Offensive Line Review & Ratings

Offensive Line Review & Ratings

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Offensive Line Review & Ratings

Part of the genesis of fantasy football was the desire of fans to be owners—Joe Average becomes Jerry Jones. And this article will help you live that dream.

How’s that?

Jones obviously understands the importance of offensive line play. What other possible rationale would there be for the Cowboys investing three first-round picks in his offensive line, then letting the NFL’s leading rusher leave via free agency while banking on Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden to replicate that success?

These rankings, and the team-by-team capsules that follow, are designed to help you unleash your inner Jerry. By understanding the big fellas up front you’ll have a better grasp of what LeSean McCoy’s move to Buffalo means for his stats, why both Tom Brady and Derek Carr don’t go deep that often, and what top fantasy rookies like Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and Jameis Winston are up against—or stuck behind, as it were.

While the trove of metrics and statistical data measuring offensive line play continues to grow, keep in mind these rankings are subjective. They take into account past performance, continuity, scheme, and personnel as well as the data available from sources such as Football Outsiders (FO) and Pro Football Focus (PFF). Also noted is the predominant running game scheme each team uses—though every NFL team employs both man and zone concepts to varying degrees.

Among the stats referenced include the following:

  • 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
1 Cincinnati Bengals A A- A 5
2 Dallas Cowboys A- A A- 4
3 Baltimore Ravens A- A B+ 5
4 Philadelphia Eagles B+ B A- 3
5 Pittsburgh Steelers B+ A- B- 5
6 New Orleans Saints B+ B+ B 3
7 Green Bay Packers B B B 5
8 New England Patriots B B+ B- 4
9 Cleveland Browns B B- B 5
10 Minnesota Vikings B- B+ C+ 4
11 Seattle Seahawks B- B+ C- 4
12 Denver Broncos B- B- C+ 1
13 Miami Dolphins B- B- C+ 3
14 Houston Texans C+ C+ B- 4
15 Arizona Cardinals C+ C+ C+ 3
16 New York Jets C+ B- C- 4
17 San Francisco 49ers C B D+ 3
18 Indianapolis Colts C D+ B- 3
19 Carolina Panthers C- B- D+ 4
20 Tennessee Titans C- B- D+ 4
21 Detroit Lions C- C- C 4
22 New York Giants C- C- C 3
23 Washington Redskins C- B- D 3
24 San Diego Chargers C- C- C- 4
25 Atlanta Falcons C- C- C- 4
26 Buffalo Bills C- C- C- 3
27 Chicago Bears C- C- C- 4
28 Jacksonville Jaguars C- C- C- 3
29 Kansas City Chiefs C- C- D+ 2
30 Oakland Raiders C- D+ C- 4
31 St. Louis Rams D+ D+ D+ 2
32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers D D+ D 3

ARIZONA CARDINALS

(Man/Power) Give the Cardinals credit, they recognized a weakness and invested in it. Over the past three years Arizona has invested almost $100 million in their offensive line, spending first-round picks on Jonathan Cooper and D.J. Humphries and signing big ticket free agents Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati. The good news is things can only go up after a league-worst 3.3 yards per carry last season as Iupati can be a dominant run blocker. If Arizona rushes Humphries into the starting lineup it will come at the expense of Bobby Massie, who they ran behind 18 percent of the time last year. The Cardinals added David Johnson to their backfield mix, but neither he nor Andre Ellington are power runners truly capable of taking advantage of Iupati. Also worth noting: last year Arizona backs ranked near the bottom of the league in second level and open field yards (Football Outsider metrics), meaning even when Ellington and company were getting into space they weren’t doing much. Iupati has not been good in pass protection, but lining up next to Veldheer—who allowed only one sack last season—should help. The weak link in this line appears to be at center, where A.Q. Shipley is expected to beat out Ted Larsen in the battle to replace Lyle Sendlein.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT  Jared Veldheer
LG  Mike Iupati
C  A.Q. Shipley
RG  Jonathan Cooper
RT  Bobby Massie




GRADES
Run:
C+
Pass: C+
Overall:
C+

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ATLANTA FALCONS

(Stretch Zone) While the Falcons aren’t completely cleaning house along their offensive line, the shift in philosophy—from the power game in front of Steven Jackson to Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking system—does mean a learning curve. Injuries forced Atlanta to throw Jake Matthews into the fire at left tackle last season, and the results weren’t pretty; the hope is that he’ll perform significantly better in Year Two. Those same injuries revealed a legitimate right tackle in Ryan Schraeder, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second-best right tackle in pass blocking efficiency. The Falcons had success running the ball up the middle last year, but in a different scheme than they will use in 2015. Chris Chester replaces Justin Blalock, in no small part because of his familiarity in the zone scheme under Shanahan in Washington.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Jake Matthews
LG   Chris Chester
C   Joe Hawley
RG   Jon Asamoah
RT   Ryan Schraeder




