This season, the Rams finished 7th in PFF's offensive line rankings, which is really good. The Dallas Cowboys claimed the top spot, followed by the Bucs, Niners, Eagles and Chiefs.
Two of the surprise teams were the Chargers at 10th and the Jets at 11th, both much improved, as both of those teams typically have been near the bottom of the NFL in previous years.
In ESPN's blocking metrics, the Rams ranked as the best pass blocking team in the NFL, finishing 1st in pass block win rate at 68%. This was up from 7th place (63%) a year ago. PFF says that the Rams at one point were 1st in pass blocking efficiency, but after a late season slump, the Rams dipped to an 11th place finish in PBE.
The Rams finished 12th in run block win rate at 71%. While their win rate percentage was only slightly up from 70% a year ago, they climbed up 7 spots in the ranking after finishing 19th in 2020.
Andrew Whitworth had the same pass block win rate (94%) this season as he did last year. In 2020, Whit was the best OT in the NFL in this metric. This season, Whit was the best LT and the 3rd best OT in PBWR. Consistent with ESPN's metrics, PFF also stated in their regular season wrap up article that Whit was arguably the best pass blocking left tackle in the NFL this season.
Despite a rough patch near the end of the regular season, the 2021 Rams overall had a very good offensive line. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if the Rams have missed opportunities in recent drafts to lay a foundation for the OL moving forward into future years.
Jordan Mailata was an Australian rugby player drafted in the 7th round in 2018. I remember Rams fans on TST being enamored with this prospect and wanting to acquire him. The Rams picked Travin Howard just 2 slots before Mailata was selected. Howard is still on the roster, which is good for a 7th round pick and the Rams need him to play due to the injury to Ernest Jones. On the other hand, Mailata had a 86.9 PFF grade this year playing LT and has developed into a powerful force as a run blocker. The Rams could have added a valuable piece to the OL if they had drafted him.
The Rams drafted Brycen Hopkins in the 4th round in 2020. Rams coaches really liked Hopkins. With that pick, the Rams passed on taking a number of OL prospects to take a TE I thought wasn't worth selecting that early. The group of linemen they could have gotten include Colton McKivitz, who the Rams just played against in the Niners game, Ben Bredeson, Danny Pinter (76.2 PFF as a backup center for the Colts), Keith Ismael (64.9 as a backup center for the WFT), Jack Driscoll (70.4 PFF for the Eagles) and Tyler Biadasz (64.8 PFF for the Cowboys). The player out of that group I would have taken without benefit of hindsight is Biadasz. This season, Biadasz finished as the 19th ranked center in PFF grade, and improved his overall grade from 53.5 as a rookie to 64.8 in his second season. So far, Hopkins hasn't contributed very much on the field, which makes me concerned about whether he will pan out as a draft pick moving forward.
In the 2nd round of that 2020 draft, the Rams took a RB, Cam Akers, and a WR, Van Jefferson. Akers has shown promise, but then got hurt, recently returning to action. Jefferson has been up and down, making some big highlights, but also not showing consistency and reliability as a playmaker. Two linemen who were available in that area have shown progress this season. Jonah Jackson (70.0 PFF) improved his PFF grade by 13 points from his rookie season. Matt Hennessy (77.0) has played center for the Falcons.
Many Rams fans lament the team not taking Creed Humphrey, but a case could be made that Matt Hennessy would have been the better fit for the offense. If you visually watch cutups of KC Chiefs plays this year, I'd contend that Humphrey is best on gap and inside zone type runs, but isn't as good on plays where they ask him to move far laterally on pulls and outside zone runs. In a recent game, he had a costly holding penalty in the RZ on an outside zone run. Other plays, he isn't quick enough to get to the proper landmark. Creed's PFF grade might be a bit misleading, because if he actually played for the Rams he might not score as well compared to playing for KC and having arguably 2 better guards beside him compared to if he was with Edwards and Corbett.
Due to the injuries to Woods and Atwell, the Rams need Van Jefferson right now. Down the road, I wonder if Jackson and Hennessy could have provided more total value to the team compared to drafting another WR at that pick.
Two players besides Creed the Rams could have drafted were Quinn Meinerz and Josh Myers. Meinerz has had a couple poor plays, but overall he still posted a 67.4 PFF grade, which is very solid for a rookie. Due to an injury to Graham Glasgow, Meinerz got considerable playing time at guard this season. Myers has been injured for most of the season, but looked pretty good in his return to action and could be an important factor for the Packers in the playoffs, expected to start at center.
Waiting for the Payoff
When the Rams signed A'Shawn Robinson in free agency in 2020, some fans wondered if he would be worth the money. Things didn't look promising when he had a heart condition and had to be put on a reserve list. When he returned to the field, it looked like ARob had lost weight and didn't seem like he was the same player. This season, Robinson has returned to form and been a good player. ARob has a better PFF grade and position ranking than Greg Gaines. ARob has a 72.5 grade and is the 22nd best defensive lineman in the NFL. Gaines and ARob are tied for the 6th best run stop win rate per ESPN for defensive tackles. Robinson made a number of key plays in the Niners game and sometimes even when he doesn't make a tackle, he does a good job holding his ground at the LOS, helping the run defense.
I'm happy to see Robert Quinn have such a great season. He had 18.5 sacks and the 2nd best pass rush win rate for edge defenders in the NFL, behind only Myles Garrett. He scored better than TJ Watt and Nick Bosa. Quinn has 101 career sacks.
When the Rams traded Quinn to Miami, it was bittersweet. There were financial considerations, but I also didn't think that Quinn was washed up at that point, I thought he could still contribute. The Rams got a 4th round pick in the deal, which became Brian Allen. They also upgraded a late round pick and used that as part of another trade to get Obo.
I was very angry when the Rams traded away Brandin Cooks. This season, Cooks has played the entire year with essentially backup QBs in Houston. It was yet another 1,000 yard receiving season in his career. If it weren't for his concussion riddled 2019 season and his injury hampered rookie year, it is possible that Cooks would have posted 1,000 yard seasons in every year of his career in the NFL to this point. The Texans had very few weapons besides Cooks, so considering the situation around him he had a very good year on a bad squad. The Rams got zero salary cap savings when they made that trade and I question whether in the long run it was the best for the team. Van Jefferson was added with the pick the Rams got in the trade. Jefferson isn't a bad player and there are salary, durability and age considerations, but on the whole I'd rather have Cooks as a WR than Jefferson if the goal was to make the team strongest for 2021.
The Time Has Come
Mission accomplished for the Rams in the regular season. The NFC West was projected in the preseason to be the toughest division in the NFL and the Rams won it. Now, records, stats and rankings mostly go out the window, all that matters is winning the next game.
In OL rankings, the Arizona Cardinals finished with the 15th ranked OL per PFF. This was down from 12th in 2020. Getting veterans such as Rodney Hudson and Max Garcia back in the starting lineup could be a boost for Arizona as they try to take down the Rams. Arizona doesn't have a single OL starter with a PFF grade of at least 70. Their starters are all veterans, which could be valuable this time of year. On paper, however, I'd still say that the Rams have the edge in this department heading into Monday night's tilt.