The Rams and Chargers are heading in opposite directions when it comes to their defensive schemes, and that could have some impact on next week’s NFL draft.
The Rams, under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, are transitioning from a base 4-3 front to a 3-4, one that values versatile defensive ends and linebackers, commonly known as edge rushers.
The Chargers and new coordinator Gus Bradley, are headed the other way, from 3-4 to 4-3 and might look to bulk up on the line. In total, this is a good year for teams seeking help on the edge, and it starts at the top, where Cleveland is almost certain to select Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick.
Garrett almost certainly will head to the Browns, who recently hired former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to lead their defense. Garrett was a first-team All-America selection in 2016 even though a knee injury limited his games and effectiveness.
It’s likely that Garrett, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett and Stanford’s Solomon Thomas all will be selected among the first 20 picks of the draft, and UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley could join that group.
Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah called this a “good” group of edge rushers but cautioned it can be tough to grade them because of the quick-strike nature of college offenses.
“You don’t get a chance to see these guys really get a good, hard rush on people at times,” Jeremiah said last week. “That’s a little bit of a challenge there.”
There’s also a challenge to determine which edge rushers can stand up in a 3-4 system, or play at the line in a 4-3 scheme, and that’s something the Rams and Chargers must focus upon.
The Rams might not seek much draft help on the edge this year. They believe former defensive end Robert Quinn can translate nicely to a stand-up position, and they signed edge rusher Connor Barwin, who played under Phillips in Houston, to man the other side.
Quinn’s history of injuries could give the Rams some pause, though, and if they wanted to add an edge rusher with their initial pick, at No. 37, they could have their eyes on Missouri’s Charles Harris or Auburn’s Carl Lawson.
The Chargers might be more likely to seek draft assistance. A year ago, they selected Joey Bosa with the No. 3 overall pick, and Bosa thrived in his rookie season but now will be asked to play more of a traditional defensive-end role under Bradley, the former Jacksonville coach.
Also, the Chargers, who obviously emphasized linebackers and interior linemen in their previous system, will need to add to their defensive-end depth, and might be able to do so in the mid-to-late rounds.
Two other edge rushers with first-round skill, Harris and Michigan’s Taco Charlton, could sneak into the first round, but the top four at this position seem to have separated themselves.
MYLES GARRETT, TEXAS A&M
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