Los Angeles Rams have unseen potential with 2019 linebackers

    Questions surround the Los Angeles Rams at inside linebacker. With a plethora of inexperience next to Cory Littleton, will it haunt the Rams as they look to make another Super Bowl run?

    The Los Angeles Rams enter the 2019 season with a giant question mark at inside linebacker. With former Rams linebacker Mark Barron departing in free agency, the most experienced linebacker becomes Cory Littleton. Littleton enters his third season in the starting role.

    Next to Littleton, however, is when it gets dicey. Slotted next to the former undrafted free agent at the moment is Micah Kiser, who enters his second year. Kiser played in limited action last season, mostly on special teams. While that’s the same route Littleton took to get to his starting role, it also doesn’t instill a lot of confidence.

    Behind Kiser are several late-round and undrafted players in Bryce Hager, Dakota Allen, Travin Howard, Natrez Patrick, Troy Reeder, and Ketner Kupp.

    Wade Phillips Knows Best

    It should be no surprise that the Rams are in the situation they are in given who is calling their defense. Phillips has a history of not investing heavily in the linebacker position and being able to coach up late-round talent. It’s one of the main reasons the Rams felt confident in trading away Alec Ogletree and his hefty contract.

    With the Denver Broncos, Phillips started sixth-round pick Danny Trevathan and fifth-round castaway, Brandon Marshall. Todd Davis went undrafted in 2014, but led the Broncos in tackles in 2016, playing next to Corey Nelson who was a 2014 seventh-round pick.

    Brian Cushing was the last first-round talent that Wade Phillips had before Ogletree, and that was back from 2011-2013. However, after DeMeco Ryans left in free agency following the 2011 season, Phillips inserted veteran Bradie James in 2012 and then 2010 fourth-round selection Darryl Sharpton and former sixth-round pick Joe Mays in 2013.

    It’s not that Phillips doesn’t value the linebacker position. It’s just that given his record, he has shown that he can coach up raw and unfinished players to execute his scheme.

    As mentioned, Littleton is an undrafted player that started on special teams but was the 11th-highest graded linebacker in coverage last season according to Pro Football Focus. That’s an incredible value and makes it so that the Rams can invest in other positions of need.

    Who Will Step Up For the Los Angeles Rams?

    Micah Kiser

    Coming out of Virginia, Kiser will have a lot to prove heading into year two. It will be his position to lose as the Rams head into training camp. Kiser is known for being a solid tackler and stout run-defender.

    While the Rams lose Mark Barron’s experience, they gain size with Kiser. The Rams struggled to stop the run last season as they ranked dead last in the NFL in yards per carry allowed and 23rd overall in yards allowed per game. Kiser is coming in at 244 pounds compared to Barron’s 220 and recorded seven tackles for loss in his final season at Virginia.

    Bryce Hager

    Hager may be the most athletic player out of this group, not to mention he’s going into his fifth year with the Rams. He’s been buried on the roster due to the previous depth at the position but could make a run to the starting role in  2019.

    Hager is the most experienced linebacker on the roster and knows Phillips’ scheme. If Kiser has early hiccups, the fifth-year player is in prime position to take over.

    Dakota Allen

    From “Last Chance U” to the NFL. That is the route that Dakota Allen has taken to get here. Allen went from Texas Tech castaway to team captain at East Mississippi Community College and back to Texas Tech, becoming a captain the second time around.

    Allen may not start right away, but the potential is there. Like Kiser, he’s a sure tackler but has the athleticism and speed to go with it. He should start on special teams initially, but his speed and ability to fill gaps could turn him into a starter soon.

    Natrez Patrick

    Like Allen, Patrick has his own comeback story. Patrick wasn’t kicked out of Georgia but did enter a rehab facility after multiple arrests. That was a huge reason for him going undrafted, but the ability was always there.

    He brings the size and speed necessary for both linebacker positions and has solid play-recognition. He struggles in coverage, but with an inexperienced group and his versatility, he has an opportunity to make the roster.

    Troy Reeder

    The Rams had a goal this offseason when they brought in linebackers.  They wanted guys who could tackle. Ogletree had tackling issues and Barron, while solid, sometimes struggled due to his smaller frame. Reeder, on the other hand, is 6’3″, 245 pounds and is the prototypical player that starts on special teams and works his way up.

    Travin Howard

    Howard is the most similar player to Mark Barron as the safety/linebacker ‘tweener’ player. He missed all of last year due to an injury but comes back after still having a year in the system. Due to his safety-like frame, he’s active in coverage, but at just 6’1, 213-pounds, he could be a liability in the run game. If he makes the roster, he can see moneybacker snaps while the Rams are in smaller defensive sets.

    Ketner Kupp

    Kupp will immediately be a fan favorite due to his relation to Cooper Kupp. However, the expectations here are small. He doesn’t have your prototypical size or athleticism, but he’ll still get an opportunity in camp to compete.

    Conclusion

    The Rams don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to the inside linebacker position, but the potential is there. Kiser excelled at stopping the run at Virginia while Hager brings some experience in the system and Allen and Patrick each bring young athleticism.

    There will undoubtedly be questions heading into 2019, but Phillips will have them ready, after all, he’s done it before.

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