If you said that the 2022 season for the Los Angeles Rams was single-handedly derailed by injuries along the offensive line, I probably couldn’t disagree with you. Poor pass protection put quarterback Matthew Stafford in harm’s way. When John Wolford came in for Stafford, he quite literally put Cooper Kupp in danger and ended the star receiver’s season prematurely.
Where I would disagree is saying that - after a year of dysfunction - offensive line is the biggest need the Rams must address heading into the 2023 offseason.
That’s not to say Los Angeles shouldn’t look to sign a solid starter in free agency or add some big man depth through the draft, but the team has limited salary cap space and few high draft selections.
Those limited resources are best spent elsewhere.
The Rams shouldn’t be, and probably aren’t based on the historical approach by Les Snead and Sean McVay, in the market for multiple starters on the offensive line. Instead, LA should hope for positive regression in terms and injuries while making sure they feel comfortable with the names two-deep on the depth chart. Roster constraints don’t allow you to invest any further than that without significantly diminished return, and if you’re signing guys off the street to play meaningful snaps you’re probably already hosed (see the group from last year).
Within reason the team cannot control injuries, but they do have power over the Week 1 starting lineup.
It became evident around Week 11 last season that the Rams weren’t going to shed their offensive struggles and right the ship, but up to that point one thing was certain: the team was devoid of dynamic offensive playmakers outside of Cooper Kupp. Fast forward to 2023 and ask yourself - has that changed?
Allen Robinson was unable to establish himself as a vertical threat in the passing game, and he did his best work in the end zone with the ball on the goal line. Tyler Higbee can get the job done in the short, intermediate, and screen game but very rarely has he ever been a consistent problem for opposing defenses.
Van Jefferson has flashed the ability to get behind the defense and make the big play, but it’s been over a year since he last caught a deep bomb. Tutu Atwell was probably the team’s best receiver not named Kupp in 2022 and he will benefit from having Stafford back under center.
But the NFL is now a league driven by playmakers. Look no further than the three final four teams that were playing last weekend in the conference championship games.
Joe Burrow didn’t take the next step forward in his career until the Cincinnati Bengals drafted his college teammate Ja’Marr Chase in 2021. Tee Higgins is a number one receiver and Tyler Boyd would be a good two on most offenses. One of those three have to be open on any given play.
The San Francisco 49ers have some of the most dynamic skill players in all the NFL, and Kyle Shanahan knows how to make the most of their unique talents. Between Deebo Samuel, Christian McAffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, there’s no wonder why Brock Purdy was so successful during his rookie campaign.
Similar to Chase and the Bengals, trading for AJ Brown put the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense over the top and help QB Jalen Hurts take his game to the next level. Philly has also paired together DeVonta Smith, a former top 10 draft pick, with TE Dallas Goedert who was drafted in the second round.
Modern offense is built on explosive plays, and to create those you have to deploy star playmakers. Kupp aside, who is that on this Rams offense?
So don’t think for a second that the team can run into 2023 with an aging and limited Allen Robinson and a fringe starter in Van Jefferson. Tutu Atwell is a nice piece, but he’s a situational contributor at best and not an every down player.
Drafting offensive line with their first pick would be a wise decision by the Rams, but it won’t help them in 2023 as much as finding a playmaker and building block of the offense for years to come.
Don’t be boring, Les Snead. Don’t draft OL with the 36th overall selection.