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OL Midseason Rankings Update

The primary factors I use to arrive at these rankings are my game-film evaluation of each individual offensive lineman and 2019 performance as a unit from Weeks 1-8 — with an eye towards the rest of the season. Some units will be getting key players back from injury as the year progresses, so those returns are factored in. Examples include 49ers OTs Joe Staley/Mike McGlinchey, Patriots LT Isaiah Wynn, Chiefs LT Eric Fisher.

In short, these OLs are ranked according to both descriptive and predictive analysis.

Editor’s Note: Offensive line coaches are in parentheses.

 

 

First Tier: Elite Offensive Lines

1. Saints (Dan Roushar) – Preseason rank: 3

LT Terron Armstead
LG Andrus Peat
C Erik McCoy
RG Larry Warford
RT Ryan Ramczyk

Notes: Not much has changed from preseason until now regarding this Saints OL, except that Ramczyk has elevated his game to even greater heights through the first half of the season with stellar performances against the likes of J.J. Watt, Demarcus Lawrence, and Khalil Mack. Armstead has picked up where he left off in 2018 when he was 2nd team All-Pro despite only starting 10 games due to injury, giving this unit the top tackle duo in the NFL.

Rookie Erik McCoy had big shoes to fill replacing longtime center Max Unger but has done so at a very high level. With quality guards flanking McCoy and an elite duo at tackle, this offense has not only overcome, but thrived in QB Drew Brees’ absence (thumb surgery), winning five straight games before their future Hall of Fame QB returned in week 8. Aside from excellent coaching, there’s no bigger reason for their success than the OL.

 

2. Eagles (Jeff Stoutland) – Preseason rank: 1

LT Jason Peters
LG Isaac Seumalo
C Jason Kelce
RG Brandon Brooks
RT Lane Johnson

Notes: The Eagles have had defensive struggles, a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball, and sit at 4-4 on the season, but their OL remains a bright spot despite losing starting LT Jason Peters for the previous 2 games.

Rookie LT Andre Dillard came in unexpectedly in week 6 vs. the Vikings and struggled against Everson Griffen, but has largely been solid since, flashing the explosive movements and efficient feet that made him a first-round pick.

There is no better C-RG-RT trio in the NFL than Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson, with each being top 3 players at their respective positions. Peters was still playing well before going down with a knee (slated to return in week 9) and Seumalo has provided a solid presence in the run game.

With excellent depth and most their OL being elite players, there is very little reason to believe this won’t be a top-tier unit for the rest of the season barring multiple injuries.

 

3. Cowboys (Marc Colombo) – Preseason rank: 2

LT Tyron Smith
LG Connor Williams
C Travis Frederick
RG Zack Martin
RT La’El Collins

Notes: Another preseason ‘elite’ unit that remains in the top-tier, largely due to the ascension of Collins into the top 5 or 6 at his position this season. Collins had always had obvious physical talent but this season has shored up his footwork in pass-protection to consistently get to his spot and dictate terms to rushers. With heavy hands and elite play strength, his pairing with the league’s most consistent lineman (Martin) has really been special to watch this year.

Smith missed weeks 5 & 6 and his absence was glaring, but has since returned and while clearly not at 100% is still a top 5 player at his position. Williams continues to be the weak link but has been more stout at the point of attack this year and has been more consistent.

Frederick started slow after missing all of 2018 and it was hard to watch him at an average level considering his utter dominance over the first 5 years of his career, but played an outstanding game against the Eagles in week 7 and continues to regain his strength with each passing week. This is a group firmly entrenched into elite status moving forward.

 

4. Packers (Adam Stenavich) – Preseason rank: 7

LT David Bakhtiari
LG Elgton Jenkins
C Corey Linsley
RG Billy Turner
RT Bryan Bulaga

Notes: The lone new member of ‘elite status’ in the NFL has been the Packers, jumping up from the 7 spot in preseason based on a couple of reasons. Bulaga regaining his 2016 level of play has been what has primarily spearheaded the unit’s rise, playing like arguably the best tackle in the NFL through the first half of the season, giving the Packers a top 3 tackle duo.

Inserting Jenkins into the lineup in week 3 provided a significant boost and solidified the interior, forming one of the better left sides in the league with Turner at RG being the weak link, but adequate overall. Along with the transition to more of a zone-oriented running scheme, the skill-sets of most of the line have been optimized as run-blockers, with this being one of if not the best pass-blocking units in the NFL.

