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Did the Rams take too much of a risk on the offensive line heading into 2022?

The Rams have questions on the offensive line. Will they be good enough to repeat?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams offensive line will look very different than it did a year ago. On the left side, Andrew Whitworth rode off into the sunset after winning the Super Bowl. Since 2017, Whitworth has been a staple for the Rams franchise. Additionally, Austin Corbett left in free agency after playing a key role in the offensive line turnaround in 2019.

Despite losing two out of five starters, the Rams didn’t do a lot to fill in those gaps. Logan Bruss was drafted in the third round. However, Bruss developed slower than the Rams maybe expected and also suffered a torn ACL in the preseason.

General manager Les Snead did manage to re-sign Joe Noteboom at left tackle, but this will be his first season as a full-time starter. 40 percent of the Rams offensive line will be new this year with Coleman Shelton and Noteboom filling in gaps of previously consistent players.

The question is whether or not the Rams took too much of a risk. Last season, the offensive line led the NFL in pass-block win-rate at 68 percent. Their 81.4 pass blocking grade on Pro Football Focus also led the NFL. When the Rams have had a top offensive line, both years they made the Super Bowl.

Team success typically starts in the trenches, but that seems to be especially the case for the Rams. During the three game slump in the middle of the season that included losses to the Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers, and Green Bay Packers, the Rams offensive line allowed 36 total pressures. That accumulated to 25 percent of the season’s total pressures over three weeks.

In the regular season in 2021, the Rams were 2-4 in games in which the offensive line allowed 10 or more pressures.

Head coach Sean McVay has missed the postseason just once in his career with the Rams. That season was 2019 when the team finished 9-7. During that year, the offensive line ranked 25th in pass-block win-rate. According to Pro Football Focus, they ranked 29th in pass-blocking.

There are similarities between that 2019 offensive line and the one heading into 2022. That 2019 offensive line lost center John Sullivan to retirement. Asked to take his place? Rookie Brian Allen who was drafted in the fourth round. This season, the Rams lost Whitworth.

The team also lost Rodger Saffold in free agency. A combination of fifth round rookie David Edward, Austin Blythe, and Jamil Demby filled in at right guard during the season. This past offseason, the Rams lost Corbett.

That 2019 season was filled with injury and inexperience on the offensive line and it resulted in about what you would expect. Both the 2019 and 2022 seasons ironically were both years in which the Rams played in the Super Bowl the previous February.

The Rams will be be asking Noteboom and Shelton to take over for two players that were rock solid on the offensive line.

It’s a big risk heading into a season in which the Rams are looking to repeat. However, it’s worth noting that the most recent repeat champion, the Patriots, didn’t have a single offensive lineman make the Pro Bowl or named an All-Pro selection. It’s more important not to have a bad offensive line than to have a great offensive line.

The biggest difference between that 2019 team and the 2022 team is who’s playing under center. Matthew Stafford was traded for because he’s a quarterback who can perform out of structure. Jared Goff meanwhile needed everything around him to be perfect.

There are legitimate questions to be had about the offensive line. This front office has also given the fanbase every reason to trust their process. Let’s take a look at how the Rams have built their 2022 starting offensive line.

The Starters

LT Joe Noteboom

The Rams drafted Joe Noteboom in 2018 with the thought that he would take over for Whitworth. However, when they drafted Noteboom, they likely didn’t think it would take Whitworth the entire length of his rookie contract to retire.

This past offseason, Snead and co. brought Noteboom back on a three year, $40M contract with two added void years. That makes him the 17th-highest paid left tackle in the NFL which is pretty good value.

Noteboom has started 11 games at left tackle over the last two seasons and the Rams have gone 8-3 in those games. In 2020, Noteboom filled in for Whitworth at left tackle for the first time. In those nine games, he allowed just 21 pressures and two sacks. Among tackles that played at least 50% of their teams snaps during those weeks, he graded as the 10th best pass-blocking tackle in the NFL via PFF.

In two games at left tackle last season, Noteboom graded as the 16th best offensive tackle in the weeks that he played. More impressively, Noteboom started the NFC Divisional round against the Buccaneers and gave up just one pressure the entire game.

The lone issue with Noteboom is his injury history. In 2019, he tore his ACL and MCL in Week 6. The next season, a calf injury forced him to lose the starting guard spot as he landed on short-term IR. Last season, he injured his pec in the playoffs, forcing him to miss the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.

