One of the biggest question marks coming into the 2023 season for the Los Angeles Rams was the offensive line. After what the team went through last year, it was a valid concern. The offensive line suffered injuries at a historic rate and many wondered if it was even possible for Les Snead and Sean McVay to re-build it in one offseason.
In 2022 after losing Andrew Whitworth to retirement, the Rams took a lot of risks on the offensive line. They put their faith in oft-injured Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen at center. After deciding to also not bring back Austin Corbett, the plan was to replace him with rookie Logan Bruss. However, Bruss got hurt in the preseason. Snead and co. put all of their eggs in that basket and the result was setting the record for adjusted games lost on the offensive line.
To be fair, it’s unlikely that any team would have been able to overcome the injuries that the Rams did last season. Still, when you put your trust in the players that the Rams did, it’s also hard to expect a different result.
This past offseason, the Rams made it a focus to put some resources into the offensive line. While also rebuilding the run game, a different “type” of offensive lineman was needed. Under Sean McVay, Los Angeles has typically favored lighter, more agile offensive linemen that excel in a zone scheme. By moving to more of a gap scheme featuring a lot of duo, the Rams needed offensive linemen who could bring some power and attack at defenders.
The first move was drafting Steve Avila out of TCU. With the 36th overall pick, the Rams selected Avila who is listed at 6’3, 332-pounds. Avila was the first interior offensive lineman drafted by the Rams listed over 320-pounds since Snead took Jamon Brown in the third round back in 2015.
So far this season, Avila is the highest-rated rookie guard in pass protection according to Pro Football Focus.
It didn’t stop there. Prior to the season, the Rams swapped day-three draft picks with the Pittsburgh Steelers and acquired Kevin Dotson. Dotson was being phased out of Pittsburgh after the signed Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo in free agency. The Rams recognized that the Steelers may have an excess at the position and traded for Dotson at roster cutdowns.
Dotson’s issue in Pittsburgh was never his ability, but rather the fit. The Steelers tried to move Dotson to the left side of the offensive line and the move resulted in inconsistent results. Since arriving in Los Angeles, Dotson has been one of the best guards in the NFL
These Rams OGs are becoming MUST watch film assignments each. Rookie LG Steve Avila and RG Kevin Dotson have changed this Rams OL.— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 22, 2023
Dotson is a bully. pic.twitter.com/o9TPhdWqb7
Following Andrew Whitworth’s retirement, the Rams’ plan had always been to replace him with Joe Noteboom. The team went as far as signing Noteboom to a lucrative extension. After a 2022 season in which Noteboom not only struggled at times, but proved to not be a reliable option, the Rams held a competition at left tackle in training camp. Winning that competition was undrafted free agent Alaric Jackson.
So far this season, Jackson has allowed just 16 pressures on the left side which is tied for the sixth-fewest in the NFL.
The Rams also held a competition at center between Brian Allen and Coleman Shelton. With Allen’s injury history, it was Shelton that won the completion and took over the starting role. This was despite Allen having won the Super Bowl as the team’s starting center in 2021. Shelton is the 10th-best run-blocking guard this season according to Pro Football Focus.
The trade for Dotson and decisions to start Jackson and Shelton over previous starters were underrated, but have proven to be vital. The Rams hadn’t drafted an offensive lineman before the third-round since taking Havenstein in 2015 and he was a tackle. Drafting Avila with the 36th overall pick showed a commitment to building the offensive line back to where it needed to be for the offense to have success.
Back in June, Pro Football Focus ranked the Rams offensive line as the 28th best unit in the NFL. As recently as midseason rankings done in November, The 33rd Team’s Maxx Forde ranked them 30th.
DVOA has the Rams offensive line ranked sixth in the NFL in adjusted line yards. Adjusted line yards takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line.
The Rams took some risks on the offensive line this offseason, but those decisions have paid off. The results have been significant. While they started slow, this is a group that arguably just had their best game against the New Orleans Saints and are playing as one, cohesive unit. With the offensive line playing well, the Sean McVay offense along with Matthew Stafford is back to setting the league on fire. Kyren Williams is leading the charge of one of the best running games in the NFL.
Said McVay after Thursday’s game,
“I thought the offensive line came ready to go. You could see on the first run of the game the removal that they were able to create.”
Now, this isn’t to say that the Rams don’t need to upgrade at a position or two this offseason. That will be a conversation for the offseason. However, with the way this group is playing, they are at least back heading in the right direction. Among offensive line groups with at least 400 snaps together, the starting group of Jackson, Avila, Shelton, Dotson, and Havenstein have created the sixth-most EPA>
This season, the Rams are exceeding expectations. Nobody thought they’d be 8-7 and in control of their own playoff destiny at this point in the season. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Kyren Williams have had a big say in that. However, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit as well. While the Rams have big team wins this season, their biggest win was getting it right up front with the offensive line.