 

 

Second Tier: Very Good Offensive Lines

5. Raiders (Tom Cable) – Preseason rank: 24

LT Kolton Miller
LG Richie Incognito
C Rodney Hudson
RG Gabe Jackson
RT Trent Brown

Notes: Oakland has been a pleasant surprise and made the biggest jump of any unit in the league based on my preseason expectations. I noted how rich in talent this group was prior to the year but remained doubtful they could put it all together based on Tom Cable’s recent track record of failing to develop talent combined with Kolton Miller’s subpar play as a rookie.

I couldn’t have been more wrong as Miller has quietly developed into a functional starter, still with similar flaws as last season but clear improvements, while the overall scheme has been tailored brilliantly to fit each player’s skill-set.

Richie Incognito’s return in Week 2 transformed this unit as he has picked up where he left off in 2017 when he was a perennial Pro Bowler. Trent Brown has unsurprisingly been very good in his move back to the right side. Rodney Hudson remains a rock in the middle and there’s a strong argument for their LG-C-RT being as strong as any trio in football. This is a smash-mouth, hulking offensive line that has been the centerpiece of a quietly effective Oakland offense.

 

6. Steelers (Shaun Sarrett) – Preseason rank: 4

LT Alejandro Villanueva
LG Ramon Foster
C Maurkice Pouncey
RG David DeCastro
RT Matt Feiler

Notes: The Steelers continue to be one of the best units in the league not just because they have a very good interior and above average tackles, but their continuity and experience playing together are unmatched. Entering the season 4 of the 5 starters had been together since 2016, with Feiler being the newest member of the group and even in his case has been the starter since week 3 of last season. They’re also the only unit in the NFL that has three players with 100+ starts (Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro).

Part of why this group has been able to stay together this long is that they have mastered the art of non-verbal communication on the field, seamlessly passing off stunts, picking up blitzes, handling double teams, and generally playing with excellent spacing. Having confidence in the guy next to you and knowing how he will react to different stressors on the field are critical factors to effective line play and this group has it in spades. Giving up a league-low 7 sacks through 8 games is largely a function of exactly that.

 

7. Colts (Chris Strausser) – Preseason rank: 5

LT Anthony Castonzo
LG Quenton Nelson
C Ryan Kelly
RG Mark Glowinski
RT Braden Smith

Notes: Nelson continues to be a dominant force and has solidified himself as the best in the NFL at his position while Castonzo is putting together an excellent season himself, giving this OL perhaps the best left side in the NFL. Kelly is a top 7-8 center in the NFL and gives this unit an outstanding top trio.

The only concern moving forward is the leaky right side which has seen Glowinski struggle mightily in pass-protection against top competition (Melvin Ingram in week 1, J.J. Watt in week 7) with Smith still growing into the position in year two after playing guard for most of his career at Auburn.

Even with a considerably weaker side of the line this group plays well off one another and has the potential to push around almost any opponent in any given week because of their substantial strengths. They also are the only unit left in the NFL to not have had a starter miss a single snap.

 

 

Third Tier: Solid Offensive Lines

8. Ravens (Joe D’Alessandris) – Preseason rank: 12

LT Ronnie Stanley
LG Bradley Bozeman
C Matt Skura
RG Marshal Yanda
RT Orlando Brown

Notes: The Ravens run one of the most unique offenses in the NFL that’s heavily reliant on the ground game, giving this OL plenty of opportunity to shine. Stanley has developed into one of the 5 or 6 best LTs in the game while Brown is a towering figure on the other side, giving them a young, talented tackle duo. Yanda continues to be rock solid in year 13, with 159 starts under his belt and a myriad of crafty ways to get guys blocked.

Skura has been effective in the run game but has a below average anchor as a pass-protector that is vulnerable to powerful rushers that can push the pocket (Cam Heyward, Al Woods). Bozeman remains the weak link of the group but has shown some promise as a puller and is very opportunistic when uncovered in pass-protection, providing reliable help to Stanley.

Pass-blocking for QB Lamar Jackson isn’t always easy with how unpredictable he can be with his movement in the pocket, but this group has also gotten bailed out of their fair share of pressure due to Jackson’s electric play speed and ability to make the first defender miss. A lot of credit should go to offensive coordinator Greg Roman for the way he has designed an offense to suit his QB and accentuate the skills of his OL.

 

9. 49ers (John Benton) – Preseason rank: 16

 

LT Joe Staley
LG Laken Tomlinson
C Weston Richburg
RG Mike Person
RT Mike McGlinchey

Notes: Despite losing both starting tackles for a total of 9 games (Staley weeks 3-8, McGlinchey weeks 6-8) this has still been a very productive unit with Staley’s replacement, rookie Justin Skule, standing out and likely cementing himself as the team’s swing tackle of the future.

Richburg has looked as good as he has since the 2015 season and has elevated the play of the interior that consists of two solid guards in Tomlinson and Person.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s zone-based ground game uses tremendous amounts of misdirection through a host of pre-snap motions, making life easier on OL because leverage is oftentimes gained for them in different ways from the scheme. The difference in this system from year’s past is the addition of more gap concepts such as a counter series, which has only made them more unpredictable.

Along with heavy use of play-action, excellent blocking from tight ends and fullbacks, this scheme does as good of a job at hiding player deficiencies on the OL as any in the NFL.

Once Staley and McGlinchey return this OL has a shot at reaching elite status.

 

10. Patriots (Dante Scarnecchia) – Preseason rank: 6

LT Marshall Newhouse
LG Joe Thuney
C Ted Karras
RG Shaq Mason
RT Marcus Cannon

Notes: In the span of a few weeks from the end of August to the beginning of September the Patriots lost two starters on their OL; center David Andrews just before the season to blood clots, robbing his season and possibly more, plus left tackle Isaiah Wynn in week 2 to a knee injury, keeping him out until at least week 11.

Coach Scarnecchia has done an admirable job getting Karras and Newhouse ready to play on short notice, but Newhouse is a liability in pass-protection with Wynn’s return set to provide a significant boost to the overall unit.

Mason started slow this season with uncharacteristic struggles in pass-protection but has since settled down into his normal high-level of play. Thuney remains solid but playing in-between two new starters hasn’t been an easy transition.

Wynn was excellent in the 82 snaps he played over the first 2 weeks of the season, and once he can string together more playing time should develop into a very good tackle which should significantly elevate the performance of this Patriots OL.

 

11. Lions (Jeff Davidson) – Preseason rank: 17

LT Taylor Decker
LG Joe Dahl
C Frank Ragnow
RG Graham Glasgow
RT Rick Wagner

Notes: Moving Ragnow to the pivot has taken this entire OL and especially the interior to another level this season after he spent 2018 at LG, a position he had never played before. With Ragnow as the literal and figurative centerpiece of the line his strengths as a run-blocker have shined through so far, showcasing outstanding ability to pin DTs on back blocks, generate movement, and square up linebackers at the 2nd level.

The guard spot has predominantly been manned by Dahl and Glasgow but Kenny Wiggins has rotated in, taking just under 40% of the snaps. I’m not sure what Wiggins brings that the others don’t, making this is an odd strategy that doesn’t sound like it is going away anytime soon either.

Decker’s career has taken some interesting turns so far. After his rookie season in 2016 he looked to be on his way to becoming a very good starter but tore his labrum before his 2nd season that knocked him out for the first 8 games and he hasn’t quite been able to regain that level of play since. He opened this season with a disaster of a game against Chandler Jones, missed week 2 with a back injury, and has settled down since, but at this point he may just be an average starter with a ceiling in the above average range.

 

12.Chiefs (Andy Heck) – Preseason rank: 15

LT Eric Fisher
LG Andrew Wylie
C Austin Reiter
RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
RT Mitchell Schwartz

Notes: It has been a challenging first half of the season for a Chiefs OL with Fisher being out of the lineup since week 3 (only played 4 snaps in week 2) and Wylie out since week 6. Andy Reid’s scheme and Pat Mahomes brilliance have masked much regression from happening in the pass game but the ground game has suffered because of the losses.

I viewed the Chiefs OL as slightly above average coming into the season because I thought the coaching would make the unit greater than the sum of its parts, but when the second-best player went down things dropped off significantly. With Fisher slated to return in week 9 and Wylie shortly after, there’s reason to believe this unit will get back to an above average level sooner rather than later.

 

13. Texans (Mike Devlin) – Preseason rank: 31

LT Laremy Tunsil
LG Max Scharping
C Nick Martin
RG Zach Fulton
RT Tytus Howard

Notes: Coming into the season Houston was projected to have Matt Kalil and Seantrel Henderson as their starting tackles, which were the determining factors for their 31st overall ranking.

Head coach Bill O’Brien drastically upgraded the LT spot by trading a king’s ransom (a pair of first-round picks and a second-round selection) to the Dolphins for the rights to Laremy Tunsil (and WR Kenny Stills) just before week 1, and he’s been superb through the first half of the year.

There was a widespread belief that Tunsil wouldn’t be enough to bolster this OL into respectability but that was before rookies Tytus Howard and Max Scharping entered the lineup in week 3, taking over at RT and LG respectively. Each have looked like long-term answers at those spots, but the problem this repaired starting five has faced is that they have only been on the field for 3 games this season due to various injuries, hurting their ability to grow and build trust with one another.

Having 4 different starters at RT alone makes it nearly impossible for a young, inexperienced OL to make much progress. Once this lineup can play together consistently and become more familiar with one another there is plenty of reason to expect them to make sizable improvements as the season progresses.

 

14. Bills (Bobby Johnson) – Preseason rank: 19

LT Dion Dawkins
LG Quinton Spain
C Mitch Morse
RG Jon Feliciano
RT Cody Ford

Notes: Buffalo added five free agents and a 2nd round pick (Ford) to their OL in the off-season while returning just one starter (Dawkins) yet have managed to successfully create a unit with a clearly defined identity built around a gap heavy scheme. Coach Johnson coming over from the Colts deserves a lot of credit as does offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for tailoring the offense to fit each starter’s skill-set.

Morse looks revitalized and is playing his best football since the 2016 season. He is flanked by two hammers at guard in Spain and Feliciano that help protect his more quickness-based style while lacking high-end quickness themselves. The tackles and TE Lee Smith give this unit an ultra-physical collection of blockers that want to pummel defenders with misdirection sprinkled in to create advantageous angles.

With a heavy use of power, traps, fold blocks, and an extensive pin-pull series, this is a well-designed, productive unit that ranks #1 in Football Outsiders adjusted line yards’ metric.

Pass-protecting has been another story, with Ford looking like a better long-term fit at guard as I projected for him after studying his college film. Ty Nsekhe has rotated with Ford this season and been the better player, receiving 47% of the RT snaps and should be the snaps leader if it were 100% based on film.

The guards have gotten exposed on obvious passing downs against interior rushers with good or better athleticism and quickness, so this is a line with easily identifiable strengths (run-blocking) and weaknesses (pass-blocking).

 

15. Giants (Hal Hunter) – Preseason rank: 26

LT Nate Solder
LG Will Hernandez
C Jon Halapio
RG Kevin Zeitler
RT Mike Remmers

Notes: The Giants have outperformed preseason expectations and I think it begins with Remmers being able to regain his 2015 form after off-season back surgery and having to play out of position last year with the Vikings. Remmers’ ceiling is an average player but he’s extremely crafty with a keen understanding of angles and leverage that helps circumvent his below average athleticism and range on an island.

Along with the addition of Zeitler, the right side of the Giants’ OL has been remade and given this group a much-needed facelift after a disastrous 2018 season.

Hernandez is developing very nicely at LG, is one of the strongest, most physical guards in the league, and gives this team a top-flight guard duo with Zeitler. Halapio has performed admirably in his first year as a starter, doing a nice job as a puller and blocking in space but along with Solder are the two weakest players on the unit.

Overall, the unit has some quality pieces in place and unlike last season, has a group that they can win with rather than in spite of.

 

16. Panthers (John Matsko) – Preseason rank: 9

LT Dennis Daley
LG Greg Van Roten
C Matt Paradis
RG Trai Turner
RT Taylor Moton

Notes: Carolina has had a revolving door at left tackle with four different starters in eight games and three different starters at RG. Daryl Williams was a liability at LT through the first quarter of the season and got benched due to poor performance. Turner went down in Week 3 and missed the next three weeks before returning in week 8, so this has been a line in flux for the first half of the season.

Moton has been steady this year as a run and pass-blocker and along with Van Roten have been their most consistent performers. Paradis has been the next best player but had some major struggles as a pass-protector against some of the stud interior rushers he’s faced, so he will be looking to regain the level of consistency he was able to sustain over his last few years in Denver.

Even without the continuity that is usually necessary for strong OL play, this has been a functional group with an MVP type of performance from RB Christian McCaffrey that has helped cover some of their warts.

