L.A. Rams have no big holes on defensive line ahead of the NFL draft

L.A. Rams have no big holes on defensive line ahead of the NFL draft
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald celebrates after sacking Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during a game on Nov. 15. (Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

As the Rams prepare for the April 28-30 NFL draft, the Los Angeles Times will examine the Rams' depth by position. Today, the defensive line:

A few weeks after the Rams' move from St. Louis to Los Angeles was announced, defensive tackle Aaron Donald pondered adjustments that would result from the change in locale.


"I'm going to have to make a lot of new friends," he said during a visit to San Francisco before the Super Bowl. "But that comes with it."

On the field, no drastic transition is anticipated.

Donald, a Pro Bowl pick in each of his first two seasons, is one of many familiar faces that will be part of the defensive line in coordinator Gregg Williams' 4-3 scheme.

The Rams, coming off a 7-9 season, released veteran end Chris Long in February. He has since signed with the New England Patriots.

But the Rams spent the first week of the new league year re-signing free-agent ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims, and adding free-agent end Quinton Coples.

End Robert Quinn is expected to return from back surgery. And Donald and Michael Brockers are forces at tackle.

Tackle Nick Fairley, 28, was a wild-card going into the weekend. The Detroit Lions' first-round draft pick in 2011 played last season for the Rams and had a quietly productive season. He is a free agent, and the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints are among teams that have reportedly expressed interest.

If Fairley returns, he would be one of five first-round draft picks on the defensive line, joining Quinn (selected 14th by Rams in 2011), Brockers (14th by Rams in 2012), Coples (16th by New York Jets in 2012) and Donald (13th by Rams in 2014).

Donald, 24, is the star of the group. Last season, the 6-foot-1, 285-pound Donald had 11 sacks.

"When you're going to discuss best defensive tackles in the NFL, he should be in the discussion," Rams General Manager Les Snead said in January at the Senior Bowl. "We can have a contest on who's the best. But he's definitely in the discussion."

Rams defensive end Eugene Sims goes after Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel during the fourth quarter of a game on Oct. 25.
Rams defensive end Eugene Sims goes after Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel during the fourth quarter of a game on Oct. 25. (Tom Gannam / Associated Press)

Brockers, 25, was a run-stopper and had three sacks last season. The former Louisiana State star is entering the fifth and final year of his contract. At last month's NFL scouting combine, with the start of this year's free-agency period soon to begin, Snead indicated that Brockers was among players the Rams might attempt to extend before they become free agents.

"The philosophy is to draft, develop and re-sign your own, a core group of guys," Snead said when asked about Brockers and linebacker Alec Ogletree. "And so there are some guys that are following this class that we'd like to get done as well."

Hayes and Sims, both 30, proved valuable, especially in the aftermath of injuries suffered by Long and Quinn last season. Hayes started 11 games and had 5 1/2 sacks. Sims started nine games and had 1 1/2 sacks.

Quinn, 25, had a breakout season in 2013 with a career-best 19 sacks. He had 10 1/2 in 2014 but last season was limited to eight games and finished with five sacks.

Coples, 25, was released by the Jets last November. The Miami Dolphins signed him for the remainder of the season but released him last month. Coples has 16 1/2 career sacks.

End Matt Longacre, 24, and tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat, 24; Ethan Westbrooks, 25; and Doug Worthington, 28, are other defensive linemen on the roster.

Draft prospects

The Rams have the 15th overall pick, two second-round picks and slots in the third, fourth and sixth rounds.

Defensive line depth is not a major issue, but how Quinn responds after back surgery is a question. The Rams also might start planning for the possible departure of Brockers after this season.

If the Rams are going to add depth along the defensive line, they might do so in the lower rounds where they can find some development players. They'll need the higher draft picks to fill larger holes either by picking in those spots or trading the picks to move higher.

Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Oregon's DeForest Buckner were projected by the Times' Sam Farmer as the third and fourth overall picks, respectively, in his first mock draft.

Clemson's Shaq Lawson, Louisville's Sheldon Rankins, Mississippi's Robert Nkemdiche, UCLA's Kenny Clark and Florida's Jonathan Bullard also were projected as first-round picks by Farmer.

Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence are among other defensive linemen the Rams might consider if they are available.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein