For every year with Sean McVay as the head coach, the focus of the Los Angeles Rams’ offseason has been the “big moves” and that’s often what has gotten them credit for success. From Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, and Sammy Watkins in 2017 to Bobby Wagner and Allen Robinson in 2022, and many names in between, it is indeed the superstars who draw focus.
But the Rams’ main issue in 2022 was not a lack of high-end talent. Many of the same players who both helped L.A. win the Super Bowl and who would also flirt with an NFL Top-100 list were still on the team and playing during the Rams 3-9 start. L.A. went 3-6 with Matthew Stafford on the field, 3-6 with Cooper Kupp, and 3-8 with Aaron Donald.
What really caused the Rams to flounder in September, October, and November was a lack of quality players around them, not enough depth on the offensive line, and few starters apart from the stars who would be starting for other teams.
In 2021, the Rams had quality players on the roster who they managed to pluck from other teams without incredible sacrifices. Names like Austin Corbett, Darious Williams, and Sony Michel. Furthermore, the Rams were still enjoying the benefits of underrated draft picks like Jordan Fuller, David Edwards, and a surprisingly adept season by Brian Allen at center.
But it was the lack of quality day two and day three finds over the past four years that came back to bite Los Angeles in 2022.
Corbett and Williams left in free agency, as did Michel although that seems to be a less notable loss than some others. Rob Havenstein was the only offensive lineman who played in more than 13 games, Coleman Shelton was next at 13, then no other player on the line appeared in more than eight.
The two who played in eight were not even in camp with the Rams: Ty Nsekhe and Matt Skura.
Brian Allen started seven games, A.J. Jackson and Joe Noteboom each started six, and Oday Aboushi, another street free agent, started four.
It is fair to point out that few, if any teams could have survived this much of a calamity on their offensive line. But the Rams went into 2022 knowing that they were replacing Whitworth with Noteboom and Corbett with a competition of unproven talents. Much like their kicker competition in 2020, what if it turned out that none of the options were viable? It would mean that McVay entered 2022 training camp with Edwards as his only serviceable starting guard—and then Edwards missed 13 games.
#Rams have re-signed another OL, this time Coleman Shelton.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) March 14, 2022
3rd OL they re-signed today after Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom.
It is no surprise then that only one injury could cause the interior of the offensive line to fall apart, let alone compounding the issue by having Brian Allen miss 10 games.
The plan for L.A., probably because of where they had allocated their money, as well as a lack of day two and three smash hits in the draft, was to enter 2022 with either rookie Logan Bruss (not a top-100 pick) or Coleman Shelton (238 career snaps) as the starting right guard to replace Corbett. In the past, this is not always an issue for McVay’s Rams, as that’s how they got through 2021 with Allen at center despite a disappointing start to his career.
Even Corbett overcame a disappointing start to his career with the Browns.
But it made L.A.’s offensive line extremely frail and they paid the price for having to immediately draw into the reserves. Over and over again.
This issue did not only occur on the offensive line.
The plan to replace Robert Woods and Odell Beckham, Jr. was to sign Allen Robinson coming off of one of his worst career seasons and to find the best third and fourth options out of Tutu Atwell, Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, and Brandon Powell. This was also a mistake that came back to bite McVay.
Jefferson was injured before the season, not making his debut until Week 8 or his first reception until Week 10. Because Robinson was a massive disappointment, this immediately meant that Stafford put his entire offensive effort into throwing balls to Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee. And nobody else.
Skowronek did not blossom into a number two receiver. Atwell flashed reasons for optimism late in the year, but only had been targeted seven times in the first 11 games, probably for a lack of versatility as a receiver or weapon. And Powell’s emergence as a favorite of McVay is even more mysterious now than it was in the middle of the season. He ended up averaging 4.9 yards per target on 32 targets, a figure lower than most running backs.
But at least not as disappointing as Robinson at 6.5 yards per target.
And Higbee was every bit as “Tyler Higbee” as he always is, with his career-highs in targets (108) and catches (72) only cementing the fact that the Rams had a major problem at wide receiver and tight end. There wasn’t a single other tight end on the roster who L.A. was willing to use on a regular basis, or hardly even to carry on the roster, which becomes an issue when Kupp is the only viable receiver.
Survivable when the quarterback has three or four favorable targets at wide receiver. Problematic when he doesn’t, and then even Kupp missed the last eight games.
What it means for the L.A. Rams offense, especially given the return next season of Matthew Stafford, is that Snead’s focus has to be on better depth and not trying to merely add a star like Tee Higgins or Saquon Barkley. Whatever cap space the Rams manage to open up this offseason has to be focused on adding offensive linemen who other teams actually want, rather than dipping into the street free agent pool or the third wave of free agency after all the other names are gone.
There was obviously something appealing about Corbett to make him the first pick of the second round in the draft. There was a reason that L.A. went out of their way to acquire the veteran presence of Whitworth and John Sullivan in 2017. And four years after the Rams let him go, Rodger Saffold is still starting in the NFL.
He will be playing in the wild card round as a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Snead doesn’t have to make a splashy move. He just needs to accept that repeating a training camp with Allen and Shelton and Bruss (Edwards is a free agent) and Noteboom (injured too often) and A.J. Jackson and Chandler Brewer is too risky of a proposition. Expecting a rookie, even a high second round pick, to be the line’s savior or a quality starter is also a risk too great to expect that to protect Matthew Stafford in 2023.
The L.A. Rams need better depth and quality along the offensive line. I don’t care if the names “wow” fans and grab headlines. Corbett didn’t grab headlines.
Furthermore, the Rams could do better to just add veteran receivers who know what they’re doing and not necessarily ones who make Top-10 highlights. There are going to be plenty of free agents who fit the bill and may not blow you away, but guys like Allen Lazard, Jakobi Meyers, Jarvis Landry, Olamide Zaccheaus, Mack Hollins, Parris Campbell, Noah Brown, Darius Slayton, or D.J. Chark could potentially help smooth out the transition away from Allen Robinson and to push guys like Jefferson and Atwell into better positions.
Same goes for tight end. He doesn’t have to be an immediate Higbee replacement, but he should at least be able to spell Higbee or see the field for more than a half-dozen snaps a game. There are plenty of those guys available without a high price tag.
That’s just for the offense. There’s plenty we could say about the defense, and will, but as L.A. assesses their options to improve their 5-12 record next season, the key is better depth and striving for a higher floor. Not swinging for the fences and immediately striking out.