The LA Rams have been content with big powerful offensive linemen as starters until now. This year, the Rams have broken that streak. By starting Coleman Shelton, the Rams have acknowledged that a more athletic and versatile offensive lineman may add value to their offensive schemes.
While they are as different as snowflakes, NFL offensive linemen come in two basic categories: Big powerful brutes who are tough to move off the marks like a brick wall, versus the smaller more athletic type, that wins on the line of scrimmage by being more maneuverable and continuously hammering the defender(s) as long as the play remains live.
This becomes pretty obvious when you examine the series of LA Rams screen passes from Week 3 below. In almost every instance, the play is led by LA Rams center Coleman Shelton, who is either running about 5 yards in front of the receiver or sealing off the defensive pursuit
The Rams’ screen passes were very effective in Week 3. But that success happened because the Rams’ offensive linemen were very effective at getting out in front of the play, and blocking. Two offensive linemen who were very good at doing so were OT Joe Noteboom and OC Coleman Shelton.
What do measurements miss?
Sometimes it’s the little things, the less-than-easily tracked plays, where a player makes the most contribution. We’d talked about how difficult it can be to track the performance of an individual offensive lineman in the NFL on a week-to-week basis. If the data is not buried behind a subscription fee or a paywall, it’s too outdated or obscure to be of much use.
And then there is the matter of measurement. Offensive linemen are seldom praised for what they do, but rather what they don’t do, or don’t allow another player to do. If an offensive lineman does not allow a defender to sack the quarterback, or get flagged for penalties, that’s the best we have to say they played well.
We’ve cited in the past how measuring NFL statistics can lead fans to form false conclusions. For example, LA Rams All-Pro defensive back Jalen Ramsey is often undervalued because opposing quarterbacks often choose not to throw to his receiver. Some ignore the fact that Ramsey’s defense is too good to target and believe measurements of defensive backs where he lags behind his contemporaries because they are targeted more often.
In a similar fashion, nobody measures how successfully an offensive lineman blocks downfield against linebackers or defensive backs. But it’s those efforts that can be the difference between winning or losing the football game.
The LA Rams find new ways to win, not by asking players to adhere to the team’s plays, but by designing plays to take advantage of the Rams players’ strengths. Coleman Shelton is very good at blocking downfield. Right now, the Rams are taking full advantage of that to move the ball and gain yards.