It is common for playoff teams to have quality offensive lines and this year is no different. Six of the top-10 offensive lines from my midseason update are in the playoffs while all 12 teams ranked as a top-20 unit. Being able to control the game from the inside-out through the trenches becomes increasingly important as the margin for error shrinks in the playoffs, tendencies are exposed (forcing heavier reliance on the execution of fundamentals like blocking and tackling), and inclement weather becomes commonplace.
Creative schemes, innovative coaching, and great quarterback play can mask some deficiencies up front, but by and large teams that are able to pass-protect and run-block at a high level increase their efficiency as an offense.
The below rankings are put together through meticulous film study and research with the aim of identifying which units are the best apart from outside factors, while also combining unit performance within the context of the scheme and surrounding personnel. This is done to identify which players are the best in a vacuum while also factoring in how coaching, scheme, continuity, and game-planning enhance or hinder the play of each offensive line unit.
*OL coaches are in parentheses
*2019 starts are after each player’s name
TIER 1: ELITE OFFENSIVE LINES
1. Saints (Dan Roushar) – Midseason rank: 1
LT Terron Armstead – 15
LG Andrus Peat – 10
C Erik McCoy – 16
RG Larry Warford – 15
RT Ryan Ramczyk – 16
Total starts: 72
This Saints unit has been one of just three teams in the ‘elite tier’ since my preseason rankings and have remained there throughout the entirety of the season despite dealing with significant injuries and only having two starters play in every game (Erik McCoy and Ryan Ramczyk).
McCoy hit the ground running from day one and aside from a couple mental errors (Ex: late snap Week 4 vs. Dallas) seamlessly replaced longtime stalwart Max Unger in what can best be described as a special rookie season in the face of legit pressure manning the pivot spot for an elite team on an elite unit.
Terron Armstead had a remarkable season starting a career-high 15 games and gutting out the last four after suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 12 that only kept him out for a single week. Armstead played the last four weeks undeterred by the crutches and walking boot he was in during the week leading up to each game, shutting down the likes of Nick Bosa in Week 14 while showing incredible leadership and toughness in the process.
Along with Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk put together a stellar season on the opposite side, elevating himself from ‘very good’ to ‘elite’ status at his position, and is worthy of an All-Pro nod after playing 99.4% of snaps while pitching shutouts against the likes of J.J. Watt (Week 1), Demarcus Lawrence (Week 4), and Khalil Mack (Week 8). With the best set of bookends in the NFL, this is a Saints OL that put the offense on their backs during their six game winning streak without QB Drew Brees and are the lifeblood of the NFL’s 3rd ranked scoring offense at 28.6 points per game.
Andrus Peat broke his forearm in Week 10, returned in Week 17 to play 71% of snaps as a tune-up for the playoffs while Larry Warford returned for the same reason after a single game absence in Week 16, The most encouraging aspect for the playoffs is that this group has gotten healthy at just the right time and is near full health just in time for their showdown vs. the Vikings in the Wildcard round.
2. Packers (Adam Stenavich) – Midseason rank: 4
LT David Bakhtiari – 16
LG Elgton Jenkins – 14
C Corey Linsley – 16
RG Billy Turner – 16
RT Bryan Bulaga – 16
Total starts: 78
Green Bay enters the playoffs a very different team than the one from past postseasons that relied on the supreme talent of QB Aaron Rodgers to carry them. Instead, this year’s team is built around a ferocious pass-rush and the league’s No. 4 rushing offense by DVOA.
This running game is predicated on an outside zone scheme that is tailored to the skill-set of David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, and Bryan Bulaga in particular, with guards Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner being more power-oriented players. This blend of abilities up front has allowed their running game to work in gap concepts effectively, making them an excellent run-blocking group with invaluable versatility to keep defenses guessing.
Similar to years past, Rodgers has all day in the pocket to survey the field relative to other quarterbacks, a testament to a top three tackle duo in Bakhtiari and Bulaga that have been phenomenal this season. Jenkins has been a top five left guard in football as a rookie while Linsley remains one of the most underrated players at his position in the NFL. Turner is the “weak link” but an adequate starter nonetheless that brings an element of physicality that helps set a valuable tone up front.
The Packers’ offensive line are well-rounded, healthy (only unit in the playoffs with all five starters playing 80% or more of snaps together), and at the center of everything the offense wants to accomplish.
TIER 2: VERY GOOD OFFENSIVE LINES
3. Eagles (Jeff Stoutland) – Midseason rank: 2
LT Jason Peters – 13
LG Isaac Seumalo – 16
C Jason Kelce – 16
RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai – 3
RT Lane Johnson – 12
Total starts: 60
Much like the rest of the roster, this is an offensive line that has dealt with a rash of injuries with just two players that managed to start all 16 games (Isaac Seumalo played 99.8% of snaps and Jason Kelce played 100% of snaps).
