In a surprising move, the Los Angeles Rams chose not to take an offensive linemen in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The team didn’t select one in the previous draft, either, but after 2016’s tumultuous offensive production seemingly earmarked by their offensive line, the question was not if the Rams would take a lineman, but when.
When never came, that is, until after the draft ended. The Rams added only two linemen, however, one of them being Jake Eldrenkamp.
Size matters, but so does athleticism
The biggest strike against Eldrenkamp is his size, but his playing tape says it might be the least of his worries. The Washington guard weighed in at 297 pounds, but stands at a towering 6’5”, making him a rather lean build, especially for an inside lineman.
However, with a lighter frame comes more agility and athleticism, which Washington put to good use. According to Pro Football Focus, Eldrenkamp was the pulling guard on more than 50 power plays. When Eldrenkamp pulled on power right, Husky rushers averaged 7.4 yards-per-carry.
Eldrenkamp and the rest of the Washington line helped the Huskies rush for 2,806 yards last season, and the team was around 200 yards short of having two running backs with 1,000 rushing yards each.
Eldrenkamp may not pancake defenders or drive them a handful of yards off the line of scrimmage, he does get to the second level with ease. Washington’s line operated under zone-blocking, which scouts said Eldrenkamp was made for. When the guard doesn’t find a defensive linemen in front of him, Eldrenkamp finds his way to the linebacker and secures a solid block.
Encouraging, but not convincing
There’s good reason why Eldrenkamp wasn’t taken in the draft, and his weight is a small part of the issues.
During his career at Washington, Eldrenkamp struggled with pass-blocking in the beginning. He found better success in that area in his later seasons, but there are notable games where his struggles caused great concern about his ability to handle tough opponents.
As Pro Football Focus pointed out, Eldrenkamp didn’t allow a single pressure in six games in 2016. However, his play against Alabama and USC left many to wonder if he could crack it against NFL talent throughout a 16-week season.
During those two games, Eldrenkamp allowed a combined three hurries and two sacks.
The Rams aim to regain their strong running game, and to do that, they need a great push off the line from everyone. Eldrenkamp can provide solid blocking, but his overall strength and ability to drive defenders back is lacking.
Even when he pulls, his greatest strength as a lineman, he doesn’t supply a strong enough pop to clear the running lane completely. He does a good enough job to create space, but the walls of the running lane are tighter than some runners would like.
When quarterbacks come into the league, everyone’s go-to prescription for a more NFL-ready pass-thrower is a ride on the bench for the year or next few years. The same goes for guys like Eldrenkamp; the skill is there, but their final product is nowhere near where it should be for an every-week starter.
The bar for the Rams offensive line is not high, based on their 2016 performance and the fact that most of that unit is returning and playing a new position. The only solid spot on the line is left tackle, thanks to the addition of Andrew Whitworth.
Despite the fact that no man aside from Whitworth has a sure spot on this line, Eldrenkamp needs time. There is plenty left to do, like sharpen his mechanics, gain the strength to drive guys off the line, and maybe gain a few pounds.
Tim Godfrey is the lead LA Rams writer and analyst for Pro Football Spot. Follow him on Twitter @MrTimGodfrey.