When the LA Rams signed All-Pro veteran inside linebacker Bobby Wagner to the roster, for what was only one season, the impact on second-year inside linebacker Ernest Jones seemed obvious. Wagner was the epitome of NFL football-toughness, intelligence, and ferocity. He was the guy who found the football by instinct and delivered the types of tackles that players would talk about for months afterward.
Ernest Jones may not be on everyone's radar for a breakout season in 2023. After all, even when he was putting up 100 tackles in 2022, there were few who truly sat up and took notice. So just for argument's sake, let's list out Jones's NFL progress so far:
2021 | 15 g | 2 st | 440 snaps | 61 Tkls | 1.0 QB sacks | 3 QB hits | 1 TFL | 2 Ints | 4 PDs
2022 | 17 g | 11 st | 723 snaps | 114 Tkls | 0 QB sacks | 1 QB hits | 4 TFL | 1 Int | 2 PDs | 1 FF
As you can see, he has been developing rapidly.
But will he reach the level of Pro Bowl status? Admittedly, there is a great deal of bias for that distinction. Players who have won the honor before tend to win the honor again, regardless of the performance. If that fails, then there is an East Coast bias to awards. Finally, those players who compete in Prime Time football games tend to attract more attention than those who do not.
We know that Ernest Jones is fighting against the grain on all of those categories. So why do I think that he could earn an NFL Pro Bowl nod this season?
Reason III: He is a veteran of the LA Rams defense
While being a veteran of a defense is not typically a great place to start in arguing why a player will be up for Pro Bowl honors, it applies to ILB Ernest Jones in 2023. Jones is the veteran signal caller of the LA Rams defense, and as such will be tasked with herding cats all season long as young players try to match up against seasoned opponents. Jones will not only have the task of calling plays, but he will become the leader of the defense as well. When the Rams need a big stop, it will be up to Jones to deliver, and those type of plays tend to get noticed.
Reason II: He was mentored by All-Pro ILB Bobby Wagner
Ernest Jones may have played alongside Bobby Wagner for just one season, but you could see a dramatic change in his demeanor as the season progressed. While it was Jones, and not Wagner, who left the field for nickel sub packages, Jones put up similar production to Wagner on far fewer defensive snaps. By the end of the season, Jones was flying all over the football field and was equally punishing on running and passing plays.
Reason I: The Rams need him to have a Pro Bowl season
In the end, it's not the award that matters, it's the level of play that matters. While neither the LA Rams nor Ernest Jones can control who earns an NFL, Jones can play at the level that deserves to place him into the Pro Bowl discussion. Why? Because the LA Rams defense will need him to attain and remain at that level of play.
The LA Rams will be competing with a very young and inexperienced defense in 2023. To win games, the Rams offense will need to put up a lot of points. But even a top-scoring offense won't help if the defense cannot stop opposing teams from scoring. That is where Ernest Jones, as leader of the Rams defense, comes in. Because the team is so young, many of the younger players will be taking their lead from Ernest Jones. Will he be up to the challenge?
If he can get 150 tackles, 2+ interceptions, 8+ pass deflections, 10+ QB hits, and 8+ tackles for a loss, he has a good shot of doing so. How likely is he to put up those numbers? If he doesn't, who else on the LA Rams defense will do so? The LA Rams need Ernest Jones to put up a Pro Bowl season. And Ernest Jones is not the type of player who lets his teammates down.