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The 2007 Ultimate Extreme Offensive Line Preview Spectacular - NFC West
Michael Courter
July 30, 2007
AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West Summary

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).

Arizona Cardinals

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 39 20 1668 104.2 22 3.5 30
2005 45 24 1138 71.1 32 3.2 32
2006 35 17 1338 83.6 30 3.2 32

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 L.Davis R.Wells A.Stepanovich C.Spikes A.Clement      
2005 L.Davis R.Wells S.Lynch O.Ross E.Brown      
2006 L.Davis R.Wells A.Stepanovich Mi.Brown C.Liwienski      
2007 M.Gandy  R.Wells  Al Johnson  D. Lutui  Levi Brown       

The addition of former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach and ex-member of the famed Washington Redskins “Hogs” offensive line of the 1980’s, Russ Grimm as their new offensive line coach and the No. 5 overall pick of the 2007 Draft, 6-5, 323 pound OT Levi Brown (Penn State) are two big steps in the right direction for a Cardinals offensive line that has consistently ranked among the bottom third in the NFL for the past several seasons.  A physical road grader, Brown is slated to become the poster child of the new, aggressive, smash-mouth philosophy being infused into the Cardinals by Grimm, in his efforts to duplicate the elite offensive line play he oversaw in his six seasons in Pittsburgh. The rookie from Penn State will move from his college position of left tackle to the right side for Arizona, the most critical spot on the Cardinals offensive line, to protect lefty franchise quarterback Matt Leinart’s blindside.

The arrival of the rookie Brown at the right tackle spot pushed Reggie Wells back inside to left guard, forcing last season’s big money, free agent acquisition, OG Milford Brown, to the bench and later, the waiver wire, after he refused to take a pay cut.  Unrestricted free agent imports, OT Mike Gandy (BUF) and C Al Johnson (Cowboys), will fill the left tackle and center spots, respectively, with powerful second year guard, Deuce Lutui, pairing his 6-4, 338 pound frame with Brown’s 320+ girth to create a formidable right side of the line for Edgerrin James to find wider running lanes.  

New head coach Ken Whisenhunt, with the hiring of Grimm, and the drafting of Brown in the 1st round, has made it clear that the Cardinals will improve upon their woeful rushing attack in 2006, ranked 30th in the league with an average of 83.6 yards per game, 3.2 yards per carry and a league-worst zero runs of over 20 yards.  That being said, with an expected rookie learning curve for Levi Brown, and a cast of new faces that will need time to form a productive chemistry, there’s a substantial hill for the Cardinals offensive line to climb before showing signs of true progress, probably over the last six games of the regular season.

GRADE: 4.5 - The path to respectability starts this season under Russ Grimm, but the journey ahead will be long and head uphill.

San Francisco 49ers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 52 29 1449 90.6 30 3.5 31
2005 48 28 1689 105.6 17 3.9 17
2006 35 18 2172 135.8 6 4.9 4

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 K.Harris E.Heitmann J.Newberry K.Kosier S.Gragg      
2005 J.Jennings J.Smiley J.Newberry E.Heitmann K.Harris      
2006 J.Jennings L.Allen E.Heitmann J.Smiley K.Harris L. Allen    
2007 J.Jennings  L.Allen E.Heitmann J.Smiley K.Harris      

This is an upward-trending unit that reflects the overall, positive direction of the current 49ers team in general, returning all five starters from last season’s emerging offensive unit, complemented by a talented, young fantasy core of RB Frank Gore, QB Alex Smith and TE Vernon Davis.  San Francisco has shrewdly added key depth pieces in the last few seasons to ensure a smooth transition for their offensive line, highlighted by 2007 first round pick OT Joe Staley from Central Michigan (28th overall).  Staley has been given an inordinate number of snaps in their recent mini-camp with the first team at right tackle, and it is widely believed that 49ers brass, who have been noticeably slow with offering a contract extension to incumbent RT Kwame Harris, are secretly hoping Staley will wrest the starting nod from Harris in this August.  San Francisco has faith in promising third year OG Adam Snyder (6-6, 326) should 36-year old Larry Allen decide end his certain Hall-of-Fame career, and Justin Smiley, another veteran in the last year of his contract, will be looking over his shoulder at David Baas, another third-year player who has waited patiently for his chance to shine in the starting lineup.  Reliable Eric Heitman returns to lead the line at center after suffering a broken leg late last season, but the Niners would really like to see talented LT Jonas Jennings be able to stay on the field consistently, after missing all or parts of 20 games over the last two seasons.

