Filling The Los Angeles Rams Inside Linebacker Void
May 11, 2020 1 Comment Article Gary Van Dyke

Welcome to Filling The Los Angeles Rams Inside Linebacker Void article on Gridiron Ratings. Where we’ll hit on all we got on hand to figure out our best possible fantasy football IDP option at the Rams inside linebacker position. Because after Cory Littleton took his talents to Vegas to play with the Raiders, there is a production void leftover. One that IDP owners may want to take a flier on for IDP purposes. It’s a high profile IDP Fantasy Football vacuum, to say the least. And one that getting a hold of the right player could pay off big in 2020 and possibly beyond.

rams inside linebacker

If we have kept up on the Rams this past offseason, there is no doubt that they revamped the defense. Their front seven is going to have an entirely different feel to it with multiple new starters in place. And for fantasy football owners, the inside linebacker position that Littleton manned is arguably the biggest IDP vacuum to fill.
He was basically a one-man show in a defensive scheme that would normally offer a couple of ILB options. And now after the Rams didn’t draft high or address the position with a high profile free agent, IDP owners could hit the fantasy football lottery. But only if we take a flier on the right candidate. So just who should we consider putting our odds on versus the current trend we’re seeing?

To get a feel for what the fantasy football community may be thinking, I recently posted this poll on Twitter. And granted it did not include all the canidates. But it did cover the four veterans that the media has mentioned as possible Littleton replacements. And according to what those media outlets had to say, the results are not surprising. Well, maybe they aren’t surprising considering the situation. But might be a little different from where this IDP writer sits on the topic.

rams inside linebacker

The Eye On The Prize

Over the last two seasons, Littleton recorded 125 combined tackles in 2018 and 134 combined in 2019. The undrafted linebacker also carried an impressive 2/1 solo to assisted tackle ratio. Hitting his peak in 2018, with nearly a 3/1 ratio. During that period, he averaged 94.5% of the defensive snaps available and the only full-time inside linebacker for the Rams. The potential to hit on the next man is well worth picking a flier for this LB1 production left behind.

The Current Veteran Candidates

The following veteran players on the Rams roster are candidates with a shot to fill the vacuum in 2020. And possibly for the next few seasons beyond that. We’ll also mention that there are currently a lot of depth charts out there to refer to. And this list is my opinion based on who is under contract at this moment. And not a refection of any depth chart in circulation at this time.

In other words, I’m applying player metrics and my knowledge by researching to try and get this right. So if you don’t see a linebacker listed, it’s solely because that player is likely an outside linebacker. And does not translate to inside linebacker for the Rams on paper for this writer.

  1. Micah Kiser was drafted in the fifth round in 2018 and is set to earn $824,494 in 2020. Here is our media darling at the moment, despite spending 2019 on injured reserves. And only playing special teams as a rookie the year before. And being the media darling is likely why he was our poll favorite. As well as where the flier capital is being spent by a lot of fantasy football owners. But other than this, we have really nothing to talk about at the pro level. And we have nothing to actually gauge anything on film. So unless we hold stock in his fifth-round selection or reflect on his college career. It’s the media hype fueling his trend upwards.
  2. Troy Reader played a lot as a rookie in 2019, recording eight starts with 58 combined tackles. This undrafted linebacker was a mid-season darling for some fantasy football owners. But he just never quite made the impact they were hoping for the long term. He is set to make $679,000 in 2020 and is dragging a very poor 2019 28.6 PFF grade to the table. And as an IDP writer that spotted his rise in 2019, I think we have a player with a high football I.Q. It’s just too bad it didn’t translate well into real life. Because we certainly may not be having this fantasy football discussion right now if it had.
  3. Kenny Young was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2018 draft and had 19 contests to earn a starting role. He then was traded to the Rams around week four in 2019 after reportedly being benched. At that point, he was labeled a bust and spent the remainder of 2019 on the s special team units. He didn’t record any meaningful first-team defensive snaps. And carries a cap hit of $750,000 heading into his third season with the Rams.
  4. Travin Howard has had his name thrown into the conversation based on his proto-type inside linebacker status. He was drafted in the 2019 draft in the 7th round and mainly used as a special teams guy. But he did see 9% of the available defensive snaps while seeing some playing time in about five contests. And He is entering 2020 making $675,000 and was considered a development piece when drafted.
  5. Natrez Patrick is an undrafted linebacker out of Georgia that played 1% of the defensive snaps in 2019. He did play about 40% of the special team snaps available as a rookie as well. He’ll make $676,666 in 2020 and has had his name thrown into the ring as a player to watch.

