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2009 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - Summary
John Tuvey
Updated: August 26, 2009
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When you get married, for better or worse, you not only get your significant other but also their family and all the fun that comes along with them.

Drafting “skill position” players for your fantasy team works in much the same way: you draft Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, and/or Brandon Marshall, and for better or worse you get Jeff Saturday, Steve Hutchinson, and/or Ryan Clady along with them.

That’s why more and more fantasy owners are paying attention to what goes on in the trenches. Not to the degree, of course, with which they crunch numbers and project stats for quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. But most fantasy players—at least the successful ones—know that Jason Peters’ move from Buffalo to Philly will impact Donovan McNabb and Marshawn Lynch, that Walter Jones’ health is key to the fantasy prospects of both Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and that before Thomas Jones holds out for more money he should give a chunk of last year’s earnings to Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold as a sign of appreciation.

And so to fill in that vital background information as you decide between Knowshon Moreno and Chris Wells, here’s a look at each offensive line in the league—their strengths, their weaknesses, and what their performance (or lack thereof) might mean for their “skill position” teammates.

These rankings are subjective, so I’m sure you’ll have quibbles. However, with each passing year more and more actual data becomes available to support (or refute) these opinions. In these writeups you’ll find many references to the Football Outsiders, who attempt to quantify just how much of a team’s offensive performance can be directly attributed to line play as opposed to the backs through stats like adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. You’ll also find information the Football Scientist, specifically his work on success at the point of attack.

You’ll also note that among the overall grades there is an inordinate amount of Bs—19, to be precise, as opposed to three As and one D. That doesn’t necessarily adhere to the bell-shaped curve, but I think it accurately reflects how each team’s line will impact its team’s “skill position” players—the real reason for this article.

The chart below provides a quick overview of each line; don’t be afraid to click on the team links for a more in-depth look at each team’s blockers—especially if you’re wavering between a couple backs and want to know what kind of holes each might be afforded to run through.

Enough of the background info; now it’s time to meet the in-laws!

Mv Rank Team Overall Grade Rush Grade Pass Grade Depth Grade Summary
  1 NY Giants A- A B+ A- The Giants' offensive line may have been the most valuable entity in football last year, posting a gaudy 5.3 yards per carry. They're in fine shape for this year, and drafting William Beatty might eventually allow David Diehl to move to guard or right tackle—either of which would be a better fit for his skills.
  2 Denver A- A A- B- Choose your metric, the Broncos' line is dominant. Kyle Orton may not have Jay Cutler's release, but he'll have plenty of time to throw with Ryan Clady watching his blindside. And if all seven Bronco backs averaged better than 4.0 ypc last year, imagine what Knowshon Moreno will do this season.
  3 Carolina B+ A B+ D Carolina built this line to be a mauling run-blocking unit; mission accomplished. The Panthers weren't too shabby in pass protection, either, and all five starters return for a redux. The only concern is that the offseason gutted Carolina's depth, so an injury up front could be devastating.
Down 4 New Orleans B+ B B+ C Left tackle Jamaal Brown underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia, and while he’s expected to be back in time for the start of the regular season that’s a troublesome injury; it cost Donovan McNabb half a season and slowed Jeremy Shockey last season. Suddenly Drew Brees’ blind side is a little less secure.
  5 Atlanta B+ B+ A- C- That Atlanta could run block came as no surprise; that they surrendered just 17 sacks of Matt Ryan after giving up 47 each of the previous two seasons was a stunner. Sam Baker should be healthy enough to reclaim left tackle, but he'll have to play as well as Todd Weiner did last year to keep the job.
  6 San Diego B+ B+ B+ B+ Injuries reduced the Chargers' ground game to merely okay—which, when you have LT, isn't good enough. The Bolts do a great job of keeping Philip Rivers' jersey clean, and if Marcus McNeill's neck and back issues don't flare up again you'll see the LT of old—as opposed to an LT that's getting old.
  7 New England B B+ B B- Injuries to the right side of the offensive line hurt the Pats almost as much as their quarterback going down. With the entire line back—and, oh yeah, that Brady guy too—the sack rate should plummet to pre-Cassel levels. And this is a borderline dominant run-blocking unit even without a true feature back.
  8 Indianapolis B C+ A- B Injuries—specifically the loss of top run blocker Ryan Lilja for the entire season—decimated the Indy running game last year. Jeff Saturday's return, Lilja's health, and improvement from youngsters Tony Ugoh and Mike Pollak should mean a return to form for Indy's line—and maybe even Joseph Addai.
  9 Jacksonville B B+ B- B Their was ruined by injury last season, so Jacksonville took advantage of the opportunity to rebuild by taking tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton in the first two rounds. The Jags have enough depth to not rush the rookies, but if the kids are alright their power running game will be back on track.
  10 Tennessee B B- A- C- You may think of Tennessee as a power team, but their line is actually better suited for the quick strikes of Chris Johnson and keeping Kerry Collin's jersey clean. Everyone is back from last season, so the Titans should be able to impose their will on opponents once again.
Down 11 Philadelphia B B B- C The Eagles’ talented projected starting line hasn’t played a snap together this preseason, and they’re not expected to until Week 1 at the earliest. The right side of the line may not even be ready by then, as Shawn Andrews is battling back spasms and Stacy Andrews is still recovering from knee surgery. Philly does have guys like Max Jean-Gilles and Winston Justice to plug in, but that doesn’t constitute the line they expected to put in front of Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook.
  12 NY Jets B A- B- D Last year's investment in the offensive line paid major dividends, and all five are back for another go-around. A less experienced quarterback might bump the sack total up a bit, but so long as everyone stays healthy Rex Ryan will get the power running game he's looking for.
  13 Baltimore B B B- B Despite the gaudy rushing totals this line isn't as good as you might think... yet. Veteran Matt Birk may no longer play at a Pro Bowl level, but he's good enough and smart enough to solidify the middle of a line that will quite likely field four starters drafted in 2007 or later.
Up 14 Minnesota B A- C+ C So far John Sullivan looks up to the task of replacing Matt Birk at center; having Brett Favre behind him to—in theory, at least—prevent defenses from overloading the line and bringing all kinds of exotic blitzes will help make the line calls easier as well. Phil Loadholt is still a work in progress at right tackle, but he’s a punishing run blocker and the Vikes are used to chipping with the tight end in pass protect anyway.
  15 Cleveland B B- B B A healthier Eric Steinbach and first-round pick Alex Mack shore up the middle of the Browns' line and should give Eric Mangini the power running game he's looking for. Can Mangini's line do for Jamal Lewis this year what his Jets' line did for Thomas Jones last season?
  16 Miami B B- B+ C The Wildcat covered some of the Dolphins' weak spots up front last year. A new center (nasty boy Jake Grove), a new line coach (Dave DeGuglielmo from the Giants), and another year of improvement from Pro Bowler Jake Long should help Miami move the ball better without relying on gimmicks.
