As the off-season is well underway for the Los Angeles Rams, the path to a successful 2017 is already in full swing. The team has hired a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator, refusing to let their top caliber defense dwindle under the regime change.
As many Rams fans are aware, the defense was underwhelming at far too many points in the 2016 campaign. Many factors contributed to this, but the personnel depth was a leading liability. Though the team has top stars on the defensive side in playmakers like Alec Ogletree, Aaron Donald, and Robert Quinn, the unit will need to “beef up” if they want to compete at the highest level.
There will be much thought put into free agency this year, not just regarding who will provide the necessary boosts to the team, but also who will fit in coordinator Wade Phillips’ 4-3 scheme. Coming from a 3-4, or more properly, a 4-2-5 system under Gregg Williams, the acquisition of new players will be the first step in the new Phillips system.
Top Los Angeles Rams Free Agent Targets on Defense
Chandler Jones (Arizona Cardinals)
Yes, head coach Bruce Arians said he was adamant in bringing Chandler Jones back for 2017. However, until the ink is dry, he is a free agent. The playmaker that the Rams face twice every year would be the ideal addition to start the 4-3 defense on good footing. As a pass rusher, Chandler Jones recorded 11 sacks in 2016, with four forced fumbles for good measure.
As a run stopper and short passing game defender, he recorded 38 tackles and had three passes defended. Though his short yardage passing game has dwindled a bit, with a teammate like Ogletree in the corps, the slack can be picked up.
His coverage issues could also be a liability, but Jones will be used primarily as a rusher and run defender, similar to Von Miller, with whom Wade Phillips is very familiar.
Jones has the speed, the physicality, and the youth to be the perfect target for the outside linebacker position and his skill set fits in perfectly with the Wade Phillips style of play.
Akeem Ayers (Indianapolis Colts)
Former Ram Akeem Ayers would see his skill set useful once again with the scheme shift. His departure in the previous camp shocked many in the league and the word was that they did not need a third linebacker with their current scheme. Now with more spots for linebackers, he could be right back in the mix.
More of a linebacker than a pass rusher, he will be a nice complement to a very strong defensive line. He may not be the answer at the position, but he has the range to have an impact in a situational role, either regularly or sparingly.
His speed and tackling ability were not suspect when he was released last season. Ayers also has rapport with these players, having played with them for a season previous. Having never had the proper chance to impact this roster, the change of guard may be the opportunity for him to find success.
Julius Peppers (Green Bay Packers)
Julius Peppers may be in the twilight of his career, but his veteran experience could be worthwhile on the young Rams defense. Though 37 years old, the outside linebacker excels in the run game. He recorded 7.5 sacks as a pass rusher last season, and scored a pair of forced fumbles, as well.
Peppers has had a career full of clutch plays and he looks to have a few more good years in him. The defense may use him as a proven third down weapon or drive-stopping rusher. Once again, Peppers may not be expected to be the answer at the position for Los Angeles, but his leadership will be a valuable asset in the locker room and his consistency in this role could be the difference leading to a few key victories in 2017.
Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo Bills)
Stephon Gilmore is coming off his first Pro Bowl selection and one of his most noteworthy seasons thus far. He snatched five interceptions and had 12 passes defended. He was also a consistent lockdown corner that made a name for himself with his wide range of coverage skills.
Gilmore offers the perfect blend of youth and experience for the Rams secondary. He can immediately make an impact with the team and emerge as a leader to the pass defense. Whether Los Angeles retains Trumaine Johnson, Gilmore will be a high value and high impact player from the start.
Morris Claiborne (Dallas Cowboys)
Morris Claiborne was not the playmaker that Gilmore was this past year, but his consistency is what makes him a top target. The Dallas Cowboys may need to decide between keeping Brandon Carr or Claiborne, which provides the Rams with an opportunity to add depth and quality to their cornerback corps.
With Claiborne there are health issues, as he has missed substantial time with hamstring, groin, and shoulder issues. The Rams should be very careful with a history like this as, once again, consistency is paramount to their continued success. However, if he can avoid these problems, he will find a solid place in this lineup.
Captain Munnerlyn (Minnesota Vikings)
Captain Munnerlyn has come into his own this past year with the Minnesota Vikings. He has been used mainly as a nickel corner and to great success. As stated earlier, this position is most definitely up for grabs in the Rams lineup. Munnerlyn could provide that crucial puzzle piece and give the group a solid foundation to stifle receivers for years to come.
Munnerlyn is also a leader in the locker room with valuable experience, which is always a plus on a young team. His skill set and flexibility make him a top target for the Rams defensive fortification.
Barry Church (Dallas Cowboys)
Once again looking at the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Church emerges as a quality safety candidate. He is a highly versatile defensive player that has served as both a strong safety and a free safety, as well as a rover/linebacker. His tackling ability and ball hawk instinct make him a natural in any team’s secondary. Combine this with his NFL experience and he appears as a clear and preferred target for the Rams.
Micah Hyde (Green Bay Packers)
One of the most explosive defensive players in the post-season was the Green Bay Packers Micah Hyde. He was the definition of a playmaker when the team needed him most, sinking the red-hot Dallas Cowboys and their stellar season.
Hyde is an extremely intelligent defensive back that benefits from his intense study and boasts a full set of abilities to play both slot corner and safety. A disciplined tackler and all-around hard-working player, Hyde sets the mark for versatile defensive back in the NFC.
Quintin Demps (Houston Texans)
Houston Texans star Quintin Demps provided a strong base for their top defense last season. He had six interceptions and nine passes defended. Even in the star-studded defense, Demps stood out and led the team to a top rank in yards allowed. He is a cerebral defender whose athleticism makes him a prime target for any team looking for an injection of talent to take their play to the next level. Demps would fit in perfectly in the Rams aggressive style and provide a much-needed cushion against deep threats.