Los Angeles Rams Offensive Spotlight: The Offensive Line

by Tommy Mo
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After putting a spotlight on the entire Los Angeles Rams defensive unit coming into this season’s training camp, I want to turn my attention to the offensive side of the ball. As is in football, everything starts in the trenches, and if you don’t have a solid offensive line leading the way a team will struggle.

The defensive line unit is one of the best in the league, and like the old saying goes “iron sharpens iron”. The best thing about a great defensive line is that they can help improve a good offensive line every day in practice. When your baseline is trying to block Aaron Donald, blocking anyone else is a cake walk.

The Rams offensive line in 2020 was one of the best according to Pro Football Focus who ranked them 3rd overall after the season. In position specific metrics, they ranked seventh overall in adjusted line yards and second overall in adjusted sack rate per Football Outsiders. They opened up run lanes and protected the quarterback.

With most of the offensive line returning from last year, they can be just as good if not better than the 2020 unit. And as long as they are lead by Andrew Whitworth, this offensive line will continue to be one of the best in the league.

The Tackles

The projected starters of Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein return to training camp this year as the veteran leaders of the Los Angeles Rams offensive line. Joseph Noteboom will provide depth and will be a rotational player at either tackle position. With the most experience, Whitworth and Havenstein are the cornerstones of the offensive line and have been for the last four years. They deserve a lot of credit for the offense’s dominance under Sean McVay.

Todd Gurley’s 2017 campaign was the best of his career as he rushed for over 1,300 yards and caught 64 passes for 788 yards and 19 total TDs.  The offensive line continued that dominance for the next four years, only showing a dip in run blocking prowess in 2019.

From a pass blocking perspective, Jared Goff enjoyed four years with a sack rate of 4.5% on average. The pass-blocking in that same span of time has yo-yoed from the top to the bottom of the league, and back again. Still, there were plenty of instances where Goff had a clean pocket to throw out of and he was notoriously known for throwing better with a clean pocket than without one.

Despite up and down seasons by the offensive line the past few years, the quarterback failed to capitalize and landed himself in Detroit in a trade with Matthew Stafford this offseason.

Andrew Whitworth

Andrew Whitworth proved that he was the missing piece that the Los Angeles Rams needed when he joined the team in 2017. After struggling at left tackle with Greg Robinson and Jason Smith, Whitworth brought experience and consistency to the position. He was a stalwart for ten years for the Bengals and he brought that leadership to Los Angeles.

In 2016, the year prior to Andrew Whitworth joining the Rams, the offensive line was 29th in adjusted line yards, and 29th in adjusted sack rate. PFF graded them as the 27th line unit in the league. They were downright awful. The signing of Andrew Whitworth from Cincinnati was one of the best decisions the Rams organization has made.

Immediately upon his arrival in Los Angeles, the Rams offensive line improved to third overall in adjusted line yards, and ninth in adjusted sack rate. They were also the top offensive line unit in creating second level yards for their running backs.

Andrew Whitworth’s contribution to the team has been far more than just what he does on the field or how he is in the locker room as a teammate and leader. He’s also a philanthropist, giving time and money to helping his community in a variety of ways through the Big Whitt 77 Foundation.  His work with the foundation earned him the Rams’ nomination for the 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Rob Havenstein

Rob Havenstein returns for his seventh season with the Los Angeles Rams. The veteran on the right side of the line was inconsistent before Whitworth showed up. However, once “Big Whit” arrived, the duo formed a formidable pair.

The duo were at their best in the 2018 season when both Havenstein and Whitworth received top run blocking grades at their respective positions by PFF. Both were also graded in the top-three overall and both made the top 100 list going into 2019.

In 2020, they both played fairly well but were not as dominant as they were in 2018. While both tackles have remained solid over the years together, Havenstein just turned 29 and Whitworth is 39. Last year’s performance may be a result of their age and an indicator of the beginning of a decline.

However, both are also on contract through the 2022 season. Given their age, the time is now to win a championship. They’ll both be ready to show they still have some gas left in the tank to make a Super Bowl run.

While trade rumors swirled around Havenstein this off-season, he currently remains on the team and is projected as the starter once again. Stafford will need the veteran leadership and security from both sides to make a successful transition to a new team and a new scheme. Communication will be the biggest factor in the OL/QB relationship.

Joseph Noteboom

Joseph Noteboom was drafted in the third Round of the 2018 Draft out of TCU. He’s gotten a little more playing time each year he’s been with the Los Angeles Rams, starting six games at left guard in 2019 and nine games at left tackle in 2020.