The Current Rookie Candidates

We are going to list these players, but considering they are late to undrafted rookies, we won’t include any descriptions. We can’t take them out of the conversation at this point. But the odds are doubled up against one of them surfacing as the next man up in year one. And let’s be realistic here. The Rams didn’t plan on addressing the hole they had with a late-round or undrafted rookie “ringer” in mind. But we do recognize anything is possible and it’s any given Sunday every year.

Daniel Bituli / Undrafted out of Tennesse.

Greg Reaves / Undrafted out of South Florida.

Christian Rozeboom / Undrafted out of South Dakota. 

Clay Johnston / Drafted in the 7th round (2020).

rams inside linebacker

Picking An IDP Winner

So it’s at this point that anyone who would read one of my articles would expect some kind of statistical or metric fact-finding layout. All to back up whatever I was going to say next. But there isn’t anything worth that approach on paper to go my traditional route with this one. And because of the lack of playing time among the players at the pro-level, I’m going to start by saying this. The Rams do not value inside linebackers in their defensive scheme anymore, period.

They’ve done nothing the last couple of years but clear out the position. Only to restocked it with very low to none drafted players. And Littleton was the perfect example of this, even if he wasn’t the current coaching staff draft selection. Let’s face it, when we look HERE, Littleton wasn’t even a prototype inside linebacker in college. And wasn’t even graded or expected to necessarily make a roster.

We also could go into a long song and dance on how Sean McVay was hired in 2018. And brought in a long time defensive genius Wade Phillips with him. Or how Phillips left his mark on McVay when it comes to defensive scheming and personal.

Or perhaps we could cover how the Rams entered 2019 in cap hell. And after going 3 and 3 to start the season, along with multiple injuries, started cleaning the “cap hell” house. While basically, they saw the writing on the wall and the state of the team. Then that would lead us into covering the Rams transaction history demonstrating the team’s defensive philosophy.

But we aren’t going to cover all this because that would require a novel. Instead of getting to the point for our fantasy football purposes. So what are we going to do? Well, quite honestly, this IDP writer is going to trust his gut and hope that readers trust that I have researched all of the above. And that I’ve come to a logical decision on who I think is our best player to target. And I’m going to deliver this with quite a few statements.  Hopefully backing up why I would pick up Kenny Young if I’m wanting to win this IDP lottery.

rams inside linebacker

  • On paper, when we look at all the eligible players. Young has the best physical metrics to supplement Littleton’s role. And the type of linebacker he was used as in the Rams scheme of things. His best-known attribute is coverage, and not taking on blockers in the box.
  • We are not going to hold his time with the Ravens against him either. Because although the 3-4 defensive scheme is the same by name, on film and research, the inside linebacker’s roles are not. Think of it as the Ravens have tried to be aggressive with their ILBs. Whereas the Rams allowed Littleton to react to what was given to him. And keep in mind that the Ravens have been all over the map in who and how they use their ILBs.  Over the last couple of seasons, their approach just hasn’t been normal after C.J. Mosley left.
  • Considering individual draft stock, Young has the lead by a small margin. But pending his draft class status, he might have gone a round earlier comparably.
  • If we take into consideration when Young was supposably benched by the Ravens for “poor play” early in 2019. Versus the trade taking him to L.A., was he really benched or has he pulled from the line up because of behind the scene negotiations? Keep in mind, when we look at what the Ravens did with the ILBs for the rest of the 2019 season. For example, in 2019, the three main remaining ILBs received the following snap count percentages on the entire season. P.Onwuasor 48.4%, J. Bynes 40%, and L.Fort 25.8%, basically phasing out the ILBs. And in favor of more defensive backs and edge-rushers blitzing and in coverage.
  • Transaction stock when they acquired Young from the Ravens is notable too. In 2018 the for cap reasons the Chiefs traded two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to the Rams for a 2019 second-round and 2018 fourth-round pick. Then again for cap purposes, the Rams traded Peters to the Ravens for Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick. In the NFL, and in-season, that transaction value may have looked like the Ravens got a great deal. But realistically shows the Rams held Young in high regard as part of the negotiations.
  • And in contrast to the deal, Peters in his prime at 27 years of age, was selected to the Pro Bowl again in 2019 for his third time. And was just recently signed a three year, $42,000,000 contract with the Baltimore Ravens, including an $8,000,000 signing bonus, $32,468,118 guaranteed, and with an average annual salary of $14,000,000. This is currently a top ten cornerback contract in the NFL.