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: C-
Overall:
C-

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BALTIMORE RAVENS

(Zone) Baltimore brings in a new offensive coordinator in Marc Trestman but returns all five offensive linemen, and Trestman has indicated he won’t tinker with the success of a ground game anchored by one of the best guards in the game in Marshal Yanda. The Ravens were a surprising 28th in short-yardage situations according to Football Outsiders, but once Justin Forsett reached the open field he was lights out as Baltimore ranked third in second-level yardage and first in open field yards. The Ravens’ pass blocking was equally as good as they surrendered the second-fewest sacks in the league. Yanda is the line’s elder statesman at 30 years old; with Euguene Monroe another year removed from knee surgery and Ricky Wagner—Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked right tackle in pass blocking efficiency—emerging, the Ravens will sport an elite front line for the foreseeable future.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Eugene Monroe
LG   Kelechi Osemele
C   Jeremy Zuttah
RG   Marshal Yanda
RT   Ricky Wagner




GRADES
Run:
A
Pass: B+
Overall:
A-

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BUFFALO BILLS

(Man/Power) When Rex Ryan ran the Ground ’N’ Pound in New York he had the offensive line to do so; in Buffalo, he inherits a group that underachieved mightily last season. No team ran outside less frequently than the Bills, and no team did so less effectively: Buffalo averaged 1.99 yards around the left side and 1.65 yards around right end, according to Football Outsiders. The Bills hope two new guards, infamous ex-Dolphin Richie Incognito and third-round pick John Miller, provide room for LeSean McCoy. They’ll be pushed—maybe—by much-traveled former first-rounder Chris Williams and sophomore Cyril Richardson. Eric Wood is a couple seasons removed from being one of the better centers in the league; perhaps the upgrades at guard will help him return to form. Cordy Glenn and Seantrel Henderson should man the tackle spots again, though which side each plays depends in no small part on Henderson’s ability to stay focused and out of the off-field issues that torpedoed his draft stock.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Cordy Glenn
LG   John Miller (rookie)
C   Eric Wood
RG   Richie Incognito
RT   Seantrel Henderson




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: C-
Overall:
C-

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CAROLINA PANTHERS

(Inside Zone) The Panthers managed to avoid disaster last season despite losing two key starters to retirement; they ran the ball reasonably well and Cam Newton’s athleticism kept the pass blocking stats from looking too abysmal. However, the Panthers’ version of upgrading in the offseason was to bring in Michael Oher, who hasn’t been effective since his rookie campaign. Mike Remmers, with his fifth team in four NFL seasons, and fourth-round pick Daryl Williams will compete for the right tackle spot. The interior of the group provides optimism, with stalwart Ryan Kalil at center, the developing Trai Turner at right guard and undrafted free agent find Andrew Norwell on the left side. With that group on the field for the final month of the season the Panthers rushed for more yards than any other team… so we’re sayin’ there’s a chance.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Michael Oher
LG   Andrew Norwell
C   Ryan Kalil
RG   Trai Turner
RT   Mike Remmers




GRADES
Run:
B-
Pass: D+
Overall:
C-

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CHICAGO BEARS

(Man/Power) The Bears have a stud in Kyle Long; now they need to figure out where to play him. The easy answer is right guard, but Chicago’s tackle play last season was so bad Long worked at both left and right tackles during OTAs and he may wind up outside. John Fox offenses stress power at the edge, and the play of Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills last year won’t cut it with the new regime. Fox brought center Will Montgomery with him from Denver, and his experience should give him the edge. However, if Long does kick outside third-round pick Hroniss Grasu could slide into one of the guard positions—or the Bears could turn to journeyman Vladimir Ducasse, who took first-team snaps at Long’s right guard spot during OTAs. A healthy season from left guard Matt Slauson would also help matters. While the Bears’ offensive line play has improved over the past few seasons, with this group the ceiling is “mediocre”.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Jermon Bushrod
LG   Matt Slauson
C   Will Montgomery
RG   Kyle Long
RT   Jordan Mills




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: C-
Overall:
C-

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CINCINNATI BENGALS

(Man/Power) The Bengals continue to field one of the league’s better lines; it helps when you can plug Andrew Whitworth into either a guard or tackle slot and still receive elite production. Last season it was tackle, where Whitworth graded out as the top tackle in pass blocking efficiency—and second overall—according to Pro Football Focus. And the rich get richer, as Cincy spent its first two draft picks on quality offensive tackles. Cedric Ogbuehi may not be ready to contribute this season, but with Whitworth at left tackle there’s no need to rush. Andre Smith is a standout run blocker on the right side—the team ranked second in yards per carry off the right side, according to Football Outsiders—so Jake Fisher should get a year to acclimate from college to the pros as well. The Bengals’ guard play is solid as well, with second-year center Russell Bodine the only weak link in the group. But the rest of the unit covers for him admirably; Cincinnati ranked third in pass blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus and also ranked third in both stuffs (indicating success in the power game) and open field yards (showing they created space for backs to break off big runs) in the ground game.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Andrew Whitworth
LG   Clint Boling
C   Russell Bodine
RG   Kevin Zeitler
RT   Andre Smith




