Offensive line play remains one of the most underrated pieces of the NFL puzzle. Relatively few people go in-depth on the subject even though it massively impacts game outcomes.
I specialize in evaluating trench play. The primary factors I use to arrive at these rankings are my game-film evaluations of each individual offensive lineman, 2019 performance as a unit, age, experience, continuity, and coaching.
Most teams are evaluated with built-in expectations of variance that could bump them up or down a tier depending on how training camp plays out with regard to injuries, position battles, and chemistry.
For my Defensive Line Pass Rush Rankings, click here.
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Returning starters are in bold. Offensive line coaches are in parentheses.
TIER ONE: Elite Offensive Lines
1. SAINTS (Dan Rouschar)
LT Terron Armstead
LG Andrus Peat
C Cesar Ruiz
RG Erik McCoy
RT Ryan Ramczyk
Notes: The Saints have put on a masterclass at building their offensive line through outstanding scouting, evaluation, and development. All five projected starters are homegrown first-, second-, or third-round draft picks and three of the five are on rookie deals. Two of those on rookie deals are excellent players at their respective positions (McCoy and Ramczyk) while the lowest drafted of the unit (Armstead, round three) is their best player and arguably the best left tackle in the NFL.
Due to the front office’s shrewd execution in the draft, they’re allocating just $28M of their salary cap (26th lowest with the league average at $39M) toward an elite offensive line (1st in adjusted line yards).
The Saints continued their strategy of dedicating premium draft capital toward the position this offseason after cutting Larry Warford by drafting 2020 first-round pick Ruiz. I’ve heard the plan is to slide McCoy to guard to replace Warford with Ruiz taking over at the pivot. There may be an uncomfortable adjustment period early in the season, but over time as they each settle in, there’s a good chance of them at least reaching the level McCoy and Warford were at last season. With an average starting age of 25, no glaring weaknesses, and everyone locked up through 2021, this unit stands above as the clear-cut top unit in the NFL.
TIER TWO: Very Good Offensive Lines
2. COWBOYS (Joe Philbin)
LT Tyron Smith
LG Connor Williams
C Joe Looney
RG Zack Martin
RT La’el Collins
Notes: The NFL’s top offense in yards per play (6.46) in 2019 will yet again have a very good offensive line to rely on for at least the 5th season in a row. This group ranked 2nd in adjusted line yards and sack rate in 2019 and is led by three top-five players at their positions in Smith, Martin, and Collins along with two serviceable starters around them in Williams and Looney. Collins took a massive jump in his third season and elevated himself from an above average starter to the fifth-best right tackle in the NFL largely due to improved footwork and hand usage in pass protection.
While Looney probably starts the season at the pivot, expect 2020 fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz to push for the job as a rookie and worst case secure the spot in 2021 and beyond. Williams also has his work cut out to maintain his job with last year’s third-round pick Connor McGovern returning from injury and ready to compete.
With a trio of elite starters and four capable players competing for the other two spots, there’s no reason to believe the Cowboys’ offensive line won’t maintain its status as one of the league’s best for another season.
3. COLTS (Chris Strausser)
LT Anthony Castonzo
LG Quenton Nelson
C Ryan Kelly
RG Mark Glowinski
RT Braden Smith
Notes: This ranking is rooted in the Colts having the best left side of the line in the NFL with Castonzo and Nelson plus a very good scheme and coaching that consistently puts them in positions to succeed. Nelson is a dominant force sandwiched between two top-ten players at their positions in Castonzo and Kelly, the latter managing to start all 16 games and quiet some of his injury concerns.
The right side is less talented than the left, albeit with a very good run blocker and functional starter in Smith. Glowinski is the clear weak spot on the unit, a liability in protection, and also needs to cut down his penalties (10 in 2019, double the next highest on the team).
This group remains an elite unit returning all five starters from last year where each lineman played 95% or more of snaps (most in the NFL). Lastly, the upgrade at quarterback from Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers will likely ease the pass-protecting burden and assist in masking their vulnerable right side.
4. RAIDERS (Tom Cable)
LT Kolton Miller
LG Richie Incognito
C Rodney Hudson
RG Gabe Jackson
RT Trent Brown
Notes: Las Vegas leads the NFL in salary cap allotted to the offensive line at just under $58M, had the film to back it up in 2019, and all five starters return in 2020. The Raiders’ line ranked 6th in adjusted line yards and sacks as the catalyst for an efficient, productive offense that ranked 8th in yards per play (5.88).
Led by a spectacular resurgence from Incognito after his year off in 2018 and another outstanding year from Hudson, this is a hulking, massive group that can wear down opponents over the course of a game with a domineering playing style, aided by their extensive usage of heavy personnel (12% of total plays were out of 22 personnel, 2nd most in the NFL). Brown dealt with nagging ankle, knee, and pec injuries that clearly limited him on tape plus forced him out for five games, yet Brown was still a top-six right tackle and should be even better with a clean slate in 2020.
