Offensive lines don’t generate fantasy points, but they impact how many your players score. Rarely called out on television other than for a holding call, the linemen are at least partially responsible for the success of every play. Rating them is an inexact science but as with most analysis, at least the good and bad extremes are worth knowing.
Evaluating the effectiveness of a line is complicated. They are affected by the quality of the other players, game situations, injuries and a myriad of other considerations. The reality with offensive linemen is that they are often injured and constantly changing lineups impede their ability to work as a unit.
Nothing succeeds with offensive lines more than having the same unit from one year to the next. Consistency and chemistry are everything for the blockers.
For each team, I have included their rankings (1-32, 1 = best) from last year in four different categories. Negative runs consider the percentage of rushes that lose yardage. “YPC” is the “yards per carry” for all team rushers. Sacks and QB Hits rate how often either occurred considering the total number of passing plays. The lower the ranking, the better the offensive line performance other than the “yards per carry”.
1. Dallas Cowboys
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 5th / YPC – 3rd / Sacks – 14th / QB Hits – 15th
Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott had tremendous rookie seasons and they possess obvious talent. But their stories are incomplete without recognizing how much their offensive line contributed to their success. C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, and LT Tyron Smith were All-Pro’s. Losing Doug Free and Ronald Leary won’t be a factor since La’el Collins and Jonathan Cooper should be up to the task. Leary was the weakest link anyway.
2. Oakland Raiders
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 4th / YPC – 10th / Sacks – 1st / QB Hits – 1st
Ask David Carr how much he likes this offensive line. They only allowed 18 sacks and 41 “QB Hits” to lead the NFL in both categories. LG Kelechi Osemele was an All-Pro and C Rodney Hudson and LT Donald Penn also got votes. Right tackle could continue to be a turnstile but this unit keeps Carr safe and should help Marshawn Lynch mount a comeback. This is a very solid line.
3. Tennessee Titans
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 13th / YPC – 5th / Sacks – 12th / QB Hits – 3rd
The rushing offense is in good shape with All-Pro RT Jack Conklin paving the way. This is as solid of a line as any in the NFL. LT Taylor Lewan was another first-round draft pick along with Conklin and the investment in the line is paying dividends. The Titans are committed to the run but Marcus Mariota enjoys possibly the best pass protection in the league. This line will help the Titans offense to take the next step in 2017.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 3rd / YPC – 13th / Sacks – 2nd / QB Hits – 2nd
Ben Roethlisberger has gone from one of the most sacked quarterbacks each year to one of the least. There is not a weak link in the unit. C Maurkice Pouncey is one of the best and RG David DeCastro was a second-team All-Pro. DeCastro and LG Raymon Foster ensure that Le’Veon Bell has open lanes when he runs inside. This is a much-improved line from recent years.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 26th / YPC – 19th / Sacks – 9th / QB Hits – 16th
RT Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games last year but is one of the best tackles in the game. RG Brandon Brooks had a great season despite an anxiety issue that he addressed and should not be a problem. This is the second year for HC Doug Pederson and the offensive line is already coming together to be one of the best in football. Expect even better blocking in 2017.
6. Cleveland Browns
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 31st / YPC – 2nd / Sacks – 32nd / QB Hits – 32nd
This offensive line is hard to rate considering the ever-changing clown car of ball handlers. All-Pro LT Joe Thomas is one of the best in the league. The Browns brought in expensive free agents RG Kevin Zeitler and C J.C. Tretter as immediate starters. This line is coming together with the potential of being one of the elite units in the NFL.
But in a rarity, the rest of the offense is all question marks. Whoever is the quarterback will enjoy some of the best protection in the league. But last year the line was well above average and still ended up with the worst percentages of sacks and “QB Hits” allowed. RB Isaiah Crowell starts out ahead of most backs with this line paving the way.
7. Chicago Bears
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 9th / YPC – 4th / Sacks – 8th / QB Hits – 10th
Jordan Howard turned in a surprising rookie season but like Ezekiel Elliott, the offensive line gets some of that credit. Maybe most of it. Howard averaged 5.2 yards-per-carry. The guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton form a great core along with second-year center Cody Whitehair. The tackles could improve but this is a solid unit, especially for the rushing game.
