LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Rams were, by and large, a good defensive team last season. They allowed the 12th-fewest points, generated the fifth-most turnovers and ranked sixth in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. But they had their issues defending the run. The Rams allowed 122.3 rushing yards per game in 2017, fifth-most in the NFL, and their struggles were even more pronounced up the middle. Between both tackle spots, opponents averaged 4.76 rushing yards per carry against the Rams, a mark topped only by the neighboring Los Angeles Chargers.
Improving against the run now stands as a focus of this offseason, and bigger bodies along the interior might help defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The Rams' two inside linebackers, Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron, are converted safeties who sit on the smaller side for their position. Some of that was previously made up for by the 6-foot-5, 302-pound Michael Brockers, but he moved from nose tackle to 5-technique in the early part of the 2017 season, making the Rams even smaller inside.
The Rams could open a spot at inside linebacker by either parting with Barron -- thus saving $22 million toward the salary cap over the next three years -- or converting one of those inside linebackers to edge-rusher. The latter option hasn't garnered serious consideration, but it can't be ruled out entirely. The market for outside linebackers -- a spot with two openings now that Connor Barwin is slated for free agency and Robert Quinn is set to join the Miami Dolphins -- looks underwhelming. But there are nice fits inside to help shut down the run.
Three fits in free agency
Dontari Poe: Poe made back-to-back Pro Bowls as a nose tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2013-14 and has totaled 15 1/2 sacks over the last five seasons while mostly clogging the middle against the run. Poe shed weight before joining the Atlanta Falcons' attacking 4-3 system with a one-year, $8 million contract last offseason and played in 745 snaps, second-most on their defensive line. He didn't produce like a star, but he was reliable.
DaQuan Jones: Teams looking for a run-stuffer could find a steal with Jones, who has built a reputation for his ability to take on multiple blockers and shut down the middle. A biceps injury landed Jones on injured reserve after 12 games last year, but that should be healed for the start of the 2018 season. The Tennessee Titans had the NFL's fourth-best rush defense over the last three years largely because of Jones' work inside. Listed at 6-foot-4, 322 pounds, Jones also broke out with a career-high 3 1/2 sacks in 2017.
Zach Brown: Another premier run-stopper, Brown -- 6-foot-1, 251 pounds -- could provide a bigger body at inside linebacker. Pro Football Focus ranked Brown 10th among linebackers against the run last season. The 28-year-old spent his first four seasons with the Titans, then made the Pro Bowl with the Buffalo Bills in 2016 and served as a middle linebacker in 13 games for the Washington Redskins in 2017. He still has the speed and athleticism to provide a major boost.
Three fits in the draft
Da'Ron Payne: ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. identified Payne as the best nose tackle in this draft, and NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein considers Payne the premier run-stuffer of the 2018 class. Listed at 6-foot-2, 311 pounds, Payne earned second-team All-SEC honors as a junior at Alabama in 2017 and dominated in the national championship game against Georgia. His low sack total -- he had just three in 35 collegiate games -- could allow him to slip to the Rams at No. 23.
Harrison Phillips: A former star wrestler, Phillips totaled 14 1/2 sacks as a sophomore and junior at Stanford, leading his team with 98 tackles in the latter season. Phillips is listed at 6-foot-4, 307 pounds, and teams have reportedly been uncertain about whether he fits as a nose tackle or a 3-technique. But Phillips has a knack for making plays. If he can slip to the third round, where the Rams will make their second pick at No. 87 overall, he could be a steal.
Josey Jewell: Another potential mid-round pick, Jewell was named first-team AP All-American as a senior inside linebacker at Iowa last year. From 2015-17, he totaled 382 tackles, 27 of them for loss, and nine sacks, at one point being named a finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. Jewell lacks some size for his position -- while listed at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds -- but draft experts believe he has great instincts. He apparently also has game speed. His 6.8-second three-cone drill was second-fastest among linebackers at the scouting combine.