GRADES
Run:
A-
Pass: A
Overall:
A

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CLEVELAND BROWNS

(Zone) The Browns have as much talent along their offensive line as any team in the league, so last year’s mediocre performance was a disappointment. Their success in the ground game was volume-based, as they turned the sixth-most rushes into just 3.6 yards per carry and were 31st in the league in stuffs. The October injury to Alex Mack didn’t help, nor did another down year from Mitchell Schwartz after a solid 2012 rookie campaign. Joe Thomas continues to anchor the left side in a Hall of Fame capacity; last year the Browns ranked 29th running up the middle, 29th to the right side—and fifth in the league off left tackle. Cleveland continues to replenish its line on draft day: last year’s second-rounder Joel Bitonio started from Day 1 at guard, and 2015 first-round pick Cameron Erving is Mack insurance at center—or he could push John Greco to start at right guard. Either way, this unit is far too talented to underachieve like they did last season, which bodes well for the fortunes of Josh McCown and the Browns’ three-headed backfield committee.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Joe Thomas
LG   Joel Bitonio
C   Alex Mack
RG   John Greco
RT   Mitchell Schwartz




GRADES
Run:
B-
Pass: B
Overall:
B

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DALLAS COWBOYS

(Stretch Zone) Nobody loves the Cowboys’ offensive line as much as Jerry Jones—not even DeMarco Murray, who turned a full season behind this unit into 1,845 yards and a big paycheck in Philadelphia. Jones and his staff believe any back can find success behind one of the league’s top lines, and they’re testing that theory with Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden this season. While the fact that Murray ranked second in missed tackles according to Pro Football Focus suggests it wasn’t all about the line, there’s rationale to Jerry’s decision: Dallas ranked first in adjusted line yards, second in second level and open field yards, and fourth in stuffs (all Football Outsiders stats) last season. That’s the payoff for the three first-round picks the Cowboys invested in this line—and that doesn’t count UDFA La’el Collins, whose draft stock slide due to a pre-draft police investigation despite first-round talent. The Cowboys’ adjusted sack rate was merely middle of the pack, and if missing Murray forces Dallas to throw more they’ll be tested as they try to protect Tony Romo and his balky back.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Tyron Smith
LG   La’el Collins (rookie)
C   Travis Frederick
RG   Zack Martin
RT   Doug Free




GRADES
Run:
A
Pass: A-
Overall:
A-

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DENVER BRONCOS

(Stretch Zone) New coach, new scheme, and a near-complete shuffling along the line with stud left tackle Ryan Clady out for the year after tearing his ACL this offseason—all in front of a 39-year-old quarterback with limited mobility. Not exactly the most common recipe for success, but Peyton Manning’s 2.2-second average release time will help the pass protection numbers look good. Gary Kubiak will need to whip the line into shape to provide the ground game support Peyton needs at this point in his career, but he’s done it before so don’t bet against him. If holdovers Gino Gradkowski, Louis Vasquez and Chris Clark continue to underwhelm they could give way to rookies Ty Sambrallo and Max Garcia. Clark is the only Bronco to return to the same spot he held down last season, though with the scheme change some turnover was inevitable. Ultimately this unit should perform at league average or slightly better—a testament to the smoke and mirrors Manning’s quick release and Kubiak’s zone scheme create.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Ryan Harris
LG   Shelley Smith
C   Gino Gradkowski
RG   Louis Vasquez
RT   Chris Clark




GRADES
Run:
B-
Pass: C+
Overall:
B-

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DETROIT LIONS

(Stretch Zone) Detroit’s line took a step back last season, struggling in short yardage situations (30th in stuffs, according to Football Outsiders) and ranking 28th in rushing while averaging a pedestrian 3.79 adjusted line yards per carry. The pass protection was similarly nondescript, allowing 45 sacks—the most of Matthew Stafford’s career—and finishing 16th in pass blocking efficiency. The Lions sport no standout players to speak of—not to say that Riley Reiff, Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle were bad; they were just kind of there. First-round pick Laken Tomlinson should start right away at guard, an upgrade in pass protection given he didn’t allow a sack his final two seasons at Duke. If another year of experience and the addition of Tomlinson give this line a jolt, the move from average to above average should yield positive dividends for the Detroit passing game and a Joique Bell/Ameer Abdullah backfield.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Riley Reiff
LG   Laken Tomlinson (rookie)
C   Travis Swanson
RG   Larry Warford
RT   LaAdrian Waddle




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: C
Overall:
C-

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GREEN BAY PACKERS

(Zone-Man Hybrid) Another unit whose results benefit from the abilities of its quarterback, the Packers rushing attack struggled in the short game (24th in stuffs, 25th in short-yardage success according to Football Outsiders) yet finished eighth in adjusted line yards, fifth in second-level yards and eighth in open-field yards. Credit the talented guard tandem of Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, but don’t overlook the unexpected contribution from fifth-round rookie Corey Linsley. It also helps that Green Bay tends to face defenses spread thin by their potent passing game. Similarly the Packers’ sack stats (ninth in sacks allowed, 13th in adjusted sack rate) look better than they should thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ escapability and quick release. Ultimately Green Bay has a line that’s well-suited to the talents of its offense, and with all five starters healthy and returning in 2015 there’s no reason to anticipate a decline in performance.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   David Bakhtiari
LG   Josh Sitton
C   Corey Linsley
RG   T.J. Lang
RT   Bryan Bulaga




