The Los Angeles Rams won the NFC West in 2017 and 2018 in large thanks to the play of their offensive line, first and foremost crediting Les Snead with the acquisitions of veterans Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan.
Whitworth joined the Rams having started 164 games over 11 years with the Cincinnati Bengals, while Sullivan had started 93 in seven years with the Minnesota Vikings. When Sullivan retired and the team turned center duties over to Brian Allen, the line faltered and while this isn’t condemning Allen for all of their issues, I do think it is fair to say that the center position is more important than we typically acknowledge.
Well, it is looking to be very possible that in Week 1 the NFC West center with the most experience will be LA Rams starting Austin Blythe, a player who many didn’t even project to play the position this year.
The following is a quick breakdown of who is projected to start at each of the five starting offensive line position, their total career games and total career starts. The Rams look certain to have the left tackle with the most career starts, the right tackle with the most career starts at right tackle, and potentially the center with the most career starts too depending on if the Seattle Seahawks want to make another roster move this week.
Even at the two guard positions, Los Angeles may not be far behind where two of their three opponents are in terms of experience.
LAR Andrew Whitworth - 215 games, 211 starts
SEA Duane Brown - 170 games, 170 starts
SF Trent Williams - 120 games, 119 starts
AZ DJ Humphries - 43 games, 43 starts
Williams is getting rave reviews with the 49ers, as expected so long as he remained healthy. Three of four teams have a premier left tackle in the latter half of his career and the Cardinals extended Humphries for three more years this offseason.
Nick Bosa is going to love it when the regular season starts. He went 0-4 vs. Trent Williams in one-on-one pass rush drills just now. Williams swallowed him a couple of times. Which is to say, Williams has looked very, very good.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) August 20, 2020
AZ Kelvin Beachum - 104 games, 99 starts or Josh Jones, rookie
LAR Rob Havenstein - 68 games, 68 starts
SEA Brandon Shell - 49 games, 40 starts or Cedric Ogbuehi - 49 games, 25 starts
SF Mike McGlinchey - 28 games, 28 starts
The 49ers might have the right tackle with the most upside, but the Rams have the right tackle with the most starts at right tackle. The Cardinals drafted Jones (projected as a first rounder by some) and then signed Beachum, who has only ever played on the left side. It sounds like Beachum is on his way to winning the right tackle job, which also gives Arizona the edge in combined career starts on the offensive line. Otherwise, they’d be in last place there.
ESPN pass-block win rate:— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) January 14, 2020
1. David Bakhtiari, Packers: 96%
2. Andrew Whitworth, Rams: 94%
3. Kelvin Beachum, Jets: 94%
4. Ronnie Stanley, Ravens: 94%
5. Mike McGlinchey, 49ers: 93%
Bakhtiari v. Bosa and McGlinchey v. Smiths are the battles that’ll determine this game.
Seattle had a competition at right tackle but apparently Shell ran away with it.
SEA Justin Britt - 87 games, 86 starts or BJ Finney, 59 games, 13 starts
LAR Austin Blythe - 55 games, 33 starts
AZ Mason Cole - 32 games, 18 starts
SF Weston Richburg (PUP) - 79 games, 78 starts or Ben Garland - 63 games, 10 starts
The Seahawks were having a competition at center between Finney, Ethan Pocic and Kyle Fuller, which apparently went so well that they brought Britt in for a tryout on Wednesday. Britt has been Seattle’s starting center in each of the last four years, so it would end up as unexpected continuity for them at the position if he was signed. However, he was also let go for a reason.
I said this last week on @710ESPNSeattle the Seahawks NEED to bring back Justin Britt to sure up the Offensive Line. The competition at center went south as BJ Finney has struggled in camp. https://t.co/jSVPGwlh3H— Jake Heaps (@jtheaps9) August 26, 2020
Richburg may be the best center in the division, but it seems likely he’ll miss the start of the season as he recovers from a torn patellar tendon. If Finney and Garland were starting in Week 1, it is probable then that Blythe would be the most experienced center in the division — at least in total starts. But most of those came in 2018 and then Cole spent most of 2019 backing up AQ Shipley.
AZ JR Sweezy - 104 games, 94 starts
SF Tom Compton - 99 games, 34 starts
LAR Austin Corbett - 22 games, 8 starts
SEA Damien Lewis - Rookie
Lewis was a third round pick out of LSU and he has been the starter at right guard since Day 1. It’s about as glowing of a review for an o-lineman as Pete Carroll has given as the head coach of the Seahawks. But he’s only a rookie and Carroll has misjudged the quality of talent he’s had before, so it’s important to wait until the games begin before evaluating.
D.J. Humphries knows the Cardinals' offensive line has plenty of critics. His request: "Tell them to turn on the film, and watch it from Week 1 to Week 17. They'll see the progression." https://t.co/NXc3m5T8A7— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) July 10, 2020
The Cardinals are likely to have the most experience at guard in the division this year and at right guard, it’s not even close if Sweezy ends up starting. Overall, center and right guard seem to have the most total vulnerabilities in the NFC West, which tells me that the two Austins have as good of a shot as any players here to be the best in the division.
AZ Justin Pugh - 86 games, 86 starts
SF Laken Tomlinson - 79 games, 71 starts
SEA Ethan Pocic - 30 games, 16 starts or Mike Iupati, 130 games, 129 starts
LAR Joe Noteboom - 22 games, 6 starts
There’s practically no way for the Rams to say they have “experience” at left guard, but Noteboom’s a promising player and I don’t know that any of the other teams are impressively solid at this position. Players like Tomlinson, Pugh, Iupati are all veterans with qualities that got them to where they are but they’ve got certain limits. At least with Noteboom, maybe he could be a dependable player to plug into a good line around him like Tomlinson or maybe he could be much more.
Cardinals: 340 combined starts with Kelvin Beachum or 241 without
Rams: 326 combined starts
Seahawks: 312 combined starts w/o Iupati or 425 with
49ers: 262 combined starts w/o Richburg or 330 combined starts with
It wouldn’t take many moves to see all four teams enter the season with between 312 and 340 combined career starts on the offensive line. We also don’t necessarily know that 400 career starts would be better than 300; or if 300 would be worse than 200. Quality will matter more than quantity.
But whether it’s “How much” or “How good,” the Rams could be closer to the top than it may have felt based on last season’s results and few offseason changes.