When it comes to the Rams offensive line, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan rightly received a lot of credit for stabilizing and greatly improving the five up front as free agent signees in 2017.
But there's one player who probably hasn't received enough praise for everything he's done as an offensive lineman since head coach Sean McVay took over last season.
"Rodger has been exceptional. In my opinion, he's the most underrated offensive lineman in the NFL — last year and this year," run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said this week of left guard Rodger Saffold . "He doesn't get a lot of credit and I'm telling you, if you went back and evaluated his play on a play-to-play basis, I don't think there's a guard in the league that's as athletic and powerful and does as good a job as he does, both run and pass. He did it all last year and he's doing it again this year."
When that comment was presented to the head coach, McVay didn't hesitate saying, "I agree exactly with what coach Kromer said."
"You can't really say enough about what he's done," McVay said. "I think it's a really accurate statement. I think the thing is we all have a huge appreciation for what Rodger does. What he enables us to do both in the run and the pass, the combination of his athleticism, his ability to get to the second level, play in space, but then also play with power, get removal at the line of scrimmage. You're not limited in any really scheme run-wise. He's a great matchup. We stress him a lot with some of the pass [protections], whether it's play-action or some of the drop back world where he's having to go against some elite players and he's one-on-one inside for some long-developing plays. But, he's a guy that's done an excellent job really over the last couple years."
McVay has said it before, but one of the things that impressed him the most about Saffold when he first arrived in L.A. was the offensive lineman's position flexibility. Late in the 2016 season, Saffold was playing all around the offensive line — tackle, guard, both right and left.
"I think having him be able to settle in at that guard spot has shown why we feel like he's an elite, special player at that spot and he's stayed healthy," McVay said.
As a player who often follows behind Saffold on run plays, running back Todd Gurley said he agreed with Kromer's statement about Saffold, too.
"Oh yeah, it's been that for quite a while. Obviously, we know. Rodger knows it," Gurley said. "Obviously, he had a couple injuries in the beginning of his career, but when Rodger's in there he's — I think a couple games ago he just had his 100th game which is very impressive. He's just always in there doing his thing.
"He's definitely underrated, but we really appreciate him on the team. That's all that matters," Gurley continued. "But yeah, he's a beast, man. He's a beast. Definitely deserving of being in the Pro Bowl a couple of times, but at the end of the day, we know what we have in him as a teammate and a player. All his hard work is definitely going to pay off, for sure."
It certainly pays off for Gurley, who often scores touchdowns on the heels of Saffold's blocks. In Denver a couple of weeks ago, Saffold picked up a pair of blocks on Gurley's 10-yard touchdown on 4th-and-1 in the second quarter. And Gurley noted it's not the first time Saffold's done something like that.
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"No, that's what he does," Gurley said. "You look at him last year, we're playing the Eagles and we're doing a pitch toss to me and he goes and hits Rod McLeod and then goes straight up to the corner. He's a freakish athlete. He's just always praising me and coming up to me, telling me what we're going to get this week. He just works hard. The people that see it, sees it. We really appreciate him and having him on this team. He's a big part and all those guys up front are."
"At the end of the day, sometimes it kind of happens on accident. You block one guy and then you realize, 'Wait a minute, there's still another guy running over,' and I'm like thinking about it — 'OK everybody is blocking somebody on this play, so this guy is still going' — then I go off and do it," Saffold said. "Everybody thinks that it's some plan, but I'm just out there playing ball."
For his part, Saffold feels like L.A. has improved in run blocking as a whole from 2017 to 2018 to improve to the No. 1 rushing offense through seven weeks. And while he didn't single himself out, that includes him, too.
"It's a big difference from last year — just the way that we are running the ball has been meticulous and adapting and adjusting," Saffold said. "We've been able to come out with the best run game possible based on who we have in our offense."