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Can the Los Angeles Rams fix their offensive line by next season?

Can the Rams reboot their line in time for 2020? What are their best options?

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Baltimore Ravens v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

There have been a number of issues with the Los Angeles Rams offense in 2019. QB Jared Goff has regressed and played sloppy football far too often. The Rams do not appear intent on having RB Todd Gurley foster their offensive identity anymore as they look to preserve his knee for the duration of his lucrative deal. Even Head Coach Sean McVay’s ability to scheme the Rams’ offense off the mat is in question. But in order to give Goff, McVay, or Gurley an honest evaluation, the foundation of the offense must be fixed, and that is their offensive line.

The Rams enjoyed remarkable health and stability on their line through McVay’s first two seasons, but this year the Rams’ luck ran out on that front as they attempted to transition away from LG Rodger Saffold and C John Sullivan. Replacement LG Joseph Noteboom and C Brian Allen both struggled before ending up on the injured reserve list. Holdovers RG Austin Blythe and RT Rob Havenstein were bad, and LT Andrew Whitworth is likely to retire. Rookies David Edwards and Bobby Evans have shown some upside, but it would be a gamble to rely on them as starting NFL linemen entering next season; perhaps Edwards at guard or right tackle could work with talent around him.

So here we are. The Rams are entering 2020 in a new stadium and they need to rebuild the stage that the team’s stars once shined on, or nothing else will matter. But the team has no first round picks in 2020 or 2021, and they will have a tricky cap situation to negotiate.

The Draft

If the Rams decide to pick a lineman in the second, third, or fourth round in draft, they could potentially land a starter, particularly in the second.

Last year the Denver Broncos selected G Dalton Risner in the 2nd round and have gotten 706 snaps out him, with a PFF rating of 67.6. The Rams traded back and missed out on C Erik McCoy who ended up thriving and playing at a pro bowl level for the New Orleans Saints as a 2nd-round pick.

2nd-round pick OT Max Scharping has put in work for the Houston Texans at left guard and earned a moderate PFF grade of 54.2.

After the second round though, rookies selected in the third and fourth rounds have had minimal impact. In fact, with the exception of decent spot work from the Los Angeles Chargers’ 3rd-round T Trey Pipkins, Rams rookies Bobby Evans (3rd round) and David Edwards (5th round) have outperformed most of their mid-round peers from last season, including:

OG Michael Dieter, Miami Dolphins, 3rd round (PFF 43.0)
OG Nate Davis, Tennessee Titans, 3rd round (PFF 30.2)
OG Chuma Edoga New York Jets, 3rd round (PFF 49.7)
OT Yodny Cajuste, New England Patriots, 3rd round (0 snaps)
OG Dru Samia, Minnesota Vikings, 4th round (0 snaps)
OG Hjalte Froholdt, New England Patriots, 4th round (IR Shoulder)
OG Ben Powers, Baltimore Ravens, 4th round (0 snaps)
OG Phil Haynes, Seattle Seahawks, 4th round (most of season on PUP, hernia)
OG Wes Martin, Washington DC, 4th round (PFF 45.8)
OG Michael Jordan, Cincinnati Bengals, 4th round (PFF 31.5)

One thing you might notice is that rookie linemen taken in the 3rd and 4th rounds don’t see much (if any) playing time for good teams. The Rams have actually gotten Edwards and Evans some snaps, which could help next year, but that remains to be seen. If the Rams are serious about fixing the line by next season, they better be willing to use that 2nd-round pick this time around, or even slide up a few spots, which won’t be easy given their limited draft assets.

Free Agency

On the bright side, there is a pretty good free agent class available when it comes to linemen. Unfortunately, the Rams are slated to have about $26m in cap space available (per Over The Cap) and will have some tough decisions to make. EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. and ILB Cory Littleton are both unrestricted free agents, as is DT Michael Brockers. WR Cooper Kupp and CB Jalen Ramsy will need to be extended as well. C/G Austin Blythe has turned in an atrocious season, after showing promise in 2018, leaving the team with the need to make a decision about what to do with him.

With Whitworth set to retire though, the Rams could possibly be content to slide Edwards or Noteboom to left tackle. That would be a serious risk, so I’d expect the Rams to part ways with either Littleton or Fowler along with Brockers, unless Brockers will return at a bargain. There should be a market for Fowler and Littleton. If the Rams are able to move any of their existing bad deals, they will.

If the Rams can clear up some space, here are some of the lineman that might be available:

LT Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis Colts, age 31 (PFF 82.8)
RT Brian Bulaga, Green Bay Packers, age 30.7 (PFF 72.4)
LT Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles, age 37.8 (PFF 78.6), health concerns
LT Kelvin Beachum, New York Jets, age 30 (PFF 67.9)
G Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins, age 27.9 (PFF 76.9), IR this season w/ torn pec
RT Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans, age 25 (PFF 69.6), 5th-year declined by Titans
G Daryl Williams, Carolina Panthers, age 27.2 (PFF 57.6), knee issue in 2018
G Demar Dotson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, age 34 (PFF 66.9)
G Erik Flowers, Washington Redskins, age 25.5 (PFF 62.2)
C Trey Hopkins, Cincinnati Bengals, age 27 (PFF 60.6)
RT Germain Ifedi, Seattle Seahwaks, age 25 (PFF 54.1), declined 5th-year option

There are other bargain basement guys too, but if the Rams are willing to use a 2nd-round pick on their line and somehow sign two free agents, they may be able to move the needle by next year. You figure Edwards (and possibly Evans, Noteboom, or gulp, Allen) should improve with experience, and Havenstein may regain something similar to his old form.

I’d ultimately like to see three new players starting on the line next season in Inglewood, and of course lines need to gel so McVay may have may have to allow them to play together in a few preseason games.

It is a very real worry that the Rams will decide to stay in house at too many positions on the line, but let’s see what happens.

And to avoid it the comments, I’ll say the name as a formality, Trent Williams.