LA Rams Ogbonnia Okoronkwo ready for larger role on defense

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

LA Rams Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is ready to take on a larger role on team’s defense

As the LA Rams sat down to plan for the 2020 NFL season and reviewed all the players on the roster who would contribute to the team’s success this year, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo‘s name most certainly came up in the conversation. After all, here was a player who saw action on just 115 defensive snaps in 2019, and recorded 1.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and seven tackles as a result.  What could happen if he saw more action in 2020? We may soon find out.

After all, he was the 160th player selected from the 2018 NFL Draft. He underwent foot surgery in May of 2018, and his rehab required more time than originally expected.  That resulted in the team placing him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to begin that 2018 season. He recovered in time, but not soon enough to play that season. Instead, he was activated in 2019.

Oh Oh, here he comes again!

At 6-foot-2 and 253-pounds, Okoronkwo is a compact guy who excels at getting excellent leverage and can pivot the hairpin turn around blockers to get to the quarterback. His pass rush off the edge is very similar to that of 6-foot-2 269-pound defensive end Brandon Graham. And much like Graham’s early years, he is making the most of limited opportunities.  But he continues to work out viciously, not only improving his strength and size, but improving his balance, footwork, and all-important handwork:

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He is prepared to step up for the team when he is given his next opportunity to make plays. In all of the conversations about the team’s outside linebackers of Leonard Floyd, Terrell Lewis, and Samson Ebukam, Okoronkwo is frequently overlooked. While he is a returning veteran, the Rams had only afforded him a few defensive snaps, and about a third of the special team snaps last year.

Ok Ok, time to play!

That will likely change this year. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo had been smoldering for the Rams defense in 2019, but in each appearance on defense, a sudden burst into a red hot player would have surprised nobody.  He flashed on  October 27, 2019, when he chalked up 1.5 sacks in one game. The Rams defeated an outgunned Cincinnati Bengals on that Sunday afternoon, but the flame-up of Okorankwo never happened after that for the rest of the 2019 season.

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That changes in 2020.  The new Rams defensive philosophy, set by new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, is to use deception to outsmart opposing offenses.  That not only opens the door for a big season for Okoronkwo, it literally kicks the door in. While the Rams give snaps on one side to the rookie Lewis, Oko will pick up snaps on the other side. Of the four, offenses will be most likely to underestimate the impact of Oko on defense. What will that mean in terms of stats?  If Oko gets 350 defensive snaps, he could be in the five sack range with 25-30 tackles. That would be a huge season for his third NFL season, and just second year getting snaps. It would also be huge for the LA Rams defense this year.