Miller was the biggest surprise of the unit and showed encouraging signs of development in his second year, partly due to playing alongside a dominant, savvy veteran in Incognito but also a revamped build, increased play strength, and improved anchor. The biggest concerns that could cause a regression are health related for Jackson (five missed starts in 2019) and Brown.
5. 49ERS (John Benton)
LT Trent Williams
LG Laken Tomlinson
C Weston Richburg
RG Daniel Brunskill
RT Mike McGlinchey
Notes: Usually when a player retires after 13 years, 192 starts, and six Pro Bowls (Joe Staley) there is a lull period until the team finds a viable replacement. But the 49ers flipped that narrative on its head by executing a trade for All-Pro Williams that could actually upgrade the position.
Given that this unit not only stayed afloat but excelled last season despite a rash of injuries to several starters is a testament to their depth, coaching, and head coach Kyle Shanahan’s brilliantly designed offensive scheme centered around an expertly designed zone-running game, unique personnel groupings (NFL’s highest usage of 21 personnel), extensive use of play action on early downs, (4th most through the first three quarters of games in 2019 per Warren Sharp’s 2020 Football Preview), and pre-snap motion (most in the NFL). These things work together to create a tremendous amount of pre- and post-snap eye candy for defenders that creates subtle hesitations while producing advantageous angles and leverage for blockers.
The scheme, improved talent, and depth (Justin Skule, Ben Garland, Shon Coleman, Tom Compton) ensures this line will remain one of the most effective in the NFL while having an even clearer road to sustained success throughout a full 16 games.
6. STEELERS (Shaun Sarrett)
LT Alejandro Villanueva
LG Matt Feiler
C Maurkice Pouncey
RG David DeCastro
RT Chukwuma Okorafor
Notes: The Steelers lost longtime LG Ramon Foster to retirement, breaking up the line with the most continuity in the NFL and the most experienced interior; Foster, Pouncey, and DeCastro have each made over 100 career starts. But Feiler has shown enough on film to warrant high expectations in his move from right tackle to left guard, leaving the right tackle spot as Pittsburgh’s primary question mark. 2018 third-round pick Okorafor and 2017 fourth-round pick Zach Banner are in a battle for the job in what is truly a toss-up.
DeCastro and Pouncey are the nucleus of the group and form one of the ten best and longest-tenured guard-center combinations in football, while Villanueva continues his improbable career arc from collegiate wide receiver and decorated war hero to above average left tackle. This trio along with the ascending Feiler and backup G/C Stefen Wisniewski should keep this group as a fringe top-ten unit assuming they get competent play from the winner of the Okorafor-Banner battle at right tackle.
7. RAVENS (Joe D’Alessandris)
LT Ronnie Stanley
LG Bradley Bozeman
C Matt Skura
RG D.J. Fluker
RT Orlando Brown Jr.
Notes: In Stanley and Brown, the Ravens have the third best tackle combination in the NFL (behind the Saints and Cowboys) with two top-ten players at their position that are cornerstones of the offense and most importantly, support QB Lamar Jackson’s development.
The interior is a collection of middling talent and solid scheme fits that are elevated due to the league’s most unique and run-heavy system. This will be more evident as the year plays out with Fluker set to take over for an all-time great in Marshal Yanda (retired). Yanda was arguably the best offensive lineman of the last decade, so his absence will be felt, particularly against elite pass-rushing competition.
There are three viable options to replace Yanda: Fluker and a pair of fourth-round picks from the last two drafts in Ben Bredeson (2020) and Ben Powers (2019). This committee approach will ultimately be a downgrade, but the upside is that it also acts as a failsafe toward injury and/or subpar performance while fostering competition and valuable depth.
This ranking for Baltimore becomes even more impressive when considering the context of the team allocating just under 13% of its salary cap to the offensive line, third least in the NFL.
8. BROWNS (Bill Callahan)
LT Jedrick Wills Jr.
LG Joel Bitonio
C J.C. Tretter
RG Wyatt Teller
RT Jack Conklin
Notes: No unit in the NFL will have a bigger rise in 2020 than the Browns. Their tackle group was a disaster in 2019 and now has two new high-floor starters to go along with a very good left guard-center combination in Bitonio and Tretter. Third-year pro Teller made nine starts last season and displayed all of the top-shelf traits that made him such an intriguing prospect coming out of Virginia Tech in 2017 (explosiveness, power, competitive toughness, length). Teller still needs to work on the nuances of the position — independent hand usage in pass protection, strike timing, setting 2i alignment rushers, and processing threats post-snap — but with Callahan taking over, Teller and 2020 first-round pick Wills Jr. are under the tutelage of an all-time great coach which is a big reason for this optimistic projection.
Operating within a zone-heavy, play-action centric scheme that new head coach Kevin Stefanski will implement to go along with the variety that Callahan will bring to keep things balanced, Cleveland is all of a sudden looking like an OL-friendly environment for the first time in at least a half decade.
TIER 3: Solid Offensive Lines
9. PACKERS (Adam Stenavich)
LT David Bakhtiari
LG Elgton Jenkins
C Corey Linsley
RG Billy Turner
RT Ricky Wagner
Notes: Bakhtiari and Jenkins form the second best left side in the NFL while Linsley is one of the league’s most underrated centers. These three form an outstanding trio at the top and are what will keep this line in the top half of these rankings throughout the year. The issues begin on the right side in what is the worst guard-tackle duo this team has had in recent memory after downgrading from Bryan Bulaga to Wagner to go along with the weakest spot of the unit in Turner.
Head coach and offensive play-designer Matt LeFleur wants a more structured, run-oriented, and play-action driven team which should help mitigate these issues to an extent, but Aaron Rodgers’ freewheeling play style and superstar rushers in the division (Khalil Mack, Danielle Hunter) present a significant risk to the flow of the offense and Rodgers’ health given the average to below average pass protectors manning his right flank. This ranking is a hedge based on the intended structure of the offense and a very good trio of starters on the line, but be aware of the risk of a regression happening up front as the season progresses.
10. BILLS (Bobby Johnson)
LT Dion Dawkins
LG Quinton Spain
C Mitch Morse
RG Brian Winters
RT Cody Ford
Notes: The Bills once again are a high-floor, moderately high-ceiling group that returns 4-of-5 starters with excellent depth and an OL coach in Johnson that deserves more credit for the job he did in his first year as a head position coach in 2019. Johnson got this unit (with four new starters) to gel very quickly while also improving in a linear fashion throughout the season, an encouraging sign for continued development.
Morse had a phenomenal season and looks back to his 2015 and 2016 self after dealing with extensive injuries from 2017-2018, giving the Bills a true weapon in their pin-pull series as one of the five best pulling centers in the NFL. Dawkins continues to improve his pass-protecting technique to go along with being one of the five strongest left tackles in the league. Up front, the Bills field hammers that wear down and grind defenders in both the pass and run game.
The biggest question mark is Ford. He had an up and down rookie season, which was expected based on it being his second year ever at tackle after facing mediocre competition at Oklahoma with a skill-set best suited for guard. I think Ford can succeed at tackle and develop into an above average starter with time, and that looks to be the plan for at least the 2020 season before injured RG Jon Feliciano (torn pec) becomes a free agent in 2021, which may lead to Ford kicking inside to guard depending on how he performs in 2020.
11. EAGLES (Jeff Stoutland)
LT Andre Dillard
LG Isaac Seumalo
C Jason Kelce
RG Jason Peters
RT Lane Johnson
Notes: Philadelphia will take a noticeable step back from the elite territory they’ve been in over the last few seasons for two reasons; the loss of RG Brandon Brooks (Achilles’) and Dillard taking over at left tackle while still needing time to adjust to NFL competition. But worst case, this will still be a solid unit the Eagles can win with that has two elite players in Kelce and Johnson, Seumalo coming off his best and most complete season at age 26, plus Peters back in the fold, albeit at a position he’s never played before.
Even with the opening question marks and Peters’ adjustment to a new position, there is plenty of talent and excellent coaching in place to pair with intriguing depth pieces (Matt Pryor, Jack Driscoll) that should safeguard the team’s ability to replace an interior player in case of injury or subpar play while maintaining a middle of the pack floor.
12. PATRIOTS (Carmen Bricillo & Cole Popovich)
LT Isaiah Wynn
LG Joe Thuney
C David Andrews
RG Shaq Mason
RT Yodny Cajuste
Notes: New England’s offensive line took a step back in 2019, but it was largely due to injuries to Andrews (blood clot) that caused him to miss the year and Wynn (toe) to miss eight games. With Andrews slated to return and Wynn penciled back in, this is a well-rounded starting five that has the best guard combination in football with Thuney and Mason.
This will be the Pats’ first year without Dante Scarnecchia (retirement) as offensive line coach since 2015, so there may be some regression but more than likely it will be seen in the long- rather than short-term given their continuity and experience. Assuming Andrews comes back near his 2018 form and gradually gets back to 100% as the season progresses, this could be the best offensive line new QB Cam Newton has ever played behind.
UPDATE: With Marcus Cannon opting out of the season due to COVID-19, the Patriots all of a sudden have a massive hole at right tackle with no clear replacement on the roster. 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste likely has the best shot from the current depth chart but don’t rule out the possibility of bringing back Marshal Newhouse or LaAdrian Waddle to provide a veteran presence to foster competition.
Even though the interior of the line is the strength of the unit, losing the continuity and reliability of Cannon will lower this group a tier barring Cajuste outperforming expectations in what would be his first action as a pro.
13. TITANS (Keith Carter)
LT Taylor Lewan
LG Rodger Saffold
C Ben Jones
RG Nate Davis
RT Dennis Kelly
Notes: Tennessee’s offensive line started the year slow in 2019 and only had their starting five intact twice in the first half of the season (Weeks 5-6) but after a Week 10 win vs. the Chiefs dramatically turned things around. This coincided with Saffold and Lewan’s rebound from early-season injuries (knee, concussion) into human battering rams that paved the way for Derrick Henry to average 149 rushing yards through the final nine games of last season, including playoffs.
