Los Angeles Rams Mock Cutdown: Mid-Preseason Defense

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 10: Landis Durham #96 of the Los Angeles Rams during their NFL preseason game at RingCentral Coliseum on August 10, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

Although Los Angeles Rams management may not have changed in recent years in print, it has definitely changed in principal. Meaning, the Tavon Austins of the world won’t be getting the huge contracts but productive players like Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald will if at all possible. Taken seriously these days is the responsibility of both current and future quality of the on-field product. Unfortunately, salary caps make it impossible to keep every quality player. This season it’s fast becoming apparent that considerable talent won’t make the final cut in just over one week from now. That said, here is the first of two 2019 Los Angeles Rams mock cutdown projections. Offense to follow. 

Los Angeles Rams Mock Cutdown: Mid-Preseason Defense

A Look at Key Battles Among Back-ups Before Cutdown

Like the offense, most of the defensive starters are in place. However, taking a look at key position back-up battles as well as other considerations, you have to see that change is not only inevitable but a notable upgrade at certain positions.

Linebackers

Weakside Linebacker

(1) Dante Fowler | (2) Samson Ebukam | (3) Ogbonnia Okoronkwo | (4) Josh Carraway 

What we saw from Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, first game back and all was outstanding. He’s a load and uneasily handled, as indicated by the penalty calls he inspired. It’s just one game and we can agree that he’s a bit rusty and can’t possibly be in game shape – encouraging, right? With just one tackle, one pass defended and one quarterback hit recorded in the box score, it was rather obvious he was more disruptive than these numbers tell. If ‘Obo,’ as conveniently referred to by coach Sean McVay, continues to progress it will be hard keeping him off the field. But (and in his case, it’s a big ‘but’) he has to stay healthy.  

Outside Linebacker

(1) Clay Matthews | (2) Justin Lawler | (3) Trevon Young | (4) Landis Durham | (5) Natrez Patrick

Clay Matthews has been a big-time player since coming into the league in 2009. Yes, ten seasons are under his belt already so we know we’re looking at changes in the near future. The six-time Pro Bowler hasn’t recorded double-digit sacks since 2014. This could change with his renewed spirit but the Rams don’t urgently need him to. At this point in his career and with emerging young talent, he will be spelled often enough.

Speaking of young talent, Landis Durham, a versatile linebacker/defensive end, has played extremely well at a time when fortune appears to smile his way. Wade Phillips has already pointed out that Matthews may no longer have the lateral movement of his younger years. Justin Lawler has been solid but is now out for a significant amount of time after foot surgery.

The undrafted Durham has been ultra-consistent to this point with a sack per game despite not having the help the starting defensive line would provide. He’ll need to rev up a more consistent motor at this level as his college game footage shows he can lose interest away from the play. 

Inside Linebacker

(1) Micah Kiser | (2) Bryce Hager | (3) Troy Reeder | (4) Landis Durham | 

This was more interesting before Micah Kiser went down. Frankly, because Bryce Hager and Troy Reeder were playing more interestingly in this Rams fan’s opinion.

Being partial to players that hustle all the time and even away from the ball, nobody’s caught my eye more than Reeder. Sure, he got that ill-advised penalty in which he nearly took the head off a quarterback during a slide — a late slide — but the man’s a dawg. This year’s Rams will have a few more dawgs than last year. On defense, that’s a good thing.

Reeder is somewhat raw at the pro level but he has a non-stop motor that reminds one of ex-Rams Grant Wistrom. Gut feeling says if he’s cut and picked up by another in the NFC West it could come back to haunt them. A tackling machine in college, he opened the preseason leading the team in tackles. You need players like this plugging the holes that still appear to be a problem this season so far. Call it a hunch as of now but Reeder’s a keeper.

Secondary

Left Cornerback

(1) Marcus Peters | (2) Nickell Robey-Coleman | (3) Darious Williams | (4) Dominique Hatfield | (5) Donte Deayon

The Rams are solid here on the surface and for now. Nickell Robey-Coleman is locked in slot coverage but things perk up above and below. It’s a wonderful headache that awaits the coaching staff.

As it stands, the difficulty (at least, from the fans’ perspective) lies in being sold on starter Marcus Peters should Aqib Talib either go down again, retire next season or become a salary cap casualty. With both entering contract seasons, the chances of seeing them play together in the new stadium are slimming.

Dominique Hatfield has had chances but is proving limited while Darious Williams and Donte Deayon appear to be hungry upstarts. Williams, in particular, has been a pleasant surprise considering the second-year player (waived by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018) only has real-game experience on special teams.

In two preseason outings, he has eight total tackles (all solo) while leading the team in passes defended (2). What’s interesting for Rams fans to note, this kid played at the smaller University of Alabama-Birmingham. At the time he played, UAB was just one year returned after a two-year football program shutdown. Ignored by most scouts and mainstream media he was not invited to that year’s NFL Combine. Had he been there and posted his UAB pro day numbers we would know him as a 2018 top-ten combine performer and a much higher draft prospect. 

Right Cornerback

(1) Aqib Talib | (2) Troy Hill | (3) Kevin Peterson | (4) David Long

Talib is currently the secondary’s stud. After that, enjoy the ride.

This is going to play itself out in the next two preseason games but my money’s on young talent beating out Troy Hill. Although he’s been a capable and available spot-filler type, his inconsistency is well-documented. Why then would an equally-talented and more physically-gifted newbie with definite upside not be retained over fifth-year Hill? Hill’s upside is on the downslide while Kevin Peterson is flat out balling.

David Long is in the mix and improving from one game to the next (second in total tackles last week). Williams or Deayon can also move and be playmakers with experience. Deayon continues to be around the ball but making the cut will be difficult. 

Final Rams Cutdown Projections

Losing a few veterans along the way is necessary for financial balance and to put forth the highest quality product long term. Below looks like quite the team overall but just how likely is the drastic change implied below? 

LDE (1) Michael Brockers | (2) John Franklin-Myers | (3) Marquise Copeland 

NT (1) Sebastian Joseph-Day | (2) Greg Gaines  

DT (1) Aaron Donald 

WILL (1) Dante Fowler | (2) Samson Ebukam | (3) Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

OLB (1) Clay Matthews | (3) Landis Durham | (5) Natrez Patrick 

ILB (1) Cory Littleton | (2) Dakota Allen | (4) Travin Howard 

ILB (1) Bryce Hager | (2) Troy Reeder

LCB (1) Marcus Peters | (2) Nickell Robey-Coleman | (3) Darious Williams

RCB (1) Aqib Talib | (2) Kevin Peterson | (3) David Long

SS (1) John Johnson III | (2) Taylor Rapp | (3) Steven Parker

FS (1) Eric Weddle | (2) Marqui Christian

Rams Mock Cutdown

Keep in mind that these selections are based solely on players playing this preseason and how they’ve taken advantage of the opportunities. Injuries are considered as well.

Note that one additional player made this final Rams mock cutdown count over last season, therefore, look for one less player surviving offensively (coming next). 

Main Photo:
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