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Why Ethan Westbrooks is the Rams’ breakout player this season

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Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White sees a defensive lineman on the verge of a big season in the Rams new defense.

Los Angeles Rams v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

It’s hard right now to know how well the Los Angeles Rams will adjust to going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year. A lot of people have been talking out of their asses acting like its the easiest thing in the world to do. I don't care how good Wade Phillips is at running a 3-4, you still need guys who fit that system to play in it.

Aaron Donald is an undersized freak of nature who excels at getting up field and wreaking havoc in the backfield. I'm sorry, but in the history of football I just don't remember many guys of Donald's stature and unique talents who were super productive in a 3-4 defense. Yeah, the Rams will still play a lot of four-man line, but even then I just don't think it will be the same as when Donald was lining up in the B gap and hauling ass almost every play.

But I could be wrong.

Another guy who I'm keeping my eye on with this transition to a 3-4 is Ethan Westbrooks. If the Rams had stayed with a 4-3 defense, Westbrooks was a very safe bet to replace William Hayes, who signed with Miami, in the starting lineup at left defensive end. With Hayes gone, Donald holding out and the defense switching, I can't really say for sure where or how the Rams will use him.

What I will say is that I love Westbrooks' game. He isn't the biggest dude at 6'4 and 283 pounds, and he isn't the most athletic guy you will ever see either. But Westbrooks is a technician in the trenches. He always seems to get good extension with his arms when he takes on a block, whether it be run or pass, and he is always working to get off that block. One of my pet peeves is seeing a guy with lazy hands who controls an offensive lineman, but instead of escaping off the block to make the play, just reaches out to try to make an arm tackle.

That's how dudes end up needing shoulder surgery.

Westbrooks isn't quite as big as your average 3-4 defensive lineman, so I do have some questions about how well he will hold up against the run, especially if they play him inside on early downs. But whether he is a starter or a back up, an edge guy or an interior guy, Westbrooks' pass rush technique will lead to a big jump forward in terms of production this year.

He has four career sacks to his name, but his steady improvement over his first three seasons is undeniable when you watch the film. I believe somehow, some way Ethan Westbrooks will be a starter this season and will best his career total in sacks at the same damn time. That's why I chose him to be the Rams' breakout player of 2017.