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Kickoff is getting closer, which means it’s time to start grinding to find every advantage you can to draft the best fantasy team possible. Offensive linemen take pride in winning inside the trenches, and it’s no secret that a weak offensive line can derail an entire offense’s production, regardless of how talented the skill position players are. To rank these lines for fantasy purposes, I’m using Pro Football Focus’ individual grades for each projected starting lineman to calculate an overall line grade* coupled with Justin Boone’s strength of schedule matrix from The Score (a comprehensive matrix that includes historical defensive data, new coaching staffs and schemes, home/road splits, offseason roster changes, and individual player matchups). Furthering deepening the process is the use of Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rates (a metric that gives sacks and intentional grounding penalties per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent), Stuffed Ranks (percentage of runs where the halfback is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage), and Adjusted Line Yards (a formula that breaks down all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the O-Line based on a percentage breakdown of values per losses and incremental yards gained).
Finally, key statistics including QB Hits, Sacks Allowed, and Yards Per Carry are also factored in … all to provide you with a comprehensive study to help you decide which O-Lines are sieves for you to blitz with your fantasy defense and which ones are building blocks to pave the way for offensive scoring. Note that PFF overall line grades alone do not comprise the rankings, as all the aforementioned date was considered. Thus, a line with a better overall PFF line grade may actually slot lower in these rankings due to other factors such as the strength of schedule, Adjusted Line Yards, etc. Feel free to click on any of the links for more detailed descriptions of these metrics and formulas. Essentially, these rankings reflect how offensive lines could impact fantasy scoring this year as opposed to just a direct order of analytical grades, regardless of opponents.
*PFF college grades for incumbent rookies were used when factoring overall PFF line grades.
Tier 1: BUILDING BLOCKS
(top tier/elite lines – these lines should enhance the value of fantasy players)
1. Philadelphia Eagles (overall PFF grade 86.2). Some would argue that certain statistics call into question Philadelphia’s top ranking. They were middle of the pack in terms of sacks allowed last year (36) and allowed the 7th most QB hits of any team in football. However, their line boasts four top 10 O-linemen based on PFF graded individual position rank, headlined by center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks, right tackle Lane Johnson, and left tackle Jason Peters, who will be returning from a torn ACL and MCL. They will need all those players at peak form considering they’ll face the 4th hardest run schedule of any team this season. Fortunately, they draw a top 5 easiest strength of schedule for their pass game, which should make it easier to run, even against the toughest of defenses. This unit should pave the pave the way for an offense among the league’s best.
2. Dallas Cowboys – (overall PFF grade 79.82). The Cowboys’ front five finished last season with the 4th best Adjusted Sack Rate (4.3%) according to Football Outsiders to go along with the 4th lowest Stuffed Rate. This season, they’re starting rookie Connor Williams at left guard, and La’el Collins (50.7 overall PFF grade) at right tackle could be a liability. However, Williams (85.7 overall college grade) shows strong potential, and Zach Martin (RG) and Travis Fredrick (C) are elite, so this line boasts All-Pro ability. Like PHI, they should draw a lot of soft matchups in the passing game, which would normally help mitigate what looks on paper to be a rather challenging slate of tough run defenses. However, questionable talent at wide-out and Dak Prescott taking a step back last year under center may mean more stacked boxes for Ezekiel Elliott. Make no mistake, this line is very good. But they may be playing uphill for much of the season if the passing game can’t keep defenses honest.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers – (overall PFF grade 70.02). The Steelers’ line ranked tops in all of football with an Adjusted Sack Rate of just 3.9%. They also finished inside the top five in Stuffed Rate, per Football Outsiders. And yet, you could argue they actually underperformed last year considering only David DeCastro (2nd overall ranked RG last year) and Marcus Gilbert (13th at RT despite an injury last year) finished inside the top twenty at their respective positions. The talent on board is still young, and they also benefit from a wily vet at QB in Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh will face mostly middle of the road defenses in terms of strength of schedule. Despite the departure of OC Todd Haley, who had a sometimes-contentious relationship with Big Ben and the offense, PIT should continue to be a highly productive offense powered by a solid O-Line. Haley’s replacement, Randy Fichtner, has been Roethlisberger’s position coach for eight years (continuity often breeds success), so it’s safe to expect PIT to remain a relatively pass-happy offense. That being said, Mike Tomlin’s teams consistently fall in the top half of rushing attempts each year, so this line will be expected to succeed in stabilizing a balanced offense. The talent is there to do it.