Led by the best right side in the NFL, Lane Johnson had another elite level season despite missing four games with a high-ankle sprain, and is expected to return at near 100% for the playoffs.
Brandon Brooks put together a miraculous season and should be in the running for Comeback Player of the Year considering he is a 350 pound man that returned in Week 1 at an elite level after suffering from a torn Achilles just eight months prior in the divisional round of the playoffs. Brooks separated his shoulder in Week 17 and is done for the season, delivering a gut punch that breaks up the dominant side of this Eagles OL.
Kelce remains a rock in the middle while Seumalo has been solid and steady in his first year as the full-time starter, with Jason Peters defying logic by remaining an above average starter at 37-years old (turns 38 in January) notwithstanding significant wear and tear on his body.
With Halapoulivaati Vaitai having invaluable experience as one of the league’s most versatile backups, the loss of Brooks should be mitigated enough that the run-blocking will continue to be a strength, while Johnson’s return after a three week hiatus will bring much stability on Carson Wentz’s frontside. This is a group that has played in the biggest of games before with multiple elite players still in place (Kelce, Johnson) plus excellent coaching to boot. Even with the loss of Brooks, this is a unit entrenched in the second tier.
4. Ravens (Joe D’Alessandris) – Midseason rank: 8
LT Ronnie Stanley – 14
LG Bradley Bozeman – 16
C Patrick Mekari – 5
RG Marshal Yanda – 15
RT Orlando Brown – 16
Total starts: 66
The league’s top-ranked offense by DVOA set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season at 3,296 (a record that stood for 41 years) thanks primarily to their scheme, quarterback, and offensive line in that order. The order isn’t meant as a knock to Lamar Jackson (who should easily win the MVP award) or their OL, rather an acknowledgement of how uniquely and brilliantly constructed this offense is under Greg Roman’s guidance.
With a ton of misdirection, a multitude of blocking concepts, and elite supplementary parts to the OL via fullback Patrick Ricard and a three-headed monster at tight end, this is as difficult of an offense to prepare for as the NFL has seen in decades.
The unit is led by Marshal Yanda at right guard who is 166 starts into his 13th year and playing with a technical mastery and level of precision in everything he does that is only bolstering an already strong case for the Hall of Fame. Next to him is one of the two biggest starting offensive linemen in the NFL in Orlando Brown Jr. (the other being Raiders RT Trent Brown), a 6’8” 350 pound behemoth that is ultra-physical in the run game while blotting out rushers with his frame and length as a pass-protector.
The second top-tier player in the lineup (after Yanda) is Ronnie Stanley who will more than likely earn All-Pro honors after continuing his ascension from last season into this one as an “elite” left tackle. His job was easier than most left tackles considering the Ravens passed the ball fewer than any team in the NFL this season, but he has executed his responsibilities at a very high level every week of the season and has been a technical maven since his college days at Notre Dame.
The most impressive thing about this group is that they lost their starting center Matt Skura in Week 12 and it was merely a blip on the radar. They inserted an undrafted rookie in Patrick Mekari and skipped the expected adjustment period that occurs with the loss of a center late in the year, while LG Bradley Bozeman has slowly but steadily improved as the year has progressed.
The diverse scheme and deft use of the personnel paired with a quality offensive line make this a frightening offense with all parts accentuating one another while frequently putting their OL in positions to succeed.
TIER 3: SOLID OFFENSIVE LINES
5. 49ers (John Benton) – Midseason rank: 9
LT Joe Staley – 7
LG Laken Tomlinson – 16
C Ben Garland – 3
RG Mike Person – 14
RT Mike McGlinchey – 12
Total starts: 52
The 49ers are similar to the Ravens in that their scheme does a great job of enhancing the offensive line by utilizing creatively designed blocking concepts that consistently gain superior angles and leverage for its blockers,.
Each OL is similarly built as well, starting with an excellent tackle duo in Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. Both Staley and McGlinchey are playing their best football of the season entering the playoffs but it was a rocky road to get here as each guy dealt with serious lower extremity injuries this season that resulted in some inconsistent play. Staley missed Weeks 2-10 with a broken fibula and Weeks 11-13 with a fractured finger that required surgery. McGlinchey missed Weeks 3-9 due to a knee injury.
Staley had his best game of the year in Week 17 vs. Seattle, erasing Jadeveon Clowney and looking like his old self for the first time since Week 1, while McGlinchey has gradually looked more comfortable each week since his Week 10 return.
