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A change of pace: Les Snead is investing in inside linebackers

By Kenneth Arthur | Turf Show Times | Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

During his first season at the helm, Sean McVay hired Wade Phillips and that meant a 3-4 defense with multiple inside linebackers, which in turn led to a one-year pact for veteran Connor Barwin. After parting with Alec Ogletree in 2018, the team turned to undrafted free agent Cory Littleton, a Pro Bowl invitee during his first (and second-to-last) season as a starter for the Los Angeles Rams.

Rams general manager Les Snead next replaced Mark Barron with Clay “Kind of like Connor Barwin” Matthews in 2019, and then the team felt little in the way of desperation to retain Littleton or Matthews when free agency hit in 2020.

L.A. gave way to a rotation that included Troy Reeder and Kenny Young two seasons ago, but then finally relented somewhat after selecting Ernest Jones with the 103rd pick in the 2021 NFL Draft; that makes Jones the highest-drafted inside linebacker of the McVay era, and the highest for Snead since Ogletree in 2013.

Now having added Bobby Wagner to the defense for the 2022 season, clearly there’s a minor shift in philosophy with Raheem Morris as the latest Rams defensive coordinator.

Wagner signed a five-year contract and he didn’t miss a single snap of last season until Week 17, but obviously Jones is the inside linebacker who Snead and McVay hope and expect to be around for many more years after Wagner is released from that deal.

But for this Top-20 Rams of 2022 series, we are only looking at this upcoming season, and this seems like a good time for Jones to check in. Will he be top-10 by the end of the year?

#17 – ILB Ernest Jones

Though he was certainly drafted with an opportunity to win a starting gig because Reeder, Young, and Travin Howard were the most notable names standing in his way, it would have still be impressive for Ernest Jones to be a Week 1 starter as a rookie.

A productive tackler over the previous two seasons at South Carolina (183 tackles, 10.5 TFL in 21 games), Jones posted a 4.65 40-yard dash at the combine, weighing in at 230 lbs.

Jones earned the right to call some plays in L.A.’s first preseason game of the year, but even playing in the preseason is a sign that McVay has someone else pegged to start in the regular season. But as the year went on, it became obvious that some change was needed and eventually the Rams traded Young to the Broncos and then Jones made his first career start in Week 8 against the Houston Texans.

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