LA Rams Ernest Jones is difference-maker for team’s playoff chances

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

Can the LA Rams ever find an inside linebacker who can play the run and the pass? Someone who just punishes anyone who enters the middle of the defense? Well, he may have arrived in the 2021 NFL Draft. You see, the defense has emphasized the role of the enforcer, that guy who makes running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers pay the price this year.

So when the Rams chose former South Carolina Gamecock’s Ernest Jones, there were more than a few jaws dropping around the leagues. Jones was a solid prospect but was not rated nearly as strongly as other linebackers from the draft class of 2021. Still, he had one thing going for him that no other prospect did: Rams running back coach Thomas Brown lobbied hard for the young man.

It seems that Brown’s opinion carries a lot of weight with the Rams organization right now.

Ernest Jones was the first LA Rams rookie inside linebacker chosen in the NFL Draft on Day 2 in a very long time. So far, it appears that he is earning the team’s trust in valuing him so highly.

Rams roster light at ILB once more

Entering the season, the Rams were thick with players who had experience at the inside linebacker position. Thanks to 2020 injuries, experienced veterans like Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Kenny Young, and even Travin Howard were all competing for playing time. But all four were also in the last year of their contract. That is why the LA Rams needed to add a rookie to the mix, and they chose Ernest Jones to develop into a starting role.

The position thinned slightly after the Denver Broncos signed Kiser off the practice squad. That created less competition for Jones, giving him a greater chance to develop.

He was a rotational player until the LA Rams traded away former starter Kenny Young, necessitating a promotion of the rookie to an instant starter. He played well in his debut against the Houston Texans, but he was a starter during the three-game losing streak. But to be fair, most of the effective runs were aimed at teammate Troy Reeder, who has seemed to noticeably struggle this season.

Jones has a natural flow to the position. He seems to have a good instinct of where to be and when to be and uses that to his fullest advantage.

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Strong play, but getting stronger

From the moment that he arrived, we’ve felt strongly positive about the potential of Jones in this defense. More than stats and tackles, Jones brings a fire and passion that is a sorely needed but key ingredient for turning this thing around.

His play certainly made an impression on the coaching staff and on head coach Sean McVay specifically. What does McVay think about his rookie ILB? Check out the video at the 9:20 mark:

"‘I thought you felt his range and his length yesterday. He had some great ability to diagnose some things early on in the downs where he’s playing sideline to sideline. I thought he really did a great job using his hands in the run fits and then he ends up with a sack. He’s an impressive young player that’s only going to get better. I think he’s going to be a cornerstone for our team.’ – per Head Coach Sean McVay in describing rookie ILB Ernest Jones"

Now we get it that the skeptics who love to insert the ‘but it was only the Jacksonville Jaguars in the comments section will be doing so once more. But for a starting inside linebacker who has just played his 307th defensive snap, and gotten his fourth NFL start, this was incredibly valuable playing time and experience.

Jones is learning and delivering, on the football field. In fact, his play is already far more impressive than that of any other previous ILB. And he is getting better.

Winning in the playoffs is not about the elite players as much as it is about the improvement of fair and good players into something quite special. Right now, Jones is one of those players who is starting to get hot for the team. Hopefully, that passionate play can prove to be a difference-maker in carrying this team into the playoffs.

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