Weston Richburg was having a Pro Bowl caliber season at center before going on injured reserve after Week 14, so there was a drop-off with Ben Garland entering the lineup (particularly in pass-protection) but it hasn’t been as pronounced as initially expected.
Garland has done an excellent job in the running game using his quickness and athletic ability to reach shaded nose tackles and pick off linebackers in space, allowing the running and screen game to continue to thrive in Richburg’s absence. The guards are the “weak links” of the unit and can be taken advantage of when isolated in pass-protection against top competition, but with as much play-action and moving drop points that the offense uses they aren’t put in many vulnerable positions.
6. Patriots (Dante Scarnecchia) – Midseason rank: 10
LT Isaiah Wynn – 8
LG Joe Thuney – 16
C Ted Karras – 16
RG Shaq Mason – 15
RT Marcus Cannon – 15
Total starts: 70
In a season with the most collective time missed on the offensive line since 2015, Coach Scarnecchia has done an extremely impressive job to field a quality unit even with major injuries to multiple starters, including having Marshall Newhouse as the starter for nine games at left tackle (Weeks 2-11). Each current starter (aside from Joe Thuney) has had their fair share of struggles whether technically or injury-wise, but have also gradually worked themselves into playing their best football as the year has progressed.
Shaq Mason had a tough start to the year due to some shoddy technique as a pass-protector but has worked it out over time for another quality 15-start season while Joe Thuney at the other guard spot continues to be one of the more underrated and consistent offensive linemen in the NFL over the last several years. Ted Karras has had his fair share of struggles as a pass-protector but I thought played the best game of the season in Week 16 and has benefitted from Scar’s tutelage more than any other player on the line.
Marcus Cannon avoided a major injury in Week 1 that initially looked terrible to put together another solid year at right tackle. Isaiah Wynn has effectively been a rookie this season after missing all of 2018 due to injury and still missed 9 games, giving him significant adversity to overcome to kick off an otherwise very promising career. Wynn’s keen use of leverage, crafty hand usage, and elite competitive toughness have formed a very good left side of the line with Thuney, particularly in the running game, and his presence in the lineup is absolutely vital so this offense is not hamstrung.
7. Bills (Bobby Johnson) – Midseason rank: 14
LT Dion Dawkins – 16
LG Quinton Spain – 16
C Mitch Morse – 16
RG Jon Feliciano – 16
RT Cody Ford – 15
Total starts: 79
Not much has changed for the Bills OL since my midseason update. This is still one of the most physical units in the NFL that blends zone and gap concepts seamlessly, making their running game very difficult to prepare for. Coach Johnson and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll do an outstanding job of scheming advantageous leverage points and angles through extensive use of pin-pull, fold, and trap blocks to go along with power concepts to capitalize on their immense physicality, size, and aggressiveness.
After Green Bay’s OL, this unit has more continuity than any other in the playoffs and it shows in how well they not only run-block but work together to pass off games and stunts in pass-protection. The guards deliver massive jolt to interior rushers and delayed loopers, creating firm pockets more often than not. Where they can get into trouble is when they are isolated vs. very good or better pass-rushers since none of them are particularly refined pass-protectors on an island. This will become an issue the further the team gets into the playoffs as competition ramps up, if they advance at all.
8. Titans (Keith Carter) – Midseason rank: 20
LT Taylor Lewan – 12
LG Rodger Saffold – 16
C Ben Jones – 15
RG Nate Davis – 12
RT Jack Conklin – 16
Total starts: 71
Tennessee is the surprise of the playoffs with how well they are playing offensively since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starter in Week 7. The offensive line has morphed into a better unit than I anticipated at the midway point largely because of how well Rodger Saffold has played in the second half of the season after hampered with injuries over the first half.
Saffold has been borderline dominant as a run-blocker over that span and forms a devastating left side with Taylor Lewan playing better in the second half of the season as well. The right side is the weaker of the two but after a brutal first few games rookie Nate Davis has settled down significantly while Jack Conklin has been adequate throughout the year and a much better run than pass-blocker.
I would expect the Patriots to attack Davis with an avalanche of twists, stunts, and exotic blitz schemes so his performance alongside of Conklin in pass-protection will be the key to their success against the league’s top-ranked defense in the opening round.