GRADES
Run:
B
Pass: B
Overall:
B

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HOUSTON TEXANS

(Zone-Man Hybrid) The Texans are no longer a pure zone blocking team as they were under Gary Kubiak, but despite the scheme tweaks one factor remains: when Arian Foster carries the ball, the line looks pretty good. However, backups that averaged 1.5 yards less per carry showed that not just any back finds success behind the Houston line. The Texans will return most of the same faces, with the only wrinkle being left guard, Ben Jones, sliding over to center to make room for last year’s second round pick, Xavier Su’a-Filo. The hope is that Derek Newton continues to improve; he climbed from awful to serviceable last year but still surrendered 36 quarterback hurries. Anchored by standout left tackle Duane Brown, the Texans ranked eighth in adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders. This unit provides enough time for quarterbacks like Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett to have success, begging the question: how long before Bill O’Brien lands a true franchise QB?

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Duane Brown
LG   Xavier Su’a-Filo
C   Ben Jones
RG   Brandon Brooks
RT   Derek Newton




GRADES
Run:
C+
Pass: B-
Overall:
C+

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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

(Man/Power) The Colts used 11 different offensive line combinations to protect Andrew Luck last season, and while it didn’t show in pass protection—29 sacks allowed, eighth fewest in the league—the running game struggled at both ends. Indianapolis ranked 31st in short yardage situations and 29th in open field yardage, and not just because they lacked a franchise running back. The addition of Frank Gore should help this unit’s production, as should the arrival of ex-Eagle Todd Herremans at right guard. The rest of Indy’s line returns, with Jack Mewhort switching both sides and positions after a strong rookie campaign at left guard. If the Colts opt not to move Mewhort, they’ll hope Gosder Cherilus plays better than he did last year. Anthony Castonzo is starting to live up to the expectations of a first-round pick, while the Colts will throw a bevy of bodies at center and left guard to see what sticks; currently Khalid Holmes and Donald Thomas are the leading candidates, respectively.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Anthony Castonzo
LG   Donald Thomas
C   Khaled Holmes
RG   Todd Herremans
RT   Jack Mewhort




GRADES
Run:
D+
Pass: B-
Overall:
C

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

(Zone) Jacksonville’s offensive line was abysmal last season, ranking at or near the bottom in just about every metric you can find. The Jaguars were plagued by injuries, a switch at the quarterback position, and a dearth of talent up and down the roster. Jacksonville took steps to remedy that last issue, signing Cowboys backup tackle Jermy Parnell and ex-Raider Stefen Wisniewski and spending a third-round pick on A.J. Cann. Parnell will start immediately, bookending 2013 second overall selection Luke Joeckel—who needs to start living up to that billing. Wisniewski and Cann will push for starting positions, but right guard Brandon Linder played well enough as a rookie that he’ll be tough to move. Zane Beadles is a scheme fit but did not perform up to expectations last season; if he can’t hold off Cann and Wisniewski he’ll at least provide veteran mentorship and depth. The Jaguars’ line should also benefit from talent upgrades to the skill positions and Blake Bortles having an NFL season under his belt.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Luke Joeckel
LG   Zane Beadles
C   Stefen Wisniewski
RG   Brandon Linder
RT   Jermey Parnell




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: C-
Overall:
C-

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

(Stretch Zone) When 60 percent of your starting line walks via free agency you have to expect results like ranking 28th in sacks allowed. But thanks to Jamaal Charles the run blocking held up quite well as the Chiefs ranked seventh in adjusted line yards, fifth in stuffs, and fourth in open field yards (all Football Outsider stats). Still there’s plenty of room for improvement—and not just with Eric Fisher, who has yet to live up to being the first overall pick in 2013. Kansas City acquired Ben Grubbs from the Saints; he’s the team’s only projected starting lineman with more than three seasons of NFL experience. The left side has potential if Fisher improves and Grubbs turns back the clock to his previous successes, but the right side is a jumbled mess. The Chiefs drafted Mitch Morse in the second round and signed two more UDFA centers to challenge Eric Kush, who has three games of experience in two NFL seasons. Whereas once the handcuff in Kansas City was a fantasy must, it’s tough to see any back without Charles’ ability finding success behind this line. It’s no gift for Alex Smith, either; in fact, this line is part of the reason fantasy expectations for the Chiefs’ passing games are perennially low.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Eric Fisher
LG   Ben Grubbs
C   Eric Kush
RG   Jeff Allen
RT   Donald Stephenson




