Justin Hollins shine for Packers casts shadow on Rams D

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

When the LA Rams outright released three players from the roster: TE Kendall Blanton (Practice Squad), RB Darrell Henderson Jr., and OLB Justin Hollins, some fans were shocked, others were mildly surprised, and still, others were not surprised at all. In fact, some were even indignant about the players being waived, adding insult to injury by asserting that they were not helping the Rams this season.

All three players were quickly claimed by other NFL teams, suggesting that NFL GMs did not agree with the snarky “Good riddance!” sentiments of some.  One of the players released, outside linebacker Justin Hollins, was claimed by the Green Bay Packers.  Of course, he had played for defensive coordinator Joe Barry before, when Barry was the linebackers coach for the Rams in 2020.

So how did he perform in the Packers’ defense? In just 21 defensive snaps, he managed two tackles and one quarterback sack. That was only his second sack of the season, but considering the fact that he was making his debut on a new defense, the sack is certainly a great way to make a first impression.

RB Darrell Henderson Jr. was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars but did not see any action this week. And tight end Kendall Blanton was re-signed to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad and was not elevated in Week 12 to face the Rams.

What happened to the Aaron Donald effect?

But the almost instantaneous success of OLB Justin Hollins raises a much deeper question for the LA Rams’ defense. Historically, the LA Rams had benefitted from a boost in production on the Rams roster cordially nicknamed ‘the Aaron Donald effect,’ due to the boost to players’ stats when they lined up alongside Donald.

But Hollins had only mustered one quarterback sack although playing 308 defensive snaps in both a starting and rotational role for the LA Rams. So what’s happening? So what of the other Rams edge rushers who are playing for new teams?

Houston Texans edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo hasn’t recorded a sack this season, but he has nearly doubled the number of tackles over last year at just beyond the mid-season mark. San Francisco 49ers edge rusher Samson Ebukam has shown no regression, as he has 31 tackles and 3.5 quarterback sacks in nine games played, statistics that nearly match his full-season production on the Rams’ defense.

While this may only be a temporary anomaly, the trend is more than one data point. Historically, the LA Rams have been able to rely on Aaron Donald’s ability to allow them to draft an edge rusher in the seventh round in each of the past two drafts. In fact, the Rams have only drafted an edge rusher on Day 1 or 2 for their defense twice in the past ten years. OLB Terrell Lewis was drafted in Round 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft, and OLB Alec Ogletree was drafted in Round 1 of the 2013 NFL Draft.

With their recent track record, the Rams will need to give the position a far greater priority in the 2023 NFL Draft.

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