clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Coleman Shelton hasn’t played as well as Rams fans like to think

Shelton seems to be winning the battle for starting center role over Brian Allen

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams entered training camp 2023 with multiple battles for first-string jobs along the offensive line.

Alaric Jackson and Joe Noteboom are competing for the starting role at left tackle. Jackson is a former undrafted free agent and Noteboom was once a top Rams draft choice and someone the team has invested in financially. It seems Jackson has emerged as the top candidate at left tackle, because Noteboom in recent weeks has entered another camp battle with Tremayne Anchrum at right guard. The Rams are looking for a starting spot for one of their highest paid players on the team and are trying to find the best starting five linemen.

On the interior at center, Coleman Shelton is battling it out with Brian Allen.

Allen was selected one round after Noteboom in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he’s had an up-and-down professional career since. As a rookie he sat behind veteran John Sullivan as the Rams earned a Super Bowl berth. LA declined Sullivan’s option at the conclusion of the season and Allen was anointed as the heir apparent. He suffered a significant knee injury early on that ended his season and limited his availability late into the offseason the following year. Austin Blythe started at center the remainder of 2019 and over the 2020 season. When Matthew Stafford came to town in 2021, Allen could not be denied the starting job and he ended up playing nearly the entire year and having a career season. But the injury bug struck again the following year and it’s still up in the air whether Allen is fully healthy.

On the other hand, Shelton has been a steady presence since he arrived to Los Angeles in 2019—before that signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a UDFA post-draft and spend the majority of the 2018 season on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Shelton has been the primary replacement in Allen’s absence since 2021 and he started at center most of last year. He also has the position flexibility to play guard—where he entered last season as the full-time starter.

While the Rams have yet to hold their joint practice sessions with the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos, the starting lineup is starting to take shape. It seems Shelton is running ahead of Allen at this point, though there’s still time for the coaching staff to change its mind.

If Shelton ends up being the starting center in 2023, it seems fan perception of his past performance may be more favorable than reality.

NFL: OCT 03 Rams at 49ers Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coleman Shelton hasn’t played as well as Rams fans like to think

Shelton’s career PFF grades over his four seasons in Los Angeles are as follows. It’s worth mentioning that when looking at PFF grades, 90+ is generally considered elite, 75-89 good to great, 60-74 is above average.

  • 2019: 48.2 offense (29.2 pass block, 52.9 run block); 22 snaps
  • 2021: 57.7 offense (56.2 pass block, 56.8 run block); 216 snaps
  • 2022: 58.0 offense (71.3 pass block, 55.4 run block); 720 snaps

For the sake of comparison, here are the same measures for Allen:

  • 2018: 80.3 offense (80.0 pass block, 77.5 run block); 37 snaps
  • 2019: 58.6 offense (45.4 pass block, 67.7 run block); 563 snaps
  • 2021: 80.2 offense (63.5 pass block, 87.4 run block); 903 snaps
  • 2022: 63.8 offense (59.2 pass block, 66.1 run block) 373 snaps

The bottom line is that Shelton has performed at an average to below average level when he’s been on the field for the Rams. It’s encouraging that he’s improved over time and as his opportunities has increased, and if he continues on that trajectory it’s possible the Rams have a reliable starting center on their hands.

On the flip side, growth is not linear and players just don’t get better every year. It’s possible that what you see is what you get with Shelton, and he’s already hit his ceiling as a professional football player. The Rams cannot rely on what is closer to a below average center to stabilize the middle of its offensive line and protect an age-35 Matthew Stafford. If Shelton doesn’t improve, the Rams may be left to shake things up mid-season and instead turn back to Allen.

Other causes for concern along the offensive line

I’ve said before that the 2023 version of the Rams’ offensive line seems to lack pedigree, and I think that shows through when you contemplate what this group’s ceiling looks like. Jackson may be steady at left tackle, but there are so many dynamic athletes playing that position that he’ll likely never be upper tier. Shelton and Anchrum were both unheralded prospects (Shelton undrafted and Anchrum was taken in the late seventh round) and that shows up at times in their play. Steve Avila and Rob Havenstein are both former second round picks. Noteboom and Allen were taken in the third and forth rounds, respectively.

Blaine Grisak: Should Rams consider moving on from OT Logan Bruss?

While Jackson, Shelton, and Anchrum may be the better players right now, I’m not sure how much room for growth this unit would have with them in the lineup. To me, in a down year where the team is embracing a youth movement and preparing for the future at virtually all other positions, it makes sense to play the individuals with more raw talent like Noteboom and Allen.

The season is just around the corner and we will find out just how prepared the offensive line is soon enough. The Rams take on the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 on September 10th.

NFL: DEC 04 Seahawks at Rams Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images