Offensive Line Review & Ratings

John Tuvey, @jtuvey

You won't find names like Louis Vasquez, King Dunlap, and LaAdrian Waddle anywhere on your cheat sheet. But how those those guys play will directly impact guys you will be drafting--specifically the likes of Montee Ball, Philip Rivers, and Calvin Johnson.

No worries, you won't be tested on this material. We've already done the heavy lifting for you, breaking down offensive lines into bite-sized capsules to give you an idea of the impact their play will have on the "skill" position players you do draft--or avoid. So when the Chiefs let their top two linemen walk in free agency, when both the Dolphins and Redskins project a pair of rookies to anchor the right sides of their lines, or the Panthers lose three regulars to retirement... the ramifications of those moves are noted here--and reflected in our cheat sheets.

With that in mind, here’s a capsule look at each offensive line in the league. Keep in mind these rankings are subjective, taking into account past performance, continuity, scheme, and personnel. They also draw from an emerging trove of statistical data from sources like the Football Outsiders (FO), the Football Scientist (FS), and Pro Football Focus (PFF), all of whom endeavor to quantify just how much of a team’s offensive performance can be directly attributed to line play.

This article will reference stats from these sources, so here’s a quick primer on what those numbers measure:

  • Adjusted Line Yards — an FO stat that assigns responsibility for rushing yards to the offensive line based on where those yards were gained in proximity to the line of scrimmage
  • Power Success — an FO stat that tracks the percentage of runs on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go (or first or second down and goal to go from two yards and in) that resulted in a first-down or touchdown
  • Stuffed — an FO stat measuring the percentage of rushing attempts where the back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage
  • Adjusted Sack Rate – an FO stat measuring sacks per pass attempt tweaked for down, distance, and opponent

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Rank Team Overall Grade Rush Grade Pass Grade Regulars Returning Summary
1 Denver Broncos A- A- A- 4 The Broncos lost Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady to injury yet still kept Peyton Manning upright and intact (a league-low 20 sacks and 3.8% adjusted sack rate) while making Knowshon Moreno look like Terrell Davis. What to do for an encore? Denver is flipping Orlando Franklin from right tackle to left guard to hold up to interior pressure while creating more push for Montee Ball. Chris Clark will battle rookie Michael Schofield at right tackle, the line’s biggest question mark, and Manny Ramirez will be challenged by Will Montgomery in the middle. No reason to worry about Manning, and a couple of big reasons in guards Franklin and Louis Vasquez to like Ball’s potential even more.
2 New England Patriots A- A- A- 5 New England posted the best adjusted line yards per carry and was top-10 in adjusted sack rate as well, but for the most part 2013 was a bit of a disappointment for what is traditionally one of the league’s top units. All five starters return, but the hope is that über-backup Marcus Cannon pushes—or displaces—Dan Connolly at right guard and center Ryan Wendell returns to the level of play he achieved in 2012. For the first time in forever the Patriots will have a new o-line coach as well, as Dave DeGuglielmo replaces 32-year coaching veteran Dante Scarnecchia. That qualifies as major upheaval in New England, but it’s no reason to expect anything less than plenty of time for Tom Brady and openings galore for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
3 Cincinnati Bengals A- B+ A- 4 Last year’s edition of the Cincy o-line had the depth to shuffle and still be productive. With Anthony Collins leaving via free agency Andrew Whitworth will kick back out to left tackle, and the Bengals will need to break in a new center, but aside from that it’s the same group that ranked third in adjusted sack rate and just outside the top 10 in adjusted line yards per carry. Note that the upgrade from BenJarvus Green-Ellis to more carries for Giovanni Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill will only make Cincy’s run blocking look that much better; last season no team had a larger gap between RB YPC and the adjusted line YPC that helps determine just what portion of that gain can be directly attributed to the blocking.
4 San Diego Chargers B+ A- B+ 4 The Bolts made a series of necessary changes to their o-line heading into last season, and for the most part it worked out swimmingly. King Dunlap found a home at left tackle and D.J. Fluker emerged as a solid option on the other side in his first NFL campaign. Nick Hardwick may be on his last legs at center, but third round pick Chris Watt could be his replacement; at minimum he’ll challenge Johnnie Troutman for the right guard gig. No reason to expect backsliding in any key areas, which means full steam ahead for Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Ryan Mathews behind a unit that was top-three in adjusted line yards per carry and top-eight in adjusted sack rate.
5 New Orleans Saints B+ B A- 4 Left tackle issues led to Drew Brees being sacked a Saints-high 37 times last season; the hope is that second-year player Terron Armstead is the long-term solution there. Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans form one of the league’s top guard tandems and should allow the Saints to ease in new center Tim Lelito. While pass protection is the focus, this unit should allow any one of the Saints’ stable of backs to have success on the ground as well.
6 Detroit Lions B+ B A- 5 The table was set for disaster last season as the Lions replaced both tackles and a guard from the previous season’s solid unit; instead, young untested talent like Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle exceeded expectations and kept Matthew Stafford upright all season long. With ageless center Dominic Raiola holding this group together, there’s no reason to believe this unit negatively impacts Calvin Johnson or Reggie Bush.
7 Minnesota Vikings B+ A- B- 4 Just like Peyton Manning makes his pass protection look better, Adrian Peterson makes the Minnesota run blocking look good. Elite center John Sullivan anchors a unit that blocks the run extremely well on the right with Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, though that side will test Teddy Bridgewater’s ability to throw in the face of pressure. Left tackle Matt Kalil wasn’t as sharp as a sophomore, but he should benefit from an upgrade at left guard—be it rookie David Yankey or sophomore Jeff Baca—over Charlie Johnson.
8 Philadelphia Eagles B B B 5 One set of stats called Philly the best o-line in the league last year; the other ranked them in the bottom third in both running the ball and protecting the passer. Who to believe? There’s little question this is a talented line that came together as the season progressed, allowing Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense to hum along smoothly with Nick Foles throwing and LeSean McCoy running. However, it’s not a particularly deep unit so if Lane Johnson’s four-game PED suspension holds and/or Jason Peters succumbs to yet another injury, there could be trouble.
