There is generally a lot of lip service paid to offensive lines
in the fantasy community. For the most part, fantasy analysts
and managers overwhelmingly tend to reach the following conclusions
about teams as it relates to offensive lines:
1) they must have a good pass-blocking line if the quarterback
doesn't take a lot of sacks and
2) they must have a good run-blocking line if multiple backs on
the same team run "well" consistently.
As is typically the case in this industry, such analysis is far
too simplistic and far from 100 percent true. So why does that
logic seem to reign supreme? I tend to believe it is because there
are no well-established stats (or easily) available to the public
- other than those that players accumulate at other positions
- to inform the general fan as to how those five linemen are performing
play after play. A nuanced film watcher's educated guess might
be right about 90 percent of the time, but only each team's offensive
line coach can legitimately claim he knows what each of his linemen
should be doing - and who they should be blocking - on every play.
Shockingly, those offensive line coaches are not going to share
that information with Joe Q. Fan anytime soon.
Why does any of this matter? If "it all starts up front"
as coaches have been saying for decades, then getting a sense
of how proficient an offensive line is at clearing space for a
running back or protecting a quarterback should mean quite a bit
to the fantasy game.
I have factored in offensive line play into my final grade for
players on the Big Board for several years but hesitated to add
it to the preseason article series for fear of drawing a collective
yawn for my writing efforts. Many people could care less about
the hot dog is made. They care a lot more about how the hot dog
tastes. Those fantasy managers need to understand that avoiding
such subject matter only increases the chances of a potential
bust landing on our fantasy team this summer.
Below you will find an AFC division-by-division breakdown of
the projected five starting linemen for each team at their likely
spots. (Here is the NFC version.)
The number off to the right side of each table is last year's
average of Pro Football Focus' grade for the group, regardless
if they played for that team or not. This year's rookies (in italics)
obviously did not earn a grade in 2020, so their boxes will be
colored black and they will not figure into the average score.
I will use the same color-coding system as I did during my Defensive
Weak Spots four-parter. Here are those articles again if you were
a little late to the party: East
| North | South
Green box - Player graded 80 or higher in that
particular discipline per PFF (100 pt scale) White box - Player graded between 70 or 79.9
in that particular discipline Yellow box - Player graded between 60 or 69.9
in that particular discipline Red box - Player graded 59.9 or lower in that
To clear up any possible confusion on the layout, the row above
the lineman's name for each team is how they graded as a run blocker.
The row below their name is how they graded out as a pass blocker.
Greg Van Roten
Bills: Buffalo's offensive line remains largely
intact from last season, as only Ford (knee) failed to finish the
season. Continuity is a consistent theme for Buffalo considering
OL coach Bobby Johnson enters his third season with this group,
so it seems reasonable to assume last year's grades will serve as
a baseline for this season's.
Dolphins: The selection of Eichenberg was a
much-needed boost for Miami. The biggest issue right now might
be inexperience; of the five players listed above, only Skura
has been in the league more than a year (and he spent his first
five seasons with Baltimore). Then again, the work the Dolphins
have done improving the skill-position talent should make everyone's
job easier up front.
Patriots: Lost amid the struggles of New England's
offense as a whole was how well the line performed. Losing LG
Joe Thuney sets this unit back, but the returns of Wynn (knee)
and Brown (left for Raiders as a free agent after the 2018 season)
makes his departure more palatable. The Patriots could boast the
league's best run-blocking line in 2021 if Brown can stay on the
Jets: The Jets should be significantly better
in 2021, if only because new HC Robert Saleh was able to convince
new OL coach John Benton to leave San Francisco and join him.
The addition of Vera-Tucker - arguably the best guard in the draft
- to a healthy Becton (he only missed two games but dealt with
shoulder and chest injuries off and on) gives New York a potentially
formidable duo to open up lanes on the left side. Signing Moses
in late June bumps George Fant into a more palatable swing tackle
spot and should allow the Jets to run with great confidence to
Jedrick Wills Jr.
Ravens: Baltimore should be able to rest easier
assuming Stanley is completely healed from the ankle injury that
required two surgeries by the time camp rolls around (which is expected
to be the case). It is impossible to know for sure if Zeitler has
much left at 31 years old, but the pre-200 version would be a considerable
upgrade on 2020 starter Ben Powers. Villanueva is not a one-for-one
replacement for Orlando Brown Jr., but it is a swap the Ravens should
be able to live with given the improvisational abilities of Lamar
Jackson & Co.
Bengals: Simply keeping Jonah Williams on the
field for a full season would be a huge boost for the Bengals'
offense, while Reiff should be a considerable upgrade on Bobby
Hart. With that said, Carman's arrival is not near enough to turn
this long-suffering unit around quite yet. Making matters worse,
OC Frank Pollack's offensive lines with the Bengals (2018) and
Jets (2019-20) have ranked 24th, 28th, and 31st in pass blocking
in the last three seasons, per PFF.
Browns: Cleveland has the best of both worlds.
Bill Callahan is widely regarded as the best offensive line coach
in the league and may have the most talent to work with in the
league. Wills was easily the weakest run blocker in Cleveland
as a rookie, but a significant improvement is likely in store
for him with a full offseason. The rest of the line enjoyed career
years. Callahan deserves a lot of credit for that, as does Nick
Chubb and the Browns' heavy use of play-action. While a repeat
of the career years should not be expected, each has established
himself over multiple seasons as an above-average - if not Pro
Bowl-caliber - offensive lineman.
