- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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With the majority of free agency in the books and the draft nearly a month behind us, Rotoworld.com's Evan Silva has unveiled his 2013 NFL offensive line rankings. The list highlights 2012 data from both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, but also includes his own projections for the 2013 season.
There's a familiar team at the top, as Silva believes that the Patriots have the strongest offensive line in football leading into next season.
"The 49ers are better in run blocking, but New England gets a big enough edge in the pass-blocking phase to put position coach Dante Scarnecchia's unit over the top," Silva writes. "Despite ranking fourth in the league in pass attempts last season, the Patriots allowed the fifth fewest sacks in football. Pass pro is pretty important in an increasingly pass-first NFL. The Pats didn't lose any key line members and could receive a youthful, physical injection if 2011 fifth-round steal [Marcus] Cannon unseats incumbent right guard Connolly. Cannon is a nimble 6-foot-5 and 360 pounds. Solder and Vollmer were both top-17 offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus' 2012 ratings, while Wendell was a top-five center. Mankins, 31, is gunning for his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl berth."
Of note in Silva's projection is that he has penciled in Cannon as the starter at right guard, leapfrogging Connolly, the primary starter there in 2012. Cannon has earned high praise from the coaching staff, earned some reps at guard during the 2012 season and seems to have improved during each of his pro seasons.
With Will Svitek under contract, the Patriots have a steady veteran who can operate as their swing tackle, and Cannon may be moved inside even if he doesn't become the starter, as the team may feel the need to address the vacancy created when Donald Thomas departed in free agency. With Connolly likely to be sidelined following offseason shoulder surgery, there would appear to be a window for Cannon and others to absorb reps during OTA's to showcase themselves for the upcoming season.
While Connolly's performance in 2012 probably wasn't on par with his 2011 showing, he has the talent to be a very good interior line presence. Getting his shoulder healthy could pay big dividends and allow him to return to form.
By re-signing Vollmer this offseason the Patriots kept one of the top tackle duos in the league intact. The feeling here is that Solder could be due for another big leap in performance this season (he was already very good in 2012), as his impressive frame and athletic ability carry immense upside. Wendell will look to repeat and build off of his stellar 2012, while Mankins and Vollmer have already established themselves among the league's best at their respective spots.
Continuity is a key for offensive line play, and with all five starters from 2012 under contract for 2013, this group projects to perform at a high level once again in 2013.
To see Silva's rankings in their entirety, CLICK HERE.