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Rams

Rams draft analysis: Help wanted for interior of defensive line

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA SEPTEMBER 10, 2018-Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips prepares to take the
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips prepares to take the field before a game with the Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum on September 10, 2018.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As the Rams prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 2 of 8: Defensive line.

Before last season, the Rams defensive line was projected as one of the best in the NFL.

It did not always play out that way, but the addition of Ndamukong Suh to a group that included Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl.

The Rams let Suh become a free agent — he remains on the market — so defensive linemen will be among general manager Les Snead’s and coach Sean McVay’s priorities going into the draft, which will be held April 25-27 in Nashville.

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The Rams have the 31st overall pick, along with six picks in rounds three through seven. Offensive linemen, edge rushers, cornerbacks and safeties also are expected to be on the Rams’ shopping list.

But defensive line ranks near the top.

“We definitely need to address the interior,” McVay said. “You’ve got a really productive player in Michael Brockers and you know you’ve got the best in the world in Aaron Donald.

“And then how do you find that other piece like what Suh was for us last year?”

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In 2018, the Rams ranked 14th in passing defense, 23rd in rushing defense.

Donald recorded a league-best 20½ sacks and was voted NFL defensive player of the year for the second season in row. But Suh was inconsistent until the playoffs.

McVay did not retain defensive line coach Bill Johnson. He hired Eric Henderson, who was the assistant defensive line coach for the Chargers the last two seasons.

Henderson takes over a group that currently has six players, not including edge-rushing linebackers Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews and Samson Ebukam.

John Franklin-Myers, a fourth- round pick in 2018, made several big plays as a rookie and is expected to have a larger role. Morgan Fox, coming off a knee injury that sidelined him last season, also is expected to contribute.

Tanzel Smart played significant snaps as a rookie in 2017, and the Rams are looking for second-year pro Sebastian Joseph-Day to continue to develop.

Under contract for 2019: Aaron Donald ($17.1 million), Michael Brockers ($10.8 million), Tanzel Smart ($686,198), John Franklin-Myers ($683,089), Morgan Fox ($645,000), Sebastian Joseph-Day ($608,809).

Free agents: Along with Suh, the Rams let veteran rotational lineman Ethan Westbrooks become a free agent. Dominque Easley, who had been moved to outside linebacker before suffering another season-ending knee injury, also was allowed to walk.

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Draft: The Rams have a first-round pick for the first time since 2016 but with a low spot, and no second-round picks, Snead might be inclined to trade back to acquire more picks.

Roster decisions: The Rams rewarded Donald with a humongous contract extension before last season. That financial commitment affects how they build their defense.

NEXT: Defensive backs.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein


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