Replacing RT Jack Conklin with Kelly (and eventually first-round pick Isaiah Wilson) is a downgrade for at least 2020, but this is a strong enough unit with perennially underrated Jones and ascending 2019 rookie Davis to insulate the offensive line from significant regression.
14. BUCS (Joe Gilbert)
LT Donovan Smith
LG Ali Marpet
C Ryan Jensen
RG Alex Cappa
RT Tristan Wirfs
Notes: It was evident after studying the Week 1 games last season that this line would be a pleasant surprise, and it stemmed from scheme change to a more downhill, attacking offensive style that suited the strengths of its best players. The line is led by an interior trio that doesn’t consist of a single former Division I player, a fun fact no other team in recent memory can replicate. Jensen was a top-three center in the NFL last season and is an absolute enforcer and along with Marpet forms an elite guard-center duo. Cappa continually got better in his first year as a starter and rounds out a stout group on the inside.
Having a strong middle of the offensive line plays well with QB Tom Brady’s mastery of navigating that area of the pocket, which will be important since blindside-protector Smith will most likely be the weak link of this unit. Smith struggles with technique in pass protection and has a tendency to be over-aggressive at the point of attack that results in him being early or inaccurate with his hands too often. Rookie first-round pick Wirfs is a generational athlete with good technique, so he should provide an instant upgrade on last year’s starter, a banged-up Demar Dotson.
15. CHIEFS (Andy Heck)
LT Eric Fisher
LG Kelechi Osemele
C Austin Reiter
RG Andrew Wiley
RT Mitchell Schwartz
Notes: Kansas City’s system is an offensive lineman’s dream because of an elite quarterback that doesn’t leave his blockers exposed, an excellent, OL-centric staff, plus a scheme that does a great job of incorporating motion, misdirection, and RPOs to keep defenses on their heels. This lends itself to filtering help in different ways across the line over the course of games with precision, depending on matchups and game plan.
Schwartz has been an elite player for several years and finally got more national recognition due to the team’s Super Bowl run. With Schwartz as the only elite or even very good player, the rest of the line is made up of solid, reliable starters that don’t dominate but the Chiefs can win with.
After Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the season, the Chiefs quickly signed Osemele to compete at guard. Osemele’s recent performance has underwhelmed amid an array of injuries, but he adds upside to this unit if healthy.
UPDATE: Kansas City signed free agent guard Kelechi Osemele to replace Duvernay-Tardif (LDT) who opted out due to COVID-19. Osemele was a dominant force in 2016 and very good in 2017 but has regressed over the last two seasons partly due to injuries (torn labrum, nagging knee injury). At 31-years old Osemele offers more upside than LDT but also a lower floor given his performance over the last couple of years.
With Osemele exclusively playing left guard over the last seven seasons and 2019 starting left guard Andrew Wylie playing on the right as recently as 2018 (plus being a lesser player), it makes more sense to keep Osemele on the left side while flipping Wylie over. Even with more initial variance built into the unit’s projection with the changeup, there is enough supporting factors (scheme, coaching, Schwartz) to warrant the same ranking entering the season.
16. TEXANS (Mike Devlin)
LT Laremy Tunsil
LG Max Scharping
C Nick Martin
RG Zach Fulton
RT Tytus Howard
Notes: Houston’s offensive line has come a long way from where they were at this point last offseason when they had Seantrel Henderson and Matt Kalil as their projected starting tackles. Now the team has one of the higher upside tackle combinations in the NFL. Tunsil is a very good starter with a Week 1 age of 26, while Howard proved to be a quality blocker in his eight starts as a rookie and should keep improving with more time to settle in at the position. Howard will be just 24 in Week 1.
The rest of the line is a solid, young group (average age of 26) with Scharping showing plenty of promise in his 14 starts as a rookie and quickly developing chemistry with Tunsil. Despite some questionable personnel moves across the roster, QB Deshaun Watson will have an offensive line in front of him that he can win with and possibly because of as they gain experience playing together.
TIER 4: Below Average Offensive Lines
17. CARDINALS (Sean Kugler)
LT D.J. Humphries
LG Justin Pugh
C Mason Cole
RG J.R. Sweezy
RT Justin Murray
Notes: First-year coach Kliff Kingsbury did a brilliant job of overcoming a pedestrian offensive line by designing a creative offense centered around quick passes and spreading out the defense with a bevy of misdirection, motion, and QB runs that consistently created advantageous angles and leverage for front five. It also helped having one of the league’s more underrated line coaches in Kugler, who got the line to gel and improve as the year progressed.
Humphries stayed healthy for the first time since his 2016 rookie season, and his ability to continue an upward trajectory will go a long way toward setting this line’s ceiling in 2020.