 

 

Fourth Tier: Below-Average Offensive Lines

17. Vikings (Rick Dennison) – Preseason rank: 22

LT Riley Reiff
LG Pat Elflein
C Garrett Bradbury
RG Josh Kline
RT Brian O’Neill

Notes: The Vikings switched offensive systems and remade the interior of their OL this past off-season, drafting Bradbury in the first round, signing Kline from the Titans, and moving Elflein from center to left guard. They adopted a zone-heavy scheme with heavy reliance on the ground game to set up their play-action passing game and currently rank 2nd in rush attempts (263), 3rd in rushing yards per game (160.1), and 6th in adjusted line yards.

It was a rocky start for this group against some excellent interior DL (Grady Jarrett, Kenny Clark), but they have steadily improved as the year has gone on as they’ve built familiarity with one another and the scheme.

There is still significant room to get better with their technique, particularly the guards, although the flashes of brilliance are there as a unit, with their young building blocks (Bradbury and O’Neill) being their best players. 

This won’t be much more than an adequate pass-blocking group with the current personnel in place, but as long as they continue to be a very good running team they will be able to avoid putting themselves in many obvious passing downs where they could get exposed.

 

18. Jaguars (George Warhop) – Preseason rank: 21

LT Cam Robinson
LG Andrew Norwell
C Brandon Linder
RG A.J. Cann
RT Jawaan Taylor

Notes: This Jaguars OL has largely been a middling unit that has a lot of their mishaps in pass-protection covered up by the outstanding play of QB Gardner Minshew and his ability to evade pressure and extend plays. In the run game, this is one of the more physically imposing groups in the league.

Robinson missed the first 2 weeks recovering from a knee injury and has had struggles in pass-protection upon his return, but brings a tenacious style of play that brings an edge to the offense, especially in the running game. Opposite him is a rookie in Taylor who brings very good run-blocking ability with excellent size and power to the position but needs to shore up his strike timing as a pass-protector, oftentimes late with his hands, causing him to allow elite-level rushers like Cameron Jordan and Von Miller easy access to his chest and the corner.

Since week 3 there has been a rotation at RG between Cann and Will Richardson, with the former being a more powerful blocker but inconsistent in pass-protection and the latter bringing more athletic ability but below average play strength.

Norwell had a couple bad games early in the year but has largely been solid since and along with Linder form a strong nucleus on the interior. This is a slightly below average unit that has room to improve if their tackles can clean up their technique as pass-protectors.

 

19. Seahawks (Mike Solari) – Preseason rank: 20

LT Duane Brown
LG Mike Iupati
C Joey Hunt
RG D.J. Fluker
RT Germain Ifedi

Notes: Seattle continues to be a run-heavy offense that is built to wear down opponents up front with one of the biggest, strongest OLs in the NFL. It hasn’t been very efficient by the numbers (21st in adjusted line yards, 18th in YPC) but with bruising RB Chris Carson and superstar QB Russell Wilson they’ve collectively done a nice job sustaining drives, ranking 7th in average time of possession per game (31:39).

Ifedi continues to be the weak link, particularly in pass-protection with persistent technique issues starting from the ground up in his pass sets, oftentimes missing his landmarks, and giving rushers two-way gos far too often. Iupati and Fluker also struggle with the quicker, athletic type of interior rushers, but have legit ‘trump cards’ as run-blockers that make them functional starters that have their weaknesses largely covered up by Wilson’s incredible ability to avoid pressure.

Britt looks to have torn his ACL in week 8 and will be replaced by Joey Hunt, a very intelligent, undersized player that shouldn’t be much of a drop-off. Jamarco Jones came in for an injured Fluker in week 5, played the bulk of the game, started weeks 6-7, and showed enough promise to provide this unit with a quality interior backup moving forward.

 

20. Titans (Keith Carter) – Preseason rank: 18

LT Taylor Lewan
LG Rodger Saffold
C Ben Jones
RG Nate Davis
RT Jack Conklin

Notes: It has been a disappointing start to the year for this entire offense and it reached a boiling point in a shutout loss in week 6 to the Broncos, leading to QB Marcus Mariota being benched. Leading up to that point the team was without their best lineman (Taylor Lewan) for the first 4 weeks due to suspension while the RG spot has been a bit of a black hole until rookie Nate Davis took over in week 5 and even then, he has had his fair share of struggles adjusting to the speed of the game.

Saffold had a rough start when Lewan was out, facing off against the likes of Grady Jarrett and Calais Campbell in the first few weeks and recently suffered a concussion in week 8 that knocked him out of the game after 9 snaps.

