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The 2007 Ultimate Extreme Offensive Line Preview Spectacular - AFC North
Michael Courter
July 30, 2007
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Be it on the gridiron or in the world of fantasy football, the offensive line remains, the facilitator, the enabler, the critical piece, that allows their respective teams’ skill position glory hounds the opportunity to thrill crowds, make game-breaking plays, and win championships, both real and fantasy.  The O-line is the is the collective keys to the end zone kingdom, without it’s engine running properly, an offensive unit cannot reach destination end zone on time, or at all, making the thankless five man unit, even in the points-driven world of fantasy football, arguably the most critical piece of the equation.

The 2007 Ultimate Extreme Offensive line Spectacular will provide a breakdown of each team’s offensive line and let you know who’s improved, stayed the same, or possibly gotten worse from last season, and the reasons why, so that you can be armed with this knowledge heading into your draft, and rate your QB, RB and WR positions accordingly.  A numerical grade provided at the end of each team analysis will rate each line on a scale of one to ten, with one being the lowest (Texans O-line in David Carr’s rookie year) and 10 the high mark (KC Chiefs during Priest Holmes’ prime).

Baltimore Ravens

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 35 13 2063 128.9 9 4.2 15
2005 42 22 1605 100.3 21 3.6 26
2006 17 2 1637 102.3 25 3.4 31

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 E.Brooks E.Mulitalo C.Rabach B.Anderson O.Brown J. Ogden    
2005 J.Ogden E.Mulitalo M.Flynn K.Vincent O.Brown J. Ogden    
2006 J.Ogden E. Mulitalo M.Flynn K.Vincent T.Pashos J. Ogden    
2007  J.Ogden B.Grubbs M.Flynn K.Vincent Terry/Yanda      

With perennial Pro Bowl LT Jonathan Ogden sidelined indefinitely since last December 17th after hyper-extending the big toe on his left foot against Cleveland, an injury that had one of the game’s all-time great left tackles seriously considering hanging up his size 18 cleats this past off season, and the release of dependable, but injury-prone OG Edwin Mulitalo, plus the loss of RT Tony Pashos (UFA-Jacksonville), the Ravens had some work to do heading into the 2007 NFL Draft, and the crosshairs were aimed directly at the offensive line.  Baltimore wasted little time, selecting OG Ben Grubbs from Auburn with the 29th overall pick in the first round.  An athlete trapped in a mauler’s body, Grubbs played defensive line and tight end for the Tigers before taking over the left guard spot for the last 32 games of his college career.  The 6-3, 320 pound former high school fullback/outside linebacker is expected to takeover the left guard spot, pushing Jason Brown back to a reserve role.  With their second pick of the third round, the Ravens chose former Iowa right tackle Marshall Yanda (6-4, 304) with the 86th overall pick, and Yanda will immediately compete with 2005 second round pick OT Adam Terry for the vacated starting right tackle assignment.  Should he not win the RT job from Terry, Yanda’s ability to play multiple positions along the offensive line, a skill set he displayed successfully as a  Hawkeye, will provide him with additional opportunities for playing time in his rookie season.

After a strong start to 2006, this unit was bedraggled by injuries, primarily to the left power side (Ogden and Mulitalo), which was exposed by the Colts defensive linemen in Baltimore’s playoff loss to Indianapolis last season.  The team’s 25th ranked rushing offense was also a product of the continued decline of veteran running back Jamal Lewis, who clearly had lost several steps from the high water mark of his career in 2003, when he was voted A.P. Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for a league-leading 2,066 yards, due to numerous knee and ankle injuries combined with a brief prison stint and league suspension.  After releasing Lewis in the off-season, the Ravens made their one major move this Spring by upgrading the running back position with the acquisition of Willis McGahee in a trade with the Buffalo Bills.  The addition of the faster, and more productive McGahee, who will carry a Buffalo-sized chip on his shoulder into Baltimore, is expected to rejuvenate the Ravens ground game at a time when the team feels it has also bolstered their offensive line with youthful, talented reinforcements in the form of this year’s draft picks (Grubbs and Yanda), as well as Chris Chester, Jason Brown and Adam Terry, none of whom have more than three years NFL experience.

GRADE: 6.5 - Much needed youth movement underway in Billickville. The addition of 2007 fifth round Supplemental Draft pick OT Jared Gaither (6-9, 345) out of the University of Maryland helps fortify the depth that was hurt by Adam Terry moving into the starting lineup.  And McGahee will make this line look better than it really against the right opponent in 2007, but Ogden’s nagging toe will be a sore spot all season and there are many new, and young, players to assimilate into the mix, creating chemistry issues that won’t be resolved until the latter part of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 31 7 1839 114.9 17 4.2 16
2005 21 2 1910 119.4 11 4.2 10
2006 36 19 1629 101.8 26 3.7 26

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 L.Jones Lar.Moore R.Braham B.Williams W.Anderson W. Anderson    
2005 L.Jones E.Steinbach R.Braham Bo.Williams W.Anderson W. Anderson    
2006 L.Jones E.Steinbach R.Braham B.Williams W.Anderson W. Anderson E.Steinbach L.Jones
2007 L.Jones  A.Whitworth  E. Ghiaciuc  B.Williams  W.Anderson       

Free agency and retirement took a bite out of the Bengals starting offensive line from last season, as longtime center Rich Braham waved goodbye to the game at the end of the 2006 campaign, and top veteran OG Eric Steinbach, twice named a Pro Bowl alternate who has occasionally subbed at left tackle, was lured to cross-state rival Cleveland with a seven year, $49.5 million pact.  Cincinnati feels good about the competition at center, with third year holdover Eric Ghiaciuc slightly ahead of former Arizona Cardinals starter Alex Stepanovich.  The Bengals felt good enough about second year guard Andrew Whitworth and his 12 starts as a rookie last season (two, as a left guard and 10 at left tackle) to let the highly regarded Steinbach take the free agent walk to northeast Ohio and veteran OG Stacy Andrews (6-7, 342) was re-signed to a one year deal.  Rookie OG Dan Santucci from Notre Dame was tabbed in the seventh round of this year’s draft to provide depth at both guard spots.