There remain big question marks at right tackle and center that are holding Arizona down in the rankings, but there are also multiple viable options at each spot that should allow this group to continue what they started last season and do enough to not drag down the offense. QB Kyler Murray also has to improve his pocket presence and not take as many sacks as he did in 2019 (tied for most in the NFL at 48 with Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan). This will help make the line look better, but it’s important to point out that in a vacuum this is a below average group, so Murray will likely see a high rate of pressure whenever he has to work off of his first read or to the other side of the field.
After Marcus Gilbert opted out of the season, the Cardinals’ most interesting position battle is for the right tackle job between incumbent Murray and 2020 third-round pick Josh Jones. Murray struggled badly in the role last year, and Jones is likely the future of the position as a player many draft gurus believed could have been drafted in round one.
18. FALCONS (Chris Morgan)
LT Jake Matthews
LG James Carpenter
C Alex Mack
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
Notes: Atlanta’s line is led by a strong trio at the top consisting of Mack, Matthews, and Lindstrom. Lindstrom only started five games as a rookie in 2019 due to injury but looked solid and was an excellent prospect coming out of Boston College, so expect him to develop into a mainstay and lock down the right guard spot long term.
Left guard has a below average but serviceable and experienced starter in Carpenter, while right tackle is more unknown after 2019 rookie first-round pick McGary struggled mightily against top competition in pass protection. Even with the obvious weaknesses, Atlanta still has a path into the solid tier if McGary makes a major jump and Carpenter can stay healthy for a majority of the season.
The disappointing part about this line is that the production doesn’t come close to reflecting the cost considering every starter is a former first-round pick and the team is investing 22.4% ($45M) of its salary cap into the position, good for 4th most in the NFL.
19. JAGUARS (George Warhop)
LT Cam Robinson
LG Andrew Norwell
C Brandon Linder
RG A.J. Cann
RT Jawaan Taylor
Notes: Jacksonville’s offensive line remains an underachieving group with a lot of talent but can’t seem to get all five starters on the same page or healthy for any extended period of time. Linder has become the most reliable starter and is above average, while Cann is serviceable. 2019 rookie first-round pick Taylor was a prospect I evaluated coming out of Florida last draft season, and his talent was easy to spot on tape. Taylor also improved as his first season progressed after a few rough patches against the likes of Von Miller and Cameron Jordan.
Robinson is coming off the worst year of his career after a torn ACL in 2018 that led to another knee injury in the preseason. This clearly bothered him during the first several weeks of the season, impacting his base, weight distribution, and consequently technique. He eventually settled down and played better late in the year, but it was too little, too late.
Richardson rotated with Cann at right guard last year but is moving back to his natural spot at left tackle to compete with Robinson, which along with being in a contract year may be the push Robinson needs to finally put everything together and play to his potential. If he can make a jump and become more consistent with his technique, this unit could all of a sudden warrant a much higher ranking.
20. VIKINGS (Rick Dennison)
LT Riley Reiff
LG Dakota Dozier
C Garrett Bradbury
RG Pat Elflein
RT Brian O’Neill
Notes: The Vikings are a highly effective running team (7th in adjusted line yards, 6th in rush yards per game) that utilizes an outside-zone scheme predicated on extensive play action and heavy 12/21 personnel (2nd highest rate in NFL for each in 2019) that combine to provide a tremendous amount of help to the offensive line through alignment, chips, and creating post-snap hesitation in defenders.
This helped mask the fact that the interior really struggled in pass protection when isolated against good or better competition yet still allowed the NFL’s eighth fewest sacks per pass attempt (6%) primarily due to scheme.
O’Neill is a fast-rising player that made impressive strides in his second season with traits to develop into a very good starter (already a very good run blocker) in the near future. The Vikings’ next-best piece is second-year C Bradbury, who is an above average run blocker with potential to be very good there, yet has work to do honing his pass sets and strike timing before he can be considered a well-rounded starter. Eifert is converting to left guard to right guard, which was his position in college. Left guard is wide open to a competition involving Dozier, Aviante Collins, and rookie Ezra Cleveland, who played left tackle at Boise State.
This is clearly not a line that a team can win because of, but in a Gary Kubiak-led scheme, they’re good enough to win with.
21. GIANTS (Marc Colombo)
LT Andrew Thomas
LG Will Hernandez
C Nick Gates
RG Kevin Zeitler
RT Cameron Fleming
Notes: The Giants have come a long way over the last two years in building a respectable offensive line and now have a talented nucleus with intriguing depth and just one glaring hole (center). While that is very good compared to 2018-2019, having a ‘solid’ ceiling still does not match up with the 22.4% of the cap this unit is taking up (3rd most in the NFL). That said, at least they look to be on the right track.
Zeitler (one penalty in 1004 snaps in 2019) remains the star of the unit due to remarkable consistency with technique, leverage, and fundamentals. Thomas was originally ticketed to play next to Zeitler at right tackle but was forced to the left side when LT Nate Solder opted out of 2020. Thomas spent his final two years on the left side at Georgia, hopefully easing his NFL transition.
Ideally, 2020 third-round pick Matt Peart represents the future of the Giants’ right tackle position. But career journeyman-swing tackle Fleming is getting the first crack.
