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2020 positional preview: Defensive ends

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

To say the Los Angeles Rams defensive front is one of the most stacked in the league is an understatement. Going into the 2020 season, the Rams have a stout defensive line that may be the real strength of the entire defense and could benefit the defensive back corps.

Superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald will anchor the front, but the supporting cast will play a crucial role. Veteran Michael Brockers, who was re-signed for another three years, will continue with his run-stopping acumen. Newly acquired defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson will most likely start at nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme. The depth at defensive end has seen recent changes and additions.

Aaron Donald: Starting defensive tackle/end

In truth, Donald needs an article all to himself since this one little entry does not do him justice. He is arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Donald brings a resume boasting two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards (2017, 2018), six Pro Bowls (2014-2019) and most tackles for a loss the last two seasons. In 2019, he had 48 total tackles, 12.5 sacks and one safety. He led the league with 20.5 sacks in 2018.

Donald is set to have another great year and seems to improve every year, delivering as expected. Earning $25 million in 2020 under his 6 year/$135 million contract (one of the largest in history), the front office and fans will not be disappointed in their investment in one of the greatest. Donald commands the respect of offensive linemen familiar with his power and quickness, bringing multiple blockers to handle him. The Rams can only hope that the future Hall of Famer retires as a Ram.

Michael Brockers: Starting defensive end

Brockers is the longest-tenured defensive lineman on the Rams. He is one of a handful of holdovers from St. Louis including Donald. He will return for his ninth season. Brockers had a career-high 63 tackles in 2019. He also had his second-highest number of quarterback hits (nine). Although he often falls in the shadow of his teammate Donald, Brockers still offers a lot to the Rams. At 6’5,” 305 pounds, Brockers brings the size needed up front to continue his run-stuffing skills and the ability to separate from blockers. He makes the entire line better with his presence even though it may be unnoticed. Alongside Donald, iron will sharpen iron. When Donald has two or three blockers taking him, Brockers should be free to make a play. He is a welcome return when facing opponents with tough running schemes like the San Francisco 49ers or the Dallas Cowboys.

Morgan Fox: Backup defensive end

Fox suffered a season-ending knee injury in organized team activities (OTAs) in 2018, causing him to miss the entire Super Bowl LIII season. He came back strong this season as a backup to Brockers. In 2019, he had 18 total tackles (three for a loss), two sacks and three quarterback hits. He came close to the same numbers he had in 2017.

Fox joined the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and was recently re-signed for his fifth season with the franchise. The Rams decided to keep Fox and release defensive end Tanzel Smart. For his career, Fox has 42 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and one safety. At 6’3,” 275 pounds, Fox is quick and a strong rusher. He also plays special teams and may have more opportunities for big defensive plays in 2020.

Eric Banks: Potential defensive end backup

Banks signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in April. The University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) alum played defensive end for the Roadrunners. In 2019, he had 23 total tackles (three and a half for a loss), two sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. For his collegiate career, he has 80 total tackles (20.5 for a loss), six and a half sacks and five forced fumbles. Banks is a former high school quarterback turned defensive lineman to better his chances for a college scholarship. At 6’5,” 270 pounds, he brings a competitive size for the line. He will learn from veteran players and will potentially be a good backup to Brockers or Donald. Banks will also be reunited with his Rams defensive line coach Eric Henderson. Henderson coached him at D-line at UTSA during his freshman season.

Jonah Williams: Potential defensive end backup

Williams will be a powerful addition to the Rams D-line. At 6’5,” 280 pounds, he runs a 4.65 40-yard dash. Williams, a Weber State alum, will be a strong competitor to be Donald’s or Brockers’s backup. In 2019, he had 62 total tackles (11 for a loss), 7.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries. He also earned All-American honors and was the Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP. For his collegiate career, he has 194 total tackles (28 for a loss), 15 sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks. Williams will potentially bring talent to the special teams squad. As a defensive end, he has great technique with good penetration and speed to get to the quarterback. He is also a solid run stopper and the Rams need that for 2020.

The Rams are also fortunate to have players like Robinson and Sebastian Joseph-Day to substitute at defensive end if needed. Overall, the defensive line is deep and boasts the size and talent needed for success. With rookie UDFAs like Banks and Williams, as well as, veterans like Brockers, Donald and Fox, the Rams look to be in good shape up front.

Sources: Goutsa.com/, Mysanantonio.com/Pro-football-reference.com/, Sports-reference.com/cfb

You can follow Erik Ho on Twitter @EHoinSDLVLA. Be sure to follow Rams Talk on Twitter @TalkRams.

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