  17 Green Bay B B B- B+ The aging of tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton, along with the switch at quarterback, led to a dramatic leap in sacks last season. A draft plan that emphasizes athleticism and versatility should eventually yield replacements; at least it's positioned the Pack to field a pretty good zone-blocking line
  18 Tampa Bay B- B+ C C+ The Bucs' young, aggressive line is perfectly suited for new OC Jeff Jagodzinski's zone blocking scheme. They'd be better with Arron Sears on the field, but Jeremy Zuttah is a solid replacement—though it means Donald Penn returns at left tackle, where he'll have to play better than last year.
  19 Washington B- B+ C D Age caught up to the Redskins' o-line last season; replacing Jon Jansen with Stephon Heyer and the return of Derrick Dockery at least somewhat addresses that issue. Now they need to bank on Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas staying healthy in order to replicate last year's success.
  20 St. Louis B- B C B- The Rams are following the method that worked so well for Cleveland in 2007: signing a big-ticket free agent on the interior and drafting an elite tackle. Steve Spagnuolo's move to a power running game will play well with St. Louis' line, and there's hope in pass protection as well.
  21 Dallas B- B C D The Cowboys sent three o-linemen to Hawaii, but inconsistency and penalties are preventing them from being as dominant as 4.5 yards per carry suggests they can be. The window is closing, as all five starters—even the ones in a rock band—are 30 or older and there is little in place behind them.
Down 22 Seattle C+ B- C+ C The Seahawks couldn’t possibly be as banged up as last year, when all five of their starters finished the year on injured reserve... could they? Left guard Mike Wahle couldn’t make it back from shoulder problems, and future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones’ career may be over. Suddenly the luxury pick of Max Unger becomes a need pick as the Seahawks scramble to plug holes. The good news is, between the zone blocking scheme in the running game and the short passes of the West Coast offense, Seattle should be able to field a competent front wall; however, it’s no longer an area of strength.
  23 Chicago C+ D+ B- B- As befits a team that just traded for a quarterback, the Bears' offensive line is skewed more towards pass protectors than run blockers. In other words, Jay Cutler might be fine if he can find someone to throw to but don't expect Matt Forte to improve on his 3.9 yards per carry from last season.
  24 Houston C B C- D Steve Slaton is the perfect back for Alex Gibbs' zone blocking scheme, which the Texans nailed last season. However, tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston need to do a much better job of protecting injury-prone quarterback Matt Schaub if Houston is to take the next step in the AFC South.
  25 Cincinnati C B- C- B- The line collapsed without Carson Palmer last season, but if first-round pick Andre Smith gets to camp in time the Bengals will have a unit well suited to give Marvin Lewis the power running game he's hoping for. Cincy has a decent fallback plan in Anthony Collins, but he's not the run blocker Smith is.
  26 Pittsburgh C- B- D+ C- Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' defense covered for an abysmal offensive line last season, all the way to a Super Bowl title. But how many more 50-sack seasons can Big Ben absorb? Despite a very non-Steelers-like 3.8 yards per carry last year, essentially the same group returns.
  27 Arizona C- D B B This is a sub-par run-blocking unit that seems to keep Kurt Warner upright despite the play of its tackles rather than because of them. Russ Grimm gets essentially the same group to work with; let's see what he can pull out of his fanny pack this year to open holes for Chris Wells and keep Warner healthy.
  28 Oakland C- C+ C- C- Tom Cable's hiring may be the smartest move Al Davis has ever made. The Raiders' zone blocking scheme has produced a top-10 ground game and 4.2 yards per carry since Cable arrived. And with new tackles Mario Henderson and Khalif Barnes, there's renewed hope JaMarcus Russell will stay upright.
  29 San Francisco C- C+ D C+ Mike Singletary wants to run the ball, and with the addition of Marvel Smith at right tackle the Niners might actually be pretty good at moving folks off the ball. That improvement, however, doesn't address the pass protection concerns for a team that allowed 55 sacks two straight seasons.
  30 Buffalo C- C- C- C- Despite trading Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters in the offseason, the Bills' rebuilt line might actually be better than last year's group. Rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre need to get signed and in camp to make it happen, but with 680 pounds of offensive tackle Buffalo should be able to run the ball.
  31 Kansas City C- C- C- D+ The Chiefs' modified spread offense covered up some o-line issues last year, but with Branden Albert as a building block at least there's hope. If Brian Waters holds out, however, Matt Cassel may be looking at an increase over the 47 sacks he absorbed last season in New England.
  32 Detroit D+ D+ D C+ The Lions went 0-for-the-year and finished in the bottom five in the league in sacks, running back yards, and yards per carry. So of course four of the five starters are back. Do they really want to put the $72 million man behind a line that's allowed 169 sacks the past three seasons?

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