Rams believe healthy dose of draft pick Terrell Lewis will improve pass rush

Gary Klein
Alabama linebacker Terrell Lewis, drafted by the Rams in the third round in April, celebrates in January 2018 after the Crimson Tide won the national title.  (Mike Zarrilli / Getty Images)

In their quest for an edge-rushing presence, and to mitigate the loss of two dynamic players, the Rams selected Alabama’s Terrell Lewis in the third round of the NFL draft.

New defensive coordinator Brandon Staley intimated that the Rams got a potential steal.

“His talent is not indicative of where he was drafted,” Staley said during a video conference with reporters.

So far, Staley has only been able to evaluate Lewis in a virtual setting. The real test will come when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted enough for Rams players and coaches to finally get onto the field.

But Lewis looks the part of a top prospect.

At 6 feet 5 and 262 pounds, he adds size, speed and a potentially disruptive presence to a Rams pass rush that is led by star defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

“They told me how much they believe in me and my abilities,” Lewis said April 24, the day he was drafted. “They can’t wait to display it to every other team that passed up on me, and I can’t wait either.

“Just ready to get to work and make everybody else pay for the wait.”

Lewis is expected to help fill a void left by the departures of outside linebackers Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews.

Last season, Fowler recorded a career-best 11½ sacks. Matthews added eight for a team that finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons under coach Sean McVay.

After the season, McVay cut ties with veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and hired the 37-year-old Staley, an outside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos the last three seasons.

In March, the Rams released Matthews, and Fowler left to sign a $45-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Rams moved quickly to replace Fowler, signing edge rusher Leonard Floyd. The 2016 first-round pick had underperformed in four seasons with the Bears — he never had more than seven sacks in a season — but his background playing under Staley helped convince the Rams he was worth a one-year, $10-million prove-it contract.

A month later, after selecting running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Van Jefferson in the second round, the Rams chose Lewis.

On an Alabama team full of NFL prospects, Lewis was considered among the most talented, but injuries apparently affected his draft stock.

Lewis was sidelined 10 games during the 2017 season because of an upper-arm injury. He returned for the national championship game and had seven tackles and a key sack in the Crimson Tide’s 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia.

Lewis sat out all of the 2018 season because of a torn knee ligament. He played in 10 games last season and had 11½ tackles for lost yardage, six sacks and two pass breakups.

“He’s had some injuries, but I think they’ve been some freak instances,” McVay said. “You look at when this guy is able to play, he’s healthy, he’s ready to go.”

Lewis will compete to start opposite Floyd in the Rams’ hybrid 3-4 scheme.

Fourth-year pro Samson Ebukam, who has started 21 games, Obo Okoronkwo, Natrez Patrick, Justin Lawler and Jachai Polite are other outside linebackers who will compete for playing time.

Lewis joins a roster that also includes former Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson. The Rams signed Robinson in March after he played four seasons for the Detroit Lions. Robinson said he spoke to Lewis during return visits to Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2016 and 2017. He also called Lewis after the draft.

“He has the intensity, tenacity just to … tear things up,” Robinson said. “He really gets after it. He plays the game smart, and he does everything he’s supposed to do. And I feel he can get off that edge and be a burning thing off the edge.”

Lewis is looking forward to contributing to the Rams' defense. Alabama, under coach Nick Saban, prepares players for the NFL, he said.

“I think we go through an NFL process in college,” he said. “When you get to the NFL, you know the game.”