8. Atlanta Falcons
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 24th / YPC – 6th / Sacks – 24th / QB Hits – 30th
Free-agent acquisition Alex Mack was a great addition last year and he ended as a second-team All-Pro. RG Chris Chester left and the Falcons hope either Ben Garland or Wes Schweitzer can fill in. This is a better run blocking unit than pass blocking which bodes better for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Matt Ryan had a great 2016 season despite getting knocked around. Now he and his offensive line start to install the new scheme by OC Steve Sarkisian.
9. Green Bay Packers
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 15th / YPC – 8th / Sacks – 13th / QB Hits – 7th
LT Davis Bakhtiari comes off an All-Pro season and along with RT Bryan Bulaga gives Aaron Rodgers one of the best pass-blocking units in the league. Recent defections from the middle of the line leave questions and the run blocking won’t improve if the guards don’t step up. RG Jahri Evans comes over from the Saints to help out if Don Barclay isn’t good enough. LG Lane Taylor tries to replace Josh Sitton. No concerns for Rodgers but Ty Montgomery and other rushers may not have it so good.
10. Washington Redskins
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 10th / YPC – 7th / Sacks – 4th / QB Hits – 11th
All-Pro Trent Williams is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. Spencer Long’s move to center was a big success and the line returns all five starters from 2016 for a continuity advantage. Sean McVay won’t be running the offense but the scheme is not expected to change much. New starters at running back and wideout enjoy what should be a solid line if not one of the better ones.
11. Carolina Panthers
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 8th / YPC – 23rd / Sacks – 22nd / QB Hits – 17th
The Panthers line should block the run better than the pass. The interior line is in good shape with LG Andrew Norwell, C Ryan Kalil, and RG Trai Turner. LT Matt Kalil was signed to a pricey free agent contract while he tries to turn a career around that started well but declined in recent years. He and RT Daryl Williams need to improve the pass blocking or Cam Newton will suffer yet another year of being knocked around too much. Bringing in pass-catching Christian McCaffrey potentially helps out with pass rush pressure.
12. Buffalo Bills
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 22nd / YPC – 1st / Sacks – 31st / QB Hits – 25th
Running to the left has been the path of least resistance for the blocking but the Bills are still trying to improve on the right. They drafted Dion Dawkins in the second round to compete with Jordan Mills to be the starter. The overall line is good and better than most when rush blocking. But the right tackle continues to be the weakest link they hope that Dawkins can fix if only eventually.
13. New England Patriots
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 11th / YPC – 24th / Sacks – 6th / QB Hits – 12th
The offensive line benefitted from the return of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia last year and RT Marcus Cannon was a second-team All-Pro. RG Shaq Mason also showed much improvement. The rookie LG Joe Thuney was the weak link in pass protection but should improve. Overall, a solid unit that is boosted with the respect that defenses must give Tom Brady.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 20th / YPC – 16th / Sacks – 10th / QB Hits – 14th
The line was only average last year though C Brandon Linder was a bright spot. LT Branden Albert hinted at a holdout for more money but has since opted to shelf the idea. The Jaguars traded up in the second round to draft Cam Robinson who should open as the starting left guard. The Jaguars want to feature the run more with the rookie Leonard Fournette and this line won’t allow the rookie an “Ezekiel Elliott Advantage”. But it won’t be a liability if the guards play up to their potential.
15. New Orleans Saints
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 2nd / YPC – 12th / Sacks – 5th / QB Hits – 4th
LT Terron Armstead missed much of 2016 due to an injury and the offensive line shifted to cover holes. Armstead tore his labrum in June and is likely to miss the 2017 season – a big downgrade to the blocking. That should press first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk into a starting role at a very important position for Drew Brees. The interior of the line offers better than average rush blocking if only because the Saints passing offense commands so much respect.
16. Minnesota Vikings
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 25th / YPC – 32nd / Sacks – 23rd / QB Hits – 23rd
The Vikings offense imploded in 2016 and that included the line play that was already average and worse once LT Matt Kalil was injured. The Vikings spent big on free agents Alex Boone and Andre Smith but neither delivered on their expectations. RT Mike Remmers comes over from the Panthers and LT Riley Reiff was signed from the Lions to upgrade the biggest need of the line and replace Kalil. This appears to be a much better line than last year but the same was thought in 2016 when free agents did not come through for them.
Unlike last season, the Vikings enter the season without rampant injuries. Adrian Peterson is gone but the run game should be upgraded if only because of the offensive line additions. Just providing average blocking would be a big upgrade from 2016.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 19th / YPC – 17th / Sacks – 15th / QB Hits – 9th
RT Mitchell Schwartz was a second-team All-Pro and this line has no weak spots – but also no other standouts aside from Schwartz. Former first-rounder LT Eric Fisher is improving but not yet met expectations as a pass blocker. There is no liability here but nothing that makes a big difference.