Steelers: For a team that wants to recommit
to the running game, Pittsburgh has the look of a squad that will
need Adrian Klemm to coach his tail off in his first year as the
offensive line boss. David DeCastro's release forced the Steelers
to sign Turner, who may not be much of a downgrade from the limited
2020 version of DeCastro if he can avoid the injuries that dogged
him last season with the Chargers. (Turner was a five-time Pro
Bowl selection in six years with the Panthers.) A healthy Turner
would allow Pittsburgh to stick to its original plan of starting
Green over J.C. Hassenauer at center. Dotson could easily be the
long-term answer at left guard but has some work to do as a run
blocker. The tackle combination of Okorafor and Banner may be
the worst in the NFL right now, so quick passes will once again
be a staple of this offense. Depth across the line is a problem
* - Did not play in 2020
** - Did not play in 2020 (opt-out)
Texans: New OL coach James Campen oversaw the
league's top pass-blocking line in Green Bay in 2018, but his
lines have struggled with the Browns (2019) and Chargers (2020)
over the last two seasons. While Tunsil and Howard are nice bookends,
Campen is going to have his work cut out for himself inside. Britt
and Cannon did not play at all last season and are 30 and 33 years
old, respectively, while Scharping is only in his third year and
missed a big chunk of last season. Even if Deshaun Watson's status
was not in doubt, it would be hard to love this line. Without
Watson's ability to extend plays, Campen may lose his mind with
Colts: Tevi is more of a swing tackle who will
(hopefully) keep the left tackle seat warm for Eric Fisher (Achilles),
who is expected to return around the first part of November. If
Fisher can rediscover his pre-injury form before the end of the
year, he could end up being an upgrade over the retired Anthony
Costanzo. Otherwise, Chris Strausser's potentially dominant unit
remains virtually intact for another season.
Jaguars: Jaguars OL coach George should have
the same starting group he's had since arriving in 2019, as the
only real change from last year is potentially having Linder available
for more than nine games. Jacksonville enters this season with
a much better supporting cast, so the linemen should benefit.
The problem is no one from this group has noticeably improved
or made a name for himself under Warhop.
Titans: Lewan's grades are surprising. The fact
he struggled to reach a yellow grade as a run or pass blocker
after spending most of his career in the 70s and 80s suggests
he suffered from the lack of a regular offseason before tearing
his ACL in Week 6. The Titans' trusty interior of Saffold, Jones
and Davis should only improve with another year of working together,
while Radunz was a solid choice to fill the void left behind at
right tackle after Jack Conklin bolted for Cleveland last offseason.
Orlando Brown Jr.
* - Did not play in 2020 (opt-out)
** - Logged just one snap in 2020 and 116 in 2019
Broncos: Mike Munchak is generally considered
one of the top two or three best offensive line coaches in the
game. In his second year of working with Bolles, he was able to
turn a lineman known more for committing too many penalties into
one of the best offensive tackles in the league. What's more is
that Risner and Meinerz should eventually develop into Pro Bowl-caliber
players at their positions. The right side of the line is less
inspiring - especially after Massie was added to replace the injured
Ja'Wuan James - but Munchak will almost certainly get the most
of Glasgow and Massie as well.
Chiefs: Kansas City has likely upgraded every
other position across last year's Week 1 starting line except
for right tackle (Remmers replacing Mitchell Schwartz). Brown
and Thuney should form one of the best left sides in the league,
while Humphrey was unquestionably one of the draft's best center
prospects. Duvernay-Tardif might have his hands full keeping Kyle
Long from winning the right guard job after opting out last season,
but the winner of that battle should have no problem setting a
higher bar at right guard than Andrew Wylie did in 2020.
Chargers: Los Angeles got better in a hurry
with the additions of Linsley and Slater, just a few months after
sporting the worst run-blocking unit and third-worst pass-blocking
unit in the NFL, per PFF. Linsley was PFF's top-ranked center
in 2020 and has been a regular inside the top 10 for a while.
Slater earned major points in the eyes of scouts when he essentially
blanked Chase Young in 2019 while the former was at Northwestern
and the latter was at Ohio State. If Bulaga can avoid the injury
curse that seems to hang over the Chargers' line year after year,
then perhaps LA won't see a repeat of Justin Herbert facing pressure
on 37 percent of his drop-backs again.
Raiders: Las Vegas curiously parted with Rodney
Hudson and Trent Brown and held onto soon-to-be 38-year-old Incognito,
who played only two games last year before he was lost for the
season with an Achilles injury. (Hudson and Brown were supposedly
jettisoned mostly for age and cap reasons.) To his credit, Incognito
has been a stud when he has been on the field and stayed focused
on his job throughout his career. However, he is the only starter
on this line that has proven he can consistently block well in
the running game for a team that wants to pound the rock. Miller
and Leatherwood should join him soon, but it may be too much to
ask for it to happen in 2021. The team made a major investment
into James this spring, first trading away the reliable Hudson
before handing James a three-year extension based mostly on 117
career offensive snaps.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and has appeared as a guest analyst on several national sports radio shows and podcasts, including Sirius XM's Fantasy Drive, FantasyPros and RealTime Fantasy Sports. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.