Hernandez continues to demonstrate elite traits with inconsistent play and mental lapses that are indicative of a player still adjusting to the pro game and being negatively impacted by erratic play around him. Despite some concerns, there are enough high-level flashes from Hernandez to still consider him and Zeitler as one of the 8-10 best guard combinations in football.
The main burden this line will have to overcome is at the center position with Gates and Spencer Pulley. I would expect either versatile Gates or 2020 fifth-round pick Shane Lemiuex to push for playing time and ultimately be better options over the course of the season, but the position is a clear weakness that will likely cause the interior to be leaky in pass protection vs. top-tier defenses and inside rushers initially.
22. CHARGERS (James Campen)
LT Trey Pipkins
LG Dan Feeney
C Mike Pouncey
RG Trai Turner
RT Bryan Bulaga
Notes: After completely revamping the right side of this line with Pouncey returning (missed 11 games due to 2019 neck injury), the Chargers will have an improved group from the bottom-five unit they fielded last season. The caveat is that the unit is still likely below average due to a leaky left side and lack of depth at tackle.
Feeney hasn’t missed a game in two years but has not been able to overcome inconsistent technique as a pass protector. Part of his struggles in 2019 can be traced to both starters to his left and right going down before Week 6, so Feeney had notable outside factors working against him on top of his own flawed game. Regardless of the context, Feeney needs to play better to keep his job with more-talented Forrest Lamp set to return from his second major injury in as many years (torn ACL in training camp as a rookie, broken fibula last year).
Left tackle is likely a two-man race. Option one is 2019 third-round pick Pipkins, a Division-2 product with an impressive frame, build, and explosiveness yet also very raw footwork, hand usage, and just three career starts to his name. Option two is Sam Tevi, the 2018 and 2019 starter at right tackle. Tevi is more experienced (29 starts) but hasn’t played left tackle since spot duty in 2017 and was a below average starter the last two seasons on the right side, so the prospects for 2020 at left tackle aren’t encouraging and will be difficult to overcome.
23. LIONS (Hank Fraley)
LT Taylor Decker
LG Joe Dahl
C Frank Ragnow
RG Jonah Jackson
RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Notes: Much like the team as a whole, the Lions’ offensive line has consistently let people down based on expectations and there isn’t much reason to expect this season to be different given they are replacing multiple positions with equal or inferior players.
That said, Decker, Dahl (1 penalty in 820 snaps), and Ragnow form a solid trio, while 2020 third-round pick Jackson and fourth-round pick Logan Sternberg are promising prospects that create much-needed competition at the guard spots. Going from Rick Wagner to Vaitai is close to a wash (both are below average), so that change is negligible.
On paper and based on prior performance, this looks like an average unit at best and most likely below average until the legitimate question marks on the right side can be answered. It will be interesting to see the impact a new line coach in Fraley has on their development, given that last year’s decisions up front under a different coach were highly suspect (e.g. rotating ineffective Kenny Wiggins in for both guards most of the season).
TIER 5: Offensive Line Liabilities
24. BEARS (Juan Castillo)
LT Charles Leno Jr.
LG James Daniels
C Cody Whitehair
RG Germain Ifedi
RT Bobby Massie
Notes: The Bears fell far below expectations as a unit in 2019 with legendary collegiate line coach Harry Hiestand at the helm and made a coaching change primarily for the regression that took place with 2018 first-round pick Daniels. Daniels moved from guard to center and back to guard over the course of the season, while Leno took a step back after what may have been an outlier 2018 season where he was really solid.
Once Kyle Long went on injured reserve after five games, the right guard position was a disaster the rest of the season. Chicago moved forward with converted defensive tackle Rashaad Coward, who struggled mightily in pass protection. Adding failed right tackle Ifedi from Seattle probably won’t fix the problem.
Chances are this unit won’t return to an average level in 2020. But if Daniels can live up to his massive potential and Leno rebounds to 2018 form, they will combine with Whitehair to form a strong trio to go into 2021.
25. PANTHERS (Pat Meyer)
LT Russell Okung
LG Dennis Daley
C Matt Paradis
RG Michael Schofield
RT Taylor Moton
Notes: There is a lot of turnover in Carolina with the new coaching staff and system being implemented, including three new starters on the offensive line. Part of their league-worst sack total of 58 (tied with Dolphins) and 29th ranking in adjusted sack rate was on poor quarterback play but also a slew of injuries, primarily at left tackle which was a revolving door of four different starters that along with three different starters at right guard essentially nuked the development any cohesion.
The wildcard for 2020 is Okung and his health given that he dealt with a pulmonary embolism last year that cost him ten games. If he is back to his 2018 self, then this line can jump up into the middle third of the NFL.
Another factor dragging the unit down is the guard situation that is a collection of four unproven (Daley, Greg Little), well-below-average (John Miller), or mediocre (Schofield) players competing for two jobs. Paradis is an above average starter when healthy but struggled for most of 2019 after recovering from a bad leg injury the year prior. Paradis did start to look more like his normal self down the stretch.
