The Los Angeles Rams did what many didn’t expect them to do and that was make the offensive line a priority in the NFL Draft. With the 36th overall pick, the Rams selected TCU’s Steve Avila and then later on day three, Warren McClendon from Georgia was added to the haul.
While the Rams offensive line is far from perfect, it’s hard to say that it wasn’t improved. They could still add another veteran in free agency post-draft if they choose.
Earlier this offseason, I wrote an article suggesting how the Rams could fix the offensive line for 2023. The question now becomes, did they do that?
There are still a lot of questions at left tackle and many of those questions surround the status of Joe Noteboom. Noteboom will be coming off of a torn achilles which is a pretty significant injury for any position, let alone one that requires a lot of precise foot movement like offensive tackle.
It has been suggested that Noteboom should move to guard. The unfortunate reality is, Noteboom simply is not a guard. While it’s easy to say you can just put a tackle at guard. That’s not always the case.
In eight career starts at guard, Noteboom has just two games with a pass-blocking grade over 60 according to Pro Football Focus. In 17 career games at tackle, he has 15 such games. PFF isn’t the end all, be all, but that difference is still worth noting.
It’s easy to have recency bias when it comes to Noteboom. He’d likely be the first to say that he didn’t play well in 2023. However, depending on where his achilles is at, he’s much more suited and comfortable at left tackle than he is at guard.
This brings us to our second option at left tackle which is Alaric Jackson. Jackson played three games primarily at left tackle last season. In two of those games, he had a pass-blocking grade of 85 or higher. His worst game came against the San Francisco 49ers in which he had a pass-blocking grade of 69.4 and was credited with two sacks.
Jackson and Noteboom are the two options at tackle. Here’s the predicament that the Rams will need to figure out. Do you prefer Noteboom at left tackle who may strictly be a left tackle while keeping a more versatile depth piece like Jackson behind him who has proven that he can play guard and tackle? Or do you believe Jackson is the better left tackle and believe Noteboom can play guard in a pinch if needed?
There’s also the issue of Noteboom’s contract. The Rams restructured Noteboom this offseason. While he only counts for $6.5M against the cap, that goes up to $20M next year. It’s hard to have that amount of money sitting on the bench as a swing tackle?
If Noteboom starts, it will almost certainly have to be at tackle. However, there are a lot of questions on where he’s at with the achilles.
Again, the Rams have several options here.
The first option is Noteboom. If the Rams don’t play Noteboom at left tackle, but still consider him one of the five best offensive linemen on the roster, left guard seems like the natural fit. As mentioned above, while he does have experience at guard, he hasn’t always been comfortable in that position. Coming off of the achilles, this might be the most realistic option for Noteboom.
Of course, the other option here is Avila who the Rams just drafted with the 36th overall pick. Avila played over 1000 snaps at left guard last season for the Horned Frogs, not giving up a single sack in those snaps.
While Avila can play center, it may be better to start him off at guard to begin his career. If he does start at guard, that will most certainly need to be on the left side.
Avila and Noteboom are the two options that should be under consideration here. The question is, do the Rams see Noteboom more as a left tackle or Avila more as a center? Depending on the answer to that question will decide who plays at left guard.
Similar to Noteboom, when it comes to Brian Allen, there is a lot of recency bias. Yes, he had a poor 2022. However, his 2021 was really good. The Rams likely don’t win the Super Bowl without Allen playing as well as he did at center.
The Rams value Allen as they restructured his contract when they just as easily could have cut him. Allen is a player that Stafford is comfortable with and having experience in the offense, he can make the protection checks.
Returning from injury, Allen played well in Week 13 and 14 last season and as the most experienced center on the roster, he still makes a lot of sense at that spot.
Outside of Allen, the Rams have Coleman Shelton. Allen and Shelton bring similar value to the center position. They both have the same deficiencies in their game as they can get overpowered due to their smaller size. However, Shelton has versatility at both right guard and center. That may provide higher value as a depth piece on the offensive line.
While Allen can only really play one spot, Shelton has shown that he can play multiple. If the offensive line does go through injuries again in 2023, that versatility as a depth piece becomes very valuable.
