Explaining why LA Rams defense devalued linebacker position

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LA Rams Defense

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

The LA Rams defense focused the 2020 NFL draft upon defensive backs rather than interior linebackers. Here’s some explanation of why:

How is it that the LA Rams watched four starting linebackers depart in the off-season and didn’t bat an eye. How is it that the LA Rams last selected a linebacker in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft when the team chose Alec Ogletree in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft?  How is it that after losing both starters at interior linebacker from 2019, the LA Rams did not sign anyone to the position in free agency? Then, the team drafted one interior linebacker in round seven?

If you said that the Rams defense is moving away from the standard 3-4 base configuration, give yourself a round of applause.  If you said that the Rams are moving more rapidly to a defensive back-focused defense under new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, give yourself a standing ovation. That’s where it appears we are heading folks.  Now, where’s the evidence?

Football Outsiders analysis

The analysts over at Football Outsiders had recently posted how NFL teams modified their defensive personnel groupings from the 2019 NFL season versus the 2018 NFL season. Their numbers show that dime defense (meaning, six defensive back sets) increased by 2.7 percent league-wide and the LA Rams were one of the league’s leaders with the use of a dime package 42 percent of the time. Let that sink in folks. The LA Rams ran defenses with six or more defensive backs 42 percent of the time in 2019.

The Rams defense ran their 3-4 base defense 34 percent of the time, good for the third-highest usage in the NFL. The team’s use of the dime package of 42 percent usage was good for the second-highest usage in the NFL. So what about that five defensive back nickel-package? The Rams saw fit to use that formation just 23 percent of the time, which was dead last, or the 32nd ranked usage in the NFL.

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