He has good size and athleticism to start at multiple positions. This gives the Rams  much needed depth and versatility. However, he also suffered a torn ACL in 2019 and as good as he is, he’s a backup on an offensive line with solid starters. He can compete this training camp for an interior spot as both guard positions are open, and worst case return to his role as a solid backup that can rotate in at multiple positions.

The Interior

The interior of the Los Angeles Rams offensive line has three open positions at center and both guard spots. They also have at least four players competing for a starting role on the inside. The Rams lost Austin Blythe at center during the offseason to the Kansas City Chiefs. Corbett will be taking reps at center for the first time since preseason game with the Browns.

Austin Corbett

Austin Corbett was added before the trade deadline during the 2019 season and worked his way into the rotation right away. He continued that momentum into 2020 by becoming an every week starter for the Rams and contributing to an exceptional offensive line.

Despite playing all 16 games at right guard last year, the Los Angeles Rams are having Corbett take reps at center in practice this season. This is to make him more versatile and because no position on the interior is set in stone. As the summer has progressed, Corbett and Stafford have begun to develop a rapport. This is exactly what you want to see between a center and a quarterback.

With how well Corbett plays in tandem with another blocker, he could play any three of the interior line positions. However, if Corbett is more suited for center. that makes the two guard spots up for grabs.

David Edwards

David Edwards was drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 Draft out of Wisconsin. He was a highly touted run-blocking tackle prospect, earning PFF’s 8th highest run-blocking grade. Despite his 6’6″ frame, Edwards has played solely on the inside, starting 10 games in 2019 at right guard and 14 games in 2020 at left guard.

He remains a very skilled run blocker and does a good job of blocking in space on screen plays. Currently, Edwards is the projected starter at left guard coming into training camp. He played 90% of his snaps last year at left guard which might be his more natural position with Corbett at Center.

Building an offensive line from Whitworth to Edwards to Corbett is a great way to start the left side of the line.

Brian Allen

Brian Allen joined the Los Angeles Rams as a fourth round draft pick in 2018 from Michigan State. He played solely special teams his rookie season before starting nine games at center in 2019. Allen has yet to return to the field from an MCL injury that cut short his 2019 season.

Complicating matters in 2020, Allen was the first NFL player to test positive for Covid. The Rams need Allen healthy and back contributing to the offensive line. If he is fully healthy this year, Allen will compete for his old spot at center. He could also move to one of the guard spots that is open for competition this year.

Allen’s continued absence in 2020 led Austin Blythe to move to center from right guard. Blythe had an exceptional year and signed a new contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. If Allen can make it back onto the field this season he could see a similar resurgent year.

Bobby Evans

Bobby Evans was drafted by the Rams in the 3rd Round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The Rams traded up to secure Evans and must feel good about his potential. Evans has taken starting reps up at tackle for the Rams in his career. However, due to his relative lack of length, he was initially projected as an interior offensive lineman.

This year, he’s finally making the move inside at training camp and currently projects as the starter at right guard. However, he will compete for the position with Allen and Edwards. Evans is a decent prospect who earned some playing time in 2019. However, he played in limited special teams reps in 2020. The success of the offensive line will hinder on his success if he earns the starting job. You’re only as strong as your weakest link and when it comes to playing time. As of now, Evans is the weakest.

2021 Season Outlook

Brad Wire, the offensive line guru for The Undroppables, ranks the Los Angeles Rams offensive line at 15th overall. His reasoning on the ranking and outlook on 2021…

“I still have concerns with Whitworth and his age. I’m sure the playoff performance was hindered by his injury and now he’s fully recovered, but it’s still something to take into account. Losing Austin Blythe and replacing him with Austin Corbett shouldn’t be much of a drop-off, but Bobby Evans sliding down to Guard then is the big question mark. Rob Havenstein is a middle of the road tackle who we hope can perform at his 2020 level rather than 2019. Joseph Noteboom comprises the majority of the experienced depth on the OL, who fortunately can play just about any spot on the line. It seems that Brian Allen has not yet recovered from his knee injury which explains them moving Corbett to Center. The scheme is very friendly to lineman though which will help them regardless.”

With an aging offensive line and lack of significant depth, the 2021 performance of this unit will depend greatly on their health. If the offensive line can stay healthy, they have the potential to be back in the top-10 by season’s end.

We should continue to see good pass blocking on the outside, and stout run blocking across the board. Regardless who is running the ball, the offensive line will be opening up running lanes and contributing to a top-10 offense.

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