There’s four more days until the official start of NFL free agency, and already the Los Angeles Rams are expected to have a much different looking lineup — with nearly half of the 2022 defense gone.
One analyst’s projected 2023 defensive starters on Saturday, March 11, though, sparked a strong reaction from one Rams starter who delivered career-best numbers.
Jake Ellenbogen of Downtown Rams shared his projected 2023 starting defense. Along with released linebackers Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner, five other noticeably absent defenders who were starters in 2022 were: A’Shawn Robinson, Greg Gaines, Nick Scott, Taylor Rapp and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who Ellenbogen believes will be traded. The lineup Ellenbogen predicts for next season caught the attention of incoming third-year linebacker Ernest Jones who sounded off with this strong statement:
“A bunch of DOGS!!! I’ll go to war with ’em,” Jones reacted.
Jones, who significantly elevated his tackle total from 61 his rookie season to 114 last season, clearly took a liking to the proposed lineup.
Who Was Being Projected as Starters
There was significant changes at eight of the starting spots. In fact, in looking closely at the projected ’23 group, only Aaron Donald, Jones and returning from injury Jordan Fuller are the lone remaining starters from the Super Bowl 56 team predicted to start for the ’23 season.
But the proposed lineup also puts members of Jones’ draft class of 2021 in the starting lineup. Here’s a breakdown:
Bobby Brown III: The former Texas A&M Aggie likely heads to the spot Robinson is anticipated to vacate on March 15, the nose tackle. The 6-foot-4, 335-pounder had played in 19 games with one start in his first two seasons.
Marquise Copeland: The incoming fourth-year defensive end started in nine games and delivered career-best marks in the process through the tackles category, plus delivered his first regular season sack.
Daniel Hardy: The 2022 seventh-rounder slides into the early starting projection. With Floyd gone, the Ex-Montana State Bobcat is all that’s left from the 2022 training camp edge rush group.
Michael Hoecht: Noticeable here by Ellenbogen — the defensive tackle Hoecht gets predicted to start the year at outside linebacker…signaling this could be his permanent home moving forward.
Robert Rochell: A fellow 2021 class member with Jones, the versatile and towering Rochell now gets his chance to start — which signals he replaces Ramsey at the “star” spot.
Russ Yeast: Also absent is Troy Hill, who’s an unrestricted free agent. Yeast, who earned 113 defensive snaps as a rookie, takes over here.
Quentin Lake: The Rams have sounded high on the safety from UCLA. The son of five-time Pro Bowl safety Carnell played in 52 snaps while recording six solo tackles in the season finale loss to Seattle.
Overall, the first three defensive picks from the ’21 class become starters in this model including the second-leading tackler Jones. Then, along with top rookie ballhawk Decobie Durant, three rookies from 2022 move into the starting lineup. Donald, at 32 when the season begins, becomes the lone defender in his 30s. But as Ellenbogen reminds, this could change.
Which Spots Need a Veteran Presence More?
The Rams become more youthful and energetic off this proposed lineup. But with March 15 representing the first crucial offseason day for the franchise after a 5-12 season, this is still a unit that could use veteran help.
If the Rams do indeed move on from the captain Ramsey, it creates even more pressure for CBs like Durant, Rochell even 2022 rookie Derion Kendrick to take on an early leadership role. This is also because of Hill’s status as a free agent. Perhaps a veteran like James Bradberry could help here especially with his own Super Bowl experience with the Philadelphia Eagles. Another available veteran like eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson could also appeal as an option to mentor the younger corners.
Edge rusher is still a need. And in the era of Sean McVay and Les Snead, the Rams have always gone after a veteran here like Floyd, Dante Fowler and in 2021 Von Miller. There’s veteran options like Melvin Ingram or Jadeveon Clowney out there. But two former Rams are also likely to be on the market in Samson Ebukam and Ogbo Okoronkwo.
Finally, who gets paired with Jones since Wagner is gone? The Rams can either address this through free agency (Fresno, California native and Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowler Eric Kendricks was mentioned) or wait until the draft. But the former idea will likely have more to choose from for L.A.