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The Rams have taken a Moneyball approach to replacing Aaron Donald

Remember when the Oakland A’s lost Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Jason Isringhausen in free agency, and general manager Billy Beane had to replace them in the aggregate? Beane’s successful path led to Moneyball, and now, Rams general manager Les Snead and his crew are having a bit of the same issue.

When Aaron Donald retires, you do not replace him with one human being, because Aaron Donald is not a human being — he is an alien from the planet Destructo. The Rams don’t have Beane’s financial limitations; it’s simply a matter of fact that you don’t ever get an Aaron Donald unless you’re exceedingly fortunate, and when you don’t have an Aaron Donald anymore, you have to replace him in the aggregate.

So in this draft, the Rams set out to do exactly that. They started out by selecting Florida State edge-rusher Jared Verse with their first first-round pick since 2016. Then, in the second round, they took Verse’s teammate, defensive lineman (and combine star) Braden Fiske. Then, with the 154th overall pick in the fifth round, they took Washington State edge-rusher Brennan Jackson, and rounded it all out with Clemson defensive tackle Tyler Davis, taken with the 196th overall pick in the sixth round.

“Yeah, I mean I think when you look at it, to be able to get two guys on the edge, two guys inside that we feel like can affect the game in a positive way, that was something that we had identified,” head coach Sean McVay said after the draft came down. “Obviously Aaron creates a big void. You’re never going to ask somebody to replace that void he created, but you can do that by the unit. So to be able to get Jared, to be able to get Brennan on the edges. The way that they play the game. Then to be able to add Braden and Tyler, we were really excited about that.”

Well, it’s easy to see why. These four players work well on their own, and have the potential to really ace it playing together.

Fiske and Verse already have a serious chemistry, as they showed throughout the 2023 season — especially against Louisville, when they were either stunting or collapsing the pocket together, and nobody had a solid idea of how to stop them from doing it.

“Yeah, if you’re ever bored go start to finish Florida State at Louisville, whatever ACC Championship game,” general manager Les Snead said. “Obviously, Florida State didn’t have a quarterback. They may have been down to their third and it was just pure defense to win the ACC Championship, get their ring, get their trophy because it could have easily gone the other way. It would’ve been a season for naught had they lost it. So, if you’re ever bored, watch those two players in that game. You’ll come back and do a rerun.”

 

“I think it was interesting because this was Braden’s first year at Florida State so it did take probably, let’s call it first four or five weeks for them to get in tandem, in sync,” Snead said of the on-field link between Verse and Fiske after Fiske transferred from Western Michigan. “And I know even Florida State adjusted a little bit their defensive scheme or what they allowed Braden to do and attack the line of scrimmage, attack some edges. What’s interesting as you watched that team evolve over the course of season and become… when they finished that night in Louisville, one of the really dominant defenses. But you saw that group get in tandem. That was a good defensive line.

“But those two doing their thing, again, with Florida State and allowing them and designing those stunts, twists, whatever we call them. It’s fun to watch.”

As for Brennan Jackson, the Washington State alum had nine sacks and 40 total pressures last season, and while he needs to refine his handwork as most collegiate defensive lineman do, he already brings an inside counter, a formidable bull-rush, and a snatch-and-shed move than can be lethal.

Finally, there’s Tyler Davis, the 6-foot-2, 301-pound fire hydrant who amassed two sacks and 22 total pressures in just 277 pass-rushing reps last season, and did it everywhere from head-over nose tackle to the edge.

And when you add these four gentlemen to last year’s draft picks Byron Young (who had eight sacks and 51 total pressures last season) and Kobie Turner (who was my choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year with his 12 sacks and 50 total pressures), new defensive coordinator Chris Shula has a lot of options in his rotations.

So yes, the Rams’ defensive line has the potential for overall improvement even without the greatest defensive player of his generation. Not a bad outcome, really.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire