The 2019 season for the Rams didn't look the way we would have thought in the immediate aftermath of their run to the Super Bowl the prior year. Yes, the Patriots' defense made Sean McVay's high-flying offense look ordinary in that championship showdown, but Los Angeles' roster was young on offense and expecting an encore performance.
We didn't get it.
What we got was a hot mess of a running game. The Rams saw their average yards per rush plummet by 1.2 yards per carry versus the previous season, and quarterback Jared Goff is at his best when the ground game hums; preventing teams from teeing off on him within the pocket. One big loss that definitely impacted the offense was guard Rodger Saffold, who left in the 2019 offseason to go play for the Titans. Another loss came via the retirement of center John Sullivan after that Super Bowl defeat.
In their place, the Rams banked on 2018 mid-round picks Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen, both unproven youngster. But Noteboom went down with an ACL injury after six games, and Los Angeles attempted to bolster its depth in the absence of Noteboom and poor play of Allen with an underachiever from Cleveland in Austin Corbett, who was acquired midseason via trade. That, too, failed to produce much substance.
After the Rams' rushing offense floundered and they missed the playoffs at 9-7, the assumption by many would be that they would re-invest in their offensive line and keep a watchful eye on left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who turned 38 years old before the end of the 2019 season and begun to show signs of decline; reinvestment into the offensive line seemed to be on.
The Rams traded away running back Todd Gurley in a move that was as much a long-term salary dump as anything. Then came a trade of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Goff was asked to restructure his contract to manufacture cap space. The team certainly needed to create space for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who Los Angeles traded for at the 2019 trade deadline at the cost of two first-round draft picks; the offensive line would certainly also be a beneficiary from this modest roster overhaul too.
The Rams lacked the funds in free agency to make a splash. They were so bogged down with their cap situation that they are effectively treading water to pay their own. And with two picks in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Rams invested in (wait for it) two offensive skill players: running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Van Jefferson.
Here's the thing. Akers and Jefferson? They're good fits for Los Angeles' offense, but the depth of the skill positions wasn't a problem. Keeping Goff upright and winning the line of scrimmage was. And the only investment the Rams made into the offensive line at all came in the 2020 draft's seventh and final round when they selected Clemson’s Tremayne Anchrum.
Making the team's second-round decision even more questionable was Los Angeles' 2019 investment into a running back; it drafted Darrell Henderson with the 70th-overall pick and one year later drafted Akers at No. 52.
Who is going to block for these players? The Ram' current two-deep on the offensive line is as follows:
- Left tackle: Andrew Whitworth, Joe Noteboom
- Left guard: Joe Noteboom, Austin Corbett
- Center: Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton
- Right guard: Austin Blythe, David Edwards
- Right Tackle: Rob Havenstein, Bobby Edwards
Compare that group to two top-75 investments at the running back position and the investment of two first-round picks into Ramsey in the past 12 months and it's hard not to think about how much different this group could look if the Rams seemed to care about its existence. Presumably, they didn't invest here in the 2020 draft because they liked their pieces; and yes, injuries were a problem that did derail their science experiment in 2019. But a line that's so fragile that an injury to Noteboom can cause the house of cards to come crashing down is probably a line that needs investment.
Los Angeles picked at No. 52 and again at No. 57. Some of the offensive linemen on the board starting at No. 52?
- Ezra Cleveland, OT (No. 58, Minnesota)
- Damien Lewis, OG (No. 69, Seattle)
- Josh Jones, OT (No. 72, Arizona)
- Jonah Jackson, OG (No. 75, Detroit)
- Matt Hennessy, C (No. 78, Atlanta)
- Lloyd Cushenberry III, C (No. 83, Denver)
The Rams' next pick? You guessed it. 84th overall. So either the Rams read the room wrong and struck out at No. 84 — they drafted Alabama pass rusher Terrell Lewis there to hopefully fill the void left by Dante Fowler's departure — or they simply feel they're all set up front. Call me crazy, but if the team wanted a powerful runner with upside in zone, would it not have been a more attractive play to forego Akers at No. 52 and instead land one of the six offensive linemen above and then come back at No. 84 to draft Utah running back Zack Moss, who, in reality, was selected by Buffalo at No. 86?
As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Will the Rams be fooled yet again by their personnel inside? If they are, the hindsight will not be kind to their decision making on the trenches.