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A new left tackle won’t solve Rams’ biggest problems

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By: JB Scott

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

LA will need dynamic playmakers to turn the corner towards contention

With the Los Angeles Rams dropping their last three consecutive games, many fans have turned their focus away from the 2023 playoff picture and towards the 2024 NFL Draft. There’s plenty of chatter surrounding LA’s first first-round pick since 2016, and this will certainly be one of the most important individual selections that Sean McVay and Les Snead will make.

I predicted the outcome of each of the remaining games on the Rams’ schedule, and ultimately I think they’ll finish around 6-10. That’s sure to net Los Angeles a top 10 draft choice, and nearly all positions are on the table as the front office looks to improve a roster that has been far from contention the last two years.

McVay and Snead have learned some important lessons regarding position value in their time with the Rams. We will likely never see them invest heavily in a running back again, whether that be a high draft choice or a large contract. It’d also be difficult to see LA taking a safety or off-ball linebacker high in the draft as they’ve often made do with replacement level players and unheralded prospects over the years.

Still in the modern NFL, the most valuable positions are the ones that either help you pass the football or make it more difficult for the other team to pass. It all starts with quarterback, and then pass catchers, pass rushers, coverage players follow suit. The rest of the pecking order is dependent upon your current roster structure and what is available to you on the open market—whether that be the draft, free agency, trades, etc. Some teams have elite tight ends that are effectively their top passing option. There’s only so many Aaron Donald’s in the world that can affect quarterbacks from the interior, and most of football’s best pass rushers play on the edge of the defensive line. There’s always room for unique playmakers that break the traditional mold.

But I said it all starts with quarterback, and it’s clear and obvious the Rams don’t have an elite player at this position. There may have been a time when Matthew Stafford was considered elite over his career, though personally I’d push back on that idea and suggest that he’s more often been outside of the NFL’s top 10 signal callers over his decade-and-a-half career. In the league’s current construction, you either have an elite quarterback or you’re still looking for your next guy, and that is something the Rams have contributed to by swapping Jared Goff for Stafford.

Still, Stafford’s level of performance in 2022 and 2023 indicate that his best days are behind him—and the sooner the Rams move on the better off they will be.

Stafford’s current state of play raises the degree of difficulty for the rest of the team, and this is something to be mindful of when you evaluate LA’s overall roster needs. Because Stafford is largely immobile, especially by the standard set by the Patrick Mahomes’ and Jalen Hurts’ of the world, the offensive line has to play nearly perfect in order to allow him time to find receivers downfield. We commonly see defenses dedicate a defender to quarterbacks like Hurts in the running game, and this makes life easier for running backs by giving them one less person to run away from. The NFL has passed by Stafford and quarterbacks of a similar nature.

Unfortunately for the Rams, they are likely to miss out on the top two signal callers the 2024 draft has to offer. The Chicago Bears will likely be in the running for the top selection thanks for the ineptitude of the Carolina Panthers, who sent their first rounder to Chicago when they traded up for Bryce Young last year. The New York Giants seem intent on playing Tommy DeVito the rest of the year, which should keep them in the conversation as well. If you want one of the top picks this spring, you can probably only win three or so games this year—and the Rams are already at that mark.

It’s not all bad for Los Angeles. There are secondary options like Michigan’s JJ McCarthy, LSU’s Jayden Daniels, and Washington’s Michael Penix, Jr. If they don’t take a QB this year, they do run the risk of improving too quickly and being out of the running for the top crop of signal callers in 2025. Stafford or not, the Rams have to find a long-term solution for the future of the franchise.

There are other top options in the draft if the Rams decide not to invest in quarterback. Marvin Harrison, Jr. is one of the best young receivers to come out in some time, as is Brock Bowers at tight end. Selecting a top edge rusher and asking him to fill in opposite rookie standout Bryon Young has to be an attractive option for LA.

And then we get to offensive line and the potential of taking a tackle. It’s an option that doesn’t get me excited, though I understand the appeal to fans after several players have struggled in this role for the Rams since the retirement of left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Alaric Jackson is good for a former undrafted free agent, but realistically speaking Los Angeles can do better. We know Joe Noteboom probably isn’t that person either. Rob Havenstein earned a contract extension before the start of the 2022 season and is probably here for the foreseeable future.

So yes, the idea of taking Notre Dame’s Joe Alt has to be appealing—but taking a left tackle doesn’t come close to solving most of the Rams biggest problems:

  • They’ll still be hampered by a quarterback that is quickly showing his age.
  • Stafford’s lack of mobility compared to the modern NFL standard is like playing offense with one hand tied behind your back.
  • Despite Puka Nacua’s impressive breakout, Cooper Kupp is also showing his age and hasn’t made much of an impact outside of his first game back from a hamstring injury.
  • Left tackle isn’t the only need along the offensive line, which is a unit where you are only as strong as your weakest leak. LA needs a center and a long-term answer at right guard (do they move on from Noteboom?) moving forward.
  • That doesn’t even touch on the numerous holes on the defense, which was supposed to be buoyed by a competent offense in 2023. If you spend your top pick on an offensive lineman, you’re forced to get lucky on finding an edge rusher to pair with Young in the second round or later or the team could make a risky play in free agency.
  • Ahekllo Witherspoon is a free agent and there’s no guarantee he will be back next season. It’s clear Derion Kendrick isn’t starting material, while the jury is still out on Cobie Durant. LA could use a blue chip player with size here.
  • And then there’s the question of how long Donald will continue to play, which I almost don’t even want to get into. Would the Rams still have high confidence in Young if Donald is not longer getting double teamed often in the middle of the defense? Does he begin to show why he slipped to the third round this past spring?

The Rams’ roster is devoid of play makers, and that’s something that’s reared it’s head this season in disappointing losses to the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Green Bay Packers. Los Angeles must continue to invest in premium positions. You can find dependable offensive tackles in the later rounds, but you likely won’t find your franchise quarterback or game-changing edge rusher.

A new left tackle won’t solve the Rams’ biggest problems, and that’s why they must look elsewhere with their top pick in the 2024 draft.

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

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