While the LA Rams have not tried to hide the fact that the team is essentially refurbishing the roster from the ground up, have we truly given the Rams front office personnel executives the respect that is due to them? After all, the Rams roster was stripped of all veterans who had contributed to their Super Bowl LVI victory, save for a handful of players.
The result was the Rams roster being whittled down to just 44 of 90 players as the team entered the 2023 NFL Draft. Even as the Rams drafted 14 rookies through the three-day draft event, and signed a significant number of undrafted collegiate free agents after the draft, the Rams roster was high on youth but dangerously short of NFL experience.
That complicated the Rams plans throughout OTAs, training camp, and even preseason games, as the Rams coaching staff had to ensure that the new players understood how to prepare for a season in the NFL, and then go about the hard work to prepare for the 2023 NFL season.
Rams sign a stellar FA defensive back
It would have gone much worse this season if the Rams had not found some bargains in the NFL Free Agent market as well as the trade market. The Rams were able to shore up the wide receiver group by signing veteran WR Demarcus Robinson. The Rams were able to beef up their ground assault with veteran RB Royce Freeman. And the Rams were able to plug a hole in their starting offensive line by trading for veteran interior offensive lineman KevIn Dotson.
But no group on the Rams roster needed veteran leadership more than the Rams secondary. You see, the LA Rams traded All-Pro defensive back Jalen Ramsey to the Miami Dolphins for tight end Hunter Long and a 2023 NFL Draft pick in Round 3. While the Rams deliberately made the decision to part ways with Ramsey, the team had to scramble to fill his absence on the defense.
The team ultimately signed a forgotten veteran defensive back who was healthy after a devastating injury named Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon had played on physical defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers and had performed quite well in those roles.
The right player for the job
Witherspoon was perfectly suited for what the Rams needed to anchor their very young secondary. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 195 pounds, Witherspoon brought the right size and physicality to the Rams secondary. The Rams had hoped that DB Robert Rochelle might fill that role, but he never seemed to find a way to fit the niche in the Rams defense.
Conversely, Ahkello Witherspoon fit that role like a glove.
He may not be leading the discussions for 2023 Pro Bowl honors, but his overall performance grade from Pro Football Focus of 63.7 so far tells the tale of how well he has played for the team this season. He has only allowed 35 catches out of 75 targets (46.7 percent catch rate), and he has three interceptions to lead the Rams this season.
Best of all, he is costing the LA Rams just $1.08 million this year. For a starting veteran cornerback, that is an incredibly team friendly contract. Of course, the Rams did take a chance that Witherspoon would be able to compete at the NFL level. It was a wise gamble, as Witherspoon has become the leader of a better-than-expected Rams defense.
Will the LA Rams extend Witherspoon at the end of this season? We certainly hope so. But the cost of re-signing him may be beyond the Rams budget. Still, we can enjoy his contribution to the team now. After all, he is delivering far beyond expectations. I, for one, believe he should get a bit more attention and respect than he seems to have gotten so far.