It’s a tale as old as time at this point. Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams needed a center. However, with the 52nd overall pick, it seemed unlikely that the top center options would fall that far in the second round.
Somehow, pick by by, Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey started to slide. The Philadelphia Eagles selected Landon Dickerson, the Chicago Bears took tackle Tevin Jenkins, and the Seattle Seahawks at 51 took D’Wayne Eskridge one pick before the Rams.
Humphrey had performed extremely well in the Senior Bowl, catching eyes of scouts and media who were in attendance. It seemed like a sure thing that he would go at the top of the second round.
Yet, when the Rams got on the clock with the 57th overall pick, there he was available for the taking.
Heading into the 2021 season, the Rams needed a center. They opted not to bring back Austin Blythe in free agency, leaving Brian Allen as the only legitimate center option. Allen had spent most of the 2019 and 2020 seasons injured. There was also some discussion on moving Austin Corbett to center — a position that he had played with the Cleveland Browns. Both options had their own set of risks.
There was little doubt that the Rams needed a more stable option at center, if not for 2021, then moving forward into the next three to five years.
Then, the pick came through.
“With the 52nd overall pick, the Los Angeles Rams select Chatarious Atwell, wide receiver, Lousville.”
TuTu Atwell was a 5’8 wide receiver that had weighed in at just 149 pounds at the NFL Combine. However, at the same combine he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash to help him shoot up draft boards. A potential fourth round pick earned his way into the second round.
Les Snead and the Rams had done this dance before. In 2012, Tavon Austin was considered a second-round pick before running a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. The Rams traded up and selected him with the eighth overall pick.
While Atwell only played 10 snaps on offense as a rookie, Humphrey was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie team. This past season he made his first Pro Bowl.
The Chiefs went into the 2021 offseason needing to rebuild their offensive line following the disaster that occurred in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Along with a trade for Orlando Brown, Humphrey helped transform the Chiefs offensive line almost immediately.
Now, heading into the 2023 offseason, the Rams once again need a center. Allen has gone into a season as a starter three times and has ended up on injured reserve twice. He’s never played a full season without getting hurt.
When Allen went down last year in Week 1, the Rams were forced to move Coleman Shelton, the starting right guard, to center. Not only were the Rams losing one at injured starter at one position, they were losing a healthy starter at a second position. That shuffling along the offensive line became a common theme.
While the Rams won the Super Bowl the year after passing on Humphrey, they are feeling the repercussions of that decision now.
After the disaster that was the 2022 season on the offensive line, the Rams absolutely cannot put their eggs in the health basket, especially when it comes to Allen.
If the Rams are going to get the most out of Matthew Stafford, they need to be able to keep him upright and healthy. It’s true for all quarterbacks, but looking at the chart below, the difference in Stafford’s level with and without protection is pretty obvious.
It was fun while it lasted, but Baker has fallen back down to earth. pic.twitter.com/kGjMcYiun0— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 4, 2023
The Rams need to rebuild part of the offensive line this offseason. Outside of Rob Havenstein starting at right tackle, everything should be on the table. That starts with building up the interior and finding an elite center.
Heading into this draft process, there’s another center who’s drawing comparisons to Humphrey. That player is John Michael Schmitz out of Minnesota. Schmitz was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded college center, recording the highest run-blocking grade. Among centers with over 700 snaps, he only allowed eight pressures last season at Minnesota which was the 13th fewest in all of college football.
This is a player that can transform an offensive line. As the Rams experienced with John Sullivan early in the McVay era and with Brian Allen in 2021 to an extent, it’s so important to have a center that can provide stability.
Oh, baby.— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) February 4, 2023
O'Cyrus Torrence and John Michael Schmitz. pic.twitter.com/UpzeehkzaZ
The Rams currently hold the 36th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Schmitz improved his draft stock during the Senior Bowl, but there’s still a pretty good chance that he’s available with the Rams get on the clock.
There are other potential needs at wide receiver as the Rams could use an option behind Cooper Kupp or even running back as there are questions about Cam Akers. However, in the NFL, it all starts up front along the offensive line.
In both years that the Rams have had an elite offensive line under Sean McVay, they’ve made the Super Bowl. If John Michael Schmitz is available with the 36th overall pick, Snead and the Rams can’t make the same mistake that they did with Creed Humphrey.