26. BRONCOS (Mike Munchak)
LT Garett Bolles
LG Dalton Risner
C Lloyd Cushenberry
RG Graham Glasgow
RT Elijah Wilkinson
Notes: The hiring of Munchak in 2019 was expected to bring instant results, and while it certainly helped Risner’s fast development, the impact was generally underwhelming due to injuries, a dreadful tackle situation, and mostly terrible QB play minus Drew Lock’s final five starts.
Bolles hasn’t missed a start in his first three seasons but has 32 penalties in his first 48 games including a disastrous run of holding penalties in 2019 (four in Week 2, three in Week 7). This led to the team declining his fifth-year option, and puts him on thin ice. It’s important to note that 2020 will be the first time Bolles has had the same offensive line coach and starter at left guard in back-to-back seasons, so perhaps the continuity can help him reach some sort of consistency.
RT Ja’Wuan James was given one of the two richest deals in NFL history for a right tackle but couldn’t overcome an early knee injury and started just three games last year. James then opted out of the 2020 season, dealing a major blow to the talent of this group.
Munchak now has a new right guard in Glasgow and a stout rookie center in Cushenberry to mold. Along with Risner, this gives the team the strongest interior they’ve had in years. This trio will help keep quick pressure to a minimum, but Munchak needs to work magic with Bolles and Wilkinson to take a major leap for this line to reach its potential.
27. RAMS (Aaron Kromer)
LT Andrew Whitworth
LG Joe Noteboom
C Brian Allen
RG Austin Blythe
RT Rob Havenstein
Notes: After fielding a very good offensive line in 2018, the Rams were expected to have a noticeable regression in 2019 due to losing 236 career starts worth of experience in Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan and replacing them with zero starts between Allen, Noteboom, and Bobby Evans.
Yet what transpired went beyond most worst case scenarios.
Injuries decimated the interior of the already inexperienced line, creating an untenable void that the team attempted to patch up with the acquisition of Austin Corbett via trade and inserting 2019 fifth-round pick David Edwards into the lineup. What really cratered the line into oblivion was the unexpected drop in play from RT Havenstein that mysteriously lasted the whole season after two consecutive years (2017 & 2018) of above average play and steady improvement.
Whitworth’s age and remarkable 221 career starts are catching up to him (will turn 39 in December) but he remains the best player on the line and an above average starter. Whitworth also lost a noticeable amount of weight leading up to the season that hurt his legendary ability to anchor and absorb bull rushers, so it will be interesting to see how he approaches what may be his final NFL campaign.
There is a path for this group to rise in the rankings due to excellent coaching and bounce-back seasons being possible from the likes of Blythe, Havenstein, and Whitworth, but there are too many things that need to go right to count on those assumptions. For a team spending the second least amount of money in the NFL on the offensive line ($25M), the Rams seem destined to get what they’re paying for barring a string of extraordinary luck.
28. JETS (Frank Pollack)
LT Mekhi Becton
LG Alex Lewis
C Connor McGovern
RG Greg Van Roten
RT George Fant
Notes: Becton changes the identity of this line and will be a foundational piece moving forward while McGovern will shore up the pivot spot. But other than these two, there are a lot of questions that need to be addressed on film during the season before ranking the Jets higher than one of the worst lines in football.
Having potentially four new starters on the line without any continuity up front to rely on in a condensed offseason will be a tall task to overcome, especially in an environment that hasn’t been conducive for development to occur.
Aside from Becton being appointment viewing every week, the next most interesting storyline will be how the right side of the line shakes out considering there are three guys battling for two spots; those projected above and a player that made 2019 starts in Chuma Edoga. Any of these four names can win the job, but I am going with the players listed as starters partly due to GM Joe Douglas bringing them on board, whereas Winters and Edoga were already on the roster when Douglas took over in the middle of 2019.
The Jets’ offensive line was terrible last year. So ranking them 28th means they’ve improved on paper, although the team environment and vibe since head coach Adam Gase took over clouds all optimism for development until proven otherwise.
29. SEAHAWKS (Mike Solari)
LT Duane Brown
LG Mike Iupati
C B.J. Finney
RG Damien Lewis
RT Brandon Shell
Notes: Brown — easily Seattle’s best player up front — made this remark earlier in the offseason, and it is among the many reasons for the Seahawks’ lowly O-Line ranking: “Good offensive line play, a major factor is chemistry and continuity.” With three new starters projected and each of those spots expected to have major competition from the likes of Ethan Pocic, Joey Hunt, and Cedric Ogbuehi, there is a tremendous amount of variance that makes it tough to have much confidence in what this unit looks like, let alone how they perform. What we do know is there will be an overhaul without much time to get on the same page before live bullets start flying.
