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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jedrick Wills Jr.
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.
Dan Moore Jr.
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.
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.
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.
Will Richardson Jr.
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.
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.
Lloyd Cushenberry III
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.
Orlando Brown Jr.
Geron Christian Sr.
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.
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.
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.