As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
The Rams were one of the biggest shock teams of 2017. Sean McVay came in as a fresh-faced young force of nature and transformed them from perpetual losers straight into electric contenders. Regardless of the offensive magic, hiring Wade Phillips was a big part of the turnaround and the Rams were a good (if unflashy) defense that deserved January football.
It sounds from coaches and OTA reports as if Ndamukong Suh will play nose tackle in this scheme. He’s not been a classic nose through his career but he certainly has the capacity to play that role and Coach Phillips will almost certainly adapt the approach anyway. Ethan Westbrooks in 2017 was very much a classic nose and he’ll retain a role on running downs and certain situations anyway.
Back to Suh – he’s in his thirties now and it’s been a while since he had a truly impactful season as a pass rusher. Last year, he managed 43 total pressures. Aaron Donald, meanwhile, finished with 91. The prediction of just two sacks here could well be too low but it reflects just how tough it is to generate pressure when lined up over center in a three-man front. Suh won’t be there all the time but it’s still hard to invest in an aging tackle in a 3-4 scheme.
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Aaron Donald remains the best interior pass-rusher in the league. Whether he should be called an end or a tackle is debatable but it doesn’t matter for us. MFL classify him as an end so that’s what he is. It speaks volumes about his ability that he can still produce enough stats to be a useful IDP from his 3-tech spot.
Michael Brockers is an underrated player and may well be third in playing time on this line. Assuming Suh moves around somewhat, Brockers will also have to react but he’s the most flexible player on the unit anyway. He’s not going to be a star but if he can play a lot next to Donald and Suh, there will be opportunities.
If you read this series a year ago you know what’s coming here: Phillips has a history of not producing top linebackers. His scheme is simply not conducive to it.
A year ago, this article predicted Mark Barron to manage 51 solos and Alec Ogletree 72. The IDP world thought this was hilariously low for Ogletree in particular. Ogletree ended up with just 63 solos in the end (Baron hit 72).
The same thing is coming this season. Barron is likely to regress a little bit and is ownable but only worth starting in deeper leagues.
Cory Littleton is the clubhouse leader for the second job but is being overrated by fantasy owners who think that being a starting linebacker is enough to generate value.
Contrary to the players inside, Wade Phillips’ outside ‘backers are very effective. Matt Longacre is the only significant player to return with Conor Barwin and Robert Quinn gone. He should get first looks but he played just 378 defensive snaps in 2017: a long way from a full-time season.
Samson Ebukam looks to play on the other side in his second season and is priced cheaply at the moment. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has some potential but he was a fifth-round pick. The chances of him being effective as a rookie are slim.
The Rams acquired two stars at corner in the off-season in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. They’re very different players. Talib (even at his age) is a pure cover corner with a physical streak. Peters is a gambler who loves to make plays on the ball and will gamble to do so. Neither are likely to be good options in tackle-heavy leagues but Peters will retain value in leagues that value cover plays and returns. Unfortunately, name value works against them by meaning they’re likely perceived well above their value. Remember, even many IDP fans are not well versed in corners. Both are good options to sell right now.
Nickell Robey-Coleman is the slot DB in an example of nominative determinism that remains hilarious. He’s a good player and has name value but is unlikely to be startable.
For some reason, John Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner have both received plenty of hype this off-season. It’s too much for both players but interesting to see. In Johnson’s case, it’s because people think he’s a strong safety. That’s what Pro Football Reference lists him as after all. The reality is there is no strong safety here. The Rams play a lot of two-deep shells. With the two outside corners they have this year, the safeties are likely again to both be deep much of the time. This obviously harms their tackle opportunity.
With Joyner, the hype is more about how good he was in NFL terms in 2017. He certainly was good but he still only managed 39 solos and ten assists. If he can play more than 688 snaps then his counting stats will go up but he’s unlikely to be a starting safety given the lack of efficiency his job carries.
Aaron Donald. Was there ever any doubt? Donald might be the best player in the NFL. Ignore the debate about what is an end and what is a tackle and just glory in his sheer productiveness.
Cory Littleton. There are a number of players who could qualify here but given how highly “starting linebackers” are valued Littleton has the most opportunity to make his owners sad.
Samson Ebukam. This is definitely a gamble what that’s what a dark horse pick is. Ebukam had a really solid draft season and position even though he didn’t get much hype. Phillips is an excellent coach for producing pass rushers and Ebukam has a great chance to perform given the lack of competition.
It’s going to to be a fun defense to watch. There’s been a ton of hype about it being a dream team with the corner and Suh signings but this is still a deeply flawed unit. The linebackers and safeties are obvious sells if you can get value but it’s still likely to be a good unit across the board.
Thanks for reading.