The Los Angeles Rams have a conundrum when it comes to the left tackle position entering the 2023 season. The first option is to continue to put faith in Joseph Noteboom who has never finished a season healthy and is coming off of a torn achilles. The alternative is going in a different direction and opting to start a player such as Alaric Jackson.
Replacing a future Hall of Fame left tackle isn’t something that the Rams haven’t tried to do before. Following Orlando Pace’s departure, the team searched for a left tackle for nearly a decade. Jason Smith and Greg Robinson were both selected inside the top-five only to be busts. Jake Long was signed as a free agent, but injuries derailed his career.
It took until signing a 35-year old left tackle in Andrew Whitworth that the Rams finally found some stability at the position. The answers sometimes come where you least expect. Now, following Whitworth’s retirment, the search is once again back on and the Rams are hoping this search doesn’t take as long as the previous one.
With Whitworth walking into the sunset last offseason following the Super Bowl, the Rams had Noteboom in the waiting as his heir. Unfortunately, despite playing well in the postseason the year before, Noteboom was very inconsistent in 2023.
In five games, he had two in which he allowed eight pressures and gave up two or more sacks. The other three games were solid as he the most pressures he gave up was three and he allowed zero sacks. However, his season ended with a torn achilles, leading to a revolving door at left tackle.
While the Rams had a revolving door at left tackle, one player that did show some promise before getting injured as well was Alaric Jackson. In the three weeks that Jackson started at left tackle, he had the eighth-highest pass-blocking grade among tackles according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed just three pressures during these weeks.
Alaric Jackson =— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 2, 2023
Has his man on on this play at LT. pic.twitter.com/9sKZAQmsZ7
This included giving up zero pressures in his first appearance at left tackle against the Carolina Panthers and Brian Burns. Jackson’s 86.3 pass-blocking grade during this game was the highest pass-blocking grade for a Rams left tackle last season.
From an analytical standpoint, this was the best performance since Andrew Whitworth in Week 10 of 2021 in which Whitworth had a pass-blocking grade of 91.3 and gave up zero pressures. It is worth noting that Jackson’s 86.3 pass-blocking grade matched Noteboom’s 86.3 in the 2021 divisional round against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jackson does a great job of taking his guy wide and forcing them to go the longest route to the QB. Does that to Joe Tryon here. Allows Stafford time for the deep ball. pic.twitter.com/fXof0YgDJq— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 2, 2023
Due to Jackson’s performances in these three games, it may be worth giving him a chance as the left tackle at least to start the season. It can be argued that Jackson adds good depth with his versatility to play multiple positions. However, he’s also likely one of the five best offensive linemen that the Rams have on the roster.
The Rams are paying Noteboom to be their starting left tackle. However, they also aren’t paying him an exorbitant amount of money either this season. Noteboom’s cap number of $6.5M in 2023 is only the 23rd-highest in the NFL. The Rams would be admitting mistake by keeping Noteboom on the bench as depth, but in the end that might be the correct decision.
Don't have to worry about Jackson being overpowered. Handles Vita Vea coming around the edge. pic.twitter.com/dt9dQeS6s7— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 2, 2023
Every time Jackson’s number has been called, he’s risen to the occasion. Filling in for Whitworth in Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings in 2021, Noteboom left the game with an injury. In his place came Jackson who was an undrafted free agent. Jackson went on to be the seventh-highest graded tackle of the week according to Pro Football Focus, giving up just two pressures.
Last season, he filled in for Coleman Shelton at right guard for four weeks. During those weeks, Jackson was a top-20 guard in the NFL. It’s worth noting that those were Jackson’s first snaps ever at guard as he was strictly a left tackle at Iowa. The only question now is whether or not he can do it on a consistent, full-time basis.
Alaric Jackson vs. Nick Bosa— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 2, 2023
Bosa of course got his wins, but believe Jackson performed admirably when going up against the all-pro edge rusher. pic.twitter.com/leDAit3Iqv
Jackson continued to show promise as the Rams then moved him to left tackle. His worst game came against the San Francisco 49ers. However, even in that game he still managed a pass-blocking grade of 69.4 and only gave up two pressures. In Jackson’s three games at left tackle, he had a pass-blocking grade higher than 85 in two of them.
That’s not to say that Jackson is perfect by any means or has the same pedigree as a typical top-5 left tackle. Pro Football Focus also isn’t the end-all, be-all. Still, Jackson was solid on tape. With that said, some of his issues from Iowa tend to pop up every now and then. He still needs to improve his footwork which leads to being beat by speed rushers on the inside.
Here's one where Nick Bosa gets Jackson.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 2, 2023
Jackson has a tendency to give up the inside a little bit imo. Bosa comes across and gets the sack. pic.twitter.com/Oafq8dYMWg
The example above comes against Nick Bosa who is one of the best edge players in the NFL. Bosa has the ability to make anyone look silly. However, this was a tendency in his game that he’ll need to work on as the Rams head into 2023. He does a good job at taking pass rushers wide, but that leaves the inside open or occasionally allows speed rushers to get around.
Jackson also needs to improve in the run game. While he had an impressive run-blocking grade in his debut against the Vikings, he left a lot to be desired in this area last season. The former Iowa Hawkeye only had a 45.8 run-block grade at tackle in 2022 which was one of the worst marks in the NFL. Additionally, he’ll need to improve and get more comfortable in space.
On screens or working at the second level, Jackson at times seemed lost or unsure of where to go. With experience, this is something that he can definitely get better at moving forward.
An example here of where Jackson needs improvement in the run game. I do think he can get there. Whiffs on initial block and run play is blown up before it starts. pic.twitter.com/XUETtoNdfu— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 2, 2023
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.
At this point, the Rams should know what they have in Noteboom. Throughout his career he’s been an oft-injured player when relied on to be the full-time starter. He’s filled in well in spots, but hasn’t been able to show long-term consistency. Coming off of a torn achilles just adds another unknown.
Would McVay be better off seeing what Jackson can bring to the table at left tackle? In a season with low expectations, they really don’t have anything to lose. 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. It’s an added bonus that they found him as an undrafted free agent.
Every single time that his number has been called, Jackson has stepped up to the plate and performed. If the Rams were to call on Jackson to be their starting left tackle, he likely wouldn’t shy away from the moment and would embrace the opportunity.