Overall, the 2009 NFL Draft is one that the St. Louis Rams would like to forget. However, the Rams did have a draft pick that they absolutely nailed which was Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Laurinaitis filled a hole on the defense that the Rams had tried to fill since the days of London Fletcher. He made an immediate impact as a rookie and has taken ownership of the position for the past five seasons.
It was somewhat bizarre that Laurinaitis dropped to the Rams in the second round (35th overall) considering he was a highly regarded linebacker prospect. He earned many accolades during his time with the Buckeyes, including winning the Ronnie Lott Trophy and the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year during his senior year. Laurinaitis was nothing short of consistent, eclipsing over 100 tackles every year that he started for a total of 375 tackles and matched it with 13 sacks and nine interceptions.
The consistency of Laurinaitis’s game carried over to the NFL. He has started all 80 games in his entire pro career and has career totals of 512 tackles, 12 sacks, nine interceptions and six fumble recoveries. Although he has never made it to the Pro Bowl, teams still desire quality linebackers, who can stay healthy and can put up some consistent numbers.
Laurinaitis is able to achieve those impressive stats by relying on his athleticism. At 6’2, 255 pounds, he has excellent speed and is one of the best tacklers in the game. His open field tackling in particular is top notch. He also relies on his instincts to situate himself in the best position to make a tackle. Sometimes Laurinaitis overestimates his athleticism, which can get him into trouble since he doesn’t have too many swim moves to get away from blockers.
Stats are great, but they don’t tell the whole story. Laurinaitis had a career-low of 85 tackles last season and that may send some red flags, but it’s not entirely a bad thing. The lower stats are partly are due to the efficiency of the entire defense and the rookie linebacker sensation Alec Ogletree. His success has taken some responsibility away from Laurinaitis so he can concentrate on other areas such as blitz packages. He had a career high of 3.5 sacks last season.
2012: Laurinaitis had a career high of 117 tackles, but it was mainly due to the lack of a quality run defense. Some of those tackles were of him chasing down offensive players. Impressive numbers indeed, but it came at the expense of the team. He had to constantly play deep to accommodate any missed tackles which is why he only had half of a sack.
2011: Perhaps the 2011 season was Laurinaitis’s best season as he recorded 105 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and seven pass deflections. While those are impressive stats, the defense was ranked in the bottom half of the league.
2010: The Rams defense was 12th in league in points allowed. Laurinaitis had 98 tackles, three sacks and one interception.
2009: Laurinaitis came in and started right away during his rookie season. He did not disappoint either since he gathered 107 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.