4. New England Patriots – (overall PFF grade 81.68). New England added Trent Brown this offseason, an underrated tackle who was a poor fit in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, which necessitates quickness rather than Brown’s gargantuan size and strength. However, Brown looks like a perfect scheme fit in New England to replace the loss of Nate Solder. Strong in the interior despite question marks at tackle, it seems safe to assume that the Patriots run game will remain one to target. Expect OC Josh McDaniels to dial up a lot of high percentage quick throws to keep Tom Brady on his feet and mitigate any damage that would otherwise be incurred by edge rushers. In terms of strength of schedule, the rich only continue to get richer, as the Patriots draw the 2nd easiest run schedule of any team this season, something they should be licking their chops to do more of after drafting Sonny Michel in the 1st round to carry the rock with Rex Burkhead and James White and Brady plays his first season in his 40s. Add in the fact that New England had the third best Stuffed Rank according to Football Outsiders, and this backfield should feast. This line is a solid group despite top end talent, and they’ll benefit from a schedule and scheme that should only enhance their value. Barring injury or disastrous play at the tackle positions, it’s safe to assume New England will continue firing on all cylinders.
5. Atlanta Falcons – (overall PFF grade 80.24). The Falcons were a top-six unit last year in terms of fewest sacks allowed, and their 4.8% Adjusted Sack rate from Football Outsiders backed that markup. While their Stuffed Ranking wasn’t overly impressive, they were in the top ten in open field blocking and 2nd level blocking yards. Alex Mack remains a top-flight center, but he was flanked by poor play at right guard last year. Atlanta added former 49er Brandon Fusco, who essentially makes a lateral move if we’re talking scheme similarity, so he should represent an upgrade. If not, the Falcons may struggle to run up the middle, especially when you consider they face the 7th hardest slate against run defenses. Overall, it’s a solid enough line bolstered by the quickness of their offensive scheme and playmakers, who should be able to take advantage of a rather weak group of pass defenses overall, making it a bit easier for the run game to open up. However, I’d expect this unit to be far more successful passing the ball than running it.
6. New Orleans Saints – (overall PFF grade 67.2). They were arguably the most efficient pass blocking unit last year (2nd behind Pittsburgh in Adjusted Sack Rate) thanks largely to rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk’s 96.6 PFF pass blocking grade, and they also ranked number one by Football Outsiders’ Stuffed Rate, which rates the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Put simply, Saints’ running backs were almost never touched in the backfield, and Drew Brees was the second least hit QB in football. So, why don’t the Saints go marching in to first in these rankings? Well, dig a little deeper, and Max Unger (concerning 50.0 PFF overall grade last season) and Andrus Peat (46.9) appear to be fading, while Terron Armstead has seen his grade steadily fall since 2015 as injuries pile up. I wouldn’t shy away from this unit when it comes to NO skill position players considering their strength of schedule is only moderately challenging, but I also would expect it to favor RB Alvin Kamara’s game more than Mark Ingram’s. New Orleans boasts a highly efficient pass attack that also effectively attacks defenses downfield, and while it’s prudent to bake in some regression after last season’s record-setting year, the Saints’ line should provide a solid investment for those taking their skill position players.
7. Oakland Raiders – (overall PFF grade 79.02). The Raiders’ line underperformed in 2017 compared to 2016. However, they’re still a young unit, and the quality of their play may revolve around how effective Kolton Miller, drafted in the 1st round to play right guard, can acclimate to the pro level. The unit finished top 7 according to Football Outsiders’ pass protection rankings with only 24 sacks allowed and an Adjusted Sack Rate of 4.6%. Coach Jon Gruden has historically favored the run over the pass, and when you factor in a schedule that features tough defenses against both QBs and WRs, this line will most likely have more success running the ball than passing it this season, especially given RB Marshawn Lynch’s strong finish to last season, where he posted a strong success rate and PFF Elusive Rating. This line seems poised to grind and pound, but they should be able to hold their own in pass protection despite the challenging schedule, perhaps having a neutral rather than adverse effect on players like WR Amari Cooper. The soft rush schedule suggests a value for those investing in the run game.
8. Tennessee Titans – (overall PFF grade 77.06). The Titans line appears poised to take a big step forward this year, though a lot of that may depend on the health of Jack Conklin, who tore his ACL in the playoffs last year. The addition of RB Dion Lewis will help open up the screen game, and with no lineman earning less than a 73.6 overall grade last year, they should be able to move the ball fairly well via the ground and air. They don’t have anyone up front who qualifies as elite, and advanced metrics showed a somewhat mediocre line last year, so why the aggressive ranking? You guessed it – schedule and scheme! Tennessee goes up against the 8th easiest schedule against QBs and the 7th against RBs. After last year’s failed “exotic smashmouth” experiment, TEN has installed Matt LaFleur’s play-action based offense, flush with concepts similar to what Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay employ out West. The Titans are looking like a highly-undervalued unit this season, given a capable line with a mouth-watering schedule that should allow the talent along the line to play up.