Aside from Allen and Shelton, the Rams then have Avila. Avila didn’t play didn’t play center last season at TCU, but he did play their in 2021, with 685 snaps. He also played 375 snaps at center for TCU the year before. If you’re keeping track, that’s 1000 snaps at both left guard and center.
The only real issue with Avila at center is the fact that the Rams would be playing a rookie at a very important position on the offensive line. The center is responsible for making protection checks and being on the same page as the quarterback. This isn’t to say that Avila can’t do that. However, playing him at guard to get him experience in the offense may be the way to start.
The Rams have three options at right guard. They can either go with last year’s third-round draft pick in Logan Bruss, Shelton, or Jackson.
Bruss is coming off a major injury and it might make more sense to bring him along slowly. In the end, it’s possible that route is better for his development. It’s very possible that Bruss does start. However, it would not be surprising if the Rams keep as depth for now.
Shelton played three games at right guard last season and played well in those games. While he provides good versatility as depth, if the Rams want to play their best five, it’s hard to leave out Shelton.
When Shelton was moved to center, Jackson came in to play right guard. It’s clear that Jackson is more comfortable at left tackle than he is at right guard. However, he showed that he can play at that spot if needed.
The only position that anyone is sure of at this point is right tackle. Rob Havenstein remains a consistent presence on the right side. While he isn’t an elite right tackle, you can certainly do a lot worse at the position.
Havenstein is the only offensive lineman that didn’t get hurt last year. To be safe, the Rams did draft depth in McClendon who played right tackle at Georgia.
Did the Rams do enough in the draft and this offseason to give some confidence on the offensive line? Avila was certainly a good addition, but he will be the only new face across the starting five.
As seen above, the Rams will have a lot of options. Going through each position, here are potential scenarios.
Depth: Jackson, Bruss, McClendon, Anchrum
This scenario may be the most likely, but it depends on what the Rams think about Noteboom. If they believe that he’s healthy, he should be the left tackle. That’s where he’s played his best football in his career. Having Avila at left guard should help.
Fans may not like it, but Allen is still the most likely starting center on the roster. As mentioned earlier, the Rams could play Jackson at right guard, but Shelton is better at that spot.
For depth, the Rams have Jackson who can play guard and tackle. Bruss can come in and play guard if needed as well as Anchurm. McClendon adds some tackle depth.
Depth: Shelton, Noteboom, Anchrum, McClendon
This may be my favorite scenario, but it depends on how the Rams rate Bruss. Jackson was a stable force at left tackle when he played there last season. Having him and Avila on the left side makes a lot of sense. Allen still starts at center and Havenstein at right tackle.
For depth, you have Noteboom who can play tackle or guard on the left side if needed. Shelton can play center or guard and Anchrum also gives you tackle/guard versatility. In terms of depth, this may be the best option as far as depth goes.
Depth: Noteboom, Allen, Anchrum, McClendon
This issue with this scenario is that the depth doesn’t provide a lot of versatility. If Bruss were to go down with an injury, the Rams would likely have to move Shelton to right guard and then plug Allen in at center. Not only is one position changing, but a second position.
Depth: Allen, Bruss, Ancrum, McClendon
If the Rams play Avila at center, this seems like the most likely combination. You could swap Shelton and Bruss or Jackson and Noteboom. However, this would pair Avila with the most experienced interior offensive linemen that the Rams have on the roster. For an inexperienced NFL center, that makes the most sense.
It seems unlikely that the Rams would put Avila on the right side. However, it is certainly possible. There may be an adjustment moving over to right guard, but if he can play at guard, he should be able to do so on either side.
These are only five scenarios, but there are about a dozen others that the Rams would have to consider. The question is, did the Rams do enough in the draft to improve the offensive line from where it was a year ago?
There’s still a huge risk with Noteboom and Allen when it comes to their injury history. We also don’t know how Jackson, Bruss, and Shelton will respond to returning from injury as well.
At the end of the day, the Rams added one starter to the offensive line. Their depth gives them some versatility. However, these are still a lot of the same faces. If this group can stay healthy, there will be some improvement. However, will just staying healthy be enough?