In last month’s column, I
suggested that many FFers do not pay enough attention to offensive
lines and asked readers how they go about evaluating offensive
lines around the league (particularly those that went through
personnel changes in the off-season). Readers such as Roy clearly
do give a lot of thought to o-lines, as this comprehensive response
I agree that not too many people focus their
draft decisions on a teamís O-Line. And if they do, like you
said, they focus on rankings that have little to do with offensive
production. More importantly, the success (or lack thereof) of an
O-Line can tell you a lot about the players around them and even
show hidden truths about a teamís offense or a playerís
talent. For instance, is Kerry Collins really so good in the pocket
that he was only sacked 8 times (NFL leader) last season? Or is
it that the Titans were focused on runnning and Collins only had
415 pass attempts? No matter how you look at it, 8 sacks out of
415 attempts is very impressive for an O-Line; thatís 1 sack
allowed for every 51 passing attempts. And the success of the Titansí
RBs even further proves that point. Chris Johnson, was 4th in the
league at 4.9 yards per carry. And we all saw how effective Lendale
White was inside the 5 yard line.
On the flip side, letís look at Eli Manning and the Giantsí
O-Line. On the surface, the Giantsí O-Line would appear very
porous, considering they allowed 27 sacks on 479 pass attempts.
That translates to 1 sack every 18 pass attempts, which was one
of the worst Sack-to-Pass Attempt Ratios (what I call SPAR) in the
league. However, upon further investigation, we find out that Brandon
Jacobs and Derrick Ward averaged 5.0 and 5.6 Yards Per Carry (YPC)
respectively last year. Both RBs finished top 3 in YPC, which is
amazing, considering they were two of only three RBís who
averaged more than 5 YPC in the entire league last year. OK, so
I know what youíre thinking, ďBrandon Jacobs is a freight
train and could average 5 YPC on almost any teamĒ. Though
this may be true, for Derrick Ward to average more than Jacobs at
5.6 YPC lets me know this O-Line was one of the best in the league
last year. Furthermore, it lets me know that if Eli Manning is getting
sacked once every 18 plays with an O-Line this good, he still has
a long way to go before he matches the pocket presence of big bro
So those are just two examples of how individual player stats can
tell us a lot about an O-Lineóand how overall O-Line stats
can tell a lot about a player. With that said, here are the key
things I look at when evaluating O-Lines:
- RB Yards per carry (YPC): The main stat that
I am concerned with regarding O-Line/RB success is Yards Per Carry
(YPC). With the exception of greats like Barry Sanders, an RB is
usually only as good as his O-Line.
- QB Sacks allowed/ Sack-to-Pass Attempt Ratio (SPAR):
I focus on sacks allowed and more importantly, sacks per pass attempt.
Dan Orlovsky was only sacked 14 times in 2008, which was top 5 in
the league. However, he only attempted 255 passes, which gives a
sack-to-pass attempt ration of 1:18, which is dismal. Yes, Orlovsky
is no John Elway, but when youíre getting blind-sided once
every 18 pass attempts, you canít even become Jon Kitna. In
all fairness, the Lions bad O-Line and the poor play/inexperience
of Orlovsky combined to put the Lions into the history books for
- Good YPC and good SPAR: I basically look at both
stats listed above (RBís YPC and QBís sacks allowed).
If a team is ranked near the top in both, then you have a grade
A offensive line. A good example of this would be the New Orleans
Saints. Last year, Drew Brees had a sack-to-pass attempt ratio of
1:48. I donít know where that ranks him in the league, but
it sure beats the 1:18 ratio of Eli Manning. Likewise, Saints RB
Pierre Thomas averaged 4.8 YPC, which was good enough for 6th in
- Bad YPC and bad SPAR: Needless to say, if an
O-Line is bad in these 2 areas, then stay away. A good example of
this is with Green Bay : Aaron Rodgersí sack-to-pass attempt
ratio was 1:16 and Ryan Grant averaged 3.9 YPC. I feel that both
players are better than they stats showed, and a lot of that blame
should fall on the shoulders of the O-Line. Remarkably, Aaron Rodgers
was still able to amass 34 touchdowns (28 passing and 6 rushing).
He is 1 good O-Line from becoming an elite QB in the NFL.
- Conflicting YPC and SPAR: The true talent comes
in deciphering O-Lines that are good at one, but not both stats.
This typically actually gives you more insight into the player,
as opposed to the O-Line itself. Take the Houston Texans for example.
Matt Schaub had a SPAR of 1:17óeven worse than the whipping
boy of this article, Eli Manning. However, Texans RB Steve Slaton
averaged 4.8 YPC, which ranked him at 7th in the league. You can
look at this a couple of ways. You could say the problem is not
the O-Line and that Matt Schaub is really not that good. And maybe,
just maybe, Andre Johnson makes him look good by catching balls
that most receivers wouldnít even attempt to. Or you could
say, based on the SPAR, the O-Line is really bad and Steve Slaton,
with his 4.8 YPC, is the reincarnation of Barry David Sanders. Personally,
I believe Slaton is good, but is running behind a decent line. I
think you would see a significant drop off if he was in Green Bay
or San Francisco. My take on Schaub is that about 15 other QBs would
have had greater success behind the Texansí O-Line. At the
end of the day, my scoring would be: Steve Slaton = Above Average;
Texansí O-Line = Average; Matt Schaub = Below Average.