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: D+
Overall:
C-

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MIAMI DOLPHINS

(Zone) In the wake of the infamous bullying scandal the Dolphins set about rebuilding their offensive line, and though they weren’t obvious there was definite improvement. After surrendering a team-record 58 sacks in 2013 Miami allowed just 46 last year, and the Dolphins ranked ninth in adjusted line yards (4.06, according to Football Outsiders) and third in running back yards (4.63). This success came despite shuffling the interior all season and starting a rookie at left tackle after Branden Albert went down with a season-ending injury. Whether Albert is ready for the start of the season is a big key to continued improvement for Miami’s line. The Dolphins also need to settle on their guards, as Mike Pouncey moves back to his natural center position; this year’s fourth-round pick Jamil Douglas and last year’s third-round selection Billy Turner are the top contenders. 2014 first-rounder Ja’Wuan James was thrown into the fire at left tackle after Albert went down and struggled mightily. The hope is he can learn from that experience and take over on the right side. The entire Dolphins offense is filled with potential, from Ryan Tannehill through Jarvis Landry and Jay Ajayi down to the young offensive line—but all potential means is that they haven’t accomplished anything yet. This could be the year the pieces start coming together.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Branden Albert
LG   Jamil Douglas (rookie)
C   Mike Pouncey
RG   Billy Turner
RT   Ja’Wuan James




GRADES
Run:
B-
Pass: C+
Overall:
B-

Back to chart ˆ

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

(Man/Power) Despite opening holes for the likes of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata as opposed to Adrian Peterson, the Vikings’ offensive line wasn’t all that bad last season. Minnesota ranked second in stuffs and 13th in adjusted line yards even though their All Pro running back was out and much of their line battled injuries. John Sullivan anchors the group, which not only gets Peterson back behind them but also returns Phil Loadholt and Brandon Fusco, both of whom suffered torn pectoral muscles last year. The real key for the Vikings line is Matt Kalil, who sparkled as a rookie but whose play has steadily declined since. There were glimpses of him returning to form late last season, and the hope is that his knees are healthy enough to allow a full redux of that rookie success. If Loadholt is not sufficiently recovered the start of the season, the Vikings could turn to T.J. Clemmings, a first-round prospect whose injury concerns dropped him into Round 4. The rookie may crack the starting five anyway, kicking inside to right guard if Loadholt returns in time. This beefy unit is perfect for Norv Turner’s power scheme, and continued health—combined with the return of Peterson and the emergence of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater—could help this unit return to the league’s upper echelon. As a unit, however—and especially at left tackle—they’ll need to do a better job of protecting Bridgewater; Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings dead last in pass blocking efficiency.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Matt Kalil
LG   Brandon Fusco
C   John Sullivan
RG   T.J. Clemmings (rookie)
RT   Phil Loadholt




GRADES
Run:
B+
Pass: C+
Overall:
B-

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

(Man/Power) You’d be hard-pressed to pick them out of a lineup—or even come up with more than a couple of names—but the metrics indicate New England’s offensive line was a large factor in last season’s Super Bowl success. While the overall running game numbers were down the Patriots ranked fourth in adjusted line yards and ranked in the top five in the league in running off either tackle and around either end. Tom Brady’s pass protection was solid as well, as New England ranked second in adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders—though Pro Football Focus ranked them just 20th in pass blocking efficiency. Those numbers are partially due to Brady getting rid of the ball quickly—not just his release, but in failing to go deep as well; last year the Patriots completed just eight passes of 40 yards or more. Sebastian Vollmer was the team’s best lineman while bookend tackle Nate Solder struggled in pass protection. Rookie Bryan Stork held down the fort at center, but his metrics weren’t particularly impressive. The Patriots stole Tre’ Jackson in the fourth round; he and fellow fourth-rounder Shaquille Mason could start immediately at the guard positions. That interior provides solid blocks for rebuilding the Patriots’ o-line in typical New England fashion—guys you may not have heard of, but guys who do enough to collect Super Bowl rings.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Nate Solder
LG   Tre’ Jackson (rookie)
C   Bryan Stork
RG   Ryan Wendell
RT   Sebastian Vollmer




GRADES
Run:
B+
Pass: B-
Overall:
B

Back to chart ˆ

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

(Zone) The Saints have let plenty of their copious offensive line talent walk away in the past, so it was interesting to see them add a top-flight center in acquiring Max Unger from Seattle in the Jimmy Graham trade. Sean Payton also seems to be preparing the team for life after Drew Brees, increasing the emphasis on the running game. New Orleans is certainly building a line for such a focus; the Saints ranked second in adjusted line yards last season and averaged 4.5 yards per rush. New Orleans already ranked first in running between the guards, averaging 4.61 yards per carry, and the addition of Unger will only help. Jahri Evans may no longer be the best guard in football but he has plenty left in the tank. Whether he lines up next to fellow 10-year vet Zach Strief or rookie Andrus Peat—with Strief kicking inside to left guard—the right side will be solid. Terron Armstead has emerged as a solid left tackle, leaving left guard as the team’s only question mark. Drew Brees’ quick release still masts any pass blocking issues that may exist, but this unit protects him well enough to prolong his career a few more years—especially if the Saints run the ball as effectively as they look equipped to do.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Terron Armstead
LG   Tim Lelito
C   Max Unger
RG   Jahri Evans
RT   Zach Strief




