Fans were puzzled, to say the least when the Rams opted to not take Creed Humphrey or any of the centers in the 2021 draft. Considering they are all-in on Matthew Stafford, it would seem prudent to supply him with a center that will endure his protection. This comes on the heels of the Rams deciding not to bring in a vet like Alex Mack and allowed Austin Blythe to leave for Kansas City despite the Chiefs not offering him at or above market value (assuming his contract doesn’t have Dogecoin backed incentives).
Even an optimistic fan would see these developments as odd whereas the pessimistic fan would find it disturbing. It turns out the Rams already have their man, they just got him in 2019 when no one was paying attention. Austin Corbett is the current starting center and while that might come off as a stop-gap measure, the Rams see it as the payoff on a trade made two years ago.
At the trade deadline in 2019, the Rams were on HFS and made a ton of moves all at once. While the big move was the Jalen Ramsey trade and all the moving parts therein, what got lost in the shuffle was the team sending a fifth-round pick for second-year Austin Corbett. Corbett had failed to make an impression in his year and a half in Cleveland (that said, Cleveland was in another state of flux), and the Rams trading for him felt like a desperate grab at depth following the loss of Rodger Saffold (still missed), and the blocking getting worse.
He didn’t get much of an opportunity to stand out in 2019 because he came into another offense in flux specifically one that had a line going through a major overhaul. The good news is, in 2020, Austin Corbett became a valuable starter at the guard position and confirmed the versatility the Rams saw in him when they traded for him in the first place.
He started all 16 games on a line that was pretty cohesive throughout the year despite losing Andrew Whitworth in the middle of the season. In 2021, Austin Corbett’s versatility will be called upon as he shifts to the center spot. It might seem like a band-aid that Les Snead will need to fix but given that continuity is key to having a strong line, using Corbett makes sense since he already has chemistry with his teammates.
As far as depth goes, they still have Brian Allen who could very well make an impression in camp and at least make the case that he should start, but even if he doesn’t, that means the Rams at least have a viable option if Corbett struggles or gets hurt.
After Allen, it gets dicey which again makes it all the stranger the Rams didn’t at least draft a center late in the draft, but again that’s a future Snead’s problem. Having Corbett start also makes life a little easier for Sean McVay as he doesn’t have another player to teach the plays and the signals to. Yes, it’s another in a long line of Les Snead era gambles but it’s one that has a low risk/high reward potential. Corbett is also in a contract year and if he can be a Pro Bowl-caliber player the Rams could use some of their cap space next year (however much that turns out to be) to keep him or he can simply turn into a comp pick when some other team decides to drop the bag for him.
The Rams would be wise to keep him, however, as he’s 26 years old and unless he becomes prime Alex Mack next year he shouldn’t be too difficult to resign and he’d be a wise investment as the Rams still have a lot of uncertainty on their line given Rob Havenstein being looked at as a cap casualty/trade candidate next year, Joe Noteboom in a prove-it situation, and Andrew Whitworth is getting closer to ending his watch. They have a lot of guys that are developmental projects but not a lot of bonafide starters. So extending Corbett next year wouldn’t be one of the Rams patented wreckless extensions that are the equivalent of investing all their money in Trans-Atlantic Zeppelin or that up-and-coming Baltimore Opera Hat Company.
Austin Corbett has the chance to write his own ticket be it with the Rams or some other team as a viable starting center and given how well he played at guard in 2020 he has shown that he can write it ticket there as well. For the Rams, they are well aware that protecting Stafford is paramount to their success, and while it would be tempting to stake their hopes in a stud rookie or a ring chasing vet, their decision to go in house isn’t just a product of not having cap space, but trust.
They’re asking a lot of Austin Corbett but they only do so because they must have the confidence that he can pull it off. If not then the whole enterprise collapses like a house of cards but that isn’t likely given the infrastructure in place. They could still use their picks next year to replenish the offensive line but for now, they have a young versatile player who is ready to make another leap.