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Los Angeles Rams’ 2019 LBs review: Stars were made; now who do they hold on to?

Inside Linebackers

Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports photographer.

Cory Littleton, 4-year pro, UFA

The emergence of Littleton showed in 2019 after having a solid 2018 season. He earned 134 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, nine pass deflections, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. This puts the Rams in a tough situation because it’s unlikely the Rams will be able to bring back both Littleton and Fowler for 2020.

Truthfully, Littleton had solid performances from Week 1 when he recorded 14 tackles and one interception against the Carolina Panthers, all the way to Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals when he sacked Kyler Murray and recovered a fumble. He led the team in tackles in multiple weeks and became the difference maker the defense needed.

In many ways, Littleton might be the player the Rams need to bring back due to the thin depth at the position. True, some of the listed outside linebackers could move to the interior, but clearly wouldn’t be as effective as Littleton. Either way, Littleton will be paid in 2020.

Troy Reeder, 1-year pro, 2-year/$1.26 million contract (remaining)

One of the biggest surprise roster additions of 2019 was Reeder. He initially made the roster as a special teams contributor. He would go on to become a starter to replace the injured Bryce Hager. After starting eight games, he earned 53 tackles and two forced fumbles. His best game came in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks where he nabbed 13 tackles. Not bad considering he was an undrafted free agent fighting for a roster spot.

In 2020, look for Reeder to compete with Micah Kiser for a starting role. Even if the Rams do bring back Littleton, the Rams are still planning on running a 3-4 defense with Brandon Staley as the defensive coordinator. If Reeder continues to develop, the Rams may have a rising talent on their hands.

Kenny Young, 2-year pro, 2-year/$1.41 million contract (remaining)

The Rams acquired Young from the Baltimore Ravens during the middle of the year in exchange for Marcus Peters. While it was unreasonable to believe that Young would come in and be the immediate starter, it was thought he would get more playing time. He didn’t see much with the Rams. The main reason is because of his struggles with coverage. That could be tolerated since Littleton does well in coverage, but he doesn’t read the ground game well either.

If Young adjusts, he could compete for a starting role, especially if Littleton leaves. But Young has a ways to go before he can even think about playing time.

Bryce Hager, 5-year pro, UFA

Hager is respected as a special teams player. He does a solid job, but as we learned in 2019, he shouldn’t be a starter. In truth, Hager was a starter in name only. He shared responsibilities with Taylor Rapp. He became the starter after competing with Micah Kiser for the starting role before Kiser became injured for the year. To put things into perspective, Hager started four games and only earned 10 tackles.

In 2020, Hager is a free agent. The Rams could bring him back at an affordable price, but he should only have a reserved role and be used primarily for special teams.

Micah Kiser, 2-year pro, 2-year/$1.41 million contract (remaining)

Kiser was thought to be a steal in the 2018 NFL Draft. There was plenty of hype heading into the 2019 offseason. In all honesty, he didn’t really shine in camp or in preseason. Kiser got hurt before the season started and that ended his season.

If Kiser rehabs well and works on his game, he will be thrown in the competition again for a starting role in 2020. Expect Kiser, Young and Reeder to all compete for starting spots, especially if Littleton is in another uniform.

Travin Howard, 2-year pro, 1-year/$585,000 contract (remaining)

Howard did well enough to earn a roster spot with the Rams. He was with the team for all 16 games and contributed at times. He finished with 16 total tackles and three pass deflections. There is some potential with Howard and he will likely compete for a spot on the roster in 2020.

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