If This Is Andrew Whitworth’s Last Ride, Where Will He Rank Among Franchise Linemen
Only three of the 256 players selected in the 2006 draft are currently on NFL rosters; tight end Marcedes Lewis, Punter Sam Koch, and Andrew Whitworth. What is made abundantly clear by this is that these guys have figured out how to keep themselves on the field. But as we all know, father time is ultimately undefeated and Andrew Whitworth is aware of this. He recently told Chris Long of the Green Light podcast that the 2021 season feels “…like this will probably be the end.”
If he does indeed end up retiring, it certainly will be the end of an era. 224 games played, and over 1,500 snaps. He was with Sean McVay at the beginning and he has been the linchpin and the best member of the Rams offensive line ever since 2017.
It is difficult to really quantify the legacy of an offensive lineman. For one, they work as a cohesive unit. The offensive line is only as strong as the weakest link and the success of the line relies heavily on the performance of the so-called skill players on offense. Even the individual stats applied to linemen lack context. How many of Whitworths 11 sacks allowed as a Ram are coverage sacks, versus getting blown out by a defensive end, for instance.
It should be pointed out that Whitworth has only allowed 1 sack in his last two seasons.
Whatsmore, when a lineman is playing his best only the keenest football view, appreciates it.
One keen pigskin observer, Pro Football Focus, wrote “Whitworth has been among the best tackles PFF has seen,” continuing, “His 84.7 pass-block grade was the seventh-best at the position, making it 11 straight years in which he has produced a top 10 pass-block grade (every year since he moved to full-time tackle with the Bengals in 2009).”
So to sum up Whitworth’s legacy; He’s very good and he has been good for a long time. But where does he rank among the best linemen in the Rams franchise.
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There are a few names that are untouchable in the pantheon of Rams franchise linemen; Orlando Pace, Jackie Slater, and Tom Mack. It’s hard to argue with a man in a gold jacket, and despite how good Whitworth has been, he won’t crack the holy trinity of the trenches.
But before we just move on from the best of the best, a few words about the only three Rams HOF’er linemen.
Tom Mack was the second overall pick in the 1966 draft. In his 13 seasons with the Rams, he never missed a game. He was also selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was named to the first-team All-Pro in 1969. At 6’3” 250 lbs, Mack wasn’t the biggest guy on the field, but he felt his biggest advantage was his speed. The Rams won their division eight times during his tenure.
Jackie Slater had a long career, 20 years to be exact. The big difference between him and Whitworth being Slater started in 1976. This was when the most advanced recovery methods were rubbing dirt on it and a six-pack of beer. The Rams went to the playoffs 12 times in his career, including one trip to the Super Bowl. Slater blocked for seven different 1,000-yard rushers, including Lawrence McCutcheon, Wendell Tyler, Eric Dickerson, Charles White, Greg Bell, Cleveland Gary, and Jerome Bettis, as well as 27 games that his QB threw for over 300 yards. Slater went to the Pro-Bowl seven times in his career.
Orlando Pace was highly touted coming out of Ohio State in 1997 and for good reason. He was a beast, coming into the league at 6’7” 320 LBS. He wasn’t just big. He was fast too. The combination of the two earned him the first overall selection in the draft, but he reshaped the expectation for tackles going forward. Pace was the beginning of the end of lumbering big men. He made an immediate impact on the team which culminated in the Greatest Show on Turf and the Rams only Super Bowl victory. He blocked for the NFL MVP three years running, twice for Kurt Warner and also for Marshall Faulk. Pace was named All-Pro in 1999, 2001, and 2003. He was also selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
Andrew Whitworth has a case for making the Hall of Fame and that would vault him into the conversation with the first tier, but for now, his story is ongoing. As of right now, he is solidly among the second tier of great Rams franchise linemen. This tier consists of Dennis Harrah, Rich Saul, Doug Smith , and Charlie Cowan.
Here is a quick rundown of the accolades of this tier:
|Years as Starter||AP All-Pro Selections||# of Pro Bowls||Games Missed|
At a glance, Whitworth pulls ahead of the pack, especially with the two first-team AP All-Pro selections. His longevity and relative health over time stands out, as well. But each of these guys brings something different to the table that makes him great. Rich Saul played all positions on the line including tight end. Missing zero games over seven seasons is also very impressive.
Dennis Harrah won a starting spot in just his second season and was named team captain for six seasons and he earned his spot on the first-team All-Pro in what would be his last full season in the league.
Charlie Cowan was one of the better leaders of his era. He took both Tom Mack, Rich Saul, and John Williams under his wing. Williams called him his mentor. Saul called him a real teacher.
In that, Whitworth has emerged as one of the better leaders of this generation. There are numerous stories of Rams players that point to Whitworth as a teacher and a mentor. Which has been vital to the success of the Rams offensive line. They have, in part, pinched pennies and relied on younger players because Whitworth has been there to coach and teach them into quality starters and potential starters. During last year’s covid affected offseason, he filled his garage with gym equipment and invited teammates over to train with him.
His leadership extends to his philanthropic efforts as well. He has been the Walter Payton Man of the Year award nomination since 2018.
With all these things taken into consideration, it is hard not to put Big Whit into the fourth position. If he only has one more year in him there are only a few things he can do to bolster his position.
He must bounce back from the most significant injury of his career and play at a level that meets or exceeds last season. What would seal his place above the rest of the second tier would be to bring the Lombardi trophy to LA for the first time. Not only would he solidify his standing, but it would also strengthen his case as a Hall of Famer.