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The Big Uglies - AFC

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 6/21/22 |

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. A change from last year's article is that I am including backups. I am doing this to 1) illustrate the depth each team appears to have and 2) account for potential camp battles in which the "underdog" overtakes the "favorite." Pro Football Focus' run-blocking grade (RBG) is listed on the left side, followed by the player's projected position, the player's name and PFF's pass-blocking grade (PBG).

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 particular discipline
Black box - Rookie

AFC East

RBG Pos Player PBG
67.5 LT Dion Dawkins 81.6
76.8 LG Rodger Saffold 44.8
60.0 C Mitch Morse 69.9
61.2 RG Ryan Bates 74.5
74.9 RT Spencer Brown 51.0
59.6 C Greg Mancz 62.7
51.3 G Ike Boettger 72.2
89.1 T David Quessenberry 61.6

Bills: Buffalo opted to make three changes to the unit that began last season, including both guard spots. Even entering his age-34 season, Saffold should be a considerable upgrade over Boettger at left guard. Bates will slide over to right guard to replace Daryl Williams after serving as a capable left guard at the end of last season. Considering the versatility he showed last season, Bates will likely be the first player to move to another spot if one of his fellow starters goes down. The other notable change is Brown entering this season as the full-time right tackle. He took over the spot early last year - pushing Brown inside - but Williams could be missed after holding up well as a pass-blocker during his two-year stay in Buffalo.

RBG Pos Player PBG
64.1 LT Terron Armstead 85.6
57.9 LG Liam Eichenberg 46.9
76.0 C Connor Williams 76.7
65.6 RG Robert Hunt 68.3
54.8 RT Austin Jackson 49.1
61.7 C Michael Deiter 57.2
66.0 G Solomon Kindley 38.2
64.3 T Robert Jones 55.4

Dolphins: Armstead's arrival could push Eichenberg into a utility role after the latter endured a rough rookie season. A more likely scenario involves Eichenberg moving inside as Miami tries to get its best (and/or most talented) five linemen on the field. Williams committed too many penalties with the Cowboys last year (15) but was otherwise a steady inside presence for Dallas. Even with the expected move from guard to center, he should be a noticeable upgrade over Deiter in the pivot. Hunt was about the only decent part of Miami's line last season and should hold down right guard. The Dolphins' new regime - not to mention Armstead's experience - may be just what the doctor ordered for 2020 first-round pick Jackson, who has been sub-par through two seasons.

Trent Brown

 New England
RBG Pos Player PBG
76.5 LT Isaiah Wynn 70.7
89.8 LG Michael Onwenu 69.8
78.6 C David Andrews 71.6
RG Cole Strange
70.4 RT Trent Brown 81.2
60.3 C/G Daryl Williams 72.4
50.3 G James Ferentz 43.8
G Chasen Hines
T Andrew Stueber

Patriots: The surprising first-round selection of Strange fills the only void that existed on last year's unit following the early offseason trade of Shaq Mason to Tampa Bay. After Strange, perhaps the only other question that remains is how many games Brown will be able to play (he logged seven snaps in Week 1 and did not play again until Week 10). Assuming Brown is healthy, New England could feature one of the league's best lines. Depth is a problem, but one that was lessened a bit with the addition of former Bill Daryl Williams. It is also a bit unsettling that a longtime defensive assistant Matt Patricia - who has not coached exclusively on the offensive side of the ball since 2005 - will be in charge of this unit.

 N.Y. Jets
RBG Pos Player PBG
59.9 LT George Fant 75.1
75.0 LG Laken Tomlinson 75.2
78.9 C Connor McGovern 68.0
72.5 RG Alijah Vera-Tucker 56.9
78.7 RT Mekhi Becton 59.7
79.3 C Dan Feeney 55.1
67.2 G Nate Herbig 63.9
T Max Mitchell

Jets: New York is still a work in progress, but the interior part of its line should be a strong point and will undoubtedly benefit from all the skill-position talent that arrived in the draft two months ago. Vera-Tucker could easily become one of the best guards in the league in time, while Tomlinson should feel comfortable in the Jets' San Francisco zone-based run scheme after playing at a high level for the 49ers for the previous five seasons. Becton has massive potential if he can stay healthy for the first time as a pro. Fant at left tackle and the overall depth of the line remains an issue, however.

