By adding Bobby Wagner, Rams finally fix one of their biggest weaknesses – Rams Wire

Over the course of Sean McVay’s tenure with the Rams, he and the front office haven’t put much value in the inside linebacker position. They traded away Alec Ogletree in 2018 after extending him five months prior. They started Cory Littleton for two seasons and he played relatively well, but they first acquired him as an undrafted free agent and didn’t sign him to an extension when his contract expired. The first meaningful addition they made was last year by drafting Ernest Jones in the third round.
As a result, the inside linebacker position has been a weakness of the defense for years. But after adding Bobby Wagner in free agency this offseason, that’s no longer the case. The middle of the field went from being a weak spot to a strength.
Whether it was by running the ball at the teeth of the Rams defense or throwing it over the middle, opposing offenses knew exactly how to attack Los Angeles. Throwing it outside against Jalen Ramsey was unwise. Calling long-developing plays that required the quarterback to hold the ball was also not the smart thing to do with Aaron Donald (and Von Miller) bearing down on them.
Teams had the most success throwing it over the middle with short, quick passes, attempting to find mismatches with Troy Reeder and the Rams’ linebackers. The 49ers also found ways to use their rushing attack to exploit the weakness of Los Angeles’ defense, stretching the field laterally to force Reeder to cover ground, pick gaps to fill and make tackles.
Wagner is not only a much better tackler than any linebacker the Rams have had in the last 15 years, but he also might be the smartest. His instincts and awareness both against the run and the pass are among the best of any NFL linebacker right now, and it’s something the Rams have been sorely lacking for years.
In his career, Wagner’s worst coverage grade from Pro Football Focus was 56.4 in 2015. Last season, Reeder’s coverage grade was 34.8 and the best of his career was 59.2 in 2020. Wagner has had two seasons with coverage grades of 90.0 or better, and four years of 70.0-plus.
Wagner’s also never had a run defense grade worse than 60.0, and in every year but one, his run defense grade was at least 76.7. Not to keep bringing up Reeder’s struggles, but he had a run defense grade of 51.8 last season and his missed-tackle rate was 14.1% – nearly double Wagner’s (7.8%), which was also the second highest of Wagner’s career.
Even as encouraging as Ernest Jones’ rookie year was, his run defense grade was only 42.5. He was great in coverage (69.5 grade), but it’s a small sample size that will certainly grow next season, which will give us a much better idea of Jones’ strengths and weaknesses.
By bringing in Wagner, the Rams know exactly what they’ll have at the second level know. They’re getting a smart linebacker who can read plays, fill gaps and defend the middle of the field in coverage. This is a terrible throw from Jimmy Garoppolo, but it’s also a great play from Wagner to pick the pass off.
"What in the world is going on here?!"
Too easy for @Bwagz. #ProBowlVote
📺 #SFvsSEA on CBS pic.twitter.com/gl0GExjQ3K
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 5, 2021

With a combination of Wagner and Jones, the Rams have a young, up-and-coming linebacker who’s shown promise in coverage to pair with a veteran leader who is as good against the run as any linebacker in football – and not just because he had 170 tackles last season.
Wagner finds the football and rarely misses tackles. That hasn’t been the case at linebacker for several years in Los Angeles, and there should be an immediate improvement in that area next season.
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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
Articles: 4988

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