The talk surrounding the St. Louis Rams this offseason has centered on the wide receiver position. Already one of the most visible weaknesses on the team last season, the position looks to get even worse with the team’s top two wide receivers, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, set to hit free agency. But there’s a bigger problem with the Rams’ offense that has to be taken care of first: the offensive line.
Specifically, right tackle. Barry Richardson had a terrible year at that spot for the Rams in 2012, giving up 18 blown-block sacks or hurries in pass protection. He didn’t redeem himself any in the run game, either, as the Rams averaged their lowest per carry average running behind right tackle. The former sixth-round pick out of Clemson has struggled with his footwork, stopping and leaning in the run game while getting over-extended and crossed up in space on pass protection.
And they don’t have an answer already on the roster, it seems. Richardson’s backup, Wayne Hunter, got a chance to show what he could do in relief of injured left tackle Rodger Safford and struggled even more than Richardson. In just one-third of a season’s worth of snaps, Hunter surrendered eight blown-block sacks or hurries.
So what can the Rams do about it? As of right now, premier right tackles Sebastian Vollmer of the New England Patriots and Andre Smith of the Cincinnati Bengals are scheduled to hit free agency if St. Louis feels like throwing big money at the problem. That isn’t a sure-fire solution, however, as both may not get away from their current teams.
Vollmer was a critical cog along the offensive line for the Pats and would be a huge loss for Tom Brady and company if he were allowed to walk. Smith, similarly, is the best offensive lineman Cincinnati has, especially at the tackle position, and is a prime candidate for the franchise tag. Both are high on their current teams’ offseason priority lists and aren’t likely to hit the open market.
That leaves the draft. The Rams have two first-round picks sitting at No. 16 and No. 22 right now and could find some good value, high impact offensive linemen to choose from at that spot. If the Oklahoma Sooners bookend Lane Johnson is available at No. 16, look for the Rams to pull the trigger on him. He’s got the size and length to fill out the position to go with excellent hand strength, elite movement skills and a nasty attitude when it comes to finishing off defensive linemen.
If he’s gone, the Rams may use the pick on one of their other needs and roll the dice on finding help for their offensive line with later picks. Perhaps they’ll consider looking at D.J. Fluker of the Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 22, though his struggles in pass protection may prevent him from being an immediate answer for the Rams.
One way or the other, however, St. Louis needs help on the offensive line. It doesn’t matter who they have running routes next season, after all, if Sam Bradford is on the flat of his back.