Conklin remains an adequate starter (despite a revamped stance) that struggles in pass-protection against good or better competition. Jones remains a steadying force at the pivot that is physically limited but a team captain that doesn’t make many mistakes, playing with very good competitive toughness and smarts.

Overall, the OL has had a lot of mental errors in pass-protection coupled with shoddy QB play, evident by their 32nd ranking in adjusted sack rate, but some of it can be attributed to them only having 2 games this season where a starter wasn’t out or injured (weeks 5 & 6).

Over time they should improve, but it will be contingent on them being able to stay on the field and build familiarity with one another for an extended period of time, which hasn’t been the case so far.

 

21. Redskins (Bill Callahan) – Preseason rank: 14

LT Donald Penn
LG Ereck Flowers
C Chase Roullier
RG Brandon Scherff
RT Morgan Moses

Notes: Despite not having their best player (Trent Williams) appear in a game due to a holdout, this has been a mediocre group with some surprising bright spots beginning with a pleasantly surprising rise from Flowers. After looking like a total bust through the first 4 years of his career he has been serviceable and looks to have found a home inside at guard.

Scherff remains an elite player while Roullier is a ascending center that both excel in the running game, getting out in space, and tracking down 2nd/3rd level defenders. Penn’s veteran leadership and presence have benefitted Flowers on and off the field while Moses has settled down a bit the last couple of weeks after a rough start in pass-protection.

Considering the organizational failures of this team, this group has stood out as one of the few areas of the roster that isn’t a total liability. 

 

22. Rams (Aaron Kromer) – Preseason rank: 13

LT Andrew Whitworth
LG David Edwards
C Brian Allen
RG Austin Blythe
RT Rob Havenstein

Notes: The losses of C John Sullivan and LG Rodger Saffold have expectedly been difficult to overcome, considering the OL went from 236 to 0 combined starts at these two positions. Second-year LG and first-time starter Joe Noteboom was just beginning to settle into his role as a starter before tearing his ACL and MCL in week 6. Rookie 5th round pick David Edwards from Wisconsin has since taken over and looks to be an adequate replacement. C Brian Allen has been satisfactory in his first year as the full-time starter with very good flashes in the run game while bringing very good competitive toughness to the pivot.

The biggest surprise has been the drop-off in play from Havenstein, who has really struggled as a pass-protector after playing himself into the conversation for a top 7-8 RT last season. Blythe remains one of the smallest guards in the league so naturally his play strength has been an issue in terms of anchoring and creating vertical displacement in the run game, but his quickness is an asset in outside zone concepts.

Lost in the midst of the step back in performance as an OL has been the competition level the first 6 weeks, facing off against good or better DLs in every game before getting a bit of a break the last two weeks with the Falcons and Bengals, which has resulted in better play as a unit.

We will learn more about this group coming out of their week 9 bye, as they take on the Steelers, Bears, and Ravens in consecutive weeks. Ultimately, I expect them to continue to improve with an outside shot at developing into a middle of the pack unit as the season plays out.

 

23. Bucs (Harold Goodwin) – Preseason rank: 23

LT Donovan Smith
LG Ali Marpet
C Ryan Jensen
RG Alex Cappa
RT Demar Dotson

Notes: This has been an effective run-blocking unit through the first half of the year, ranking 14th in adjusted line yards and benefitting from the change in scheme to a more downhill ground game centered around extensive ‘Duo’ and inside zone concepts. 

The interior has been the clear strength with Marpet being a top 3 player at his position and Jensen playing some of the best football of his career. Before RG Alex Cappa broke his arm in the 2nd quarter of week 5 (finishing the game) this looked to be an interior trio that would make a name for themselves based on their growth together and the fact that they carried the distinction of not having a single Division I player. Cappa hasn’t played since but should return at some point this season, although he is missing a critical time in his young career for needed strength and technical development.

The tackles are up and down players with Dotson almost constantly dinged up and Smith perpetually underachieving. QB Jameis Winston’s propensity for hanging in the pocket too long doesn’t help, but their ceiling as a unit is clearly defined with the current tackles in place.

 

24. Bears (Harry Hiestand) – Preseason rank: 8

LT Charles Leno Jr.
LG Cody Whitehair
C James Daniels
RG Rashaad Coward
RT Bobby Massie

Notes: No team from my preseason rankings has taken a bigger drop than this Bears OL and the reasons for it are complex. First, the scheme has done them no favors and oftentimes uses pre-snap motion to the detriment of the ground game, bringing defenders into rush lanes instead of influencing them out. In an era of the NFL where pre-snap motion has permeated throughout the most effective run games, the Bears use of it has largely been ineffective.

