Best ‘backers in the NFL? LA Rams LBs flirting w something special

Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /
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LA Rams News Rams Roster Michael Hoecht
Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

One more player to complete the set

The LA Rams need one more dominant player, an outside linebacker, to forge a linebacker unit that could flirt with inclusion in the Top-10 linebacker units of all time. Why is that so special? Those elite linebacker units quite frequently end up competing for the Lombardi Trophy, that’s why:

How can that be? In the modern NFL era of versatility and cross-training, linebackers had a rich history in the NFL of being versatile enough to flex to confound and frustrate even the most modern and sophisticated NFL offenses of their day. It was that ability to morph into whatever was needed that gave rise to the Vic Fangio-style defense that relies on disguises and deceptions in the secondary as well.

The Rams missed out on the opportunity to sign veteran OLB Von Miller to the type of long-term contract to give the Rams a chance to be in that discussion today. But he is not the only route to an elite unit. Already, former defensive lineman Michael Hoecht has successfully cross-trained for the Rams, becoming their starting outside linebacker for the final seven games of the 2022 NFL season, a period in which he logged 4.5 quarterback sacks and 34 tackles. Over the course of a full season, Hoecht would end with 11 quarterback sacks and 83 tackles.

More than one option

But Hoecht cross-trained midseason, and basically learned the role by being tossed into the Rams’ starting defense with an expectation to play football instinctively. Imagine how much more effectively he can fulfill the role after OTAs, training camp, and preseason games.

But the LA Rams have other options as well. Because the LA Rams hold the 37th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, some elite edge rush prospects could still be on the board when the Rams pick. Like who? Well, several jump off the page from our LA Rams Draft: Top 50 Rams Big Board for 2023 NFL Draft article.

The 2023 draft class is bursting with talented edge players. But two who could start for the LA Rams from the opening kickoff are LSU edge rusher B.J. Ojulari and Arkansas edge rusher Drew Sanders. Both have 1st or 2nd round grades, both are technically sound, and both are quite capable of showing up and blowing away the coaching staff as they compete for playing time on the Rams’ defense.

The LA Rams in the days of yore flourished on the plays made by great linebackers. The team is returning to those roots now, and if successful, is a great direction to take this team. In times of uncertainty, go back to what you know. The LA Rams know great linebacker play. And if you don’t know what that means, the team is about to give fans a history lesson.

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