When Noteboom has played, he’s a top-20 tackle in the NFL. However, his injury history is concerning and something that the Rams have bet on.

LG David Edwards

David Edwards has been solid since coming in as a rookie. Since taking over in Week 7 of the 2019 season, Edwards has started all but two games and has played over 1,000 snaps at left guard in each of the last two years. Drafted in the fifth-round, the Rams have gotten great value out of Edwards.

Last season, he was the 21st graded guard according to Pro Football Focus, but his 35 pressures allowed were the 15th most in the NFL. While solid, Edwards still has plenty of room for improvement. He tends to get overpowered at times and pushed into the quarterback.

The best way to describe Edwards is that he’s reliable. As mentioned, since taking over in 2019, he’s missed just two starts and those weren’t because of injury. The Rams know what they’re going to get out of him and they can work with that.

Brandon Thorn is an expert when it comes to offensive and defensive line player. He has a sub-stack called Trench Warfare where he does great breakdowns of players in the trenches.

Thorn recently ranked his top-15 players at each position on the offensive line, separating them into tiers. Edwards came in at Tier 4 which is solid/average. Ranking Edwards at 14 among left guards, Thorn said,

“Edwards has quietly been a functional starter for the Rams over his first three seasons. Winning with his size, balance and play strength, Edwards does a nice job creating movement off the ball on zone combo blocks and maintaining a firm pocket against power-rushers. His athletic ability and movement skills are merely adequate, but he knows how to work around it with patience and technique. Edwards is a great example of a lineman ‘you can win with.’”

This will be a big year for Edwards as he’ll go from playing next to and getting help from Whitworth to playing next to Noteboom. Edwards will be the most experienced player on the left side.

C Brian Allen

Brian Allen was the surprise of the 2021 season. After a disappointing 2019 and being injured in 2020, Corbett was in-line to start at center. However, the former fourth round draft pick showed a new level in camp and won the starting job.

Allen didn’t just win the starting job either. He played at a very high level and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Overall, Allen was the fourth-highest graded center on Pro Football Focus and also had the fourth-highest run-blocking grade. Still, his 20 pressures allowed were the 12th most in the NFL and his five sacks allowed led the league.

Similar to Noteboom, Allen also has an injury history. In 2019, a MCL injury put him on injured reserve. He also missed the second game against the Arizona Cardinals last year and went out with an injury against the Minnesota Vikings. Additionally, Allen revealed at the end of the year that he played through a partially torn UCL last season.

Thorn ranked Allen in Tier 4 at number 10 in his list of centers, saying,

“Allen is coming off of a really good season for the Super Bowl champion Rams, starting 16/17 regular season games and all four playoff games. Allen is a classic undersized former high-level wrestler turned center who wins with excellent competitive toughness and a refined understanding of how to win the leverage battle. I watched every snap of his 2021 season and came away very impressed. Allen has a good chance of rising up a tier if he replicates last year’s level of play in 2022.”

Allen proved a lot of people wrong in 2021. However, the injury history is still the elephant in the room. With Shelton now starting at right guard, the Rams don’t have the depth at center like they did last year.

RG Coleman Shelton

After opting to not bring back Corbett the right guard spot was left open. It was thought that Bruss might be the starter, but not only did he tear his ACL in the preseason, Shelton looked to have won the competition in camp.

The question remains, was Shelton good enough to win the position or was Bruss just not good enough?

Shelton will be the most inexperienced player on the offensive line this season. He’s started in just two games in his career. With the Rams, he’s played a mere 12 snaps at right guard that came in 2019 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In both games started last season, Shelton graded as the 20th ranked center on Pro Football Focus in those weeks, allowing four pressures.

The fact is, we don’t know what we’re going to get from Shelton. Shelton’s path is similar to Allen’s last year. Fans can only hope for the same result.

RT Rob Havenstein

Is there a more underrated right tackle in the NFL than Havenstein? If you want to talk about solid offensive line play, start with Havenstein. With Whitworth gone, he’ll now be the leader of the offensive line and the most experienced player in that group.

Havenstein arguably had his best season last year, allowing a career-low 26 pressures. His 76.1 grade in pass-blocking also was a career-high. He ranked fifth in the NFL in ESPN’s pass-block win rate at 93% and overall, ranked 12th among all tackles on Pro Football Focus.

