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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Off Tackle: Week 6
John Tuvey
October 12, 2011
 

Last week we revisited the top half of the final preseason offensive line rankings; this week, we look at the bottom half and find out who’s been playing well and who’s still stuck in the basement.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
PREVIOUS RANK: 17; REVISED RANK: 20

This unit still needs a ton of work, but center John Sullivan is playing much better and Steve Hutchinson has halted the dramatic dropoff his play had taken over the past couple of seasons. They’re run blocking better, which is key for a team that just locked up Adrian Peterson. The Vikings still need help in pass protection—they rank 30th in the New York Life Protection Index—but they should secure a high enough draft position to land Matt Kalil.

DETROIT LIONS
PREVIOUS RANK: 18; REVISED RANK: 19

Call them the new Colts: Much like Peyton Manning in Indy, Matthew Stafford’s quick release masks the flaws of this line. They’re still not much of a run-blocking unit, either, but Jahvid Best can get outside fast enough so that’s not a major issue, either. Hey, it worked for the Colts for quite some time, why not for Detroit?

GREEN BAY PACKERS
PREVIOUS RANK: 20; REVISED RANK: 9

Many of their metrics are middle-of-the-road, but considering where the Packers were two years ago that’s a definite upgrade. More importantly, despite an array of injuries Green Bay has not only kept Aaron Rodgers upright they’ve also opened enough holes in the running game to keep defenses honest. I’d call out Josh Sitton as one of the most underrated linemen in the league, but Scott Wells and T.J. Lang are playing just as well.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
PREVIOUS RANK: 20; REVISED RANK: 30

It’s been an unmitigated disaster; now we can appreciate in yet another way just how much Indy misses Peyton Manning. Worse, injuries are preventing the Colts from getting top draft picks Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana experience for the return of Manning in 2012.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
PREVIOUS RANK: 21; REVISED RANK: 24

Perhaps the best signing during Philly’s eventful offseason turned out to be journeyman Evan Mathis, who has been the team’s top lineman thus far. Ryan Harris will miss the season, Jason Peters is out, Danny Watkins got benched… it all adds up to Michael Vick taking plenty of hits; if you saw the Buffalo game, three of his four INTs were a direct result of poor pass protection. On the bright side, the run blocking has been better.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
PREVIOUS RANK: 22; REVISED RANK: 17

Considering they were both high draft picks, tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton have been disappointing; by now the Jags were hoping to have bookends in place to protect franchise quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The run blocking could be better as well. In short, the line play is much like the franchise itself: meh.

OAKLAND RAIDERS
PREVIOUS RANK: 23; REVISED RANK: 15

Oakland’s line play has been significantly better than expected, especially when you consider how young this line is. Jared Veldheer is holding up extremely well at left tackle, and guard Stefen Wisniewski is following in the footsteps of his uncle, a former Raider great himself. This is a physical group, one that enjoys busting open holes for the running game and consistently provides enough time for Oakland’s beloved vertical passing game.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
PREVIOUS RANK: 24; REVISED RANK: 23

This is another line with high picks invested that has yet to yield returns. The only Niner to rank in the top half of the league at their position according to Pro Football Focus grading is center Jonathan Goodwin, whom the team imported from New Orleans. The run blocking has been better of late; not coincidentally, Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have put up better numbers.

DENVER BRONCOS
PREVIOUS RANK: 25; REVISED RANK: 27

The run blocking has been atrocious; must be driving John Fox crazy. The pass protection has been a little better, but the running of Tim Tebow isn’t going to put a positive spin on their sack numbers. If Fox is rebuilding the Broncos from the inside out, he’ll need to take a mulligan on this season—or hope J.D. Walton, Zane Beadles, and Orlando Franklin take some major steps the rest of the way.

MIAMI DOLPHINS
PREVIOUS RANK: 26; REVISED RANK: 28

Mike Pouncey has been as good as advertised, but the rest of the Miami line—including Jake Long—have not played up to his level. The Dolphins’ run blocking has been better and should help Daniel Thomas carve out a solid rookie season, but they’ll do Matt Moore no favors.

CHICAGO BEARS
PREVIOUS RANK: 27; REVISED RANK: 29

You saw Jay Cutler running for his life on Monday night, so it should come as no surprise that the Bears have taken over last place in the New York Life Protection Index. There were times Monday night that things seemed to click, but there is still plenty of work for Mike Tice to do. Getting a healthy Gabe Carimi back in the mix would be a positive step.

BUFFALO BILLS
PREVIOUS RANK: 28: REVISED RANK: 12

Why is Fred Jackson a top-10 fantasy back? Because the Bills’ offensive line ranks first in power success, third in second level blocking, and fourth in open field blocking according to Football Outsiders. How has Ryan Fitzpatrick made a bevy of Buffalo receivers fantasy-worthy? Thanks to a line that ranks third in the New York Life Protection Index and second in pass blocking success according to Pro Football Focus. The interior of Eric Wood, Andy Levitre, and Kraig Urbik has been even better than anticipated, but the real step up has come from left tackle Demitrius Bell.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS
PREVIOUS RANK: 29; REVISED RANK: 16

A second season in Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking system, and it’s starting to stick in Washington. The pass blocking has been adequate, but where this group is really excelling is at the point of attack (second in power success, according to Football Outsiders) and, not surprisingly, at the second level (sixth in FO’s rankings). So whomever Shanny opts to plug into the backfield is bound for success. And rest assured, Shanny will run through all his backs.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
PREVIOUS RANK: 30; REVISED RANK: 32

If Pittsburgh had played the rest of the season like they did Sunday against the Titans they probably wouldn’t have plummeted to the bottom of the rankings; maybe all it took was the return of Max Starks. There’s still plenty of room for improvement—consistency would be nice, and some run-blocking metrics that ranked in the top half of the league—but for the moment the Steelers seem pointed in the right direction.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
PREVIOUS RANK: 31; REVISED RANK: 31

The good news is, Max Unger has played very well at center and guard Paul McQuistan has filled in admirably. The bad news is just about everything else, starting with first-round flop James Carpenter. Marshawn Lynch hasn’t had room, Tarvaris Jackson hasn’t had time… but at least the line is young and there’s hope they can improve.

ARIZONA CARDINALS
PREVIOUS RANK: 32; REVISED RANK: 22

The Cards still sport perhaps the worst tackle tandem in football, which may explain why the Kevin Kolb-to-Larry Fitzgerald combo hasn’t taken off. But behind the vastly improved play of Rex Hadnot the interior run blocking has been a major reason Beanie Wells is off to the best start of his career. Can it hold up? Don’t hold your breath.


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