Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Updated: July 30, 2:22 PM ET
Offensive line rankings
By Matt Williamson
It's pretty hard to run for many yards without the holes an offensive line opens. Scouts Inc. breaks down each team's offensive line and ranks the best and worst in terms of run-blocking and pass protection. Finding a good offensive line could open the doors for a fantasy sleeper to emerge.
Buffalo (run rank: 32/pass rank: 31): There is a really good chance Buffalo could start five different players across its offensive line. Continuity is one of the most important aspects of line play, and the Bills might also start the worst pair of offensive tackles in the league. Also, two rookies are likely to start at guard, but neither played guard extensively in college. This is a very bad offensive line, and it could cripple the Bills' entire season.
Miami (run rank: 14/pass rank: 12): This is one of the best up-and-coming young lines in the league. The Dolphins made a much-needed change at center in acquiring Jake Grove to help out with the beefy 3-4 nose tackles they face in the AFC East. Now Grove needs to stay healthy. This line could rank noticeably higher next year.
New England (run rank: 6/pass rank: 11): It is amazing what a quarterback can do for an offensive line. With Tom Brady back behind center, expect the Patriots' pass-protection statistics to improve dramatically. That being said, this is an overrated pass-blocking group but a vastly underrated set of run-blockers.
New York Jets (run rank: 5/pass rank: 24): The Jets have spent a lot of money to revamp their offensive line, and for the most part, it has been money well spent. However, this is far truer in the run game than in pass protection, and whoever is behind center for New York will have to lean heavily upon that ground game while taking his share of hits.
Baltimore (run rank: 11/pass rank: 18): Although the addition of OT Michael Oher might not pay immediate dividends, it is likely to pay off down the road. The left side of the line is very young, but it has a lot of upside. Left guard Ben Grubbs is on the cusp of stardom. There will be a drop-off at center, but Matt Birk's veteran presence will be valuable for the Ravens.
Cincinnati (run rank: 29/pass rank: 29): Better health up front, the addition of OT Andre Smith and the return of QB Carson Palmer should ensure that Cincinnati improves upon last season's 51 sacks allowed and paltry 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. Still, although this line has great size, it could struggle in a division featuring nose tackles Haloti Ngata, Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton.
Cleveland (run rank: 19/pass rank: 8): Coach Eric Mangini was fortunate enough to have the best center in the league in New York in Nick Mangold. Through a series of draft day trades, the Browns selected the top center on their board, Alex Mack. If Mack lives up to expectations, Cleveland could be dominant from center to left tackle. The right side is more concerning, but a healthy Ryan Tucker really could solidify that side.
Pittsburgh (run rank: 27/pass rank: 28): The Steelers mustered only 3.7 yards per rushing attempt last season and allowed their quarterback to be sacked 49 times. To their credit, this group played far better down the stretch and in the postseason. Still, this isn't the type of line that Pittsburgh fans are used to watching.
Houston (run rank: 12/pass rank: 17): This is not a group littered with big names, but it is very effective in both departments and extremely well coached under the tutelage of O-line legend Alex Gibbs. Left tackle Duane Brown flashed ability but was still the weakest link on the line in his first season. Expect Gibbs to coach him up and keep Matt Schaub's blind side better protected in 2009. Depth is certainly a concern here, however.
Indianapolis (run rank: 21/pass rank: 4): The Colts have a better offensive line than they did last season. Losing LG Ryan Lilja to a season-ending injury was a huge blow. The unit still is not where it once was, and LT Tony Ugoh isn't in Tarik Glenn's class. Peyton Manning also makes this group appear better than it is in protection. But still, the run-blocking should be vastly improved.
Jacksonville (run rank: 15/pass rank: 16): Judging this line off what transpired last season simply isn't fair, as injuries completely destroyed any chance of success. Now, not only is everyone back to health, but many resources also were used to vastly improve the overall talent. Expect Jacksonville's offensive line to improve in 2009 more than any other team's from a year ago. There also is much depth here now.