9. Los Angeles Rams – (overall PFF grade 73.8). The Rams’ road graders obviously did their part for RB Todd Gurley and Jared Goff to post career years, as the unit led by Andrew Whitworth (LT) and Rodger Saffold (LG) posted the 9th best Adjusted Sack Rate and led the league in second level yards despite a mediocre Stuffed Rank (23rd). However, it should be noted that with tougher defenses emerging in the NFC, a much tougher strength of schedule this season, and the Rams’ collective line getting up there in age, I’d expect less efficient play and perhaps more injuries to boot. The benefit of having Sean McVay as OC is that he can scheme around that, so there shouldn’t be anything that causes fantasy owners to shy away from Todd Gurley, who should remain the Rams’ centerpiece, but expecting last year’s heights might be asking a lot for anyone in this offense.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars – (overall PFF grade 68.52). The Jaguars posted a 4.4% Adjusted Sack Rate to go along with a top 10 Stuffed Rank, which essentially means RB Leonard Fournette wasn’t hit often in the backfield and QB Blake Bortles endured the 3rd fewest sacks of any starting signal caller in football. That doesn’t mean this line has no holes, as left tackle Cam Robinson (pitiful 37.6 overall grade) and right guard A.J. Cann (52.5) will need to be better. Jacksonville wants to keep the ball on the ground, and it wants its offense to run through Fournette. If the mere presence of Blake Bortles behind center didn’t make that obvious enough, the expensive offseason signing of mountain-sized Andrew Norwell at left guard should cement that fact. On paper, the Jaguars appear to have the easiest overall schedule of any team in football, as the line doesn’t project to face much of a pass rush on most weeks. It should be noted that when Fournette battled injuries down the stretch last year, Bortles aired it out rather successfully in OC Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, so against a soft schedule, Bortles should be successful when he has to throw. The schedule against the rush is middling at best, so Fournette will get the ball early and often, and when Jacksonville has to throw, it likely will be able to do so with relative ease, or at least with as much ease as Bortles’ limitations will allow them to do so. The offseason additions of WR Donte Moncrief and TE Austin-Sefarian Jenkins, both big red zone weapons, signal the desire to limit Bortles’ attempts but maximize red zone efficiency. Frequent three-step drops inside the ten-yard line should mitigate the stacked boxes this line will face in an effort to stop Fournette and deficiencies at right tackle and left guard. I’d expect the Jaguars to run a ball-control offense and score often while playing fast enough to keep the heat off the holes in its line.
Tier 2: STABLE BLOCKS
(Solid, if unspectacular lines that should have a relatively neutral impact on fantasy players)
11. Green Bay Packers – (overall PFF grade 63.92). The Packers gave up the 5th most sacks in football last year and 9th most QB hits. So, what the blue hell are they doing so high in these rankings? Well, typically elite right tackle Bryan Bulaga was hurt often, and David Bakhtiari earned PFF’s highest grade at left tackle for pass protection (an elite 90.5); the line also earned the 2nd best Stuffed Rank according to Football Outsiders. In fact, according to FO’s Adjusted Line Yards, the Packers’ line was the 5th best run blocking unit in the league last season. Admittedly, the line doesn’t grade out particularly well up the middle according to PFF overall individual ranks for Lane Taylor (68.7), Corey Linsley (51.7), and Justin McCray (40.4) thanks to deficiencies in pass protection, and that may cause problems given that the Packers will face a slew of defenses that are projected to allow the least fantasy points to QBs (translation: carnivorous pass rushes) and among the least to pass catchers in 2018 (solid secondaries). Along the line, it should be a classic battle many Sundays of the immovable objects meeting the unstoppable forces, but with QB Aaron Rodgers being as elite as it gets, you’d have to be hard-pressed to bet against this unit in the passing game. I’d expect the talent at tackle and Rodgers’ athleticism to ensure he generally has time to throw, making the passing game not one to shy away from, per say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this unit fails to lead the way for anything more than a middling yard-per-carry average for the running backs.
12. Los Angeles Chargers – (overall PFF grade 62.96). Since RB Melvin Gordon entered the league, poor offensive line play has been most often blamed for his low YPC average. This could be the year that changes. Mike Pouncey arrives to play center, and right guard Forrest Lamp (who lost 2017 to injury) brings his 91.7 PFF overall college grade to the starting lineup in the hopes of playing a full season. Veteran Russell Okung gives QB Philip Rivers a solid presence at left tackle as well. The Chargers allowed the fewest sacks of any team last season, and they were in the top 10 of fewest QB hits as well, despite former starters Kenny Wiggins allowing the most pressures of any guard in the league last year while Spencer Pulley rolled over for the most of any center. Rivers draws an easy schedule in terms of pass rushes he will face, which should only help a line that had the 3rd best Adjusted Sack Rate (4.2%) according to Football Outsiders. Gordon gets an even softer one against the rush. Add in a tough slate of secondaries that could potentially funnel more passes to the backs, and it’s easy to see how Melvin Gordon could have a career year behind this line.
