Since hiring Sean McVay to lead the LA Rams team as the head coach in 2017, the Rams have been a varied type of team. For the most part, the Rams defense paid almost no attention to the inside linebacker position, filling the role with late-drafted players, or even players who never heard their names called out in any NFL draft. But when the Rams hired defensive coordinator Raheem Morris in 2021, that strategy changed permanently.
The Rams drafted former South Carolina Gamecocks inside linebacker Ernest Jones with the 104th overall selection in Round 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft. It was the highest pick used by the Rams for the ILB role, and it was the first indication that the Rams wanted to upgrade that role in the defense going forward.
While the primary focus on the LA Rams post-BYE success has been on the return of RB Kyren Williams and the Rams offensive output averaging 30 points per game, let's not overlook the defensive maestro who is conducting the Rams ability to flex to address the opposing offenses on a week-to-week basis. ILB Ernest Jones is rocking the Rams defense in 2023.
Jones is the keystone to the Rams D
Just how good is Ernest Jones this season? In just 14 games, all starts, he has already blown away his total tackles at the position. He has 132 tackles, which averages out to nearly 9.5 tackles per game. That's absurdly productive. But, that's just the tip of the iceberg this season.
Jones has also been used with amazing precision at rushing the quarterback. In fact, Jones has 4.5 quarterback sacks this season, a qualtiy that was just discovered this season. He only had registered 1.0 sacks in two prior seasons. He also has 13 tackles for a loss, as well as five quarterback hits.
Perhaps the most amazing statistic about LA Rams ILB Ernest Jones in 2023 is the fact that he has six pass deflections this season, which is equal to the number of pass deflections in his past two seasons. He has played in 860 defensive snaps, and been targeted with 41 passes. Only 27 of those passes made their way to the intended receiver, resulting in a respectable 65.9 percent completion rate.
And it appears that Ernest Jones continues to perform better and better as the season rolls along:
While there are areas for the LA Rams to address in the offseason, the Rams have to be thrilled with the quality of play out of their starting inside linebacker. We projected Jones to be in the running for a Pro Bowl nomination in 2023, and we are sticking to our guns. Among the NFL's Top 10 tacklers, none have more quarterback sacks or more tackles for a loss.
Ernest Jones is playing on the third season of his four-year contract, which means that the Rams will likely either plan to extend Jones this offseason, draft his eventual replacement in the 2024 NFL Draft, or both.
I'm hopeful that the Rams extend Ernest Jones. He started the change in this defense's attitude with his blue collar work ethic and his physicality at the line of scrimmage. The team does not have an obvious successor for Jones on the Rams roster currently, and even if they did, any understudy has a great deal to learn before the Rams could even think of passing on the baton.
Ernest Jones has proven just how valuable the inside linebacker position can be in the Rams' defense. As a result, the LA Rams need to look after the man in the middle. And if I had a vote on the matter, I would certainly insist that the team does exactly that.