Like Edwards and Allen, Thorn ranked Havenstein in his tier 4 for right tackles at number 10. Thorn noted,

“Havenstein put together another solid season in 2021 thanks in large part to being quick out of his stance with good weight distribution and discipline to stay inside-out on most rushers. This forces rushers to work around his massive frame, which he also uses to his advantage in the run game by walling off defenders and having an advanced understanding of timing and angles. All of these things help increase his play speed and mask his middling athletic ability, but that will get exposed on an island against high-level rushers, shoehorning him into tier 4 as a reliable starter with a high floor and clearly defined ceiling.”

Havenstein continues to fly under the radar and more will be asked of him this season. Not only will he be asked to be the leader of the offensive line, but he’ll likely be taking more blocking responsibility playing next to an inexperienced player in Shelton. Still, at the end of the day, Havenstein is a player that can consistently be counted on.

The Depth

OG/OT Bobby Evans

There were serious questions about Bobby Evans making the roster. At one point it was thought that Evans would be the right tackle of the future. Right now, it’s unlikely that the Rams would bring him back next season.

It’s difficult to evaluate offensive line play in the preseason. Still, Evans played deep into games which should tell you where the coaching staff rates him. He also was one of the worst performing offensive line players for the Rams.

The positives on Evans is that he brings guard-tackle versatility. If a player goes down, he can play multiple positions. Additionally, he has experience in the offense as he has over 500 regular season snaps in his career.

Evans played 66 snaps against the Seattle Seahawks last season in Week 15. In that game he played at right tackle and allowed three pressures.

OT/OG Tremayne Anchrum

Anchrum was drafted in the seventh round in 2020 and has played just three regular season snaps in his career. In his preseason snaps though, he’s been a solid player.

Unfortunately, we just haven’t seen a lot of him in regular season action. It said a lot last season when the Rams needed a left tackle to step in against the Vikings, the team opted for AJ Jackson instead of Anchrum.

However, this is a player that the Rams really like and can play multiple spots on the offensive line. As a seventh round pick, he’s been on the active roster for each of the last three years.

OT AJ Jackson

AJ Jackson was an undrafted free agent last year, but didn’t play like it. When his number was called, he stepped up to the plate and performed. Without their starting two left tackles, the Rams played Jackson against the Vikings and he played well.

He had a 90.8 run-blocking grade via Pro Football Focus and overall grade of 81.3. Jackson also only gave up two pressures. Watching that game, you would have never known that Jackson was the third-string left tackle. For that week, he was a top-15 tackle in the NFL.

With Noteboom’s injury history, it’s possible that the Rams will need Jackson at some point this season. If that does happen, he’s shown that he can do it.

The Practice Squad

I won’t spend a lot of time on the practice squad, but it is worth noting. The Rams have players here that they can be confident in if they need to call them up. That starts with Chandler Brewer.

Outside of a year in which Brewer opted out of the season, he’s spent three of the last four years now on the practice squad. While he may not be getting regular season snaps, he’s still in the system and being developed.

The same can be said for Jeremiah Kolone. The Rams signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and he’s been mostly on the practice squad ever since.

New this year is AJ Arcuri. Arcuri was the Rams’ seventh round selection and showed some good things in the preseason. A year on the practice squad will be good for him as he develops.

Last is Max Pircher who is the international offensive line player from Austria for the Rams. It’s unlikely that he would get called up, but he’s someone that continues to develop.

Final Thoughts

The questions surrounding the Rams offensive line are justified. This is a team that took an incredible risk this offseason, trusting the development arc of their players. Noteboom and Allen each have injury histories and the depth behind them are inexperienced.

If Allen goes out, the Rams would need to make a change at two spots as Shelton would move over from right guard. In the case that Noteboom misses time, the Rams would be relying on a player like Jackson who’s extremely inexperienced. This will also be Noteboom’s first time as the day one starter at left tackle.

Shelton has 12 career snaps at right guard. That’s a very inexperienced player that the Rams are expecting to jump in a play well. If he were to miss time or need to move over to center, Evans would jump in and he’s not someone that brings a lot of confidence.

Out of all of the position groups, offensive line is the one that makes the fans the most uneasy. However, after passing on Creed Humphrey in last year’s draft and not bringing back Austin Blythe in free agency, a lot of that could be said heading into 2021. The Rams ended up just fine.

This group will have a lot to prove heading into this year and there will likely be some bumps along the way. Still, by the end of the season, this group should be a well-oiled machine and be ready for another playoff run.