AFC North

RBG Pos Player PBG
62.5 LT Ronnie Stanley 27.7
42.0 LG Tyre Phillips 63.1
C Tyler Linderbaum
69.2 RG Kevin Zeitler 79.7
74.9 RT Morgan Moses 65.7
63.6 G Ben Powers 66.1
56.6 G Ben Cleveland 54.8
55.7 T Patrick Mekari 73.8
T Daniel Faalele

Ravens: Having Stanley for a full season would help a lot (seven games played in 2020 and 2021 combined). Linderbaum was the draft's top center prospect and should not need a lot of time before he starts playing at a high level. Moses should be a considerable upgrade on the retired Alejandro Villanueva. While the guard position could be a bit of a concern (mostly age with the 32-year-old Zeitler), simply having the two tackles healthy and playing at a high level and Linderbaum living up to his hype should help make Phillips look better.

RBG Pos Player PBG
79.8 LT Jonah Williams 68.8
62.4 LG Jackson Carman 53.0
67.1 C Ted Karras 76.9
71.2 RG Alex Cappa 69.6
89.8 RT La'el Collins 76.2
47.7 G Hakeem Adeniji 48.9
G Cordell Volson
57.2 T D'Ante Smith 41.7

Bengals: From left to right, Cincinnati lined up Williams-Quentin Spain-Trey Hopkins-Adeniji-Riley Reiff (or Isaiah Prince) last season. The case can be made the Bengals went from having one of the five worst lines in 2021 to one of the 10 best this year. With the exception of Williams remaining at left tackle, the Bengals arguably improved at every other spot this offseason. (This assumes Carman makes the typical Year 1 to Year 2 improvement.) Of particular note, the tag team of Cappa and Collins on the right side should open up big holes for Joe Mixon.

RBG Pos Player PBG
61.7 LT Jedrick Wills Jr. 67.9
92.5 LG Joel Bitonio 85.9
67.2 C Nick Harris 75.3
88.4 RG Wyatt Teller 70.4
86.0 RT Jack Conklin 63.8
76.0 C Ethan Pocic 43.8
70.3 T Blake Hance 36.9
53.2 T Chris Hubbard 42.9

Browns: The only change from last year's front five is replacing 31-year-old J.C. Tretter with 23-year-old Harris at center. Cleveland is taking a risk by trusting a player in the pivot with only 211 snaps to his name in two NFL seasons, but at least the Browns protected themselves with the experienced Pocic. Conklin will have a challenge to get back to his usual self after tearing his patellar tendon in Week 12 (which is why his name is listed in red). Otherwise, Cleveland should only need good health to be among the best o-lines in the league once again in 2022. Good health will be key because there is not much proven and/or quality depth after Pocic.

RBG Pos Player PBG
53.8 LT Dan Moore Jr. 58.9
60.8 LG Kevin Dotson 78.4
75.2 C Mason Cole 44.1
71.8 RG James Daniels 68.3
65.9 RT Chukwuma Okorafor 63.0
54.7 C/G Kendrick Green 50.7
68.3 C J.C. Hassenauer 63.3
55.1 T Joe Haeg 74.8

Steelers: There is reason for hope up front in Pittsburgh, as Dotson flashed at left guard before getting hurt in Week 10 and Daniels - who replaces Trai Turner - played at a respectable level during his four-year stay in Chicago. Whether Cole is an upgrade at center over what Green did as a rookie is debatable. Okorafor likely has topped out as a replacement-level right tackle. Moore is young and talented, but he did not do nearly enough to silence doubters on the left side as a rookie. Even worse, the Steelers likely do not have enough quality depth to withstand injuries to their starters.