13. Detroit Lions – (overall PFF grade 78.26). This unit looks poised to bring it on Sundays despite less than stellar results last year (22nd in Adjusted Sack Rate and a woeful 31st Stuffed Rank). Interestingly, most of the players along this line quietly scored good overall grades according to PFF metrics. The addition of PFF’s top-ranked college center, Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow, should provide the missing link. OC Jim Bob Cooter prefers to control the ball, failing to rank even in the top 25 for per game play volume the last two years, which could negate the potential for this line. I think the run game could surprise, as DET focused on adding workhorse compliments RB Kerryon Johnson (2nd rounder) and LeGarrette Blount to pair with passing down maven, Theo Riddick. QB Matthew Stafford could offer some nice late-round QB value dropping back behind this group. However, the only thing that dampens the excitement is an absolutely brutal strength of schedule for all their skill position players except maybe the WRs, which I’d still qualify as challenging. This unit should make some gains this year based on improved talent and continuity with the system, but they might be incremental thanks to the schedule.
14. Washington Redskins – (overall PFF grade 65.94). Brandon Scherff (8th overall RG last year) and Trent Williams (9th overall LT) continue to be studs. The rest of the line features question marks and players coming off injury (18 combined games lost to injury), as last year’s middling Adjusted Sack Rate (7.7%) and lackluster Stuffed Rank (15th) according to Football Outsiders will attest. But with two studs along the line, Washington faces the second easiest pass schedule, so this unit should block well enough for QB Alex Smith and WR Jamison Crowder to thrive in Jay Gruden’s scheme, which they might have to do considering Washington also draws the league’s hardest run schedule of any team this season. It may be wishful thinking to expect big things out of the run game with rookie size/speed RB Derrius Guice out for the year (ACL), the tough schedule, and a rather porous run blocking. While I wouldn’t go so far as to fade the run game entirely, keep expectations in check as it may prove tough sledding most weeks and an RBBC to boot.
15. Chicago Bears – (overall PFF grade 77.3). Chicago’s strength of schedule is legitimately mouth-watering. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels was the highest run-blocking graded college center in the nation last year, and he should man left guard this season. Stronger campaigns from center Cody Whitehair and right guard Kyle Long could also be a boon. This may grade out as one of the most improved lines in the league by season’s end, which should only help the added skill position players added in the offseason. New coaches Matt Nagy (HC) and Mark Helfrich (OC) run a progressive spread offense, frequently utilizing the shotgun, something the line should be able to execute well to the benefit of all the skill position players who can pick up the new scheme well. There could be tremendous value in this offense. However, losing left guard Josh Sitton in free agency and relying on the rookie Daniels and injury-prone Long might be a risky proposition. Thus, it’s prudent to avoid getting too caught up in the hype. There is potential, to be sure, but exercise caution.
16. San Francisco 49ers – (overall PFF grade 71.92). The 49ers offensive line figures to be significantly improved from last season, and last year’s statistics reveal little considering the Niners will employ three new starters on the line, all handpicked by offensive guru Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch. Kyle Shanahan’s offense demands quicker, smaller linemen to make it work, and the addition of center Weston Richburg should make a big difference. Joe Staley continues to play at a high level at left tackle (PFF ranked him as the 2nd best overall LT last season), and Laken Tomlinson, a former 1st round pick, seems to have rejuvenated his career at left guard in Shanahan’s system. The Niners invested a 1st round pick in right tackle Mike McGlinchey, PFF’s highest rated tackle in the draft. Right guard remains a question mark, and it appears to be the one spot on the line most likely to cause problems. Unfortunately, the strength of schedule isn’t as kind this season, with a cadre of elite secondaries on tap. San Francisco will most likely embrace the short and intermediate passing game while challenging deep to push the ball downfield, all while forcing the run game against a slightly easier rushing schedule. New free agent RB addition Jerick McKinnon (now the league’s 4th highest paid running back) and backup Matt Breida figure to be busy all game both running and catching the ball while contributing in pass protection. This line should make big strides this year playing with rising star QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who managed to make seemingly every player on the team better during his five-game winning streak to close out last season.
17. Cleveland Browns – (overall PFF grade 71.88). Tackle Joe Thomas was the linchpin of this line for years, and while their interior remains strong and well-suited to run the ball behind Joel Bitonio (LG) and Kevin Zeitler (RG), questionable talent at tackle could compromise the passing game significantly. The strength of schedule will likely further support this offensive trend, as Cleveland has the 12th easiest rushing schedule but draws some of the hardest matchups for the passing game. Counteracting that will be mobile QBs Tyrod Taylor and rookie Baker Mayfield at the helm, along with significant investments at running back both in free agency (Carlos Hyde on a top 10 contract at his position) and the 2nd round of the draft (Nick Chubb at 35th overall), plus RB Duke Johnson siphoning most passing down work. A run-friendly schedule should guarantee a run-first game plan every Sunday, and all three backs figure to remain heavily involved each week. The success of the passing game with WRs Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon will depend on how efficient OC Todd Haley is able to create mismatches and get his playmakers the ball, and it will likely involve a lot of run/pass option plays and bootlegs given how poorly the play projects to be at the tackle positions. The scheme should feature a healthy dose of no-huddle, hurry-up offense to give Taylor and Mayfield quick, simple decisions without the need to make complicated line calls and pre-snap coverage reads, and theory, that should allow Cleveland to take advantage of both the line and skill positions’ strengths to maximize production in favorable matchups.
18. Indianapolis Colts – (overall PFF grade 66.72). The Colts invested a top 10 pick in Quenton Nelson at left guard, followed by Braden Smith at 37th overall, and Nelson should quickly emerge as a force. Anthony Castonzo (PFF 82.0 overall grade) remains at left guard, joining Nelson in fortifying QB Andrew Luck’s blindside and paving the way for a strong left side. The rest of the line is difficult to project, as center Ryan Kelly is coming off an injury-marred campaign after playing well as a rookie in 2016 and right guard Matt Slauson graded out with an overall PFF score of 45.0, which hardly inspires confidence. It’s hard to remember the last time the Colts rostered a solid O-Line, but this group is likely better than what has protected Andrew Luck for most of his young career thus far. Considering a rather soft schedule of pass defenses, the line should hold up well enough to make WR T.Y. Hilton and newcomer TE Eric Ebron value picks later in drafts. Despite a far from intimidating slate of rushing defenses on tap, new head coach Frank Reich figures to employ a committee approach at running back like he did in Philadelphia, and none of the backs on Indy’s roster are as well-rounded as the backs in Philly last year, nor does the line figure to be anywhere as good. Thus, despite the soft schedule, Indy’s backfield isn’t one to target aggressively behind this line unless they show early signs of truly exploiting an advantageous schedule.
19. Kansas City Chiefs – (overall PFF grade 62.82). The Chiefs boast one of the better tackles in football in Mitchell Schwartz, and Eric Fisher (LT) and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (RG) both rate as solid even if they lack upside, making this line more than competent to make Andy Reid’s offense run, provided young QB Patrick Mahomes can do so efficiently. The group ranked in the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ Stuffed Rank and Power Rank, which measures critical runs of two yards or less to go. Kansas City’s rushing schedule is mostly middle-of-the-road in terms of difficulty, making ascending star RB Kareem Hunt a worthy play, but Mahomes will face some vicious pass defenses, which should make new offseason addition WR Sammy Watkins and playmaker WR Tyreek Hill all moderate, if unspectacular plays each week as this line adequately leads the way.
20. Denver Broncos – (overall PFF grade 63.94). Denver’s line allowed the third most sacks and eight most QB hits last year, but improved play from left tackle Jared Veldheer should help a steadily improving unit at least rank middle of the pack this season, barring injury. Additionally, Denver’s unit did show well in the run game (7th best Stuffed Rank, according to Football Outsiders). That would all bode well for new QB starter Case Keenum, who broke out big last year, and slot man Emmanuel Sanders. The line isn’t likely to hold up well to frequent five-step drops, so a quick pass game, like the one featured in MIN with Keenum last season, will most likely be the game plan more oft than not. Better at run blocking than pass protecting, this line will be tasked with opening holes for likely early-down starter, and 3rd round rookie, Royce Freeman, an in-between the tackles pounder. So long as the defense keeps them in games, Denver should emphasize the run. An improved passing game (their QB situation could not have been worse last year), should only help this line perform better. There’s nothing here that screams “league winner,” but like Indianapolis, Denver could be a place to find sneaky value this season.
21. Miami Dolphins – (overall PFF grade 63.34). Miami’s line wasn’t entirely a dumpster fire last year (11th best Adjusted Sack rate based on Football Outsiders’ metrics), but it could hardly be considered good given they came in at 30 in FO’s Stuffed Rank. On the surface, it would seem that losing Mike Pouncey at center figures to only make it worse. So why the optimism here? Well, new left guard Josh Sitton posted an overall grade of 86.0 last season, and former 49er Daniel Kilgore should competently replace Pouncey up the middle, so the team clearly sought to upgrade the run blocking. Add in the fact that Miami faces one of the softest schedules against the rush this season, and this line stands to improve. That being said, it’s hard to envision a roster so bereft of top-end talent like this to take full advantage of that schedule, despite coach Adam Gase’s offensive acumen. The ceiling will likely remain rather pedestrian for this entire offense despite improved line play, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value to be had here.
22.Tampa Bay Buccaneers – (overall PFF grade 66.66). Notes: Tampa Bay draws a rather brutal strength of schedule, particularly against the run, but the offensive line looks like it might show well this year. Right tackle Demar Dotson (85.0 PFF overall score) and left guard Ali Marpet create a strong interior with free agent center Ryan Jensen manning the middle. They’ll be tested by the schedule, but the talent is there to meet the challenge. Unfortunately, QB Jameis Winston is suspended for the first three games, and an already tough run schedule figures to get even tougher with stacked boxes cluttering holes for RB Peyton Barber and 2nd rookie Ronald Jones at running back. The dominos are lined up for this team to stumble big out of the gates, putting coach Dirk Koetter on the hot seat. If he doesn’t last the season, it won’t be clear which direction this offense trends, so this line may be dealing with issues far bigger than its strength of schedule. It’s entirely possible that this offense disappoints tremendously, but it shouldn’t be because the line up front falters.
#23. Baltimore Ravens – (overall PFF grade 57.18). The success of Baltimore’s offense circled the drain last season when right guard Marshal Yanda went down, and it might be a stretch to assume a 34-year-old guard will continue to play elite football at an age where his body is already starting to show signs of breaking down. Without Yanda, this line might boast only one truly solid lineman in Ronnie Stanley (LT). Sure, they posted the 4th best Adjusted Sack Rate on Football Outsiders last year, but that’s mostly because QB Joe Flacco developed check down Tourette syndrome. Flacco and his receivers face one of the toughest pass defense schedules of any team this year, and since the run game draws a favorable slate, the line must be able to take advantage of the opportunity. They helped pave the way for 4.22 yards per carry by the running backs last season, led by upstart RB Alex Collins, against a more difficult schedule. The best hope out of Baltimore is that mobile, playmaking QB Lamar Jackson quickly usurps Joe Flacco and Yanda returns to form, giving Collins a chance to return even more value and this passing offense to have more upside. The line, however, does not inspire much confidence.
24. New York Giants – (overall PFF grade 63.24). The Giants brought in Nate Solder (admittedly, by overpaying him considering they made him the highest paid tackle in the league despite a 75.7 overall PFF grade) and drafted Will Hernandez (91.4 PFF college grade) in the second round of this year’s draft, giving them a solid left side on paper. The rest of the line is fairly mediocre, and this unit should feel the loss of Weston Richburg at center. Last season, they posted a top 10 Adjusted Sack Rate and top six Stuffed Rank, according to Football Outsiders. This season, a questionable interior and the second-worst run schedule in football could dampen all-world rookie RB Saquon Barkley’s outlook in year one, especially if QB Eli Manning plays so poorly at age 37 that he needs to be benched again, inviting defenses to stack the box at will against this line. New OC Pat Shurmur is all but certain to dial up a similar scheme to the one he employed in Minnesota last year – quick passes on high percentage throws and creative run plays – to compensate for what looks to be average line play. The idea will be to get the ball out quickly and into the hands of New York’s dynamic playmakers (Evan Engram, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Barkley), so more than likely, this line’s deficiencies will be masked and improvement should be expected with the infusion of better talent along the left side.
25. Cincinnati Bengals – (overall PFF grade 64.38). Cincinnati made modest upgrades this offseason, adding Cordy Glenn to hold down left tackle and drafting Billy Price (83.8 PFF college grade) in the first round this year to play center, though Price was better at run blocking than pass protection. Despite the holes along this line last year, they did manage to post the ninth best Stuffed Rank, according to Football Outsiders, but a poor 3.70 yards-per-carry average negated that benefit. A moderately easy strength of schedule should benefit the line some, making RB Joe Mixon a potential value pick if he can take the lion’s share of carries away from Gio Bernard and improve his per carry average. Additionally, QB Andy Dalton may have a bit more time to throw it up to A.J. Green. Coach Marvin Lewis has preferred a more conservative offense in recent seasons, but the strength of schedule plus offensive line upgrades should lead to improvement for all the Bengals’ skill position players this season. This line most likely won’t prove good enough to invest heavily in the playmakers relying upon it, but it should show better than it did last year.
26. Carolina Panthers – (overall PFF grade 61.16). The Panthers will likely feel the loss of star lineman Andrew Norwell, and while the right side of the line looks like it can hold its own with Trai Turner (76.7 PFF overall grade) and Daryl Williams (a fantastic 86.5 PFF overall grade), everything center-left not named Norwell played like a sieve last season. This group figures to take a step backward, and they’re fortunate that they draw a fairly easy strength of schedule – the only thing propping them up in these rankings. That alone should help mitigate some regression, though it remains to be seen how well new OC Norv Turner will mesh with a QB like Cam Newton. TE Greg Olsen lost most of last year to injury, but Turner’s offense has historically proven TE-friendly, so long as struggles along the line don’t force him to have to stay in and block more often. This line could have trouble with interior blocking, making RB Christian McCaffrey a more enticing play than FA acquisition CJ Anderson, especially in PPR leagues. If the line can keep pace with the competition, this offense should produce some productive playmakers at all skill positions, but that may all depend on how well Turner is able to customize his offensive scheme around Newton and cover up the line’s flaws.
27. Minnesota Vikings – (overall PFF grade 49.3). It’s hard to believe a team with Super Bowl aspirations sends out such a poor line, but that’s a testament to the play calling of former OC Pat Shurmur and former QB Case Keenum’s mettle under center last year. This line arguably does not feature a single solid starter, and it’s the lowest rated overall PFF rank of any line in the league – yes, even worse than Seattle’s group. So why isn’t it the worst overall in these rankings? Well, the Vikings’ unit did post the 6th best Adjusted Sack Rate according to Football Outsiders last year thanks to creative play calling that forced the ball out quickly against a soft pass schedule. This year, the line draws the third easiest rushing schedule of any team in the league this season, something that bodes well for RB Dalvin Cook, though many along the line are returning from injury and Cook himself is coming back from an ACL tear. Elite WR route runners Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs draw the 7th softest schedule against opposing secondaries, which should further take pressure off the line. And QB Kirk Cousins should represent a noticeable upgrade from Keenum, despite the former’s surprisingly stellar play last season. However, the line will face much stiffer pass rushes from opposing defenses this season, so again, every rose in Minnesota seems to have its thorns. Since the Vikings are essentially returning the same line this year as last, and the offense produced quality studs in Cook, Diggs, and Thielen, it’s unlikely that the line will completely compromise the quality of this offense this year, especially with new OC John DeFilippo bringing a lot of concepts from Philadelphia’s high powered and balanced offense into the fold.
Tier 3: BROKEN BLOCKS
(more holes than Swiss cheese – these lines are sieves that could negatively impact fantasy players)
28. Arizona Cardinals – (overall PFF grade 54.00). Arizona may not have done itself any favors filling its line with washed up straw men. Only left tackle D.J. Humphries earned a decent grade last season (74.9 PFF overall grade), while the rest of the unit can’t seem to stay on the field. Making matters worse is a ferocious pass rush schedule this year, and a tough assortment of secondaries that should keep QB Sam Bradford guessing long enough to get creamed under center early and often. It wouldn’t be surprising if half the starting line and the starting QB are on injured reserve by mid-season. There is talent on this line, with many such as Mike Iupati (LG), Justin Pugh (RG), and Andre Smith (RT) boasting 1st round and Pro Bowl credentials, but their collective injury history is starting to rival their accolades. The depth behind those players isn’t worth mentioning. The only thing keeping this line from the very bottom of these rankings is the name value of the players who serve on it and a rather soft schedule against the rush, which should benefit RB David Johnson some given that he’ll be the centerpiece of this offense and fed early and often. However, betting on much more from this group could prove to be fool’s gold as they were near the bottom in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate.
29. New York Jets – (overall PFF grade 54.38). The Jets’ line ranks below average across the board, but they did add the potential for improvement by signing Spencer Long to play center. QB coach Jeremy Bates earned a promotion to OC, and the continuity, coupled with the team slightly exceeding expectations last season and having QB Sam Darnold fall into their lap at 3rd overall, provide a glimmer of hope that better days may arrive as soon as this season. The line played well enough for WR Robbie Anderson to be productive downfield, and the Jets draw a remarkably soft schedule against both the pass and the run. It’s reasonable to expect that despite the lack of legitimate talent up front, this line may perform well enough to stay out of the cellar in these rankings and make both Anderson and RBs Isaiah Crowell and Elijah McGuire (PPR) playable in the right matchups.
30. Buffalo Bills – (overall PFF grade 60.32). The Bills actually have starter quality players on this line along the left side with Dion Dawkins (74.5 overall PFF grade) at left tackle and Vladimir Ducasse (75.5) showing well at left guard last season. However, the Bills should feature atrocious quarterback play from inaccurate rookie Josh Allen, middling veteran A.J. McCarron, and 3rd stringer Nathan Peterman (who may end up starting, which tells you all you need to know about this group). Worse still, they’re going up against a tough collection of pass rushes, which will likely render the entire offense impotent most weeks considering they posted the second-worst Adjusted Sack Rate on Football Outsiders and lost arguably their best linemen. Tackle Cordy Glenn left via free agency and Richie Incognito (RG) and Eric Wood (C) retired, severely weakening this group’s prospects. The quarterbacks aren’t helped by being surrounded by one of the least talented rosters in the league. Perennial star RB LeSean McCoy will still be the focal point of the offense, so he’ll have value based on volume, but he seems likely to be dealing with legal woes and inefficiency running behind this inferior line. Despite making the playoffs last season, this should be a rebuilding year for Buffalo, and the line should have little to no chance most weeks.