GRADES
Run:
B+
Pass: B
Overall:
B+

Back to chart ˆ

NEW YORK GIANTS

(Stretch Zone) The torn pectoral muscle that will sideline Will Beatty for much (if not all) of 2015 has thrown the Giants’ line into disarray. The plan was to anchor an up-and-coming group with Beatty at left tackle while first-round pick Ereck Flowers got his feet wet at right tackle; now Flowers will be thrown into the fire protecting Eli Manning’s blind side while New York inserts much-travelled Marshall Newhouse at right tackle. Justin Pugh improved in his second season; Weston Richburg, who struggled as a rookie, needs to do the same. The return of Geoff Schwartz, who missed most of last year with injuries, should help as well. This unit was solid in pass protection last year, but much of that was due to Beatty; that puts a ton of pressure on Flowers to be elite from Day One. The run blocking was nothing special, and again Beatty’s absence will be felt—though Schwartz’s return will help. The Giants’ ground game ranked near the bottom of the league in both second-level and open field yards according to Football Outsiders, though that’s unsurprising given that neither Rashad Jennings nor Andre Williams are breakaway threats. Don’t bank on this line doing Shane Vereen many favors, either—though if Flowers can’t hold up at left tackle Eli may need to check down more frequently than in the past, which would play right into Vereen’s wheelhouse.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Ereck Flowers (rookie)
LG   Justin Pugh
C   Weston Richberg
RG   Geoff Schwartz
RT   Marshall Newhouse




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: C
Overall:
C-

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NEW YORK JETS

(Zone-Man Hybrid) While the days of Ground ’N’ Pound are gone, Jets fans will still see plenty of the hat-on-hat power blocking they’ve grown accustomed to. Yes, new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system incorporates zone blocking schemes, but he’s also a run-first play-caller who depends on straight-forward blocking assignments. In other words, despite the regime change don’t expect things to be too different for Gang Green’s offensive front. And that’s good news, as the one thing the Jets’ o-line did well last year was power-block; the unit ranked fifth in short-yardage situations, according to Football Outsiders. Personnel-wise it’s still two of the game’s best at their position, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and the best three guys the Jets can scrape together. At present that looks to be a right side consisting of ex-Seahawks James Carpenter and Breno Giacomini and a battle at left guard that includes Willie Colon and Brian Winters. A guard tandem of Carpenter and Colon gives the Jets the best chance of improving on last season’s 47 sacks—25th in adjusted sack rating, according to Football Outsiders. Gailey’s spread formations should also help Jets quarterbacks evade pressure as well as freeing up talented linemen to win one-on-one battles and create space for Chris Ivory.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   D’Brickashaw Ferguson
LG   Willie Colon
C   Nick Mangold
RG   James Carpenter
RT   Breno Giacomini




GRADES
Run:
B-
Pass: C-
Overall:
C+

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OAKLAND RAIDERS

(Man/Power) You could say the Raiders are halfway there when it comes to rebuilding their offensive line. The left side performed well last season, with Donald Penn returning to form after fading in Tampa Bay and third round rookie Gabe Jackson stepping directly into the lineup. Oakland lost Stefen Wisniewski to free agency but may have upgraded at center in signing Rodney Hudson away from the Chiefs. That’s the good news; the bad news is the Raiders return both Khalif Barnes and Austin Howard on the right side after both were abysmal last season. While Oakland’s ground game was bad all around, nowhere was it more obvious than on the Barnes/Howard side where the Raiders ranked 29th in yards per carry off right tackle and 31st in the same category around right end. The inability to run right led to Oakland rushing a league-low 21.1 times per game, averaging less than 78 rushing yards per game, and scoring only four rushing touchdowns. Hudson can only help so much, so expectations for Latavius Murray need to be limited. Derek Carr’s quick release helped the Raiders’ pass protection look decent, as they allowed only 28 sacks; they also averaged a league-worst 5.5 yards per pass attempt as Carr dumped off to avoid pressure. He’ll need to feel more secure in the pocket to take advantage of first-round pick Amari Cooper, which means Barnes and Howard (or backup Menelik Watson, who was banged up much of last year) need to improve for the Raiders offense to make significant progress.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Donald Penn
LG   Gabe Jackson
C   Rodney Hudson
RG   Khalif Barnes
RT   Austin Howard




GRADES
Run:
D+
Pass: C-
Overall:
C-

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

(Stretch Zone) With Chip Kelly given full control of the Eagles roster, Philadelphia waved goodbye to both of last year’s starting guards. Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis were both getting on in age, but—especially in the case of Mathis, who has consistently graded out as one of the league’s top guards—they also no longer fit into Kelly’s system. Elite Jason Peters and emerging star Lane Johnson at the tackles and solid Jason Kelce at center make it easier for Kelly to scrap his guards and start from scratch. Last year Philly was solid in pass protection, but that task is even more critical this year if they hope to keep brittle Sam Bradford upright for a full season. Where Mathis’ loss will truly be felt is in the ground game. The Eagles ranked first in short-yardage success but 29th in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders; worse, no team had a larger discrepancy between yards attributed to the line and running back yards. In other words, LeSean McCoy was just as responsible for Philly’s ground game success as the line—and DeMarco Murray will have to earn as much if not more of his yardage than he did in Dallas. Of course, Mathis had no track record before taking over in Philly and dominating the Pro Football Focus ratings, so maybe Allen Barbre and his eight career starts in as many pro seasons can step in without missing a beat. On the other side the Eagles hope John Moffitt can make a successful return to the league after two years away; the alternative is Matt Tobin, who was awful replacing the injured Mathis last season.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Jason Peters
LG   Allen Barbre
C   Jason Kelce
RG   Matt Tobin
RT   Lane Johnson




