clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Don’t expect Rams to invest heavily in OL in 2023

The biggest improvement LA could make is returning to health

NFL: SEP 18 Falcons at Rams Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is fair to conclude that the 2022 season for the Los Angeles Rams was derailed by injuries along the offensive line. Linemen dropping like flies started a chain reaction that resulted in one of the least productive offenses in the NFL. Improvement is necessary, but it might be attained through the means most are currently expecting.

Week 1 starting five:

LT - Joseph Noteboom

LG - David Edwards

C - Brian Allen

RG - Coleman Shelton

RT - Rob Havenstein

Brian Allen was the first domino to fall in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills, suffering a knee injury that has limited his playing time to only four games this season. The veteran center missed Weeks 2 through 7 and then Weeks 11 and 12.

Allen missing LA’s second game meant that RG Coleman Shelton had to slide inside, and Tremayne Anchrum was the next man up at right guard. But Anchrum lasted only two plays during the Week 2 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, and Alaric Jackson - who primarily played tackle as a rookie - took over along the interior. This group held together fairly well and continued their strong play the next week against the Arizona Cardinals, but then things got bleak pretty quickly.

LG David Edwards missed the Week 4 game against the San Francisco 49ers with concussion symptoms, meaning Bobby Evans was forced into playing time.

The slope only got more slippery as Coleman Shelton was injured against the 49ers and would miss the next five weeks. This thrust Jeremiah Kolone, a career backup, into the middle of the Rams’ offensive line - the combination of Evans and Kolone was a significant liability in pass protection.

Los Angeles played only nine offensive snaps in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers before they lost LT Joseph Noteboom for the rest of the year with a ruptured Achilles. Alaric Jackson shifted from RG to replace him.

LA had a Week 7 bye, and when they took the field in Week 8 for the second contest against the 49ers the offensive line had undergone a significant transformation in just under two months. The Rams tasked the following offensive line with slowing down pass rushers such as Nick Bosa, Samson Ebukam, and others:

LT - Alaric Jackson

LG - Bobby Evans

C - Brian Allen

RG - Oday Aboushi

RT - Rob Havenstein

Los Angeles replaced Aboushi with Chandler Brewer against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following week. Brewer made the most of his opportunity and seemed to have a lock on the starting position moving forward.

Coleman Shelton returned at RG and the unit was seemingly stabilizing, all things considered. Just as things were on the upswing for the Rams, the grim reaper returned.

Jackson suffered a knee injury against Tampa Bay and missed the following game against the Arizona Cardinals. The team then discovered he was having blood clotting issues and they would have to shut him down for the season - making Ty Nsehke, a street free agent, LA’s starting left tackle.

Brewer and Allen were injured against the Cardinals and both have been unable to return. Aboushi replaced Brewer at RG. Nsehke suffered a knee injury in New Orleans and he has yet to return this season - Bobby Evans was asked to slide in at LT after losing his starting job at LG to veteran Matt Skura that same week. His play at LT wasn’t much better.

All the turmoil and the constant set of change resulted in 11 different starting lineups along the offensive line in the same amount of games. When the Rams took the field against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, they were fielding more reserves than starting quality players:

LT - AJ Arcuri (rookie seventh round pick)

LG - Matt Skura

C - Coleman Shelton

RG - Oday Aboushi

RT - Rob Havenstein

And that’s likely where things stand against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13, other than potentially playing a 37-year old NFL journeyman, Nsekhe, instead of giving the rookie an opportunity to prove his worth.

Contract outlook for 2023:

Availability is the best ability, which makes the Rams smart for locking down one of the most reliable right tackles in all of football - Rob Havenstein - just before the start of the season. The same idea lends concern towards LA’s other high-priced linemen, Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen, because games missed due to injuries have been a major concern over the course of their careers.

Both Noteboom and Allen were drafted in 2018 and given a redshirt year to develop before becoming starters in 2019. Both were injured early that season.

Noteboom was unable to win back his starting spot at LG from David Edwards in 2020 and 2021, and Andrew Whitworth seemed he was never going to retire to open up the LT job. Brian Allen took a year to recover, but he tenaciously seized the starting center job during training camp ahead of the 2021 regular season.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Rams spent four years developing each of these linemen, so it made perfect sense that the team would retain them as free agents in 2022 if the price was right.

But now that price seems overinflated, because neither individual seems to be able to stay on the field - and their absence has allowed the Rams to potentially identify their replacements.

Alaric Jackson, a second-year UDFA, fared better at left tackle than Noteboom did this season - and his price tag is much lower than Noteboom’s. LA signed Coleman Shelton to a two-year deal during the 2022 offseason, so he’s also under contract for 2023. Shelton has been reliable when he’s had to fill in at center.

Noteboom’s contract has a cap hit of $15.5M in 2023, but the team is capable of moving on from him just a single season after re-signing was their highest offseason priority. Allen has a cap hit of only $6.8M next year, which seems like a fair price to pay for a starting level player. Shelton has the ability to play center and both guard positions, so it makes sense to retain Allen knowing you have a decent insurance policy.

This also seems to be David Edwards’ last season in Los Angeles, as he has missed most of the year due to injury, hasn’t played well when he’s been on the field, and is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Perhaps the injury concerns could lower his price tag to a level that is palatable for the Rams, but that isn’t the most likely outcome.

Why the injuries were a blessing in disguise:

There might only be a need for a single starting-level player along this offensive line in 2023 - someone who could compete for a first-string job at one of the guard spots. With that said, depth is still a major concern and the Rams should look to add players that can contribute right away but also have upside as developmental prospects.

Here’s how the offensive line could look without any sort of major investment (free agent or draft pick) in 2023. My gut tells me this offensive line could hold up and play well over the course of a season:

LT - Alaric Jackson

LG - Coleman Shelton

C - Brian Allen

RG - Tremayne Anchrum / Chandler Brewer / Logan Bruss

RT - Rob Havenstein

So what are the needs along the OL?

Do the Rams have their swing tackle on the roster at this point? Perhaps AJ Arcuri could take a step forward and be a reliable backup to Jackson and Havenstein, but a more reliable option would be to add a low cost veteran in the later stages of free agency.

No team is equipped to go three-deep along the offensive line, so I’m not sure a third-string center behind Allen and Shelton is a worthy investment - though the team did add Cole Toner to the practice squad recently.

Having too many capable bodies on the OL is a champagne problem. The Rams should explore any opportunity to add a dependable player, especially along the interior of the line.

It seems the Rams’ starting 2023 offensive line is mostly already on the roster, and those who expect high-priced reinforcements to be added over the course of free agency are likely to be disappointed. I’d also encourage LA to spend their top draft pick on a playmaker at a skill position instead of along the OL, because both sides of the football are devoid of explosive players able to produce splash plays.

The Rams shouldn’t invest heavily on the OL in 2023.

Rams vs Falcons Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images