Tennessee (run rank: 4/pass rank: 2): This is a very solid all-around unit led by stalwart C Kevin Mawae. The true strength of the group comes in the form of its bookend tackles, who just might be the top pair in the league. This crew is better at pass-blocking than run-blocking, and its ability to maul and dominate is somewhat overblown, as Chris Johnson's pension for breaking long runs and the Titans' high number of carries have inflated the line's ground statistics to some degree. Still, this unit consistently keeps an immobile quarterback upright and produces against eight-man fronts when everyone in the stadium knows that a run play is coming.
Denver (run rank: 3/pass rank: 1): Somewhat surprising to many, this just might be the best line in the league. It doesn't get a lot of fanfare, but its bookend tackles are excellent, especially Ryan Clady. Coach Josh McDaniels would be very wise not to change things up from a scheme perspective up front. Only the Giants average more yards per rush than Denver, even though the Broncos go through running backs at a remarkable pace. No line in the league allowed its quarterback to be sacked as infrequently per pass attempt.
Kansas City (run rank: 30/pass rank: 26): Branden Albert has the look of a long-term starter at left tackle, and Mike Goff should help at a guard position. However, if Brian Waters doesn't play, it will be a huge blow to this group, which isn't loaded with talent or depth. The scheme should help, but QB Matt Cassel also took a fair number of sacks last season in New England and has just average pocket awareness -- which is understandable considering he hadn't played football regularly since 1999.
Oakland (run rank: 20/pass rank: 30): Having Samson Satele at the pivot, instead of the departed Jake Grove, shouldn't be a major hindrance in Oakland's zone-blocking scheme. The Raiders run that scheme very well under coach Tom Cable; they managed a respectable 4.3 yards per carry average last season despite having little to no passing attack to keep defenses honest. The pass protection is a whole other story, however, although JaMarcus Russell's poor pocket presence has not helped matters.
San Diego (run rank: 24/pass rank: 19): Sure, it cannot be overlooked that the Chargers' linemen suffered injuries last season, but it could be argued that LaDainian Tomlinson once made his blockers appear much better than they really were and that simply was not the case last year. But, on the other hand, QB Philip Rivers is improving rapidly and will be tough to sack. This is a tough group to really get a handle on, but tackle depth is a big concern, and overall, I just don't get a good vibe here.
Dallas (run rank: 16/pass rank: 15): The Cowboys have massive bodies up front, and the combination of Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode is a great asset in the run game. But overall, this group could use an influx of youth. Flozell Adams is a mistake-prone but decent left tackle. Right tackle Marc Colombo is far from pretty but usually is effective. Expect this group to push forward instead of retreating in pass protection a higher percentage of the time this season.
New York Giants (run rank: 1/pass rank: 10): Widely considered the best offensive line in the league, this is a cohesive unit that can dominate on the ground. New York has been extremely fortunate in avoiding injuries to its offensive linemen, and that continuity has been critical to the team's success. It might surprise some people that the Giants allowed a sack every 17.5 pass attempts last season, which ranks right in the middle of the pack.
Philadelphia (run rank: 9/pass rank: 5): The Eagles' line was excellent in protection but very average as a run-blocking unit in 2008. This season's unit, though, will be much more talented. Because of injuries and off-the-field issues, Shawn Andrews was not himself last season. So what did Andy Reid do? The coach moved Andrews to his natural position at right tackle and signed Andrews' brother, Stacy Andrews, who could play next to him at right guard. Reid also added Shawn's college roommate, Jason Peters, who can be one of the best left tackles in the league. The Eagles will be exceptional up front, and the depth is top-notch. They could rank first this season.
Washington (run rank: 17/pass rank: 22): This group is aging and lacks much depth but is underrated in terms of its ability to open holes in the ground game. Pass protection is not this line's forte, but the Skins can open some holes on the ground. This group probably is going backward rather than forward at this point of the linemen's respective careers.