GRADES
Run:
B
Pass: A-
Overall:
B+

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS

(Zone) It’s been a process, but the Steelers are starting to assemble a high quality line that benefits both Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell. Last year’s unit ranked sixth in adjusted line yards, first in stuffs and fifth in open field yardage while giving the fewest sacks of Big Ben in a decade. Protecting Roethlisberger is even more important at this juncture, with Big Ben getting older and the hits starting to add up. Curiously, the key hasn’t been the pair of first-round picks in the middle but rather seventh-rounder Kelvin Beachum developing into a solid left tackle. Not that Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, the aforementioned first-rounders, aren’t important as well—especially in creating holes for Bell. Marcus Gilbert has been slower to come around at right tackle, but he’s preferable to fellow former second-rounder Mike Adams; the Steelers have tended to struggle up front when Adams is forced into the lineup.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Kelvin Beachum
LG   Ramon Foster
C   Maurkice Pouncey
RG   David DeCastro
RT   Marcus Gilbert




GRADES
Run:
A-
Pass: B-
Overall:
B+

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ST. LOUIS RAMS

(Man/Power) Not that last year’s top pick Greg Robinson was supposed to solve all of the Rams’ offensive line issues, but he was more a part of the problem than the solution. The Rams surrendered 47 sacks, ranking in the bottom third of the league, and on the ground they ranked 29th in stuffs and 30th in short yardage situations, according to Football Outsiders. On the bright side, no team picked up more yards per carry running around left end so St. Louis can build on that. Robinson will anchor a rebuilt Rams line that owns all of 20 career starts outside of guard Rodger Saffold. St. Louis expects to start a pair of rookies on the right side, second-round pick Rob Havenstein and third-rounder Jamon Brown—a wise investment in front of first-round pick Todd Gurley. If the trio develops as hoped, and Robinson lives up to the hype at left tackle, the Rams have some serious franchise cornerstones. Jeff Fisher isn’t expecting anything this year from supplemental draft pick Isaiah Battle, but he’s another tackle with upside. There will be definite growing pains, but also light at the end of the tunnel.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Greg Robinson
LG   Rodger Saffold
C   Barrett Jones
RG   Jamon Brown (rookie)
RT   Rob Havenstein (rookie)




GRADES
Run:
D+
Pass: D+
Overall:
D+

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

(Zone) The Chargers are a couple years removed from blowing up their offensive line and starting over, but after last season’s results they may be thinking about another explosion. Instead, the plan looks to be to bring back just about everyone from last season and hope the continuity yields benefits. San Diego ranked third in short-yardage situations, according to Football Outsiders, but that was the lone bright spot; they ranked 27th or worse in every other metric including rushing yards, adjusted line yards, stuffs, second level yards, and open field yards. Running around left end was the only area of the field in which the Bolts ranked higher than 25th in the league in yards per carry, and that side of the line is bolstered by the addition of guard Orlando Franklin from Denver. He’ll line up alongside King Dunlap to form the power side of San Diego’s line. Chris Watt returns in the middle, and the hope is that last year’s third-round pick upgrades from his rookie performance. The right side is in flux, with early reports indicating the Chargers will inexplicably give Johnnie Troutman—Pro Football Focus’ 77th-ranked guard last season—another shot. Should cooler heads prevail, expect former first-round pick D.J. Fluker to kick inside to guard and recently signed Joe Barksdale to slide in at right tackle. The addition of Melvin Gordon should help the running game stats, though he’s downgrading in offensive line coming from Wisconsin to the Chargers.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   King Dunlap
LG   Orlando Franklin
C   Chris Watt
RG   Johnnie Troutman
RT   D.J. Fluker




GRADES
Run:
C-
Pass: C-
Overall:
C-

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

(Man/Power) The 49ers saw plenty of talent walk out the door this offseason, but no position took a bigger hit than the offensive line as Mike Iupati left via free agency and Anthony Davis retired. That’s two substantial losses to a unit that paved the way for San Francisco to rank fourth in rushing yards and average 4.6 yards per carry—though a surprising dead-dog last in short yardage situations, according to Football Outsiders. Fortunately, elite tackle Joe Staley and mauling guard Alex Boone return; in fact, the Niners may team the duo on the left to give San Francisco a strong side. Boone may also stay at right guard or kick outside to fill Davis’ shoes at tackle, depending on whether or not the 49ers trust seventh-round pick Trent Brown to start at tackle. The alternative, Buffalo castoff Erik Pears, isn’t particularly palatable. Marcus Martin and Daniel Kilgore will battle for the center job, with the loser a potential right guard option if Boone slides to tackle. Brandon Thomas, who slid to the Niners in the third round last year after a predraft ACL injury, is another option at guard. That’s a lot of moving parts for a line that surrendered 52 sacks last season and finished 30th in adjusted sack rate.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Joe Staley
LG   Brandon Thomas
C   Marcus Martin
RG   Daniel Kilgore
RT   Alex Boone