AFC South

RBG Pos Player PBG
45.0 LT Laremy Tunsil 75.2
LG Kenyon Green
70.5 C Justin Britt 53.7
53.7 RG A.J. Cann 32.6
42.5 RT Tytus Howard 70.1
64.0 C Scott Quessenberry 60.7
60.4 G Max Scharping 53.8
41.1 T Charlie Heck 66.5
T Austin Deculus

Texans: Houston did not have much of a line to begin with last year before a thumb injury to Tunsil eliminated the team's cornerstone at left tackle. The Texans at least have a fighting chance in 2022, as pairing Tunsil and Green together on the left side gives the team some hope of blocking well on one side of the ball. This season is probably Howard's prove-it campaign (at least as a run-blocker since he has graded out well in pass pro since entering the league in 2019). Heck is a solid backup, but the Texans are not particularly deep otherwise. Britt fared well in 2021 considering he did not play at all the previous year, but injuries have been a problem for him since 2018. Cann has been a below-average player for the most part since his first two seasons in the league (2015-16) with the Jags. That is unlikely to change now that he is in Houston.

RBG Pos Player PBG
74.8 LT Matt Pryor 75.2
70.4 LG Quenton Nelson 62.0
58.1 C Ryan Kelly 57.2
78.3 RG Danny Pinter 46.0
86.0 RT Braden Smith 70.8
56.6 G Will Fries 44.0
64.0 T Dennis Kelly 75.2
T Bernhard Raimann

Colts: It is hard to find a better left guard-center duo than Nelson and Kelly. Pryor graded out well in a part-time utility role in 2021, but he only has 172 career snaps at left tackle to his name. There is a good chance the 6-7, 338-pounder is just keeping the seat warm for Raimann, but the rookie may not be ready to assume that role in 2022 given his relative inexperience at tackle (former college tight end who made the change to left tackle during the early part of the pandemic in 2020). The biggest question on the line is likely Pinter, who has been a good run-blocker in his two seasons but atrocious in pass pro. Just as problematic, he has logged only 329 NFL snaps. There is no one else on the roster that appears to be a worthy replacement if he fails.

RBG Pos Player PBG
52.5 LT Cam Robinson 76.6
63.1 LG Ben Bartch 52.8
C Luke Fortner
73.7 RG Brandon Scherff 72.4
61.7 RT Walker Little 70.2
61.8 C/G Tyler Shatley 61.4
43.6 G Will Richardson Jr. 83.1
42.8 RT Jawaan Taylor 72.1

Jaguars: Adding Scherff inside was a big deal for Jacksonville because it gives the line a proven player it can run behind and trust against the top pass-rushing defensive tackles. Scherff's presence (assuming he lines up on the right side as he has his entire career) should allow Little (or Taylor) to reach his potential as well. The entire left side of the line is a question mark, however. Robinson has been a below-average run-blocker for most of his NFL career, while Bartch has been average at best as a run- and pass-blocker through two seasons and Fortner is a rookie. Jacksonville likely prefers last year's second-half starter at center (Shatley) in more of a utility role, so Fortner should have a relatively long leash in the pivot.

RBG Pos Player PBG
64.9 LT Taylor Lewan 71.0
60.7 LG Aaron Brewer 48.7
81.5 C Ben Jones 64.8
71.5 RG Nate Davis 49.2
57.3 RT Dillon Radunz 39.5
59.7 C/G Corey Levin 7.3
60.3 G Jamarco Jones 54.6
T Nicholas Petit-Frere

Titans: Ben Jones is the only returning starter who came close to playing 17 games last season. (Davis' 14 was the next-highest mark to Jones' 17.) Even if Tennessee's injury luck improves this season, this line could still struggle - especially if Derrick Henry is not at the top of his game. Fortunately, the Titans should be in good shape yet again with Lewan, who has been a rock-solid left tackle since arriving in Nashville in 2014. Radunz should be an improvement over Ty Sambrailo at right tackle, but the former should have been able to beat out the latter for a starting job last year. It would be unreasonable to expect Brewer to fill Rodger Saffold's sizable shoes, which may have been while the Titans secured Jamarco Jones in free agency. Davis has established himself as a good run-blocker, but he has struggled as a pass-blocker in three years as a pro.

AFC West

RBG Pos Player PBG
68.9 LT Garett Bolles 77.8
63.2 LG Dalton Risner 73.6
62.5 C Lloyd Cushenberry III 71.3
64.9 RG Quinn Meinerz 66.7
60.3 RT Billy Turner 68.3
C Luke Wattenberg
61.1 G Graham Glasgow 70.1
92.3 T Tom Compton 69.8

Broncos: The addition of Russell Wilson by itself should make everyone up front look better than they played last year, although the group performed well as a whole in 2021 with mediocre play at quarterback. It will also help matters that new HC Nathaniel Hackett will replace former OC Pat Shurmur as the play-caller. The only notable change in personnel is that ex-Packer Turner will replace Bobby Massie at right tackle. Other than that, the Broncos will hope Meinerz can stay healthy to play the entire year at right guard.

 Kansas City
RBG Pos Player PBG
67.0 LT Orlando Brown Jr. 76.1
71.3 LG Joe Thuney 88.8
92.5 C Creed Humphrey 80.4
75.9 RG Trey Smith 63.6
77.6 RT Andrew Wylie 57.8
43.8 C Austin Reiter 51.7
62.0 G Nick Allegretti 89.0
39.6 T Geron Christian Sr. 78.8
T Darian Kinnard

Chiefs: Especially considering where they were two years ago, the Chiefs are in great shape up front. Humphrey was arguably the league's best center as a rookie last year, while Thuney and Smith shored up the team's guard spots. Brown should only get better with another year at left tackle, leaving Wylie as the only potential weak link on the line. "Weak link" may be a bit of a misnomer, however, as only Humphrey graded out better as a run-blocker. Wylie's biggest issue during his NFL career has been his durability. In two of his four pro seasons, he has missed at least four games.

 LA Chargers
RBG Pos Player PBG
80.2 LT Rashawn Slater 80.3
78.5 LG Matt Feiler 62.2
84.6 C Corey Linsley 84.9
RG Zion Johnson
75.5 RT Storm Norton 44.7
61.9 C Will Clapp 40.5
G Jamaree Salyer
72.6 G Brenden Jaimes
63.7 T Trey Pipkins 78.4

Chargers: The Chargers' offensive line overhaul has been almost as dramatic as the Chiefs', as only Norton has been in LA for more than one season. As it turns out, he is easily the weakest link of the bunch. Slater and Linsley are among the best in the league at their respective positions, while Johnson should excel in the run game right away (and offers a great deal of versatility with college experience at all five spots). Feiler struggled late last year but is a steady option at left guard.

 Las Vegas
RBG Pos Player PBG
76.3 LT Kolton Miller 84.4
52.4 LG Jermaine Eluemunor 67.0
61.7 C Andre James 67.2
53.4 RG Denzelle Good 42.7
56.8 RT Brandon Parker 54.0
G Dylan Parham
46.5 G John Simpson 62.7
62.1 G/T Alex Leatherwood 29.0

Raiders: Ironically, Las Vegas was thought to have one of the best offensive lines two years ago. Now, only Miller appears to be a long-term fixture. Good has been replacement-level at left guard since 2019. Perhaps part of the Raiders' issues up front last year involved Good lasting only 17 snaps. Eluemunor has turned himself into a good pass-blocker, but he has yet to log more than 419 snaps in any of his five pro seasons. The previous regime was very high on James in the pivot, and he held up relatively well in his first full season there. His continued development will be critical if this line hopes to come anywhere close to recapturing its former glory.

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.

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