Cleaning It All Up

So, there are a few arguments that could be made about some of the other players. As well as the fact that Young did not play any defensive snaps for the Rams after joining the team. And he only saw time with the special teams during games. But remember, I’m here now using what little information is on hand to say why I would put my money on a player among this group. And when I looked at the two main players who rightfully lead the poll we posted above, there are a couple of problems. I’m not knocking them, just stating why I’m not on board with the media darlings.

  • I have a couple of red-flags on Kiser as my odds on bet player. One is we have no real pro-level film and the other is the following overview found HERE. And we quote: ” Kiser’s impressive production didn’t happen on accident and teams will have to weigh his consistent ability to make plays with his modest athletic ability and overall play speed. Kiser is a banger built to play inside the box, but he has limited range and may not offer much coverage ability. Unless he runs well and puts together a solid workout, he could fall in this draft, but his toughness and production give him a shot to be a backup.” Nothing here fits the off the ball coverage player they used Littleton as. Overall, we have speculations with nothing to back it up on paper or film.
  • As for Troy Reeder, a player I suggested IDP owners plug and play last year for his potential chance of breaking out. He inherited the role that Kiser reportedly was slated for next to Littleton before going to injured reserves. And wasn’t actually the next man up either. That was Bryce Hager, who went on injured reserves after the first four contests. And did we mention that Reeder played a lot last season? Or that he struggled the whole time in coverage, hence, a big part of his poor 28.6 PFF grade?
  • As for the rest of the players we mentioned that are eligible. They are either first or second year undrafted or super late-round draft picks. And yes we know so was Littleton, but the Rams let him develop over a couple of seasons. And developed before he earned the right to start. Something rare in itself these days to begin with. 
  • So what about Young and the fact he never got his shot at playing next to Littleton? Well, as I read the overall situation, they didn’t set him up to fail after joining the team in mid-October. The organization knew they were in trouble by the time all this unfolded. They went 3 and 3 the first six contests, had a few major injuries sending defensive players to the bench or the injured reserves. Those included starting strong safety John Johnson (I.R.), cornerback Aqib Talib (I.R), and OLB/Edge Rusher Clay Mathews. Who was out for three weeks with a broken jaw and it was iffy at best whether he could return. Not to mention that the organization themselves said they would not rush Young. He was an in-season pickup who hadn’t learned the team’s way of running the defense in the off-season. And by the time they would have had time to bring him up to speed, they had already decided to clean house. They knew they weren’t going to compete or go far by then. So why risk Young next to Littleton when Young didn’t fit the role of the other part-time ILB? Again, his skill set fits Littleton’s, not the “in the box” ILB Kiser was slated for and Hager and Reeder played. And throwing Young into the fire when there isn’t a need keeps from breaking a guy who just went through the gauntlet in Baltimore.

rams inside linebacker

Final Thoughts

So much for that not writing a novel idea, huh? But to sum this up after all the statements I’ve made. I feel like if I’m playing in this lottery to get what Littleton’s role offered in IDP production, I’m taking my flier on Young. He went to UCLA and because he was in the same state, I have no doubts that the Rams are familiar with him. They knew they were in cap hell and they wouldn’t be able to retain Littleton when it was all said and done. And they didn’t bother drafting high in this year’s draft or sign a veteran because they already made a move to replace Littleton when they acquired Young. 

As an IDP writer, I realize this is all about as valuable as flipping a coin. And not exactly anything more than an opinion I based on speculations of my own. But I truly believe with a clean slate, a year under his belt with the team, and an open competition, that everything points to Young emerging as the best candidate for the job. And who I will personally be laying odds on in leagues if I have the opportunity to add just one of the eligible candidates at the end of my IDP roster. Fingers crossed folks because whoever can win this lottery may have a great IDP option for the next couple of years if things work out. And fantasy football gods forbid it, the Rams use some useless rotation with no full-time ILB going forward.

Thank you for joining us at Gridiron Ratings.  

Gary VanDyke

“The IDP Tipster”

The IDP Tipster

Would you like directly have access to Gary VanDyke and his fantasy Football IDP “takes” or interact? You can find him here @TheIDPTipster via Twitter. His most active account. Or chat with us using our member’s chat on site. We look forward to hearing from you.

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