18. Arizona Cardinals
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 16th / YPC – 15th / Sacks – 20th / QB Hits – 29th
The battering that Carson Palmer suffered in 2016 was mostly because of line injuries. Bringing in free agent RG Evan Mathis was a flop since he missed nearly the entire season and now has retired. Center A. Q. Shipley was a strength and has been re-signed. Former first-rounder D. J. Humphries moves to left tackle this year and will define how well this line blocks. Former left tackle Jared Veldheer shifts to the right and linemen in new positions are always a concern.
19. Los Angeles Rams
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 27th / YPC – 31st / Sacks – 29th / QB Hits – 24th
The Rams offensive line declined significantly in 2016. Partial blame lies with moving to a new city and not having any “home games”. Also, it was the final season of the ineffective offensive scheme that defined HC Jeff Fisher’s tenure. Greg Robinson moves from left tackle to the right and Rob Havenstein shifts to right guard. That allows free agent acquisition LT Andrew Whitworth to hopefully upgrade the biggest weakness. This line will be better in 2017 though installing a new offense always takes time.
20. Denver Broncos
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 17th / YPC – 28th / Sacks – 25th / QB Hits – 22nd
Matt Paradis has become one of the best centers in the league. Garrett Bolles was the first tackle drafted last April and will take over the left side. They brought in LG Ronald Leary and RT Menelik Watson as free agents and this offensive line is being completely remade. This is a rebuilding year with first-year OC Mike McCoy trying to create what he left behind a few years ago. The line is upgraded but the new offense needs time to install. LT Russell Okung only lasted a year in Denver but wasn’t a difference maker.
21. Baltimore Ravens
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 18th / YPC – 22nd / Sacks – 7th / QB Hits – 6th
All-Pro Marshal Yanda is likely the best right guard in the NFL and played some left guard last year with the same stellar results. LT Ronnie Stanley is a strength as well but the rest of the line is less impressive. RT James Hurst projects to start but was a liability last year. Moving LG Alex Lewis to right tackle has been considered but he looks likely to stay put. So long as they remain healthy, this line could become average or even better but the right tackle continues to be the problem spot.
22. New York Jets
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 14th / YPC – 14th / Sacks – 21st / QB Hits – 21st
LG James Carpenter is as good as it gets with this otherwise average crew. Long-time center Nick Mangold is gone after 11 seasons with the Jets. LT Ryan Clady only lasted a year with the Jets but Kelvin Beachum doesn’t seem to be much of an upgrade. The offense is being made over yet again with new offensive coordinator John Morton. Considering the rebuilding, the Jets will be hard pressed to see any improvement in the blocking.
23. Los Angeles Chargers
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 29th / YPC – 26th / Sacks – 17th / QB Hits – 20th
The Chargers line hasn’t been better than average in years and moving to Los Angeles certainly did not improve the Rams offense last season. But the Chargers are trying to upgrade the offensive line with the addition of LT Russell Okung and then spending heavily in the draft. They used their 2.06 on Forrest Lamp as the first guard drafted and then Dan Feeney with their 3.07. That gave the Chargers two of the top four guards selected last April.
This line struggled in every facet last year so the emphasis on blocking was well warranted. Melvin Gordon was even more impressive considering his line was not an advantage.
24. Indianapolis Colts
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 1st / YPC – 20th / Sacks – 28th / QB Hits – 31st
Surprisingly, the Colts had the lowest percentage of negative runs in the NFL but the rest of the statistics were among the worst. Andrew Luck playing through a shoulder injury was no help. The rushing effort was nothing special thanks mostly to the blocking. Frank Gore gained a career-low 3.9 yards-per-carry though being 33 years old and the line dealing with injuries also factored in.
Rookie C Ryan Kelly was solid and did not surrender a sack. LT Anthony Castonzo was good in the rushing effort as well. There are no changes to the line so no reason to expect more than an incremental “consistency” bump. (Update – Kelly requires foot surgery and will be out at least 6-8 weeks. That’s a big hit for a line that was starting to come together.)
