II: Rams believed in their offensive linemen
Since the LA Rams hired Sean McVay to become the team's head coach in 2017, the outcry of the Rams fan base at the end of each season to draft offensive linemen has become an annual ritual. No player who is not viewed as a top pick, such as IOL Steve Avila, seems to get much credit from Rams fans,
And yet, if you assess the on-field production of the LA Rams offensive line in 2023, you may feel otherwise. After the disastrous 2022 NFL season that ended with a record of 5-12, Rams fans were nearly unanimous in demanding that the Rams draft at least three offensive linemen that included a blind-side offensive tackle, a center, and an interior offensive lineman who could start as offensive guard.
The Rams drafted interior offensive lineman Steve Avila out of TCU with the 36th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to compete for a starting offensive guard role, and later selected offensive tackle Warren McClendon out of Georgia with the 174th overall pick. Despite the pleas of passionate Rams fans, the Rams did not draft a franchise left tackle, nor did the team draft a starting offensive center.
So, how did the Rams offensive line do overall in 2023?
In terms of pass blocking, the Rams offensive line allowed just 34 sacks in 17 games, good enough to be ranked as the sixth most effective offensive line in the NFL. Combined with the fact that the Rams had the 10th-most prolific passing offense in the NFL, gaining 4,063 yards via the air, that is pretty impressive.
But it get's better when you factor in the Rams renewed ability to run with the football. The Rams averaged 4.3 yards per run, good enough to tie for eighth-place in NFL offenses. And the Rams rushed for 120.3 yards per game, good enough for the 11th-best ground assault. Best of all, the Rams 18 rushing touchdowns was good enough for eighth place in the NFL.
The Rams offensive line was not restocked with rookies or free agents. The Rams did reconfigue the offensive line, but did so with familiar faces. The Rams started undrafted left tackle Alaric Jackson, slid rookie Steve Avila in at left guard, started veteran Coleman Shelton at center, trialed Joe Noteboom at right guard, only to be replaced by former Pittsburgh Steelers IOL Kevin Dotson (via trade), and finally started veteran Rob Havenstein at right tackle.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to stick with the players that are most familiar with the team and the coaches. The Rams offseason strategy has typically fallen fall short of the outcries for major changes. I would not be surprised to see the Rams make minimal changes to the Rams offensive line in 2024.