Defenses, even parts of defenses are known by nicknames. Teams of lore like the Purple People Eaters, the Steel Curtain, and even the Fearsome Foursome had “unknown” players that contributed to legendary defensive units. That’s not to say that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips doesn’t have big names in his current incarnation.
Players like Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib are household names. Yet Phillips tends to find overlooked linebackers that fit perfectly in his scheme. A prime recent example is Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who garnered much attention last offseason. There is a reason for the phrase “getting paid with Wade.”
Here is a look at three linebackers that could develop under Phillips. It wouldn’t surprise me if they took over a starting position this year:
With all respects to Bryce Hager, Kiser will be starting by midseason. That’s a bold statement, but I see a good skill-set in Micah Kiser translates well to the NFL. The winner of the 2017 Campbell Trophy (essentially the academic Heisman), he is intelligent enough to decipher offenses and understand concepts in Phillips’s defense. Against the run, Kiser is a slicing and dicing katana. He slips and sheds blocks, and stuffs running lanes in negative territory. For older Rams fans he is reminiscent of London Fletcher but much bigger and dare I say quicker. As of now, experience and the speed of the game will keep him on special teams, but if he keeps working, a starting position is in his reach.
Playing in Louisville with a star like Lamar Jackson, it’s hard to believe there were players that played defense with the Cardinals. Trevon Young was one of the players that impressed scouts against the top teams in the ACC. Young is versatile. He can be a down lineman or an adept stand-up outside linebacker. Young is a steady up-field rusher, who plays very long and keeps offensive linemen at a distance. In pass coverage, he is forest of trees to try to throw through, with a long upper body. Young will have to make team predominately as a special teams player. Yet with some seasoning, Young could develop into a solid starter for many years in NFL.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is the member of the 2018 Rams’ draft class that has the most potential to be a boom or bust. He compares closely to the Atlanta Falcons’ Deion Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, and Rams fans know what he did to the team in the playoffs. At Oklahoma, Okoronkwo proved himself as an explosive edge rusher, who uses used his hands well against long-armed tackles and set the edge on run plays. He’s also above average in pass coverage, as evidenced in his performance against Oklahoma State’s offense. As for bust potential, he can’t get on the field. A nagging injury to Okoronkwo’s leg has kept him out of practices and made him a potential camp casualty. Okoronkwo needs to develop Wolverine-type healing powers in near future, otherwise his days of future might be days of past.