Daily Focus: The Rams’ pass rush just got even better

Los Angeles is teaming the highly efficient Dominique Easley up front with last year's best NFL player, Aaron Donald.

| 5 months ago
(Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

(Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

Daily Focus: The Rams’ pass rush just got even better


Editor’s note: Every weekday in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.

The Rams’ interior pass rush gets even better with Dominique Easley signing: It came as something of a surprise when the New England Patriots released Easley, their first-round draft pick from 2014. The move was reportedly more due to off-field reasons than his play on the field, which makes sense given that, when healthy, Easley was a pretty good defensive lineman for New England. He had the 12th-highest grade among defensive tackles in 2015, playing just 275 snaps.

While he graded positively against the run, it was as a pass-rusher where he really made his mark. Rushing the passer on 210 of his 275 snaps, Easley had the highest pass-rushing productivity of any defensive tackle in the NFL at 12.9. With three sacks, eight hits and 24 hurries, not even new teammate Aaron Donald was as productive on a per-snap basis. That’s not to say he’s better than Donald, who was the best player in football last year, and dominated across a much higher sample size, but it’s an indication of how good Easley was in limited action.

The knock on Easley is that, at 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, he’s considered undersized for his position. That was the same knock on Donald coming into the league, and was the same knock on Nick Fairley, who played in St. Louis with the Rams last year, and recently signed with the New Orleans Saints. Fairley played 427 snaps for the Rams last year, and that’s the kind of role that we can expect to see from Easley, with Donald and Michael Brockers seeing the bulk of the snaps in the interior of the Rams defensive line.

That’s the beauty of this signing for the Rams. They don’t need Easley to come in and be a superstar, they just need him to be productive as part of a defensive line rotation, and replace Fairley’s production.

EasleyFairley

Based on last season, he’s certainly capable of that.

Tight end Jeff Heuerman ready to make an impact for Denver: Drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, the Broncos’ Heuerman saw his rookie year come to a halt before it even began, tearing his ACL during one of his first practices with his new team. Now a year removed from that, he’s eager to prove that he can make an impact in the Broncos offense. The good news for him is that he’s in the perfect offense to get the opportunity to do that.

The Broncos used 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) on 30 percent of their offensive snaps last year, up 9 percent on the league average of 21 percent. Owen Daniels saw 844 snaps, Virgil Green 389, and Vernon Davis 295, with the three combining for 89 receptions in the regular season and playoffs for Denver. Daniels and Davis have both moved on, so even if Green claims the biggest role for himself, there are still plenty of snaps available for Heuerman. They didn’t draft a tight end, but the Broncos did sign free agent Garrett Graham, who has familiarity with head coach Gary Kubiak, and based on the team’s usage last year we can expect to see all three tight ends to at least come close to 300 snaps.

Heuerman wasn’t a prolific receiver at Ohio State, picking up just 52 receptions in four seasons in Columbus, but he was a very solid blocker. He had the 11th-best blocking grade of any tight end in the 2015 draft class, and should get the chance to show that off this year, while getting more opportunities in the passing game.

Zach Mettenberger might not be an upgrade for Chargers over Kellen Clemens: The release of Mettenberger by the Tennessee Titans generated some buzz earlier this week, as a lot of evaluators were enticed by Mettenberger’s talent and potential when he entered the league in 2014. With Marcus Mariota there, however, he was never going to be anything more than a backup, and the Titans opted to let him go in order to sign Matt Cassel as the top backup to last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick.

How bad was Mettenberger last year? Well, no quarterback had a lower PFF grade than him in 2015, and he struggled at almost every depth and direction he threw the ball.

MettenbergerPassingMap

After his signing with San Diego Tuesday, he will now compete for the Chargers backup quarterback job with Clemens, who has had to play just 30 snaps over the past two seasons. More importantly, Clemens is a solid backup quarterback. Outside of a poor 2007 season, he hasn’t graded terribly at all.

ClemensGrade

Given the play of some of the quarterbacks in the NFL, he’s really not a bad guy to have as your backup. Sure, he’s highly unlikely to come in for an injured Philip Rivers and lead the Chargers to the Super Bowl, but based on his play throughout his career so far, he’s not bad enough that he’s likely to throw the game away, and can hold his own in limited duty. Mettenberger has youth over Clemens, but at this stage that’s his only advantage.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’m glad Cutler doesn’t have to face that Rams defense this season because it might soon be the league’s top unit.