The Los Angeles Rams had eight picks in last week’s NFL Draft and it wasn’t until the team’s final selection in the seventh-round that they addressed a position that many saw as a glaring need – the offensive line. Fans wondered, ‘why disregard such a blatant position of need?’ Watching this team last season, it was obvious how much Sean McVay, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and the rest of the offense were hampered by a position group that ranked 31 by Pro Football Focus.
Yes, the Rams brought back Andrew Whitworth and the team also brought back Austin Blythe who will stay at center. And yes, Rob Havenstein and Joe Noteboom will return from injuries. However, just like heading into last season, this is a position group that still has a lot of question marks and unknowns. It seems like the team is once again rolling the dice on young players developing. If you were to ask ten people who they thought the Rams starting offensive line was going to consist of, you might get ten different answers.
While the tackles remain steady with Whitworth and Havenstein, it’s the interior that remains the biggest question mark. David Edwards played up-and-down last season. Noteboom didn’t play enough for anybody to get a solid grasp on what he brings to the table at guard. The Rams traded for Austin Corbett, but he’s a player that was considered a draft-bust taken at 33 by the Cleveland Browns. Adding to that, who knows what the plan is for Bobby Evans who showed flashes and Brian Allen who was abysmal.
It’s also worth noting how much quarterback Jared Goff relies on a clean pocket, more so than most quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus Goff is the sixth-best quarterback from a clean pocket (92.7) since 2017, but his completion percentage of 42.4% ranks 30th among 32 qualifiers. That’s significant. In fact, Goff’s 46.8 difference in overall grade from a clean pocket is the second-highest difference of any quarterback in the NFL.
As it stands, Andrew Whitworth and Austin Blythe are the only two players that are set in stone in the starting five. Whitworth is 38 and saw his play drop last season. Evans played well at right tackle, but if the Rams are unable to trade Havenstein, most likely it’s the veteran that will get the nod. From there you have both guard spots that are left completely up in the air. Do the Rams plug Noteboom back in at left guard, or put Edwards or Corbett in that spot? The same can be said for right guard. Does Edwards play there or do you play Evans or Corbett on the right side? That doesn’t even mention Allen and if he might compete at guard.
The only explanation for not addressing the position is that Les Snead is confident in the players he has on the roster and believes a combination of transitioning to a potentially more run-focused, 12-personnel scheme as well as another year playing together, will be beneficial for the group. Still, it’s quite the risk to take.
Last season the Rams started 3-1 before losing half of their remaining games to finish 9-7.
The offensive line wasn’t perfect in those first four games, but at least it was consistent. After week six when Noteboom went down with his injury, the Rams started four other offensive linemen. After starting with Jamil Demby, the Rams moved to David Edwards. That starting five worked together for two games before Allen went down with a season-ending injury, and Havenstein also went down with an injury, requiring more shift.
The Rams had some of the best luck in the NFL when it came to injuries in 2017 and 2018 and it evened itself out in 2019. After Allen and Havenstein went down it forced the Rams to trade for Corbett. Beginning in Week 10 against the Bears, the Rams started Blythe, Edwards, Evans, Corbett, and Whitworth on the offensive line. That ended up being the group for the remaining of the season and over those first four weeks, the team went 3-1 with its only loss coming to the Ravens. The Rams lost big to the Cowboys, but put together a respectable performance against the 49ers before finishing it out against the Cardinals with a win.
Given how well that group played down the stretch, it’s hard to see why the Rams wouldn’t want to see how they developed together. After all, the Rams have spent third and fifth-round picks on Evans and Edwards, third and fourth-round picks on Noteboom and Allen, and traded a fifth-round pick for Corbett. That’s not to mention that Blythe has shown flashes of elite interior play in moments and will be moved to center this season – his more natural position.
Yes, it would have been nice for the Rams to draft some depth in the third or fourth round of the draft. Taking a player like Lloyd Cushenberry III or Hakeem Adeniji would have made a lot of sense. However, the Rams are already eight players deep on the offensive line and adding another in the mid-rounds could have created a log-jam.
The Rams offensive line issues last season was partially talent and inexperience, however, it a lot of it had to do with consistency. When the Rams were rolling out a consistent starting five, the group as a whole played better. On top of that, rookies like Edwards and Evans got a lot of beneficial starting experience.
With a full season to develop, an offseason together, and a more consistent starting five, it’s hard not to see this group improving in 2019. By not taking an offensive line in the third or fourth rounds, the Rams opened themselves up to drafting players like Terrell Burgess, Terrell Lewis, and Brycen Hopkins. While fans may have been pounding the table for an offensive lineman all draft, not selecting one until the seventh-round was most likely the correct decision.