GRADE: 8.0 - The core of this line remains intact with talented bookend tackles Levi Jones and Willie Anderson as the headliners and promising Andrew Whitworth, a 6-7, 340 pound space-eater with a nasty streak, to pick up where the departed Eric Steinbach left off.  Expect a big year from this group, especially with Carson Palmer now two years removed from the devastating knee injury against the Steelers in the 2005 playoffs.

Cleveland Browns

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 41 22 1657 103.6 23 3.8 25
2005 45 26 1503 93.9 25 3.8 22
2006 54 30 1335 83.4 31 3.6 29

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 R.Verba P.Zukauskas J.Faine K.Garmon R.Tucker      
2005 L.Jones E.Steinhach R.Braham B.Williams W.Anderson      
2006 K.Shaffer J.Andruzzi H.Fraley C.Coleman R.Tucker      
2007 J.Thomas  E.Steinbach  H.Fraley  S.McKinney  K.Shaffer       

On paper, the Cleveland Browns have one of the most improved front lines in the league this season.  The drafting of OT Joe Thomas from Wisconsin with the third overall selection in the 2007 Draft was absolutely the right thing to do and gave sad-sack Browns fans something to cheer about right away.  Thomas is the ideal left tackle, big, fast, smart and strong and will be the barbarian at the gate for all defensive ends seeking to do franchise QB Brady Quinn harm.  The acquisition of Thomas, created a further value ripple by affording the Browns the flexibility to move veteran tackle Kevin Shaffer to the right side, bumping oft-injured Ryan Tucker to a reserve role.

The Browns paid dearly for the prize of this year’s OL free agent class, inking one of the top left guards in the business, Cincinnati Bengals OG Eric Steinbach, to a seven year, $49.5 million contract.  The move, widely justified in league circles, locks down the left guard spot with a two-time Pro Bowler and allows Cleveland to start another 2007 free agent acquisition Seth McKinney (Miami) at the right guard assignment.  Reliable former Philadelphia Eagle Hank Fraley will continue to man the starting center role, as 2006’s big free agent splash, LeCharles Bentley, enters year two of his slow and painful road back from a horrific patellar tendon injury suffered in his first mini camp as a Cleveland Brown.  OG Fred Matua, C/G Lennie Friedman and OG Isaac Sowells provide the primary depth on the interior of the line, while veterans Ryan Tucker and Nat Dorsey round out the offensive tackle depth.

GRADE: 6.5 - The Browns would have graded a 4.0 in 2006, so this grade reflects the significant strides they have made the drafting of Thomas and the free agent acquisition of left guard Eric Steinbach.  Those two moves not only improved the starting five unit, but supplied the Browns with functional offensive line depth for the first time in years.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 36 15 2464 154 2 4 19
2005 32 17 2223 138.9 5 4 12
2006 49 28 1992 124.5 10 4.2 12

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 M.Smith A.Faneca J.Hartings K.Vincent O.Ross A. Faneca J. Hartings M. Smith
2005 M.Smith A.Faneca J.Hartings K.Simmons M.Starks A. Faneca J. Hartings  
2006 M.Smith A.Faneca J.Hartings K.Simmons M.Starks A. Faneca    
2007 M.Smith  A.Faneca S.Mahan K.Simmons M.Starks      

On the surface, there appears to be only one likely change to occur within the starting five spots, at the center position, where the Steelers have had only three players man the position since 1977 (Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and the recently-retired Jeff Hartings.  Pittsburgh, based in part by new head coach Mike Tomlin’s familiarity with him from their shared days in Tampa Bay, signed former Buccaneers guard-center Sean Mahan, a fifth year veteran from Notre Dame, to a five-year, $17 million deal, to continue the proud Pittsburgh legacy at the center spot.  Mahan is considered a smart, proficient, scheme-executor who is a technique perfectionist.  Reserve holdover Chukky Okobi has been taking first team snaps at center during the recent mini-camp, but will most likely be released sometime later this Summer when rosters are pared down, due to what’s considered a high salary for a backup offensive lineman ($2million).

The depth group behind the starting unit has been playing positional musical chairs in mini-camp, with Chris Kemoatu taking reps in place of disgruntled Pro Bowler Alan Faneca, who is angry that the Steelers have left him hanging without a contract extension (he is in the final year of his contract) and have thus far rebuffed his numerous trade demands about his current contract status.  Kemoatu will also be competing for Kendall Simmons right guard spot and Willie Colon (6-3, 315) will take a run at incumbent Max Starks starting right tackle job, though it is Starks job to lose.  Pittsburgh added OG Cameron Stephenson (6-3, 306) from Rutgers in the fifth round of the 2007 Draft in an effort to bolster their interior line depth and increase the competition for the center and guard spots.

GRADE: 7.0 - By far the best lineman on the team, and one of the best at his position in the league, the developing situation with an angry Alan Faneca will hurt this unit, whether he leaves via a trade or stays and becomes a locker room malcontent through his final campaign in the Steel City.  The free agent addition of the versatile Mahan was a smart one, but several positions on this line will not be settled until the conclusion of mini-camp, creating likely continuity issues early in the regular season.

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West Summary

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