On paper, the Los Angeles Rams look like they have a completely revamped defense for 2023. After all, there’s no more Jalen Ramsey, the safeties Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp are gone and the front seven lost Bobby Wagner, Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson.
But in reality, even with as many as six defenders gone, the Rams still have defenders who know how this defensive scheme works — and have a golden opportunity to show they can work in this system.
The criteria here is this: Five defenders, all of them have been in the scheme for three seasons or less, but now each have the opportunity to finally prove to the Rams and themselves they’re ready to take the next step…plus fill the holes left behind. Here are the five Rams needing to create a breakout 2023.
Decobie Durant, Cornerback
Here’s when you know Durant has the large microscope on him: He’s taken the podium to address every member of the L.A. media before OTAs — a job description Ramsey held. And Durant is doing that in his second season in the league.
Durant managed to become the best ballhawk on the Rams. He also allowed a 52.7 passer rating in coverage. But he’s now been recognized as a member of Bleacher Report’s “All-Underrated Team” ahead of 2023.
He said it: “In his second season, Durant doesn’t have to measure up to what Ramsey has done in his decorated career, but the versatile cornerback’s ability to line up on the perimeter or in the slot and force turnovers will propel him into the spotlight. Ultimately, he could benefit from Ramsey’s departure.” — Maurice Moton of B/R.
Derion Kendrick, Cornerback
Sticking with the CB room, Kendrick has a chance to be the sticky coverage defender next to the ball-hawking Durant.
The 2022 rookie showed an early taste of denying six — going toe-to-toe with the towering Allen Robinson during 2022 training camp and swiped away a 50-50 ball in the back of the end zone…best known as the catches “A-Rob” commonly comes down with. He went on to surrender 90 receiving yards his side twice while allowing 50 yards or less in six games. He’s physical at the line and has a slide and weave footwork capable of matching the receiver’s release.
He said it: “The thing about DK is he’s a battler. He’s going to go out there and he’s going to fight. Whether it bounces his way or not, he’s going to fight. He’s got the utmost confidence in himself and his game. I think he going to be one of them special players.” — Troy Hill, Free Agent and Past Ram during the 2022 season.
Robert Rochell, Cornerback/Safety
One more defensive back to mention. But this one has the potential to fill the “star” defender role Ramsey bequeaths.
One reason why the Rams took in Rochell back in 2021? His versatility and foot explosion. Rochell, though, went from five starts his rookie season to zero in 2022. Now in year three and Ramsey off to Miami, it’s a prime opportunity for Rochell to become the “star” and make effective use of his versatility.
He said it: “In some aspects it’s unfair and unwise for the Rams not to put Rochell on the field: the team knew when they drafted him that they were investing in his athletic traits and needed to be patient with his football development. How can a young player develop football acumen without ever getting on the field? The Rams need a plan to unlock the full potential of their young corner, someone they were jumping in the pool for less than two years ago.” — JB Scott, SB Nation on January 31.
Daniel Hardy, Outside Linebacker/Edge
The Rams no longer have their leading rusher from last season Leonard Floyd. They also severed ties with Terrell Lewis, Justin Hollins and Takkarist McKinley during the year.
And, while the Rams drafted four edge rushers, it’s the second-year rusher Hardy with the edge in experience. He’s flashed his rapid fire feet before. He has a golden chance to go from seventh rounder to sack leader.
He said it: “Even if Byron Young turns into a Day 1 starter and Nick Hampton contributes as a rookie, there’s plenty of room for Hardy (or Keir Thomas) to emerge as a starter alongside Michael Hoecht, who could also transition back to a defensive end role.” — Cameron DaSilva, Rams Wire/USA Today on Wednesday, May 17.
Bobby Brown, Nose Tackle
Brown is making the attempt to fill an underrated spot on the Rams’ defense — A’Shawn Robinson’s old spot.
While not considered a household name, Robinson was still the gap filler for the Rams and handled the dirty work of taking on up to two blockers to free up Aaron Donald. Brown now has the chance to occupy the trenches to clear a path for “A.D” in season three.
He said it: “Unlike Robinson, Brown features a little more quickness and ability to drive the pocket back. He may not put up huge sack totals, but Brown III will likely be the next Rams defensive lineman to take a jump in year three (similar to Sebastian Joseph-Day and Gaines).” — Steven Ridings, SB Nation on April 19.