The departures of Clay Matthews, Dante Fowler and Cory Littleton drew quite a bit of concern, and for good reasons considering their talent level. Finding replacements for all of them was not an easy task considering they were stuck in the all-too familiar salary cap concerns.
Credit to general manager Les Snead for finding a gem in Leonard Floyd. While Floyd was a great addition, the remaining replacements left a lot to be desired. Still, the question has to be, did it really matter since the Rams possessed the No. 1 overall defense? Well, yes and no. The defense was still dominant, but it was an exploited weak point that essentially knocked the Rams out of the playoffs.
All that said, here is how the linebackers matched up in 2020:
Leonard Floyd: Grade A-
55 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 19 QB hits and two fumble recoveries.
Floyd’s impact was obvious, just look at the stats above. Stats don’t tell the entire story, but they certainly are a great measurement for an EDGE rusher. Floyd actually had somewhat of a slow start, which is a bit understandable coming into a new defense.
It became a common occurrence to see Floyd near the ball carrier once things began to click. Floyd and Aaron Donald became one of the best defensive pass rushing tandems in the NFL. This actually becomes a debated topic if Floyd’s impact was because of his talent alone?
Clearly, Floyd’s talent has something to do with his stats, but this argument actually stems from Fowler’s lack of success in 2020. Fowler only earned 23 total tackles and three sacks with the Atlanta Falcons. Obviously, Fowler played on an abysmal Falcons defense. This becomes the argument about Floyd’s success. He really didn’t have much of an NFL presence until he joined the Rams’ elite defense. This may keep teams from offering larger contracts like the Falcons did with Fowler.
Samson Ebukam: Grade C-
31 tackles, 4.5 sacks, seven QB hits and one forced fumble.
Ebukam is tough to grade because he’s a talented guy that should come in situationally or serve as a relief role. Ebukam is not a starter and last year kind of proved that. It’s difficult to give him too low of a grade since he performed about as much as I could expect.
What I can say about the upcoming free agent is that he makes some critical plays in some dire moments. Ebukam is a guy I’d like back in a Rams uniform, but not as a starter. He’s a quality back up and there isn’t anything wrong with that at all. Hopefully, Terrell Lewis will make big strides in 2021 and stay healthy with Ebukam backing him up.
Kenny Young: Grade D+
52 tackles, one sack, two pass deflections and two QB hits.
Much like Ebukam, Young shouldn’t be a starter. Young’s opportunities came from injuries to Travin Howard and Micah Kiser. Young isn’t known for his coverage skills or hard hitting, but he still had some moments where he stepped up. Teams did expose him at times and it’s really hard to have a huge amount of expectations for him in 2020. That said, Young maybe a solid candidate for a special teamer, but the Rams should make an effort to find someone else that could compete for a starting role.
Troy Reeder: Grade C
81 tackles, three sacks, four QB hits and two pass deflections.
Reeder turned out to be a tackling machine, which is great to have going up against elite running backs. He didn’t do anything exceptionally well, but was serviceable. That’s all you can really ask for in a backup. While it’s safe to say that Reeder isn’t someone you necessarily want as a starter, you tend to feel better about having him behind a starter.
Micah Kiser: Grade C+
77 tackles, three pass deflections and one forced fumble.
I almost didn’t grade Kiser because he was injured for most of the season. Even in games he started, he often didn’t finish the games. The reason I graded him is because Kiser turned out to be a decent starter when healthy. When Kiser initially went out with an injury the Rams defense felt the loss. Young and Reeder did improve as the season went on, but Kiser could potentially be valuable starter if he stays healthy.
Best of the rest
Guys to keep an eye on are Lewis and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. They both showed flashes here and there and could be impact players in 2021 if they improve. Justin Hollins contributed at times, and is a decent back up.
The Rams may need to bring in several linebackers, especially if they can’t bring back Ebukam or Floyd. While I like Kiser and think he has a ton of potential, it wouldn’t hurt for the Rams to bring in more competition at inside linebacker.