The Los Angeles Rams entered the 2018 NFL Draft with limited early round picks and a strong need for linebackers. It came as a surprise to some when the team chose to use their first three picks on two offensive linemen and a defensive end. There was concern that the Rams wouldn’t be able to address their most important position of need.
Those concerns washed away when the Rams chose inside linebacker Micah Kiser and edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in the fifth round. Both Kiser and Okoronkwo will be thrown into the rotation from day one and even have a chance at becoming starters by Week 1. Okoronkwo has the tools to be an impact player right away, but his game still has its flaws.
Against the run
Okoronkwo must improve against the run. While he can get by defenders when they’re stepping back in a pass rush, he struggles from time to time when they’re coming right at him. Okoronkwo found himself getting flattened on run blocks and was inconsistent at setting the edge. He doesn’t have the physical traits that make you believe he’ll put everything together to become a great player, but Okoronkwo has a knack for the game and should adapt to hide his weaknesses. Expect him to adapt to the NFL run game sooner than later.
He has help
The good news for Okoronkwo is that he is entering the best possible situation for a rookie edge rusher. The Rams are thin at the position, but they won’t be asking much of their edge rushers. Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh are going to draw every single double team from opposing defenses. If they both end up off the field at the same time, Michael Brockers will be the one drawing attention. Edge players on the Rams will be going one-on-one almost 100% of the time. Okoronkwo will likely start the preseason as a situational pass rusher with room to grow. He’ll be put in a position to succeed from day one.
Okoronkwo fills a need
With the loss of both Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin, the Rams needed to add a pass rusher off the edge. Okoronkwo was one of the most feared pass rushers in college football over the last two seasons. He racked up 17 sacks over the last two years and proved to be a more than capable edge rusher. He has a quick release off the ball and is a natural at getting to the quarterback in the pocket. The Rams are going to need the edge rushers to complement their interior linemen, and Okoronkwo will make a great foil next to Donald and Suh.
The Rams and fans alike are expecting big things from Okoronkwo, but we should temper those expectations just a bit. The team will roll out Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre as their starting outside linebackers. Since the team didn’t add an outside linebacker in free agency, it seems like Wade Phillips trusts these two quite a bit.
It will be best for Okoronkwo to start the season as a rotational outside linebacker. Let him get a taste of the action before serving him the whole meal. He’ll have an immediate impact as a situational pass rusher and will pick up the other stuff as his playing time increases. Don’t be shocked if Okoronkwo sees more and more time each week this year. As far as value in the fifth round go, this guy is a home-run. He fills an immediate need for the Rams and has upside to be a solid starter. Playing alongside Suh and Donald will do wonders for him and the rest of the Rams young pass rushers.
Steve Rebeiro is a staff writer and podcast host for Rams Talk. He is an alumni of Marquette University. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here.