QB Mitch Trubisky is arguably the worst in the league at his position and struggles to step up into the pocket when facing any sort of pressure. He instead bails outside the tackles too often, making their jobs that much harder.

With that said it doesn’t absolve the subpar play from numerous players on the line, none bigger than RG Kyle Long, who has had a lot of his power sapped by extensive injuries. He struggled to sustain blocks in the first five weeks before being put on injured reserve. Taking over his spot in Week 7 was converted defensive end Rashaad Coward who unsurprisingly had several lapses against a very good Saints DL in his first start.

Aside from the RG spot, LT Charles Leno has had a down year compared to a career best season last year, and has been called for eight penalties so far (T-2nd among OL). Bobby Massie has been solid at RT while Cody Whitehair and James Daniels haven’t handled the switch in positions as well as I thought they would with each struggling to generate much movement in the run game.

There’s reason to believe things will level off a bit as the year progresses under Hiestand, but with the current iteration of the scheme and bad QB play it will be difficult to keep defenses honest. That is making life more difficult on the offensive line.

 

 

Fifth Tier: Offensive Line Liabilities

 

25. Broncos (Mike Munchak) – Preseason rank: 10

LT Garett Bolles
LG Dalton Risner
C Connor McGovern
RG Ronald Leary
RT Elijah Wilkinson

Notes: There was a lot of optimism surrounding this unit heading into the season, thanks in part to the addition of Mike Munchak from the Steelers. But the tackle play has been a disaster and the primary reason for their struggles, particularly in pass-protection.

LT Garett Bolles has had multiple meltdowns this season with glaringly poor technique that he hasn’t been able to correct since coming into the league in 2017. He has nine holding penalties this season, and 29 total holding penalties in 39 career games.

The team gave RT Ja’Wuan James the richest right tackle deal in NFL history this offseason and he’s only seen the field for 32 snaps in eight games due to multiple knee injuries. Elijah Wilkinson was a promising 6th option and developmental type of player coming into the year that ideally would have been used in spot duty but instead has been thrown into the fire as a full-time starter and has struggled as a pass-protector, especially against the likes of Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, and the Packers’ edge-rushers.

Bad QB play from Joe Flacco and shaky play-calling from first-year offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello have exacerbated these issues, making it easy to overlook a good run-blocking group headlined by an encouraging rookie season from Dalton Risner.

 

26. Falcons (Chris Morgan) – Preseason rank: 11

LT Jake Matthews
LG James Carpenter
C Alex Mack
RG Jamon Brown
RT Kaleb McGary

Notes: It’s been a steep fall for this Atlanta offensive line so far this season and it began once rookie first-round pick Chris Lindstrom broke his foot in week 1. Once that happened it forced the team to turn to a middling rotation of Brown and Wes Schweitzer to replace him and neither have been anything more than backup quality in their careers.

This shouldn’t have been enough to crumble the ground game the way that it has considering Matthews, Mack, and McGary’s strengths as run-blockers, but the guard play has really hindered this unit’s ability to generate movement on double teams and work combo blocks in their zone-based scheme. While McGary’s play strength and power are notable as a run-blocker, he has gotten lit up by a variety of pass-rushers this season and makes this right side one of the bigger liabilities in the NFL without Lindstrom.

The good news and reason for optimism with this unit possibly rising up the rankings is that Lindstrom was recently seen without a walking boot in the locker room so he could return around week 11. The bad news is that the season is already lost and their remaining schedule is a gauntlet of quality defensive lines that prevents me from expecting much of a jump in the second half of the season.

 

27. Browns (James Campen) – Preseason rank: 27

LT Justin McCray
LG Joel Bitonio
C J.C. Tretter
RG Eric Kush
RT Chris Hubbard

Notes: There has been solid play from Bitonio and Tretter this season but they are the lone bright spots on an otherwise underwhelming unit, particularly in pass-protection. Kush hasn’t been terrible in his first year as a full-time starter but he is limited athletically and behind technically as a pass-blocker, looking best suited for a backup role. 

The tackles are really what cemented their preseason and current ranking as a bottom 7 unit, with Greg Robinson being benched before their week 8 game vs. the Patriots after being an impediment to the offense in recent weeks. Hubbard has also struggled whenever help doesn’t come his way largely due to being undersized and lacking enough play strength to anchor down against even moderately powerful rushers.

QB Baker Mayfield’s pocket presence has been shaky at best which hasn’t helped, but part of that is likely knowing that he is in legitimate danger when the tackles have to block good or better pass-rushers without extra help.

The team reportedly made an aggressive attempt at acquiring Trent Williams from the Redskins which would have been a boon to their performance, but failed to get the deal done and now have to finish the year with glaring weaknesses up front and no discernable reinforcements.

 

28. Cardinals (Sean Kugler) – Preseason rank: 29

LT D.J. Humphries
LG Justin Pugh
C A.Q. Shipley
RG J.R. Sweezy
RT Justin Murray

Notes: The Cardinals’ running game is one of the most productive (4th in rushing DVOA) and creative systems in the league, using a host of pre-snap motions and misdirection that has resulted in an unmatched rate of light boxes for their running backs Chase Edmunds and David Johnson (each ranking in the top 5 for lowest % of 8-man boxes per Next Gen Stats).

This is a little misleading in terms of the OL’s performance and when you isolate their play apart from the scheme it is one of the worst units in the league, which is a testament to the design of head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s system but also a closer look at their schedule reveals additional relevant context.

The team has gotten their 3 wins by beating up 3 of the 7 worst defenses in the NFL per DVOA (Bengals, Falcons, Giants), eclipsing 20 points just once (27 in week 1 vs. the Lions) in their other 5 games (each coming against top 25 defenses).

The interior has been a solid group as run-blockers with Humphries at LT showing some improvement after a disappointing first few years in the league, but Murray is a liability against good or better pass-rushers and the group as a whole are below-average pass-protectors when you study them on film. There is reason to be encouraged about the direction of the team as a whole, but the OL needs multiple upgrades next off-season to help maximize this innovative scheme.

 

 

Sixth Tier: Bottom Feeders

29. Chargers (Pat Meyer) – Preseason rank: 25

LT Russell Okung
LG Dan Feeney
C Scott Quessenberry
RG Michael Schofield
RT Sam Tevi

Notes: Okung’s return in week 8 after suffering from a Pulmonary Embolism in the off-season has given this unit a desperately needed boost, although it’s likely a moot point since starting center Mike Pouncey and guard Forrest Lamp both are out for the year with injuries. The offense has still managed to be competent largely due to QB Philip Rivers’ quick processing and anticipation as a passer, but 4 of the 5 starters are below average at best, with Tevi being a liability at RT.

 

30. Jets (Frank Pollack) – Preseason rank: 28

LT Kelvin Beachum
LG Alex Lewis
C Ryan Kalil
RG Brian Winters
RT Chuma Edoga

Notes: This unit ranks 31st in adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate with some of their pass-protection struggles being a result of terrible QB play during Sam Darnold’s 3 game absence.

Kelechi Osemele appeared to be a quality free agent signing this past off-season but dealt with extensive injuries that were apparently mishandled in embarrassing fashion by the team. There hasn’t been much opportunity for any semblance of continuity due to injuries and poor performance, with 7 players seeing at least 40% of the snaps.

Edoga has had to play LT the last 2 weeks since Beachum’s ankle injury and has really struggled, looking like a pure RT rather than having positional flexibility. This is a team that will need to add both a center and left tackle in the off-season to pull themselves up into respectability.

 

31. Bengals (Jim Turner) – Preseason rank: 30

LT John Jerry
LG Billy Price
C Trey Hopkins
RG Alex Redmond
RT Bobby Hart

Notes: This has been an utter disaster for the Bengals OL this season stemming from a cluster of injuries and poor play. The fact that John Jerry has been the starting left tackle for the last 3 games with Hart manning the right side tells you all you need to know about the tackle situation. 

The interior has been a revolving door at guard with Hopkins being the only below average starter. Jonah Williams’ return in 2020 will be an enormous boost, but this is still a group that needs at least two new starters added this upcoming off-season and possibly a new OL coach.

 

32. Dolphins (Dave DeGuglielmo) – Preseason rank: 32

LT J’Marcus Webb
LG Michael Deiter
C Evan Boehm
RG Daniel Calhoun
RT Jesse Davis

Notes: This is an organization playing for the future and purposefully putting a bad team on the field in 2019, so naturally their offensive line is largely composed of cast-offs and backup caliber players. Deiter has had a dreadful rookie season but has a chance at becoming a decent starter in the future and along with Davis are really the only two starters this line should have past this season.