GRADES
Run:
B
Pass: D+
Overall:
C

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

(Stretch Zone) Last season the Seahawks led the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry; why didn’t they run the ball from the one-yard line in the Super Bowl again? Much of the credit goes to Marshawn Lynch, as the Seattle line has been good but not necessarily dominant. Things could get interesting this year as Seattle sent arguably their best offensive lineman to New Orleans in the Jimmy Graham trade—with no real plan in place to replace center Max Unger. Lemuel Jeanpierre is the leading candidate; he started three times in place of Unger last year. The Seahawks will also move backup Alvin Bailey into the starting lineup, replacing James Carpenter at left guard. J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt return on the right side; both are adequate in run blocking, but both graded out poorly in pass protection. Actually, the entire team struggles to keep Russell Wilson’s jersey clean as they surrendered 42 sacks last season. On the bright side, if Graham is Wilson’s safety valve maybe he won’t see the expected decrease in volume coming from the Saints to Seattle. The Seahawks are a good enough run-blocking unit that Lynch’s backup would fare well, but they’re not an elite group that would assure similar stats should Christine Michael or Robert Turbin have to step into the lineup.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Russell Okung
LG   Alvin Bailey
C   Lemuel Jeanpierre
RG   J.R. Sweezy
RT   Justin Britt




GRADES
Run:
B+
Pass: C-
Overall:
B-

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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

(Zone) What do you do when you sport the league’s worst offensive line and you just spent your top pick on a new franchise quarterback? You use your next two picks on offensive linemen to upgrade the protection. Both Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet are pojected to start, and both have the benefit of playing alongside a veteran—Smith next to Logan Mankins on the left side, Marpet next to Demar Dotson on the right. The hope is that the duo can help the Bucs improve from a league-low 3.21 adjusted line yards per carry last season; worse, no team was stopped for zero or negative yards more frequently. The pass protection was no better, as only two teams allowed more than Tampa Bay’s 52 sacks and the Bucs ranked 29th in adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders. More rollouts might help; only the Chargers rolled their quarterback out less frequently last year than the Buccaneers.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Donovan Smith (rookie)
LG   Logan Mankins
C   Evan Dietrich-Smith
RG   Ali Marpet (rookie)
RT   Demar Dotson




GRADES
Run:
D+
Pass: D
Overall:
D

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TENNESSEE TITANS

(Man/Power) You can’t say the Titans haven’t tried to upgrade their offensive line; they’ve spent in free agency, with limited success, and they spent first-round draft picks in both 2013 and 2014 on offensive linemen. Injuries scuttled plans last year as 10 different Titans started at least three games, and the results were predictable. Tennessee gave up 50 sacks and ranked 26th in adjusted sack rate; on the ground they finished 26th in rushing yards and scored just six rushing touchdowns. Now the Titans enter the Marcus Mariota era with a line that has only one player with more than two seasons of NFL experience. Last year’s top pick, Taylor Lewan, was the top rookie tackle in pass blocking efficiency last year, and the Titans will bank on him to protect their investment at quarterback. Andy Levitre has yet to pay off on his free agent contract, but he’s the veteran anchor of this group. Brian Schwenke will start at center, if he can hold off sixth-round pick Andy Gallik. Chance Warmack, the Titans’ first round pick in 2013, is settling in at guard; he’ll be the veteran presence on the right side next to third-round pick Jeremiah Poutasi. If the rookie can’t cut it at right tackle the backup plan is Byron Bell, who was so bad in Carolina the Panthers view ex-Titan Michael Oher as an upgrade.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Taylor Lewan
LG   Andy Levitre
C   Brian Schwenke
RG   Chance Warmack
RT   Jeremiah Poutasi (rookie)




GRADES
Run:
B-
Pass: D+
Overall:
C-

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WASHINGTON REDSKINS

(Zone-Man Hybrid) The Redskins are transitioning from Mike Shanahan’s beloved zone blocking to the power scheme preferred by Jay Gruden. With the addition of offensive line coach Bill Callahan Washington will move even further away from the stretch zone—and the hope is that Callahan can develop linemen like he did in previous stints with the Jets (Alan Faneca, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold) and Cowboys (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin). The Skins have a couple studs of their own in Trent Williams and first-round pick Brandon Scherff, and there’s plenty of work to do with a line that gave up 58 sacks—second most in the league last year. The left side of the line returns intact, and history has shown that zone scheme lines fare better the longer they play together. The right side, however, sports a total of 18 NFL snaps as last year’s third-round pick, Spencer Long, joins Scherff. The protection can only improve for Robert Griffin III, and while this isn’t the pure zone scheme Alfred Morris rode to success under Shanahan he has all the tools to excel in the Gruden/Callahan hybrid as well.

PROJECTED STARTERS
LT   Trent Williams
LG   Shawn Lauvao
C   Kory Lichtensteiger
RG   Spencer Long
RT   Brandon Scherff (rookie)




GRADES
Run:
B-
Pass: D
Overall:
C-

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