Drafted in the fifth round with the 169th overall pick, Edwards landed with an organization that is not just riding high off a Super Bowl berth but also has experience on the offensive line with a key former Badger in right tackle Rob Havenstein.
Joining us to break down how Edwards—the former prep quarterback turned college tight end turned standout college right tackle—fits in the Los Angeles offense, Turf Show Times Joe McAtee answered some of our questions.
Overall, what were fans’ impressions of the teams’ draft selections, and particularly of Edwards’ name being called in the fifth round?
There’s always a bias for fans to over-grade things. That being said, a majority of Rams fans gave the team a “B” for the draft. I think the main thing I’d point out is that the Rams aren’t in a huge position of need when it comes to this year’s draft class having an immediate impact. Much like last year, the Rams don’t have a ton of playing time up for grabs among their rookies. Unlike a majority of NFL teams who went into the draft looking for immediate starting talent as well as long-term support to develop into their second and third seasons, the Rams didn’t have a ton of openings heading into the draft.
That being said, I think most understood that there was plenty of upside to be had in drafting for the medium-term future. Edwards is a fine example of that.
While starting right tackle Rob Havenstein signed an extension last August that locks him in through 2022, starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth is going to retire after this season. So whether Edwards sticks at right tackle as the backup to Havenstein or if he contends for the starting gig to replace Whitworth next season or even if he kicks inside, he’s got the luxury of climbing the NFL learning curve and not having to come in and immediately produce.
And I think that’s why many, myself included, are excited about the pick. There’s no immediate demand. He can grow into a future role with time. So his success at this level will be one less of execution and more of adaptation.
How is the depth and talent on the offensive line for the Rams right now?
Depth, good. Talent ... waning. But with promise.
The Rams’ 2018 line was perhaps the best Rams offensive line of my lifetime. While their performance occasionally spurred unnecessary hyperbole, it did so only because they were so good. As we know though, all good things must come to an end. The Rams moved on from starting left guard Rodger Saffold and starting center John Sullivan. And while the Rams were proactive in drafting two replacement candidates in Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen, those two have yet to prove anything at this level while Saffold and Sullivan have played a combined 267 games. And now with Edwards and fellow 2019 draftee Bobby Evans in tow, the Rams have more potential on the OL depth chart than they have had since 2015. The difference is that in 2015, the Rams’ remaking of the line came out of an era of failure for that unit. This remaking is coming out of an era of unquestionable success.
Which leads me to my next question--what could the plan be for him in the position group?
I think that’s going to be up to Edwards and Rams offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Because there’s no immediate slot for him, Edwards can just soak up the tutelage from the coaching staff and Whitworth and take the opportunities that come to him.
Take someone like Austin Blythe, for example. Blythe was a seventh-round pick for the Indianapolis Colts in 2016 who joined the Rams a year later. As a backup in 2017, Blythe vacillated between different positions in support. A year later, and Blythe was tabbed to take over at left guard when Jamon Brown had to serve a two-game suspension. Blythe’s play was sufficient for him to maintain the starting role thereafter. His more natural position might well be at center, but he might continue to serve the Rams best on the center’s right side.
That might be the kind of path forward for Edwards. To commit himself to the grind of the background. Of training camp and preseason and practices and preparation in hopes for an opportunity in the future that might arise to make sure that if (when?) it comes, he’s ready to make the most of his shot.
What instances or development could propel him up the depth chart?
Injury first and foremost, but that’s always the case. I think though that the more natural, and hopeful, progression is that timeline I mentioned above. That he could impress the coaching staff over the course of 2019 without the playing time to back it up that leads him into 2020 and beyond with a chance to compete for regular snaps.
Whitworth will be gone next year. Blythe hardly has his position locked down and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. And who knows how Noteboom and Allen or whoever gets the left guard and center spots will perform in terms of long-term viability there.
There will be opportunities for promotion. Whether or not Edwards is the beneficiary of them will likely depend on how he looks in private to the staff.
So another former Badger, Rob Havenstein, inked an extension last season with the organization. How has he been utilized, and will he likely lock down the right tackle spot in 2019?
Yeah, Hav is locked in long-term as the starting right tackle and for good reason. He’s been very good since the Rams took him in the second round of the 2015 draft. Contractually, he’s a Ram through the 2022 season, though the Rams could truncate the deal as early as the 2021 offseason if they so choose with little penalty.
The big question for him is internal. Whitworth’s retirement will be a huge marker for the line both for his on-field contributions but also in the locker room. He’s a natural leader. Not only did he earn that right over the years and early on with the Rams, but (perhaps more importantly) he’s proved he deserved it ever since. His departure is going to leave a hole that’s bigger to fill than just playing left tackle.
Barring a free agency replacement next year, Havenstein is going to be the senior presence on the Rams’ offensive line in 2020 when they move into the new stadium in Inglewood. That’s not to suggest he needs to start making major media appearances or be the kind of vocal presence that so many attribute to “leadership.” But veteran presence matters. Rookies and young depth coming on board in the years to come are going to look to Hav for stability and guidance. That’s just unavoidable.
So while the line as a whole undergoes a transformation, Hav’s career is going through one as well. He’s no longer the young upstart. He’s heading toward a mid-career peak with more responsibilities as a team leader to come as he heads into his fifth season.