9 Chicago Bears B B- B+ 5 The total revamp—four new starters, including two rookies on the right side—was a huge success for Chicago; despite an increase in pass attempts, the Bears cut their sacks by a third. All five 16-game starters return in the same spots, meaning things can only get better for the Jay Cutler-led passing game, though it’s still not a power-rushing unit so the key will be to get Matt Forte outside and in space.
10 Dallas Cowboys B B B 4 This group has quickly transitioned from liability to strength; amazing what happens when you invest three first-round picks in your o-line—and at least the first two play like studs right out of the gate. With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zach Martin 60 percent of the solution, chances are significantly better Tony Romo’s back surgery isn’t severely tested by the pass rush and DeMarco Murray has more room to run—and takes fewer shots, always a good thing for such an injury-prone back.
11 Green Bay Packers B B B 4 How can the Packers pull off a fourth different starting center in four seasons? Helps to have him flanked by stud guards Josh Sitton and TJ Lang, plus the Pack is high on JC Tretter as he comes back from injury. Fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari was a pleasant surprise at left tackle, and if Bryan Bulaga can stay off injured reserve (he’s oh-for the last two seasons) this line will make the mobile Aaron Rodgers and bruising Eddie Lacy even more effective—a scary thought for Green Bay’s opponents.
12 Cleveland Browns B B B- 4 Two of Cleveland’s three highest-paid players are on their offensive line, so expectations should be high. And while results were middle-of-the-road last season—17th in adjusted sack rate, 18th in adjusted line yards per carry—the Browns’ upgrade in skill position players (Johnny Manziel, Ben Tate, Terrance West) should get a boost from the guys up front. If this group is able to pick up Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme quickly—and there’s no reason athletic linemen like Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and second-round pick Joel Bitonio can’t—the Cleveland offense might actually be fun to watch this season even if Josh Gordon isn’t playing.
13 Tennessee Titans B B- B 3 Tennessee began to rebuild its offensive line last season, but it took a few games for Andy Levitre and rookie Chance Warmack to settle in. Add to that mix this year’s first-rounder Taylor Lewan and suddenly the Titans have as talented a line as you’ll find. Michael Roos is still entrenched at left tackle, and with new coach Ken Whisenhunt looking to add more short routes and three-step drops the pass protection for Jake Locker should be just fine. The run blocking was just okay last season, but with all the pieces coming together that should improve as well—just in time for Bishop Sankey to take over for the departed Chris Johnson. Bottom line, there’s more than enough talent along the Tennessee front line for the Titans’ skill position players to enjoy fantasy success.
14 San Francisco 49ers B- B C 4 We thought they’d be better, but while the individual Niners’ Pro Football Focus grades look nice the team-wide results were less impressive: 22nd in adjusted sack rate and a stunning 29th in adjusted line yards per carry. San Francisco will be breaking in a new center—perhaps third-round pick Marcus Martin—and shouldn’t have any difficulty making room for Frank Gore and others to run, but with as much talent as this unit puts on the field we’d like to see a little more… you know, domination.
15 Houston Texans B- B+ C+ 4 Point the finger at deposed quarterback Matt Schaub if you want, but only one team allowed more QB hits than the Texans. The adjusted sack rate wasn’t bad, however, so there’s hope that the young right side of Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton improves enough to keep the rush out of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s face. Duane Brown is solid on the left side, and the addition of second-round pick Xavier Su’a-Filo—the best run-blocking guard in this year’s draft class—should keep Arian Foster and the Houston ground game rolling along even without Gary Kubiak and his zone-blocking scheme.
16 Buffalo Bills C+ B C 3 The Bills remain a successful running team thanks in part to their line, but in order to get maximum bang out of Sammy Watkins and EJ Manuel they’ll need to do a better job of protecting the passer. Left tackle Cordy Glenn isn’t the problem; only one tackle who saw 1000+ snaps last year allowed fewer sacks. Buffalo hopes draft picks Cyrus Kouandjio and Cyrus Richardson can step in at right tackle and one of the guard spots, respectively; right guard Kraig Urbik is okay, but we’ve seen former first-rounder Chris Williams fail at too many other stops already to think he’s the solution at left guard.
17 Washington Redskins C+ B C 2 Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking system squeezed plenty of production out of the Washington running game, but it wasn’t necessarily because of outstanding line play. Jay Gruden isn’t expected to scrap the scheme, but he is planning to upgrade at multiple spots—maybe even with a pair of rookies on the right side. Kory Lichtensteiger slides from left guard to center and the Redskins added Shawn Lauvao via free agency to line up alongside left tackle Trent Williams. The scheme, and their familiarity with it, should allow them to be competent in the ground game; if third-rounders Spencer Long and Morgan Moses play well enough to unseat the incumbent right side of the line, Robert Griffin III’s pass protection should improve as well—great news for DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon.