9. Chiefs (Andy Heck) – Midseason rank: 12
LT Eric Fisher – 8
LG Andrew Wylie – 11
C Austin Reiter – 16
RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif – 14
RT Mitchell Schwartz – 16
Total starts: 65
Injuries and a lack of continuity on the left side of the line as well as inconsistent play from everyone but Mitchell Schwartz has resulted in a middle of the pack unit this season, but they have also managed to improve over the course of the season. Schwartz has the longest starting streak in the NFL among offensive linemen (128) and put together his third All-Pro caliber season in a row. Aside from Schwartz, this is an inconsistent group in a vacuum that is helped tremendously by Andy Reid’s offensive scheme that brilliantly uses pre-snap motion, RPOs, and play-action on nearly every snap, which is an effective way to stretch out defenses while simultaneously being difficult to decipher.
The left guard situation has been the most recent issue since Andrew Wylie missed the last two games of the season with an ankle injury with Stefan Wisniewski taking his place. Wylie is reportedly good to go for the divisional round, but his performance is something to keep an eye on over the course of their first game.
Eric Fisher is a middle of the pack to slightly below average left tackle, which amounts to a serviceable starter but with so many elite edge-rushers in the playoffs is another area of concern for this group up front. The left side is significantly more vulnerable to top-tiered pass-rushers than the right, so when the scheme can’t displace and distract defenders this is the side to worry about vs. top competition.
TIER FOUR: BELOW AVERAGE OFFENSIVE LINES
10. Vikings (Rick Dennison) – Midseason rank: 17
LT Riley Reiff – 15
LG Pat Elflein – 15
C Garrett Bradbury – 16
RG Josh Kline – 13
RT Brian O’Neill – 15
Total starts: 74
Minnesota’s line as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. More specifically, this group has played a lot of football together this season and it has shown in their linear improvement over the course of the season. Their grasp of what this heavy outside zone running game aims to accomplish and execution of aiming points, footwork, and timing on combo blocks has been impressive to see bear out on tape.
The downside of the unit comes when the run game slows down and their heavy use of play-action becomes a little more predictable, which forces their blockers into more isolated matchups on obvious passing downs.
Players such as Packers DT Kenny Clark, OLB Za’Darius Smith, and Falcons DT Grady Jarrett have wrecked havoc through the interior this season and the line’s pass-protection up the middle will be their primary issue throughout the postseason.
11. Texans (Mike Devlin) – Midseason rank: 13
LT Laremy Tunsil – 14
LG Max Scharping – 14
C Nick Martin – 16
RG Zach Fulton – 14
RT Chris Clark – 7
Total starts: 65
Four of the five starters on this Texans OL are functional or better starters and that’s been the case since Week 3 when Max Scharping and Tytus Howard took over starting roles. The problem has been the right tackle position ever since Howard went on injured reserve after Week 6. Over the course of the year there have been four different starting right tackles and the position remains a black hole with Chris Clark as the primary starter and Roderick Johnson as the next man up.
Laremy Tunsil has been a godsend for Deshaun Watson’s blindside and is a very good player while Scharping and Nick Martin are solid starters, forming the strength of the unit. Zach Fulton is an adequate starter but his weaknesses in pass-protection are exacerbated on the right side with possibly the worst starter at that position in the league next to him at right tackle.
Tunsil has penalty issues he needs to clean up and despite right tackle being a disaster this is a much better OL than what was in place the prior season, giving Watson hope that he didn’t have at this time last year.
Another factor that impacts the line’s performance is Watson’s pocket management being inconsistent with a tendency to either hold the ball too long or bail clean pockets. The positive side is that Watson is also capable of evading quick penetration and masking protection issues when those arise, so the issues this group has don’t negatively impact the passing game as much as they would with the vast majority of other starting quarterbacks.
12. Seahawks (Mike Solari) – Midseason rank: 19
LT George Fant – 7
LG Mike Iupati – 15
C Joey Hunt – 8
RG D.J. Fluker – 14
RT Germain Ifedi – 16
Total starts: 60
Seattle’s problems up front are almost exclusively tied to pass-protection and have been intensified with the losses of starting center Justin Britt in Week 8 and their best player in Duane Brown after Week 15.
With two backups in the lineup an already middle of the pack unit understandably took a step back into below average territory but is not without strengths as run-blockers. Mike Iupati, D.J. Fluker, and Germain Ifedi are big, strong, and imposing forces in the running game and can wear down opposing defensive lines over the course of a game, while Joey Hunt is the polar opposite as an undersized guy that wins primarily with quickness.
Hunt’s presence at the pivot has thrown a wrench in the team’s construction of the OL and his inability to anchor vs. power-rushers has damaged the integrity of the pocket. George Fant is a dramatic downgrade from Brown and with Ifedi’s documented struggles as a pass-blocker these injuries have done irreparable damage to the pocket for Russell Wilson.
Wilson is a magician that excels vs. pressure, but it is difficult to see how this offense can do enough to consistently score and win multiple games this postseason without a herculean effort from Wilson at a level we haven’t seen before.