GRADE: 7.0 - San Francisco has built an impressive layer of depth to support a talented starting five, which should not only increase the competition during training camp at numerous spots, but provide the insurance that the offense won’t bog down at the end of the year, during the critical fantasy playoff weeks, due to offensive line injuries. As the 49ers young skill position stars begin to hit their prime, this offensive line has the potential to improve this grade as the season moves forward.

Seattle Seahawks

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 34 12 2095 130.9 8 4.5 5
2005 27 6 2457 153.6 3 4.7 3
2006 49 29 1923 120.2 14 4 16

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 W.Jones S.Hutchinson R.Tobeck C.Gray C.Terry W. Jones    
2005 W.Jones S.Hutchinson R.Tobeck C.Gray S.Locklear W. Jones S. Hutchinson R. Tobeck
2006 W.Jones F.Womack R.Tobeck C.Gray S.Locklear W. Jones    
2007 W.Jones  R.Sims C.Spencer C.Gray S.Locklear      

Shaun Alexander’s precipitous fall in 2006, mirrored the collapse of this unit, which just two short seasons ago had become one of the top offensive lines in the game. Obvious starting point of the decline was the departure of top guard Steve Hutchinson (Minnesota) via free agency, but few NFL observers figured on perennial Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones giving up a surprising 10 sacks last year, though he was forced to play with nagging injuries throughout 2006.  The weak spot on this line is the guard positions, which will be manned at the start of the 2007 Training camp by unproven second-year man Rob Sims (6-3, 312) and aptly named OG Chris Gray, a long-in-the-tooth 15-year veteran looking to squeeze out one more season.  Third-year center Chris Spencer, a stud in the making, and RT Sean Locklear, are the future building blocks of this unit. 

Hampered by veteran OG Floyd Womack’s inability to stay healthy (he recently underwent two arthroscopic knee surgeries in June forcing him to miss the entire mini-camp), the Seahawks are hoping they have addressed their glaring interior depth issue with the selection of Georgia Tech OG Mansfield Wrotto (6-3, 316) in the fourth round and OG Steve Vallos (6-3, 305) in the seventh round of the 2007 Draft.

GRADE: 6.5 - Hawks must have LT Walter Jones return to his elite form in 2007 to keep this offense afloat.  Thin depth at both tackle spots and at center could prove costly for Shaun Alexander owners once again.

St. Louis Rams

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 50 27 1624 101.5 26 4.3 13
2005 46 27 1535 95.9 22 4 15
2006 49 27 1805 112.8 17 4.3 10

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 O.Pace C.Dishman A.McCollum A.Timmerman G.Williams O. Pace    
2005 O.Pace T.Nutten A.McCollum A.Timmerman R.Tucker O. Pace    
2006 O.Pace R.Incognito A.McCollum A.Timmerman A.Barron      
2007 O.Pace M.Setterstrom A.McCollum R.Incognito A.Barron      

The Rams are hoping 32-year old LT Orlando Pace can shake the torn triceps blues of 2006, which forced him to miss eight games last season.  The 11-year vet was limited in this year’s mini-camp but is cleared for full participation when training camp starts.  Right tackle Alex Barron holds great promise after three years in the league, but is still plagued by too many false start penalties.  Cagey, 14-year vet Andy McCollum will defy the Rams recent youth movement along the offensive line for another season as the starting center, but will be pushed by backup Brett Romberg and 2007 fifth round pick Dustin Fry out of Clemson.  Young guards Mark Setterstrom and nasty, versatile Richie Incognito are the face of the aforementioned youth movement, and there pleasantly-surprising emergence last year helped keep Rams offense afloat when injuries took their toll.

GRADE: 6.5 - New St. Louis offensive line coach Paul Boudreau would do well to repeat last year’s surprisingly effective juggling act should Orlando Pace suffer another extensive absence due to injury.  Journeyman OT Todd Steussie is listed as the backup at both tackle spots, and that does not inspire a lot of confidence.  Rams took a flier in the sixth round of 2007 Draft on Georgia offensive tackle Ken Shackleford (6-5, 322), but fifth year utility man Adam Goldberg (6-7, 310) will serve as a valuable go-to guy, having started 12 games at tackle with the Vikings in 2005.

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

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