18 Tampa Bay Buccaneers C+ C B 2 Over the past few seasons the Bucs have had the personnel and potential to field one of the best lines in the league, though the results have been mostly ordinary—until last season, when they were a flat-out train wreck. A new regime and new scheme bring new personnel, specifically left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Demar Dotson is a holdover and the Bucs’ best lineman last year, so Tampa Bay should be set at the tackles and do more than enough to give Josh McCown time to find Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Questions abound at the guard spots, but if Carl Nicks—who’s played just nine games in his two seasons in Tampa—returns from MRSA or the Bucs choose to use Doug Martin more like Matt Forte, they should be able to get buy with existing personnel.
19 Baltimore Ravens C+ B- C 3 Glaring holes emerged along the defending Super Bowl champs’ offensive line, none greater than the one left by center Matt Birk’s retirement. The Ravens traded for Jeremy Zuttah to shore up that spot after dealing for left tackle Eugene Monroe early last season. If guards Marshall Yanda and Kelechi Osemele return healthy it will go a long way towards bounceback seasons for Ray Rice and Joe Flacco—specifically Rice, who bore the brunt of Baltimore’s league-worst 3.01 adjusted line yards per carry last season.
20 Carolina Panthers C+ B- C- 3 Retirement ravaged the Panthers’ o-line this offseason; fortunately there were so many injuries to the unit last year several players picked up experience. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, a pair of athletic tackles, are being banked on to protect Cam Newton—a significantly iffier proposition than looking to a solid interior to once again pave the way for Carolina’s ground game.
21 Seattle Seahawks C C C- 4 The Seahawks proved the exception to the rule that you need good o-line play to succeed in the NFL, as they largely underachieved last season en route to a Super Bowl title. The run blocking was solid for the most part, though a team with Marshawn Lynch should convert more than 49% of short-yardage runs. Seattle also ranked last in adjusted sack rate, which again makes no sense when you consider Russell Wilson’s mobility and the fact the Seahawks were rarely in a must-pass situation. If James Carpenter can finally stay healthy and Russell Okung returns to his level of play from a couple years ago, Seattle should have more than enough going on up front to push for a repeat.
22 Pittsburgh Steelers C C C+ 5 For the first time in a long time there’s optimism surrounding the Steelers’ o-line. All five starters return, including star center Maurkice Pouncey, who went down just eight snaps into 2013. Ramon Foster and emerging star David DeCastro join Pouncey to form a solid interior which should give Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount ample room to run. Concerns about the tackles may be unfounded as well; though Marcus Gilbert and Kevin Beachum both graded out in the bottom half of the league’s tackles according to Pro Football Focus, as a team the Steelers were at least adequate at keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright. Could be worse; Pittsburgh could be banking on Mike Adams. So long as he remains an insurance policy rather than the last bastion between the pass rush and Big Ben, the Steelers should be all right.
23 Indianapolis Colts C C+ C- 3 Pep Hamilton takes plenty of heat in fantasy circles for neutering his Andrew Luck-led offense by leaning too heavily on the run, but maybe he leans that way because his tackles allowed the fourth-most hurries of any tandem last season? Overall the pass protection was above average, but—like the Peyton Manning days—that may be due more to Luck than line play. The return of Donald Thomas, whose 2013 campaign ended with an injury in Week 2, will solidify one guard spot while a trio of youngsters—second-year players Khalid Holmes and Hugh Thornton and second-round pick Jack Mewhort—will compete to upgrade center and the other guard spot; the end result should be more room for Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw in the ground game.
24 St. Louis Rams C C C 4 The Jake Long signing paid dividends until his season ended prematurely due to a knee injury, but the interior of the Rams’ line was largely ineffective. With Long’s availability for the start of the season in question, first-round pick Greg Robinson might be rushed into the left tackle spot rather than eased in as a guard. There’s enough insurance—Davin Joseph, Roger Saffold kicking inside—that all would not be lost if Long is late to the table, but it’s still a lot of moving pieces in front of Sam Bradford and Zac Stacy or Tre Mason. Tough to project improvement until we know what the pieces will be.
25 New York Jets C B D 3 And here we thought D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold were the studs on the Jets line; instead, after keeping that duo and replacing everybody else Gang Green’s o-line productivity tumbled dramatically. Both Mangold and Ferguson had shaky seasons, but you would think based on their respective bodies of work they’ll bounce back. The addition of free agent tackle Brenno Giacomini should help restore the Jets’ ground game—you should be able to at least say CJ1K for the seventh straight season—but Willie Colon will need to get healthy and Brian Winters will need to play significantly better as a sophomore. As for the pass protection, let’s just say it’s a good thing both Geno Smith and Michael Vick are mobile… and that the Jets already have a backup plan in place.
26 Arizona Cardinals C C- C+ 1 The Cards were awful—again--last season, but with the signing of free-agent left tackle Jared Vledheer and the return from injury of last year’s first-round pick, left guard Jonathan Cooper, there’s cause from optimism. Arizona will need Bobbie Massie and Earl Watford to win position battles on the left side for this unit to provide much help to Andre Ellington, but at least they should keep Carson Palmer’s blind side reasonably clean.
27 Atlanta Falcons C C- B- 3 Atlanta shook up a formerly solid offensive line last year with predictably disastrous results; they’ll try again with o-line guru Mike Tice coaching and first-round pick Jake Matthews and free agent guard Jon Asamoah on the right side. A healthy Sam Baker at left tackle and a position battle at center should also improve the amount of room Steven Jackson (or Devonte Freeman) has to run while allowing Matt Ryan to scan the field for Julio Jones and Roddy White.
28 New York Giants C C- C 3 Injuries and age decimated the once-proud Giants o-line; rookie Justin Pugh was the only bright spot as Eli Manning was sacked 40 times and the ground game averaged a paltry 3.27 adjusted line yards per carry. Adding guard Geoff Schwartz will help, but the G-Men also need center JD Walton to get and stay healthy (his missed the past two seasons) and left tackle Will Beatty to play up to the fat contract he signed prior to last season. The shorter drops of New York’s new offense will also help, but a bounceback year from Eli hinges on the lay of the line in front of him.
29 Miami Dolphins C- C- C- 1 2013 was a disaster on multiple levels for the Miami o-line; in fact, the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin fiasco was tame compared to how poorly the Dolphins performed on the field. Makes sense, then, that with a new OC and a new blocking scheme the Phins are bringing in four new starters along the line as well. It’ll be a completely fresh start if center Mike Pouncey can’t take the field in Week 1 as he recovers from hip surgery. Expect Bill Lazor’s line to adopt the look of his former team, the Eagles, with athletic linemen pulling and getting to the next level to open holes. Free agents Branden Albert and Shelley Smith fith that mold and will likely comprise the left side, while rookies Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner are expected to take over on the right. Plenty of talent, plenty of athleticism, and eventually this unit could be quite Eagles-esque… but there are bound to be growing pains, which suggests you temper expectations for Ryan Tannehill, Mike Wallace, and Lamar Miller.
30 Kansas City Chiefs D+ C- D 3 The Chiefs were very successful running the ball (second in adjusted line yards per carry) and above average at protecting Alex Smith, but rather than build from that foundation the Chiefs blew up their o-line. Left tackle Brandon Albert and guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah left via free agency, leaving last year’s top pick Eric Fisher and center Rodney Hudson as the grizzled veterans. Fisher struggled on the right side; his move to the left doesn’t bode well for Smith or the KC passing game. Downgrading to journeyman Jeff Linkenbach at guard won’t help Jamaal Charles, either. Could be a painful backslide for the KC offense this year.
31 Oakland Raiders D+ C- D 3 As if it weren’t bad enough the Raiders ranked in the bottom fourth of the league in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate, their best lineman left via free agency. Stefen Wisniewski returns in the middle, but everything around him is changing—and not necessarily for the better, with Bucs’ castoff Donald Penn protecting Matt Schaub’s blind side. Oakland will cross their fingers and hope last year’s second-rounder Menelik Watson can hold up at right tackle, allowing Austin Howard to kick inside where he’ll join third-round rookie Gabe Jackson at guard. It should be a more physical line, which isn’t necessarily bad news for Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, but if Schaub thought he was under duress in Houston last season he’s in for a rude awakening with his new club this time around.
32 Jacksonville Jaguars D+ D C- 1 It’s probably good news that the Jags cleaned house along their o-line, as poorly as they played last season. They’ll start four new faces, including free agent guard Zane Beadles and rookie guard Brandon Linder, and swap 2013 top pick Luke Joeckel from the right side to the left. They can’t help but be better than their predecessors, who surrendered 50-plus sacks for the second straight season while limping to a 3.13 adjusted line yards per carry average. But it’s gonna be a process, which should limit expectations for Toby Gerhart, Cecil Shorts, and… yeah, that’s about it for fantasy material in Jacksonville.

 

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