If the Los Angeles Rams are going to get through the NFC playoffs and back into the Super Bowl this season, some may call it a “miracle” to have done so without even having a draft pick in the top 40 since selecting Jared Goff in 2016, a player who is no longer even with the team. Neither is Todd Gurley, the Rams’ second-most recent first round pick. And the Rams obviously didn’t get much help from Tavon Austin or Greg Robinson either.
For general manager Les Snead, Jalen Ramsey and Matthew Stafford clearly represent positive values in exchange for LA’s first round picks, so it’s not all or nothing, but we know that the Rams’ roster building strategy has been to eschew the top-50 picks in favor larger draft classes and veteran pickups. It may work and it may not, but to some degree this strategy is an admission by Snead that evaluating day one prospects is either not his forte or impossible for any GM.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to defend Snead at this time because we know that since finding Cooper Kupp and John Johnson in the middle of the 2017 draft, the Rams have a relatively tough track record in rounds two through four. That stings a little more now that John Franklin-Myers, a fourth round pick in 2018 who was perhaps let go a little too soon by Sean McVay, is shining out as a defensive lineman on the New York Jets.
But sometimes Snead does benefit from another team giving up on a player too soon.
Over 100 picks before the Rams selected Myers, the Cleveland Browns chose interior offensive lineman Austin Corbett with the 33rd overall pick, first in the second round. The Browns were so high on Corbett, in fact, that they risked losing out on running back Nick Chubb, the player they selected at 35. Corbett, a left tackle at Nevada, was praised for his versatility and it was believed he could play just about anywhere on the offensive line.
“Tough, physical, and with some athleticism to be able to pull and trap,” said Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller at the time of the draft. Miller and Chris Simms called the pick a slight reach, Simms more so than Miller, and arguments could be made for other linemen. But Jeff Risdon of USA Today noted that he felt Corbett was a top-20 prospect:
I loved Corbett as a prospect coming out of Nevada. A left tackle with quick feet, good hands and shoulders and a lot of starting experience, Corbett was easy to love in the draft process. In his NFL Scouting Combine interview, I stood in front of his podium and marveled at how his football IQ and passion for the game shined through.
The Browns attempted to make Corbett the heir apparent to Joe Thomas at left tackle, but abandoned that after three weeks and coincidentally that job eventually went to Greg Robinson. Cleveland couldn’t fit him anywhere else on the offensive line and he sat on the bench as a rookie. It seemed that Corbett could get his start after the Browns traded Kevin Zeitler to the Giants, but his transition to guard was so clunky that even Risdon had lost faith.
In watching Corbett in training camp, it was pretty obvious why he fell out so quickly. A player who was so natural, so balanced at left tackle had no real feel for how to react in the tighter quarters inside. His lack of lower-body strength and shoulder torque was plainly obvious.
Time to panic setting in. This is really not good.
The team moved Corbett to center after only a few days of camp and he was being called the worst player on the entire offensive line. I can’t believe I’m even going to utter these words, but is it possible—hear me out—that the Cleveland Browns mismanaged one of their draft picks???
Having picked an offensive lineman who they couldn’t even hand a roster spot to over the likes of Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, Courtland Sutton, Harold Landry, Mike Gesicki, etc., the Browns traded Corbett to the Rams for a fifth round pick in the 2021 draft. Corbett played one and a quarter seasons and 15 offensive snaps in Cleveland.
The Rams, once even known as “that Cleveland football team”, didn’t have the luxury or the curse of patience with Austin Corbett. Having entered the season with Joseph Noteboom, David Edwards, and Austin Blythe manning the guard positions, Brian Allen in the middle, the team soon installed Corbett by giving him a trial by fire in a game against the Steelers.
He was starting the next week and there hasn’t been a Rams game since without Austin Corbett on the offensive line. His versatility came into play early but at this time it is fair to call him a right guard.
I call Austin Corbett a damn good right guard.
(things that didn’t happen):
Austin Corbett is expected to be the Rams new center this season. A second round pick in 2018, Corbett’s career has turned around since he was traded to LA from Cleveland during the 2019 season. Corbett credits the fresh start. pic.twitter.com/8yXvVP25ql— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) July 27, 2021
I may not be an offensive line, Xs and Os, playbook expert, and I may not care what PFF grades or “sacks and pressures allowed” have to say, but I do know that when I switch my focus to guard on a given play, Corbett is constantly winning his battles and looking like the player Risdon and many others expected when he was a fringe first round pick.
I also know that for what it is worth to you, Corbett’s PFF grade ain’t too shabby, and I also know that while some Rams offensive linemen are sources of frustrations with penalties, Corbett isn’t one of them. He has been called for one offensive holding penalty in 887 snaps this season (one in 1,119 last season), and one ineligible downfield pass penalty. He had four false starts in 2020, but zero false starts in 2021.
Austin Corbett's play strength, anchor, & ability to strain are very impressive. Quietly one of the 5-6 best RGs in football. pic.twitter.com/z8BIEru2y8— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 29, 2021
He has the athleticism, resume, and discipline that I would expect of a Pro Bowl player, but as far as I know, I’m the only person who seems to believe that. Maybe I’m crazy—maybe the world is crazy. I would cite Austin Corbett as at least a Pro Bowl alternate, a distinction that was bestowed upon teammates Andrew Whitworth and Brian Allen this week.
My All-Players-Who-Have-Surprised-Me-Watching-Film-So-Far List— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) October 5, 2021
QB: Sam Darnold
RB: David Montgomery
WR: AJ Green
TE: Dalton Schultz
OT: Andrew Thomas (!!)
iOL: Austin Corbett
iDL: Malik McDowell
EDGE: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
LB: Shaq Thompson
CB: Chidobe Awuzie
S: Nasir Adderley
Snead has decisions to make on all three: Whitworth was “nearing retirement age” about eight years ago, while Allen and Corbett are going to be unrestricted free agents. I know which lineman I would prioritize. Perhaps the fact that he’s overlooked could only make him cheaper, but if I’m not crazy, his contract will represent the way that the rest of the league actually views his services.