From the moment that the LA Rams drafted inside linebacker Ernest Jones with the 103rd pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the hope for a way through the 2021 and 2022 NFL season began to shine. What the heck am I talking about? Well, the LA Rams roster boasted all four 2020 inside linebackers playing on the last year of their contract for the 2022 NFL season.
And even with a significant bump in the 2022 annual salary cap, the Rams are still short for their projected 2022 payroll. That 2022 salary expense already has the departure of 21 NFL free agents who will no longer be under contract to the team. No, I’m not trying to cause a panic. Just laying out a foundation of facts. Before the draft, the four Rams realistic choices for the inside linebacker starters for the 2021 NFL season had one year left on their contract.
That creates a problem for the front office. The personnel department prefers to stagger the contracts of players at the same position. That strategy ensures that the team is not painted into the corner when everyone is slated to leave the roster simultaneously.
Rams must rely upon the rookie
The only way out of that trap was to either sign a veteran free agent who could bridge the exodus of the four ILBs or to draft a linebacker who would get a significant number of snaps in 2021 to be ready for a starting role in 2022. Right now, it appears that the Rams have elected the second option. Of course, that option means that the former South Carolina Gamecocks linebacker can handle the load of calling the defensive plays.
It looks like he’s getting his chance to do exactly that already. Well, when he isn’t awestruck by All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald, that is.
So why must the Rams rely so heavily upon the rookie in 2021? For starters, the 6-foot-2 230-pound inside linebacker was a standout for South Carolina, a hugely productive young defender who has a nose for the football.
While he was not given a glowing All-Pro assessment in his 2021 NFL Draft profile, Jones possesses the type of hard-nosed football mentality that should flourish on a defense where he plays behind the likes of Aaron Donald. He is a sure-handed tackler and has a field general’s perspective on the football field.
Those are tremendous qualities in a rookie linebacker, as they are the greatest areas of concern when facing off against NFL offenses.
It’s so early in the training camp process, and the path to learning the position will not be a series of daily A+ scores. Calling defensive plays is so much more to process for a rookie, and it will take some time to sort it all out. But getting him into the saddle early is a very positive sign. In the end, Ernest Jones could be the most important player drafted by the LA Rams in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Of course, he’s just getting started. But he has already brought that let-me-hit-somebody presence on the football field to the NFL that is fun to watch. But most of all, he’s as much of a fan of the game as a player on the football field. While he may be a bit overwhelmed calling the defensive plays to Aaron Donald today, he will be focused when the season begins over not letting his teammates down. And as long as that remains his focus, he won’t.