Monday, July 8, 2013
Unit by unit: Ranking the offensive lines
By Paul Kuharsky
We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position by position.
Today, we examine offensive lines.
Williamson’s AFC South offensive line rankings:
1) Titans (Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, Fernando Velasco/Brian Schwenke, Chance Warmack, David Stewart)
2) Texans (Duane Brown, Wade Smith, Chris Myers, Brandon Brooks/Ben Jones, Derek Newton/Brennan Williams)
3) Jaguars (Eugene Monroe, Will Rackley, Brad Meester, Uche Nwaneri, Luke Joeckel)
4) Colts (Anthony Castonzo, Donald Thomas/Joe Reitz, Samson Satele/Khaled Holmes, Hugh Thornton/Mike McGlynn, Gosder Cherilus)
I place them in the same order.
Just on those lists, which try to outline the likely starting units and include 27 names for 20 spots, one-third of the players are newcomers to the division.
Everybody will be better.
My questions for Williamson based off his list:
Your overall assessment of the position in the AFC South?
Matt Williamson: I expect the Texans and Titans to have two of the best offensive lines in the NFL in 2013. Both should be drastically improved, and in fact, so should Indy's and Jacksonville's with the massive improvement at right tackle.
Any concern about Titans jelling with two or even three new starters? Are you expecting Roos and Stewart to play better than they did in 2012 with better talent between them?
MW: Tennessee’s offensive line could take a while to jell with the interior being so different and counting on a rookie, but you would think this coaching staff should excel in that department if nothing else. As for Roos and Stewart, I do worry that we have already seen the best of both players and they are starting to decline, but I still expect the Titans to feature a top-10 set of offensive tackles overall. And wow, was their interior bad in 2012!
What's Indy's potential for improvement based on its additions in free agency and the draft? How much will Pep Hamilton's quicker passing system protect the line?
MW: The short passing game will certainly help Indy in protection, but so will the addition of at least two new starters. The Colts just have much better football players starting right now than in 2012.
How did the right side of the Texans group fare last year, and why are you expecting better?
MW: I think Houston is much better off on the right side of its line than a year ago -- which could be huge. The right side of the Texans' line did struggle last year, but hopefully they get away from rotating players there in and out, and I expect Brooks and/or Jones to improve. (I am especially high on Brooks.) Plus, Williams is an excellent fit at right tackle for this scheme if he can seize the starting job.
How much better can the Jags' line be with the addition of Joeckel, return of a healthy Rackley, a healthy Nwaneri and a scheme heavier on zone stuff?
MW: I expect Monroe to continue to quietly be nearly dominant and Joeckel to do very well right from the start, but I don't have a lot of faith in the interior. But just improving on what might have been the league's worst right tackle situation in 2012 should pay off for the Jags.
Who are the weakest links in the division among projected starters?
MW: I would say the interior of Jacksonville’s line is the weakest spot in the division. Outside of the tackles, I don't see a real mobile group to transition to the zone-blocking scheme, either. And I have little faith in Rackley overall. That could be next year's offseason project (among many other things).
As for me …
- I hope Brooks lives up to what we've heard about him this offseason. I'd like to see the Texans with a very big right guard who has special feet.
- J.J. Watt's influence is certainly being felt here. The reigning defensive player of the year is part of why we could see entirely new interior line starters for both the Titans and Colts.
- Rackley will be under a large spotlight and rightly so. He missed his second year with an injury. Will we see a second-season jump, or does he turn out to be a Gene Smith leftover who hurts this team? New line coach George Yarno will have a lot do with how it pans out.
- The Titans' offensive line has to be good for the team's overall plan to have a chance to unfold. I expect it will be very good, and the depth will be better should they run into injuries again.
- Cherilus reportedly had a major knee procedure. The Colts clearly are confident he will be OK.