rushing the passer, but they have to be able to drop into coverage and help defend the run.
Since Brandon Staley transformed their defense, the Rams have looked to play with two high safeties, a light box, and five guys on the line. Traditionally, teams played with three linebackers. A Mike (middle), a Sam (strongside), and a Will (weakside). They would all play off the line, allowing them to pick up a tight end or help take down a run play and sometimes rush the passer.
The Rams 5-man front still has that expectation, with an added threat of rushing the quarterback more often. Leonard Floyd’s usage shows what the Rams want from this group. According to PFF, Floyd saw 518 snaps at pass rusher (10th in the league), 330 at run defense (6th), and 84 snaps in coverage (7th)
There aren’t a lot of edge defenders in the league that are in the top 10 in all three aspects. Not only that, when taking into consideration sheer pass rush production, but Floyd is also one of the best. Only Shaquil Barrett, Matthew Judon, and Harold Landry can be considered in the same category as Floyd.
When people talk about Floyd, they will sometimes talk about his ceiling. That is true that he has one, but not in the sense that people generally assume. A ceiling sounds like his abilities limit his production. This isn’t the case, the production is limited because he has other responsibilities. Aid in stopping the run and dropping into coverage. Maxx Crosby had fewer sacks and only dropped into coverage twice last season.
So over the last few seasons, the Rams have built a room of lanky, athletic, versatile, and cheap edge rushers so they can maximize the talent they have and the defense they run.
A look at the Rams Depth At Edge Rusher
Justin Hollins was drafted in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos in 2019. By 2021 he was cut from the roster and signed with the Rams. Hollins had a hard time finding a spot in Denver given the incredible depth the team had on the outside at the time. They tried him on the inside as well, but couldn’t find a place on the team.
In LA though, Hollins stood out immediately. He was one of the darlings of the Rams training camp. So much so that he earned a starting spot in weeks two and three. Those were the first starts of his NFL career. Unfortunately, he tore a pectoral muscle and missed the next nine games. By the time he returned in week 14 he was supplanted by Von Miller.
Heading into this season, Hollins is confident that he will return to the form he displayed early in 2021. Confidence is good for a player in his position. He is now a leader in the edge room. As funny as it is to say that a guy with two career starts under his belt is a veteran, he is the most experienced edge rusher on the team that’s not named Leonard Floyd.
What he has had in his career is great mentorship. At OTA’s this fall, he talked about all the greats he has played with, a list that includes Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Floyd, and many more. Hollins has many natural leadership qualities and he looks forward to bringing his knowledge to the group. He has high expectations. He said, “…yeah, I want double-digit sacks, but I want every guy to have double-digit sacks!”
With Terrell Lewis, the bet the Rams made in drafting him was he missed a lot of time in college due to two injuries; a torn elbow ligament in 2017 and then a torn ACL in 2018. Ironically, the Rams were only able to get him that low because he was an injury red flag. There is a world where Lewis would have been taken in the first round.
Currently, it looks like the Rams aren’t in a good position to win this bet. Lewis has been on and off the injured list with a variety of injuries including a follow-up surgery on the knee he tore while at Alabama. He has missed 18 of the 38 games the Rams have played in since joining the team.
That said, he has had some production. 32 total pressures and five sacks, according to PFF.
The book is far from closed on Lewis and from all indications, the vacant spot opposite Floyd is up for grabs. Regardless of how good Lewis can be, the best ability in the NFL remains availability.
If Chris Garrett lives up to his potential, he could be one of the best stories in the NFL. His college resume reads as follows; Set his division’s record for career-forced fumbles with 15. He ranks third in his division’s history with 1.30 sacks per game. He ranks 13th in his division’s history, second in NSIC history, with 36.5 sacks, and ranks 14th in his division’s football career history with 1.73 tackles for loss per game.
His college is Concordia, St. Paul, his division is Division II, and as we all know the NSIC isn’t a CBS spinoff show, it’s the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. If you haven’t heard of it you aren’t alone. Ever heard of Upper Iowa? They are in the same conference.
So with freak ability and mind-boggling numbers, Garrett dominated a rag-tag group of actual student-athletes, most of whom will have cubicles and desks, not shoulder pads and blocking dummies.
But as I said before, the potential is there. He has the raw tools to compete in the NFL, he just needs reps. So far he has had four snaps in an NFL game. In a preseason game against the Raiders, Garrett flashed his potential greatness. He came up for a tackle for loss, a strip-sack, and logged half a sack with Jonah Williams. All within a few minutes in the second quarter.
The expectations aren’t high for seventh-round draft picks, but the Rams expectations are always a bit heightened. They rely more heavily than most on late-round picks. Garrett will see a lot more time on the field this season.
The Rams drafted another small school defensive end in the seventh round this year. Daniel Hardy is in the mold of the rest of the room. 6’3” 240, 33.5” arm length. He didn’t have the same crazy production that Garrett saw in college, but Hardy only played one season on the outside. He was an inside linebacker for much of his time at Montana State. But in that one season, he posted 16.5 sacks in 15 games, as well as 24 tackles for loss.
He won’t likely see much playing time but will be a player to watch at training camp and in the preseason.
At his pro day, Hardy posted a 6.71 three-cone and a 40-inch vertical. Those would have put him first and second among outside linebackers respectively at the combine.