31. Seattle Seahawks – (overall PFF grade 54.28). There’s Duane Brown (77.9 overall PFF grade at left tackle) and that’s basically it on a line that produced some of the worst run blocking of any unit last season. Add in one of the worst strengths of schedules for all its skill position players this year, and it’s hard to see a ton of value anywhere in this offense outside of QB Russell Wilson and WR Doug Baldwin who will have to win on sheer talent alone, while Tyler Lockett should be staring at a plethora of targets gone to free agency if this line ever gives Wilson more than 3 seconds to throw the ball. The line as a whole can’t pass protect, and with no effort made to upgrade it via the draft or free agency, there’s literally not a single glimmer of hope here. New OC Brian Schottenheimer was brought in to emphasize the run, likely taking the volume away from Wilson that made him so valuable in fantasy last season despite shoddy line play. On that note, there should be some value in volume here as well if one of RB Chris Carson or 1st round rookie Rashaad Penny can separate himself. For what it’s worth, Carson showed an ability to win last year despite his line’s ineffectiveness. Seattle looks poised to take a bit of a tumble this year, and it might take a bludgeoning in the trenches for this front office to finally prioritize building behind a better line.
32. Houston Texans – (overall PFF grade 56.14). Houston traded away its best lineman (Duane Brown), but they seem to be taking a page out of Seattle’s book – banking on a mobile quarterback to offset offensive line deficiencies. It might help if QB Deshaun Watson wasn’t coming off a torn ACL. The only saving grace for this line is drawing one of the cushier strengths of schedule, as they’ll face mostly underwhelming pass rushes and secondaries this season, which should keep WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. That being said, it’s not encouraging when the highest rated lineman returning from last year, left guard Zach Fulton, only posted a 68.8 overall PFF rating. Rookie Martinas Rankin (71.1 PFF college grade) may help, but since he’ll be surrounded mostly by misfits and castoffs from other squads, is there really any optimism here? At the end of the day, the rankings of these lines are based on how well they will affect fantasy production. More than any other unit, this line is so brutally bad that it literally has the potential to torpedo the fantasy value of this offense’s lesser talent skill position players, even if Hopkins should still post top 5 numbers so long as Watson stays upright. However, if Watson goes down again, all bets are surely off.
love the way this writer write’s but sure should find a new line of work.the raven’s were the third rated offense in points the second half of the year and boasted the 4th fewest sack’s plus a notch below a 1000 yard rusher while only playing in 10 games last season in alex collins and while not being the primary back.and the pat’s ranking? no sir!
First, thank you for the compliment. I am glad you at least enjoyed the style of the article.
You’re absolutely right about the Ravens’ line playing better down the stretch last season, but let’s consider the context of that play and who Baltimore actually played after their bye in Week 10:
23-10 win over a pushover GB defense that finished top 10 in passing yards allowed and tied for 2nd in most touchdowns allowed to opposing passers. Plus, the team was also missing Aaron Rodgers, which affected the entire game script.
23-16 win over a HOU team missing Watson that was statistically the worst overall team defense in football last year, and Baltimore hardly had to play with any sense of urgency with Tom Savage under center on the other side.
44-20 win over DET. This was an impressive victory, though Detroit’s defense last year was middle of the road against the rush and gave up the 6th most yards to opposing passers.
39-30 loss to a PIT defense that had lost Shazier, was getting gashed by the league on the ground and featured a secondary that had begun to spring leaks.
27-10 win over CLE – The Browns didn’t win a game last year and fielded the second-worst defense in football behind HOU. Enough said.
23-16 win over IND, whose defense was the third worst defense in football behind HOU and CLE.
31-27 loss to CIN, a defense that finished the year top 10 in passing yards allowed and top 3 in rushing yards allowed.
The Ravens’ first half was a challenge, but the second half might as well have been gift wrapped given the QBs and defenses they faced. Yes, they boasted the 4th fewest sacks and a near-1,000 yard rusher… but it’s because they played the softest slate imaginable. Context is key here, and it matters more than end results when forecasting future performance. Yanda is 34 and coming back from a significant injury. The rest of the line didn’t grade out favorably.
As for NE, the numbers are what they are, and the team continues to produce offensively and make the Super Bowl without the benefit of a mobile QB like SEA and HOU have to compensate for their terrible lines. The line gets it done in both pass and run blocking.
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