Rams: Let’s Take A Second and Appreciate Andrew Whitworth

by Blaine Grisak
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When Orlando Pace left the St. Louis Rams in 2008, it left a huge gap at left tackle. Pace had been a staple for the Rams at that position, following in the footsteps by Jackie Slater before him. With the second overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Rams select Jason Smith out of Baylor. A raw tackle, Smith was said to have more upside than any tackle in the draft.

Four years later, Smith was no longer on the team.

In three years with the Rams, Smith gave up 73 pressures from the tackle position via PFF. The Rams attempted to replace Pace with another high-upside tackle, but this time it didn’t work out and the offensive line and team suffered for it.

In 2013, the Rams tried to bring in a proven veteran to be the future left tackle. A four-time pro-bowler from 2009-2011, former first overall pick Jake Long seemed to be the perfect fit. To say the least, Long was not the player that the Rams hoped to sign. He gave up 52 pressures and nine sacks in two years. The most costly came in the preseason against the Browns in 2014 that led to Sam Bradford tearing his ACL for a second-straight year.

The Rams tried again to draft a future left tackle with the second overall pick in 2014. Despite Jeff Fisher having coached Jake Matthews’ dad in Tennessee, the Rams selected another raw tackle in Greg Robinson out of Baylor. Robinson gave up 110 pressures in three years. That doesn’t even mention his 40 penalties which led all NFL tackles from 2014-2016.

After being so stable at the left tackle position for a decade, the Rams had been everything but that since. They tried the top draft pick twice. They tried signing the veteran tackle. Neither options seemed to work. The left tackle position after Pace was just a turnstile for opposing defensive lines.

Then, it finally changed. One man finally gave the Rams the stability they needed. That man was Andrew Whitworth.

Whitworth put together a solid career with the Cincinnati Bengals. However, because it was the Bengals, nobody seemed to take notice. Whitworth switched between left tackle and guard. No matter where he played, he dominated.

Whitworth was the fourth-highest rated tackle via PFF in 2011 – he didn’t make his first Pro Bowl. He finally got that recognition in 2012, but still didn’t get the respect from the media, missing out on an All-Pro selection. Whitworth was PFF’s highest-rated tackle in 2014 and didn’t make a Pro Bowl and was named just second-team All Pro. That season, he was the only tackle to play more than 50% of his team’s snaps and not give up a sack.

For his entire career, Andrew Whitworth has been criminally underrated.

Whitworth arguably had a worse season in 2015, but finally got Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro recognition. Again, in 2016, Whitworth was only PFF’s second-highest rated tackle in pass blocking, but missed out an All-Pro selection.

If Whitworth was going to get the recognition he deserved, he was going to have to go to a team outside of Cincinnati and have a great second act.

After a disastrous 4-12 season in their first year in Los Angeles, the Rams needed to make some serious changes. Those changes started on the offensive line. Whitworth was the very free agent signing of the Sean McVay era. At 35-years old, it was a risk that the Rams needed to take. They could hope form 2-3 years of Whitworth to help solidify the left tackle position and help implement the team’s new culture.

That leadership aspect was arguably just as, if not more important than the role Whitworth would play on the field. After a decade of losing, the Rams needed to bring in strong leadership to change culture. Whitworth provided that and more.

2017 wasn’t even Whitworth’s best year. However, he helped protect Jared Goff’s blindside and helped re-invigorate the Rams offense. Jared Goff bounced back from a poor rookie season and Todd Gurley had an Offensive Player of the Year performance. With that team success, came personal accolades. For the first time in his career, Whitworth was named a first-team All-Pro left tackle.

To say it was a long-time coming is a giant understatement.

Whitworth led the Build Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Year in 2018, but again, went without the Pro Bowl and All-Pro awards.

The Rams offensive tackle has remained quiet in his time with the Rams. He’s been the leader and player that they needed. He’s never complained, despite lacking the recognition, and simply been a stable figure. Without Whitworth, it’s hard to see the Rams making the turnaround that they did in 2017 or making their Super Bowl run in 2018.

On Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals, Whitworth will become the first play in NFL history to start a game at left tackle at 40-years old. An interesting discussion came up on The Athletic Football Show on Monday: Is what Andrew Whitworth is doing as or more impressive than what Tom Brady is doing at the quarterback position.

Given the physicality of that it takes to play left tackle, it’s at least as impressive, if not more impressive. At 40-years old, Whitworth is still playing at a very high-level. Through 12 games, he’s the highest-rated pass-blocking tackle in the NFL via PFF. He’s only given up 10 pressures this season which is the fourth-least in the NFL among tackles with at least 50% of their team’s snaps.

Players like Jason Peterson who has nine Pro Bowls and named an All-Pro six times will be a shoe in to make the Hall of Fame. Whether or not Whitworth gets that same sort of recognition is to be seen. If how his career went has anything to do with it, he likely won’t, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be deserving.

Off the field, Whitworth has been the team’s Walter Peyton Man of the Year award nomination ever since 2019 and just took the team’s nomination for a third-straight year.

Whitworth has never been the kind of player that needs the personal awards for validation. He’s simply shown up and played good football day-in and day-out.

This will likely be ‘Big-Whit’s’ last season wearing pads. If it is, fans should appreciate the time that they have left together. After this season, it’s very possible that the Rams go right back to where they were before Whitworth at the left tackle position.

For a player that has gone under appreciated throughout his entire career, it’s time to appreciate Whitworth for his contributions and what he’s given to the Rams franchise. It’s something that simply cannot be replaced.

 

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