25. New York Giants
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 12th / YPC – 30th / Sacks – 3rd / QB Hits – 5th
The interior of the line is in good shape with LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, and RG John Jerry but the tackles are the weak links in this line. D.J. Fluker was a free agent signing from the Chargers and he will end up as either the right tackle or even left guard if Pugh is shifted over. Former first-rounder LT Ereck Flowers still needs to meet lofty expectations. This line should remain below average and did little to upgrade outside of getting Fluker.
26. Detroit Lions
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 32nd / YPC – 27th / Sacks – 18th / QB Hits – 13th
This was a bad offensive line before they lost LT Taylor Decker with a torn labrum during OTA’s in June. The Lions traded a 2018 sixth-round pick to the Rams in exchange for failed 2015 second-round pick RT Greg Robinson. He will compete for the vacated left tackle spot along with free agent signee Cyrus Kouandijo, formerly of the Bills and Joe Dahl who was competing at right guard. They also lost RT Riley Reiff to the Vikings and RG Larry Warford to the Saints.
The Lions drafted no linemen this year but acquired RT Rick Wagner from the Ravens and RG T.J. Lang from the Packers. This offensive line is almost entirely different from 2016 and yet not expected to be any better, particularly with Decker out.
27. Miami Dolphins
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 30th / YPC – 9th / Sacks – 19th / QB Hits – 27th
First-round pick LT Laremy Tunsil played at guard last year but moves out to left tackle for 2017. C Mike Pouncey missed 11 games because of a hip injury that may keep him out of training camp. At best, he’ll show up for Week 1 without any preparation or conditioning. The Dolphins moved up in the fifth round to draft LG Isaac Asiata but he won’t immediately contribute more than depth.
28. Cincinnati Bengals
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 7th/ YPC – 21st/ Sacks – 26th/ QB Hits – 8th
The Bengals lost their best pass blocker LT Andrew Whitworth and top run blocker RG Kevin Zeitler and are left with downgrades in their place. Cedric Ogbuehi was a 2015 first rounder that flopped so far but will get a chance to take the left tackle. RT Jake Fisher may move over to the left if needed though he has yet to impress in his two seasons as well. Andre Smith is back at RG after one season away in Minnesota where it did not go well.
This line could be in flux all year and won’t be nearly as kind to Joe Mixon and the other running backs this year as they have been in the past. Losing the top two blockers will make a difference.
29. Houston Texans
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 6th / YPC – 18th / Sacks – 11th / QB Hits – 18th
LT Duane Brown held out of OTA’s looking for a better contract. He is the best blocker on this below average line. The Texans drafted fourth-rounder Julie’n Davenport but he’ll need a year to challenge RT Breno Giacomini. Second-year LG Jeff Allen was a big disappointment last year after four seasons with the Chiefs. 2016 second-rounder Nick Martin missed his rookie season with an ankle injury and now challenges C Greg Mancz.
If Brown actually did hold out, this line drops another notch.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 28th / YPC – 29th / Sacks – 16th / QB Hits – 26th
The Bucs line graded poorly last year. LT Donovan Smith enters his third season and is drawing great reviews from the Tampa Bay coaching staff. He hasn’t shown enough on the field though despite his second-round selection in 2015. Ali Marpet was the top run blocker and moves from guard to center which could help. LG J. R. Sweezy came over from the Seahawks but missed last season due to a back injury. He also drew good reviews in OTA’s and there is hope that the line can help the offense deliver on the heightened expectations of this year.
31. San Francisco 49ers
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 21st / YPC – 11th / Sacks – 30th / QB Hits – 19th
LT Joe Staley was a major force for the last decade but he missed three games with a hamstring strain last season and at 32 years old may be slowing down. 2016 first-rounder RG Josh Garnett struggled as a rookie but should improve in his second season. Not only are the other linemen below average, but the 49ers are installing a complicated offense with Mike Shanahan at the helm. This is a rebuilding year for all aspects of the team.
32. Seattle Seahawks
2016 Ranks: Neg. Runs – 23rd / YPC – 25th / Sacks – 27th / QB Hits – 28th
Every aspect of the Seahawks line was below average last year and there’s no reason to expect improvement in 2017. LT George Fant is considered as one of the worst starting tackles in the league and the Seahawks brought in Luke Joeckel to challenge. Joeckel spent four years with the Jaguars but missed most of 2016 with a torn ACL and MCL. Fant may still start over Joeckel. The decline was apparent last year in the rushing game and bringing in Eddie Lacy is not going to make the line any better.
Just to cement the problems, LT Fant tore his ACL and is out for the season on August 19.