Rams draft signals confidence in O-Line

Survey a group of Rams fans about which position group was most culpable for the 2019 team missing the postseason and the results would be nearly unanimous.

Offensive line.

After enjoying an improbable run of health and continuity in recent seasons, last year saw a regression to the mean, and with it, some mean regression.

As documented in a previous discussion, nine Rams started along the offensive front in the first 11 weeks, including six who were making their first or second NFL start.

Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen struggled to replace Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan before suffering season-ending injuries.

Right tackle Rob Havenstein was earning a career-low Pro Football Focus grade before a Week 10 injury in Pittsburgh also ended his campaign.

So understandably, even with total personnel retention, the line was considered an area of need going into the NFL Draft.

Instead, the Rams doubled-down on a group that stabilized in December, but in aggregate rated among the NFL's worst in 2019.

They didn't choose an offensive lineman until their final pick (guard Tremayne Anchrum at 250 overall) or acquire help through trade or free agency, signaling a readiness to run it back with their existing talent, banking on internal development.

"Last year was beneficial for us, in spite of having some of the injuries and shuffling things around," Sean McVay said. "You got a chance to really evaluate a lot of guys playing in real games that count and you can see that there's a lot of upside."

It will be at least a year – likely two or three – before we can truly evaluate the merits of this approach, and the results will depend on a number of factors. Most notably, can this group of Rams realize that upside McVay referenced, both individually and collectively?

But also, do players like Ezra Cleveland (58th pick, Minnesota) or Josh Jones (72nd pick, Arizona) turn into All-Pro tackles? Or similarly, do several of the interior linemen selected in a Day Two stretch where the Rams had four selections outperform L.A.'s existing options?

In the present, you can understand how general manager Les Snead, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, and McVay might prefer what they have in house. And it's not as if they haven't spent comparable draft capital in recent years on this position group.

2018: Joe Noteboom (3rd round), Brian Allen (4th), Jamil Demby (6th)

2019: Bobby Evans (3rd), David Edwards (5th)

They also traded in a 2021 fifth-round pick to acquire Austin Corbett from the Browns last season.

"You look at Austin," McVay says of the 33rd overall selection from two years ago. "You say, alright, what does it look like if you give him an opportunity to have a training camp and some guidance under Coach Kromer's tutelage."

After solidifying the group late last season by sliding from right guard to center, Austin Blythe agreed to a one-year offer and McVay expects him to maintain control of that position going into 2020.

"I think he did a really nice job stepping in (at center)," the head coach said on the Rams Revealed podcast. "His ability to confidently get out the calls, there was a very similar feel to things that you loved so much about John Sullivan."

David Edwards bounced from left guard to right, where he's now the incumbent in 2020 after breaking in with 10 starts to finish his rookie season.

In all likelihood, that leaves Noteboom and Corbett to battle for left guard and Evans and Havenstein to settle the starting right tackle job.

Whoever comes up empty in those battles will join Allen in providing valuable depth, which is all the more meaningful under the new CBA rules allowing for 55-man rosters and 48 dressed on game day, with a requirement for one additional active offensive lineman compared to prior years.

Check out the guys who make up the Rams 2020 draft class!

Rounding out the projected starters, at left tackle, 38-year old Andrew Whitworth postponed retirement with a new three-year contract. He, too, saw the Friday night selections at running back, receiver, edge rusher, and safety as affirmation that the Rams already have the right offensive linemen in the facility.

"I really think it is a vote of confidence in that we see there's a bunch of guys in our room that have an opportunity to help us," Whitworth said during the Draft. "It's going to be really the best scenario you can possibly have in this business is you have a whole bunch of guys for very few positions. And hopefully these guys will fight and compete, and we'll get the best five on the field."

There's one more nuance specific to our current global predicament that I think is relevant to the choice the Rams made: Is this the time to be teaching a rookie lineman McVay's playbook, via Zoom and tablets? With a compromised off-season program (and potentially training camp), how legitimate were the hopes of landing a plug-and-play starter?

Drafting from outside the Top 50, that would have been a risky proposition with limited potential to find an upgrade over the options previously discussed, at least in the near-term.

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