Although I focus on the stats above, I don’t dismiss other
factors such as:
I am grateful to Roy for his extremely thoughtful response
to my question. He uses solid stats to support methods of evaluation
outlined by many other readers who took the time to write in. There
must be something highly intuitive about Roy’s evaluative
method, since it is clearly echoed (in simplified form) by readers
such as Troy:
- Number of returning starters on the O-Line
- Average age of O-Line, where unlike most positions, younger
is not always better
- - Player injuries
- O-Line coaching changes
- And sometimes, rankings of O-Lines in magazines. At the end
of day, I do this for fun, while analysts and writers do it
as their jobs. I tend to think that they put more thought into
than I do, even if that thought is sometimes misguided.
Reading your article got me to thinking more
about O-Line adequacy. I have for many years used the strength
of an O-Line to determine my fantasy teams; I just didn’t
1. With O-Lines one of the factors I take into consideration is
if the line is good at pass blocking, run blocking, or decent
at both. This is usually easy to figure out after the season has
started. Simply look at what the coach is doing. Does the coach
rely on the pass or the run? These guys are paid millions of dollars
to figure out if the offense should be passing, running, or balanced.
I would like to think that their judgment in this area is much
better than my own.
2. Was there a big acquisition this year for a beast of an O-Lineman?
If so look for improvements on the running game. Typically when
a new lineman is brought in it is to improve the run.
3. Was there a new coach implementing a new scheme to the team’s
offense? Many times when this happens it take more than a couple
games to really determine if the new style is going to work.
Since any blocking unit is going to need a little help
from time to time, Luke reminds us to pay attention to changes
at the fullback position:
In regard to offensive line changes, I am
probably like most in that I do not pay enough attention. I will
keep my ears open for major moves along a line and do feel the
importance of a great line makes for a better RB. The one thing
I really pay attention to more is the loss or gain of a quality
FB. If a RB had a stud FB for him during a strong campaign and
then lost him the next season, I find that can have a huge impact,
particularly if the FB is featured in a lot of packages.
Luke didnít name any particular players in his response,
but I suspect that he is one of many readers who could tell me
what the careers of Eddie George, Corey Dillon, and LaDainian
Tomlinson have in commonóthe support of an elite blocking
fullback named Lorenzo Neal.
The real challenge, of course, is to apply the information that
is available to us in the preseason to our assessment of an O-Line’s
capability before the season begins. Mike wrote in with some examples
of how he has done just this in the past and what he thinks he
can tell us about 2009:
I've been looking at O-Lines for years, [though
usually more for their impact on the running game than the passing
Back when Culpepper and Moss were with the Vikings, Minnesota
lost a top lineman along with the unfortunate death of Korey Stringer
at tackle. I was laughed at by a few fellow owners [when I warned
them to] avoid Viking players. That year didn't turn out very
good for owners who drafted them.
The same can be said about the Chiefs with Roaf and Shields, I
have avoided Chief players since then. Ask Larry Johnson how itís
worked out for him since they retired.
When the Jets gained Alan Faneca from the Steelers (along with
Favre to open the passing game up), I moved Thomas Jones higher
on the RB list than most of the FF owners in my league. He shouldn't
have been as much of a surprise [as some people thought].
[Moreover, since the Steelers lost Faneca, their] line play has
been very subpar. Big Ben seemed to be throwing almost from the
ground way too many times.
Everyone loves to bash America's team for their player acquisitions
in recent years (e.g. TO and Pacman). But I give Jerry Joness
credit, even if some say he overpaid for lineman in recent years.
I don't see Marion Barber complaining.
Three teams that should be watched in 2009 because of O-Line changes:
1) Eagles - pretty mutch totally revamped and a must watch in
2) Steelers - see if they improve.
3) Colts - started off very slow last season; the way Manning
handles the offense with his adjustments, any new lineman has
to be scrutinized.
Mike’s thoughts on the Faneca-Jones connection were
echoed by a reader who identified himself as Spectral:
For me, I just tend to look for bigger names
that have joined a team, or a line that had a significant injury
or suspension the previous year. Last year I got Thomas Jones
in the 7th which was a good value. I had my mind set on him, not
so much due to the Brett Favre effect as because of Alan Faneca
coming over in a trade. I figure, if it is a name I am quite familiar
with chances are they will be an upgrade to an O-Line, and thus
the fantasy back's production. Jones was also a great buy-low
candidate due to his low TD totals from a year prior.
It's good to sift through all those transactions through the offseason.
Who's going to take over Pace's vacated spot on the Rams? Those
types of questions are the ones I need answered if I am thinking
of drafting Steven Jackson. Because if that line still stinks,
so will he.
In summary, [when it comes to O-Line evaluation, I look at]: Age,
solid additions, performance as a unit (if it ain't broke or too
old don't fix it), and sacks/runs for loss allowed. That's my
take. But it will always come down to the guy with the rock behind
them in the end. Because who doesn't want a sexy pick at the end
of the day?
Solid skill players are sexy picks of course. Itís a lot
more fun to pick Larry Fitzgerald because of who he is than it
is to pick Thomas Jones because of who is blocking for him. But
letís not forget that O-Lines are sexy in their own special,
Question for Week 1:
In light of a commissioner’s many responsibilities in
addition to managing his own team, how can commissioners be truly
competitive with owners who can focus solely on their own success?
This question was forwarded to me by Mike
MacGregor from a reader named Robert, who points out that
his commissioner duties, such as keeping drafts “inviting,
entertaining, and orderly” have forced him to overlook a
number of “important . . . and obvious” draft candidates.
My own experience at drafts indicates to me that the people who
run them really are at a bit of a disadvantage. I remember one
draft in particular that made me think of the commissioner as
an elementary school teacher with endless patience who was stuck
in a room full of bratty, selfish children. I have honestly never
heard of leagues taking any measures to offset the disadvantages
that commissioners have to overcome in order to contend with their
comparatively unburdened competitors, but I
would love to hear from commissioners who have developed strategies
for dealing with the kinds of problems that appear to be nagging