2020 third-round pick Lewis does project as a better version of D.J. Fluker, while right tackle looks to continue the trend of disappointment regardless of who wins the job between Shell and Ogbuehi. Center is going to be a three-man race between Finney, Pocic, and last year’s backup-turned-starter Hunt. The veteran left side of Brown and Iupati (299 combined starts) and heavy running system that Seattle employs (2nd most rushing attempts over the last two seasons) should help ease the burden a bit. But there is no escaping the fact that this looks like a line destined for a low floor and low ceiling in 2020.
TIER 6: Bottom Feeders
30. WASHINGTON (John Matsko)
LT Geron Christian
LG Wes Schweitzer
C Chase Roullier
RG Brandon Scherff
RT Morgan Moses
Notes: Washington’s only legitimate hope of getting out of this tier is if its center, right guard, and right tackle carry the line enough to overcome what looks to be a league-worst left side. Scherff is a total stud and alone makes it worth turning on this unit’s tape, but has really struggled with injuries over the last three seasons (15 missed games) and if out for any extensive period of time will secure Washington’s bottom-feeder status indefinitely.
Roullier is the line’s second-best player. He is an underrated center and good zone run blocker that plays smart (1 penalty in 89% of snaps). Moses has played through extensive injuries the last couple years but has not missed a game in five seasons. The injuries have taken a toll on Moses’ consistency, but there is plenty to be said for his toughness and durability.
The left side remains a grave concern as Christian is talented but painfully raw in his technique. As of now it is “his job to lose” per a source but expect rookie fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles to have an outside shot at the job, with Cornelius Lucas being an emergency option. The left guard spot is a toss-up between newly signed Schweitzer from Atlanta and last year’s swing interior backup, Wes Martin.
Coach Matsko has a lengthy track record of success, so this unit shouldn’t be ruled out from rising into the next tier. But Matsko will need to make a tremendous impact for that to happen.
31. BENGALS (Jim Turner)
LT Jonah Williams
LG Michael Jordan
C Trey Hopkins
RG Xavier Su’a-Filo
RT Bobby Hart
Notes: The Bengals are getting a big boost at left tackle with last year’s first-round pick Williams returning after missing his rookie season with a torn shoulder labrum. Opposite Williams is Hart, who is probably the worst right tackle in football and inside of him is below average starter Su’a-Filo. While Su’a-Filo possesses very good power and solid run-blocking ability, he is extremely inconsistent with his technique as a pass-protector, making this entire side easily one of the bottom two or three pairings in the NFL.
Hopkins performed admirably last season in his fifth year and first as a 16-game starter (1 penalty in 99.9% of snaps is helpful) but seemed to get a bit overrated as the year went on perhaps because he was such an improvement over the dreadful center play the Bengals were accustomed to in the recent past. Hopkins’ positives are that he’s an alert pass protector who recognizes stunts well and is a serviceable run-blocker that excels pulling and blocking in space. He will get pushed around on the inside against very good or better competition due to a lack of girth and play strength, but overall is a functional starter on an inexpensive contract.
Left guard will come down to Jordan and Billy Price, two young second- and third-year players that have a lot of holes in their game. It should be noted that Price started training with renowned OL trainer Duke Manyweather in the offseason and is getting top of the line body treatment and mechanics work.
Aside from left tackle and center, this is a line in flux that has very little invested into the position salary cap wise (13%, 29th lowest) and will once again reap what they sow as one of the worst in football barring sudden, rapid growth from multiple players.
32. DOLPHINS (Steve Marshall)
LT Austin Jackson
LG Ereck Flowers
C Ted Karras
RG Robert Hunt
RT Jesse Davis
Notes: Despite being projected as the worst unit in the league again, the Dolphins added several new names to the fold through the draft and free agency that at least provide a glimmer of hope to improve as the season progresses. Karras takes over at center and will bring some sense of stability despite being a limited player, while Flowers takes over at left guard after a successful switch inside in 2019 that resulted in by far the best year of his career. Whether or not Flowers can maintain that level of play near his hometown on a young, inexperienced line in more of a leadership role remains to be seen.
Davis is set to return at right tackle while left tackle and right guard are wide open. Julie’n Davenport was last year’s primary starter at left tackle and will be in competition with the team’s first-round draft pick Austin Jackson, and second-round pick Hunt will compete with fourth-round pick Solomon Kindley and second-year player Michael Deiter for the right guard job.
Jackson has tremendous talent but struggled on tape in 2019 at USC showing a lack of play strength in his anchor and overall power that were glaring against top competition, but not without cause. Jackson donated bone marrow to his sister before the season and reportedly couldn’t execute squats with weight on his back until after the fourth game of the season because his body became so weak from the procedure. Jackson is a young (turns 21 in August), long (34 ⅛), athletic and fluid mover on tape with far more talent than Davenport so it would be a surprise if he doesn’t win the job sooner rather than later.
Hunt is big, nasty, and surprisingly polished coming from the Sun Belt conference. Hunt has a shot to win the right tackle job but is a more natural fit inside and should find a home there.
While the Dolphins are starting at the bottom heading into training camp, they have a realistic shot of jumping up a tier and being better than a few teams currently in front of them due to an influx of talent.