The offensive line for the Los Angeles Rams was abysmal a year ago after they suffered what we now know as a historic streak of injuries. LA lost Logan Bruss, Joe Noteboom, Brian Allen, Tremayne Anchrum, David Edwards, and other very early on in the season. Pass protection suffered as a result, and ultimately QB Matthew Stafford paid the highest price with multiple stints in the NFL’s concussion protocol and a season-ending spinal cord contusion.
But we can’t let the recency bias from last year’s poor performance cloud our expectations for 2023.
The Rams have poured investments into the offensive line, both in terms of draft capital and salary cap allocation. It’s time the team sees those investments pay dividends.
I wrote earlier this week about the poor reports coming out of San Francisco 49ers training camp surrounding their QB situation, and included in that post was a reference to how many resources the Rams have put into the offensive line of late and how those players must help keep Stafford upright.
Turf Show Times reader RamsRoll disagreed with my sentiment, which is always fair and welcome on this forum. However, it got me thinking, it may be time to clear the air surrounding just how much the Rams have invested in the offensive line, why it’s time for those ample resources to start paying dividends, and why having a good offensive line is especially important to Stafford and Sean McVay.
How Rams have invested heavily along the OL
While you can argue that Los Angeles should have picked another player, and the only NFL film we have on Logan Bruss is from his abysmal preseason performance a year ago, there’s no denying that the Rams have spent their top picks each of the last two years on the OL: Bruss in 2022 and Steve Avila in 2023. Those draft classes also included later round picks in AJ Arcuri and Warren McClendon.
Also recent draft picks still on the roster are Joe Noteboom (2nd round), Brian Allen (4th), and Tremayne Anchrum (7th). LA let David Edwards walk in free agency this offseason, but he was a fifth round pick for the team four years ago.
Other than quarterback—after accounting for the Stafford trade and sending two first round picks to the Detroit Lions—the offensive line might have the most draft capital invested in it compared to the Rams’ other position groups.
Allocation of Salary Cap
Our fearless leader at TST, Kenneth Arthur, noted that in addition to high draft picks (relative to LA), the cap hits for Noteboom and veteran RT Rob Havenstein are two of the highest marks on the team. Brian Allen also earned a contract extension around the same time as Noteboom, but the market for centers is substantially less competitive than it is for left tackles. Both Noteboom and Allen had their contracts restructured by the team this offseason, so it’s probably a safe assumption they will make the roster at a minimum—though early training camp reports indicate they are both fighting for their starting jobs.
Cap hits for 2023 (per OverTheCap):
- Havenstein - $9,703,294 (4th highest on roster)
- Noteboom - $6,500,000 (6th highest)
- Allen - $3,050,000 (7th highest)
- Coleman Shelton - $1,750,000 (11th)
- Steve Avila - $1,682,310 (12th)
- Logan Bruss - $1,146,569 (16th)
The Rams are in a strange position with their salary cap as they moved on from high-priced veterans, mostly on defense, to open up space for 2023. With that said, it’s astonishing that six of the top 16 highest paid players on the 2023 version of the roster all belong to a single position group.
Why Sean McVay needs a dependable OL:
The chart from Ben Baldwin shows the relationship between PFF pass blocking grade and EPA (estimated points added) per play generated by the offense. EPA per play is generally considered the top measure of efficiency at this point, as it takes into account down and distance situations—though it can be heavily influenced by turnovers.
The results almost suggest that offensive line play is the more important determinant in how the Sean McVay-led offense fares versus who is playing quarterback, as Stafford and Jared Goff’s results are closely aligned when they receive the same level of pass protection. This also suggests that maybe Goff’s “down years” in 2019 and 2020 were more a function of offensive line shortcomings than a drop in play from the signal caller—and now that he’s protected in Detroit he’s returned to his same level of performance if not even better.
The bottom line is that McVay’s offense is very reliant on pass protection. The Rams maybe understand this better than they have in the past and are pouring investments into the offensive line. It’s time for those resources to pay off, and if that happens the 2023 version of LA’s offense could surprise versus their current expectations.