ILB Travin Howard could be a key to LA Rams 2021 defense

Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

You may not realize this, but the LA Rams defense has some good news on the horizon. Yes, the team faces another wave of outbound free agents. If you pause to look at some of the players who may be testing the NFL free agency market in 2021, it closely resembles a list of NFL Pro Bowlers. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, safety John Johnson III, cornerback Troy Hill, defensive end Morgan Fox, and defensive back Darious Williams could all sign to megadeals elsewhere.

So yes, some good news would be welcomed. Ready?

6-foot-1 219-pound inside linebacker Travin Howard will be healthy and ready to play once more in 2021.  What? That’s not enough? Well, how about this? He played 102 snaps in 2019 and was a key contributor that year on special teams. Still nothing? Tough crowd, eh?

Okay. let’s start over. The LA Rams were shopping for starting linebackers in 2020 with the exodus of Cory Littleton and Bryce Hager. Littleton signed on with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Hager signed on with the New York Jets. That created two starting spots up for grabs last year. Believe it or not, the team turned to inside linebacker Travin Howard to fill one of the two starting spots.  You see, he had the most experience at the position with his 102 defensive snaps.

That, and he played solidly in a small sample size in 2019.  While small, he showed solid promise. He allowed only nine of 15 passes that targeted him to find their mark for just a 60 percent completion rate. And while he only contributed 22 tackles, that’s a huge contribution from just 102 defensive snaps. But here is the kicker. He never missed a tackle in 2019. Not a one.

Yes, let’s see more of him, please.

LA Rams depth chart much better with Howard

That was the plan, but he fell to injury just before the 2020 NFL season began, redshirting him for the entire year.  Now, he’s back, and lo and behold the Rams appear to have starting spots up for grabs at the inside linebacker position.  And the Rams have a new defensive coordinator, Raheem Morris, who will be looking for leaders of his version of the NFL defense he plans to run.

Howard is an extremely versatile three-down linebacker who contributes as much in pass defense as he does in the run-stuffing.  With more offenses featuring passing as their mainstay, Howard helps the LA Rams lean their defense in that direction without surrendering much with the occasional running offense.

While the Rams may still feel compelled to draft an inside linebacker, they can draft later and allow any rookies to play behind Howard as they learn and earn playing time. With just six draft picks, the Rams will need to use those picks conservatively,  The fewer plug-and-play needs that the Rams depth chart affords the team the opportunity to trade back in the draft and grab more rookies who simply need more coaching to succeed in the NFL.

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Howard is ‘that guy’ who nobody is excited about all the way through the first month of the season, and yet by season’s end has the potential to turn in a blue-chip performance. I like ILB Travin Howard as a starter for the LA Rams defense. Not only for what he brings to the defense alone, but what his presence will allow the defense to do when he is playing.