Rams must address pass-rusher and could find one at the combine

Jaylon Ferguson had 17.5 sacks for Louisiana Tech last season and could be available when the Rams pick late in the first round of the NFL draft. Steven Erler/USA TODAY Sports

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams will go to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this week with a relatively short list of needs, but none more important than finding a prospect who can create an edge presence.

Coming off a loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, the Rams also are expected to pay close attention this week to several positions on defense, including inside linebacker, defensive line and defensive back.

But it is a strong pass-rusher that is a necessity in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme.

"We believe here, truly believe, hey, try to use every method available to you to acquire the best players," Rams general manager Les Snead said last month before the Super Bowl. "But we also know that the core of your team is probably built through the draft."

The 2019 draft class features several elite edge rushers, headlined by Ohio State's Nick Bosa, Kentucky's Josh Allen and Michigan's Rashan Gary, among others. However, as deep as the class might be, there are numerous teams that are expected to be in the market for an edge rusher, and with the 31st overall pick, the Rams are unlikely to be in the mix for any of the top prospects.

Along with the 31st selection, the Rams also have two third-round picks, as well as one selection in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.

Their late first-round pick could mean that the organization spends a bulk of time at the combine eliminating potential prospects, rather than zeroing in on any specific players.

Last season, the Rams initially struggled to create consistent pressure from the edge and, with the intent of making a deep playoff run, made a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars at the trade deadline to acquire outside linebacker Dante Fowler.

In eight regular-season games, Fowler had two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. He also created pressure on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the NFC Championship Game, forcing Brees into an errant throw that was intercepted in overtime.

But Fowler is a pending unrestricted free agent, along with outside linebacker Matt Longacre, whom Fowler replaced as starter, and Dominique Easley, who transitioned from defensive end to outside linebacker but was put on injured reserve after undergoing season-ending knee surgery the first week of October.

The Rams could try to re-sign Fowler, depending what the market demands and how a potential payday would fit into their salary-cap situation, which currently has about $24 million in space, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It is possible Longacre and Easley, who has a long history of knee injuries, will not return.

The Rams also must work toward immediate solutions at defensive tackle and safety.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh played last season on a one-year deal and safety Lamarcus Joyner is a pending unrestricted free agent after playing last season on the franchise tag.

Other defensive players who are pending unrestricted free agents and create depth concerns: Backup defensive end Ethan Westbrooks, backup linebackers Ramik Wilson and Bryce Hager, and backup cornerback Sam Shields.

Here are a few edge rushers to keep tabs on at the combine:

Florida outside linebacker Jachai Polite. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Polite decided to forgo his senior season to make himself available for the draft. As a junior, Polite had 11 sacks and tied a school record with six forced fumbles.

Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson. Ferguson, 6-foot-5 and 259 pounds, will not participate in drills at the combine after the NFL discovered a simple battery conviction from his freshman year that turned up during a background check. However, it remains possible that Ferguson could meet with teams in Indianapolis. Ferguson tied for first in the FBS with 17.5 sacks his senior season and added two forced fumbles.

Old Dominion defensive end Oshane Ximines. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Ximines was a four-year starter and a two-time first-team Conference USA selection. As a senior, Ximines had 12 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss.