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Get Ready for Bobby Wagner’s Value to Decline as a Los Angeles Ram

If Wagner's elite presence in the middle of the box stops Rams opponents from even trying to run the ball, he'll have many fewer chances to make tackles than he did in Seattle.

Bobby Wagner has been a tackling machine his entire career. Since 2016, no one has had more solo tackles or combination tackles. He has 200 more than the next leading defender. Wagner has made over 100 tackles every single year of his career, and he’s coming off a career-high of 170.

Now he joins the defending Super Bowl champions. While adding a 7-time All-Pro is a big upgrade to what was already one of the NFL’s best defenses, the move is not ideal for Wagner’s outlook in IDP leagues.

Wagner is Tackle Dependent

Wagner was the 10th highest scoring defender last season, and the vast bulk of his scoring came from making tackles. In the IDP123 scoring system, 87.0% of his points came from tackles alone. Not only did he set a career high in combined tackles, he nearly tied his career mark in solo tackles.

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On the other hand, Wagner has never been one to get after the quarterback or force turnovers on a routine basis. The last time he intercepted more than one pass in a season was in 2017, and he hasn’t intercepted more than two a season since his rookie year. He has forced 6 fumbles in 10 seasons of play. He has produced one more sack in his career than T.J. Watt made last year.

Wagner is a very good football player in real life. At age 31, he was still the 15th-ranked linebacker in PFF’s 2021 grades and the ninth-best run defender. With him and Aaron Donald occupying the middle of the box, opposing offenses will have to give up on any thoughts of running the ball between the hashes. 

Rams Tackle Distribution is Spread Out

What’s good for the Rams isn’t going to be good for Wagner’s individual stat line. A bunch of other talented players will be making tackles before Wagner can get there. In Seattle’s 4-3 defense, in which he was the sole inside linebacker, he was involved in 12.7% of the Seahawks’ combined tackles. LA runs a 3-4 defense, so fellow middle linebacker Ernest Jones will be making some of the tackles in the middle of the field. The Rams’ tackles were more evenly distributed than the Seahawks in 2021, with the top tackler, safety Jordan Fuller, making 9.5% of the tackles and the top linebacker, now departed Troy Reeder, being involved in 7.7% of all tackles.

Many run plays will be stopped before they even get to Wagner’s level. Aaron Donald and fellow interior defender A’Shawn Robinson both recorded 54 tackles on run plays, tied for the most amongst defensive linemen in the three-point stance. Wagner made 52% of his tackles on run plays in 2021.

Fewer Opportunities in LA

Nor will the LA defense see as many total plays run against them as the Seahawks did last year. That there will be fewer plays means fewer opportunities to make a tackle.

In 2021, Seattle’s defense was on the field for more plays than any other defense in the league (1,234), 82 more than the Rams. While that is a difference of just 4.8 plays per game, it is also significant that the Seahawks were trailing more often and thus faced many more running plays (509 to 443), while opposing offenses threw the ball 58 percent of the time against the Rams. Wagner makes fewer tackles on passing plays and almost no interceptions.

Total PlaysFirst Downs AllowedOpponent Score % per DriveTakeaway %Rush Att
2021 Rams Defense1,11834735.4%13.3%443
2021 Seahawks1,20140035.9%8.5%509
2021 NFL Average1,07634637.8%11.5%452

The Rams defense was on the field for more plays than average but fewer plays than the Rams and fewer run plays than average. If the Rams continue to play superior football and maintain the lead in most of their games, then their opponents will continue to throw the ball more than running it.

One bright spot for the Rams defense in terms of fantasy value is its high volume of turnovers. Donald forced 4 fumbles, and Robinson forced two. When Wagner is on the field, there’s a good chance he’ll be in a position to recover some of those fumbles that weren’t there in Seattle.

Wagner won a Super Bowl his sophomore season in the NFL. He’ll be looking to return to one for the first time since February 2015 and rid himself of that loss. But he won’t be winning your team a fantasy football title.

He’s going at 130 in IDP drafts on Sleeper, in the spot of LB11. Two or three rounds behind him, you can get someone like Jets middle LB C.J. Mosley, who made more solo tackles than Wagner last season and plays for a team whose opponents will be in run-favorable game scripts, Vikings MLB Eric Kendricks, who is three years younger and in the middle of his own stretch of consecutive 100+ tackle seasons, or Bengals LB Logan Wilson, who displayed a knack for making big plays in addition to tackles in his second season.

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