Chicago (run rank: 26/pass rank: 14): Chicago could have three new starters up front. Having QB Jay Cutler should help quite a bit, as he gets the ball out quickly and is tough to sack, but the Bears must improve their run game. Times have changed in Chicago, as this group is much better suited to protect than dominate in the run game. The durability of the starting tackles also must be a concern.
Detroit (run rank: 31/pass rank: 32): Winless a year ago and flat-out awful in the trenches, Detroit did not address its offensive line for the long term but instead added a few grizzled veterans who appear to be at the end of the road. If Matthew Stafford sees time behind center, he could be in for a rude awakening in the NFL. Rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew could be helpful.
Green Bay (run rank: 22/pass rank: 20) -- This group is solid in both areas that lack big-name attractions, but in Aaron Rodgers' second season behind center, he should be quicker in his decision-making and getting the ball out of his hands. The right tackle job is up for grabs, but Allen Barbre could be a pleasant surprise. On the other side, it might be time to be concerned about Chad Clifton. There are a lot of bodies here, though. Although depth should be a strength, some fresh faces may need to step up.
Minnesota (run rank: 13/pass rank: 23): Very few running backs actually make their offensive line look better than it really is, but that is the case with Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. That being said, Steve Hutchinson is still an elite player, and the left side of the line opens up holes consistently. There should be new starters at center and right tackle, so concerns exist, especially with protection.
Atlanta (run rank: 7/pass rank: 7): After allowing just 17 sacks (with a rookie quarterback) in 2008 and paving the way for one of the best ground assaults in the league, the Falcons clearly boast an upper-tier unit. Their young players, namely Sam Baker and Justin Blalock, should be even better in 2009. Depth is worrisome, however.
Carolina (run rank: 2/pass rank: 6): The Panthers are very physical up front and obviously are a superb run-blocking group. However, they don't get the credit they deserve for allowing QB Jake Delhomme time in the pocket to stretch the field deep. The starting five here is superb, and Carolina looks to have hit a home run in RT Jeff Otah, but depth is a serious question mark.
New Orleans (run rank: 10/pass rank: 3): This is undoubtedly a good offensive line, but surely it benefits a great deal from having Drew Brees as the Saints' triggerman. That being said, allowing a sack for nearly every 49 passing attempts is simply superb. It doesn't get the fanfare, but the Saints' left side of the line is among the best in the league, as is relative unknown RG Jahri Evans.
Tampa Bay (run rank: 8/pass rank: 13): The Bucs are on the verge of having one of the top offensive lines in the league, and switching to a zone-blocking scheme should help this athletic unit maximize its potential in the run game. More is needed from LT Donald Penn, but much depth and talent are here, especially on the interior. Big things could be in store.
Arizona (run rank: 28/pass rank: 9): The Cardinals did a terrific job of keeping Kurt Warner upright on their road to last season's Super Bowl. But only the Colts averaged fewer yards per rush than Arizona last year, and Warner is the type of quarterback who makes his protection look better than it truly is. Having an upgrade at running back surely will help, though.
San Francisco (run rank: 18/pass rank: 27): The 49ers' quarterback was sacked a whopping 55 times last season, most in the league. Although there is young talent and the addition of Marvel Smith could pay immediate dividends, San Francisco has major concerns up front. However, with Mike Martz's quarterback-abusing scheme out of the picture, better overall protection surely will result.
Seattle (run rank: 25/pass rank: 21): The Seahawks' line was absolutely crushed by injuries in 2008. Every starting lineman ended up on injured reserve. The unity should improve thanks to health reasons alone. At his age and coming off microfracture surgery to his knee, Walter Jones probably will never be what he once was, but he still should be able to keep the left side secure. Rookie Max Unger's excellent position versatility may prove valuable.
St. Louis (run rank: 23/pass rank: 25): Jason Smith might not end up having a career like Orlando Pace's, but adding him was a huge boon for this line. However, starting him on the right side and playing the unreliable Alex Barron on the left is a very curious move. Center Jason Brown should pay even more immediate dividends and shore up what was an extremely weak spot last season. This group won't be great, but surely it will be drastically better. Still, that really isn't saying all that much.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.