One of the bigger questions that the Los Angeles Rams have to figure out during the 2023 season is whether or not their future franchise left tackle is on the current roster. Given that the player starting is Alaric Jackson, he is the primary player that the team is evaluating at that spot.
Through five weeks, we now have four games of data for Jackson as he missed Week 4’s matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. While four games is still a small sample size, it’s enough where we can begin to have a feeling either way of which direction this is going.
Back in the summer I asked the question on whether or not Jackson could be a franchise left tackle. His tape up to that point was promising, despite a small sample size. Now, Jackson has spent a majority of the offseason as the team’s starting left tackle and we have four games of data on top of that.
As I said in the summer,
“This isn’t to say that Jackson is the left tackle of the future or a player that will replace Andrew Whitworth. Those are big shoes to fill and it’s still a very small sample size. With that said, based on how he played last season, Jackson has earned the opportunity...Worst case scenario, the Rams have to draft a left tackle in the first round next year. The alternative is that they potentially have someone already on the roster to protect Stafford’s blindside that they can build around.
Well, Jackson got his opportunity to start the season. Now, it’s time to ask what has he done with it. In six months, will the Rams once again be looking for their franchise left tackle or have they found that on the current roster?
If Jackson is making a case for anything right now it’s that he should be brought back in 2024. However, he should be brought back as depth or as a swing tackle rather than as the team’s starting/franchise left tackle.
Among tackles that have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, Jackson ranks 55th out of 64 players via Pro Football Focus. His run-blocking grade ranks 54th and he is 53rd in pass-protection.
PFF’s grades can sometimes be subjective and shouldn’t be taken as the end all, be all. With that said, Jackson’s 12 pressures allowed is tied for the 19th-most. That does only average out to three per game and half of those came against the San Francisco 49ers. Still, is it franchise left tackle caliber? The good news is, none of those pressured have led to sacks. Jackson is still only one of 14 tackles this season that have yet to allow a sack.
Timo Riske of PFF has been charting offensive linemen this season based on the quality of their pass protection and difficulty of their assignments. Jackson doesn’t fall where you would want a “franchise guy” to slot in at. In fact, he’s been in that bottom tier of offensive tackles.
ESPN’s Seth Wadler tracks pass-block win-rate on a weekly basis throughout the NFL season. Again, Jackson isn’t where you would want your franchise left tackle to be. His pass-block win-rate ranks among the lowest in the NFL.
There are times this season where Jackson has looked really good. His game against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 was a very promising start to his “show us what you can do” campaign. In Week 1, Jackson had an 88.5 grade in pass protection which was the third-highest pass-blocking grade for the week.
Can we just take a second to appreciate the pocket Stafford has on this play? Didn't get many of these last year.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) September 12, 2023
Left side of Jackson and Avila doing some serious work. Rob Havenstein takes his guy to the ground.
Also...just lol at the Stafford sidearm throw. On the money. pic.twitter.com/Zc3K1JCUEJ
While he allowed six pressures against the 49ers, there were still some good moments. However, some of Jackson’s concerns coming into the season are still prevalent. He still has footwork problems that can lead to him getting beat by speed rushers and he has a tendency to get beat inside because he has to work harder to get around the edge. If he loses a rep initially, it’s very difficult for him to recover.
This causes an issue if his quarterback has to drift back in his set at all.
These are things that showed up on tape last year and have shown up on tape once again this season. It might just be that these are holes in Jackson’s game that are always going to be there to some extent.
In NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein’s draft profile of Jackson he wrote, “Early panic sets in when pass-setting against speed. Has a difficult time calling on and finding a sudden anchor. Footwork in 2019 and 2020 tape is a mess.”
Brandon Thorn of Bleacher Report added about Jackson, “Limited range to hit his landmark against speed rushers off of the edge; turns his hips, crosses over and creates a soft inside shoulder. Disjointed footwork causes him to struggle to marry his upper and lower halves, resulting in an inadequate anchor against speed to power.”
Even in his pre-draft testing, Jackson didn’t test well in foot speed/agility drills.
This is why Jackson may be better suited at guard or swing tackle where he’s able to work in a tight space and his footwork isn't as prevalent of an issue. As a swing tackle, Jackson could fill in in short stints rather than be used on a full-time basis.
Alaric Jackson loses his balance against Nick Bosa. pic.twitter.com/zFAq6nQk3k— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 11, 2023
In the run game, Jackson isn’t as comfortable in space and getting to the second level as he needs to be in the Rams offense. While the Rams have changed to more of a gap scheme, they still like to run screens and get their tackles in space. They primarily will do this on the right side because they trust Rob Havenstein in this area. This is a a spot where Steve Avila excels, but the Rams need a tackle that can complement him.
Using Week 5 as an example, it’s easy to see that Kyren Williams had much more success running around the right side than the left.
This season, Williams is averaging 7.3 yards per carry rushing around the right side and just 4.1 going around the left end.
Finally, when it comes to the left tackle position, the Rams really need a player that they can rely on from a week-to-week standpoint. Jackson has only missed one game out of five this season, but given his injury last year as well, there is a concern here. The stability at the left tackle position is the primary cause of concern on the Rams offensive line.
Les Snead doesn’t need to make a determination on Jackson now as the team should let him play at that spot throughout the season. It’s important for them to be sure about what needs to be done at left tackle this offseason. With that said, it also may not be a bad idea to bring in La’el Collins who is a free agent and was released by the Cincinnati Bengals a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately, the 2024 free agent class for left tackles isn’t great. There isn’t a premier left tackle set to become available. The Dallas Cowboys may let Tyron Smith walk, but he’ll be 33 and has injury concerns. Duane Brown is another name, but will be 38. Jonah Williams has left tackle experience, but the Bengals have moved him to right tackle. The fact of the situation is, there may not be a player worth spending $20M+ on in free agency to be a left tackle that doesn’t eventually burn you with a big contract.
The last thing the Rams want is another Joe Noteboom situation where they hand a big contract to a player that isn’t worth it.
Looking at the draft, the Rams are currently playing themselves out of Joe Alt and Olumuyiwa Fashanu who are both projected to go inside the top-10. Outside of that, the Rams will be looking at Amarius Mims out of Georgia, who has an injury history, JC Latham from Alabama, or Duke’s Graham Barton. All of those guys have their own concerns.
It’s not necessarily an ideal spot to be in for the Rams and every decision comes with its own set of risks.
With a new offensive line coach and new blocking scheme, the Rams will be re-building their offensive line over the next few years. They’ve added Steve Avila and Kevin Dotson at guard. Now they need to figure out what to do at tackle and center going forward.
There is still plenty of time for Jackson to prove that he should be the guy at left tackle moving forward in the Rams offense. This also isn’t to say that Jackson has failed. As an undrafted player he’s exceeded expectations and been a pleasant surprise. However, at this point, the Rams may be better off keeping Jackson around for depth and looking elsewhere for their franchise guy.