2022 Offensive Line Rankings: 10-1
As I’m sure you have hypothesized in the past, the play of a team’s offensive line impacts the fantasy points that each NFL team can produce, and now we have statistical proof. By using the knowledge of good and bad units, we can better attack (or avoid) skill position players on a given team; another edge we can use against our league mates. With that caveat understood, it’s time to figure out exactly where a team’s offensive line compares to the rest of the league.
Below I’ll be counting down the top-10 offensive lines heading into the 2021 season, with an accompanying “key stat” from last year’s unit, plus new faces coming to the team. The offseason movement will denote either the most recent team that player played for, or the round of the draft they were selected. Additions and subtractions will be relegated to players believed to be immediately starting or at the least an immediate backup, and/or players selected in the first four rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. Let’s dig in.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Key 2021 Stat: 2.62 blown block% (21st)
Additions: Bernhard Raimann (third round, Central Michigan), Dennis Kelly (Packers)
Subtractions: Eric Fisher (free agent), Mark Glowinski (Giants)
The 2021 season can be chalked up as a disappointment for the Indianapolis Colts offensive line as a unit. From Quenton Nelson missing time due to ankle, back, and knee issues, to Eric Fisher taking a step back in his age-33 season, to Ryan Kelly allowing a career-high in pressures (29). Things were exasperated by Carson Wentz, who has become notoriously fickle while under pressure the longer his career moves along; his 58.9 on-target% while under pressure ranked 30th last year after he finished 34th (58.4%) in the same metric in 2020.
Not only has the team moved on from the one-year experiment of Eric Fisher, but they have also moved from Wentz to Matt Ryan, who has been cool from the pocket throughout his career, ranking fourth in 2021 in on-target% while under pressure (71.7%). A bounce-back from center Ryan Kelly should be in store, particularly if he is able to play next to a fully healthy Quenton Nelson for an entire year. The additions of Dennis Kelly and third-rounder Bernhard Raimann will create depth on the outside, with a possibility for the rookie to slide to guard if the team needs it.
During the pre-draft process, Raimann was often projected at the turn of the first-and-second rounds (at least three unrelated draft analysts, by my count) so the Colts get a massive value by taking him with the 77th-overall selection. The Austrian-born Central Michigan prospect only has two seasons of offensive line experience under his belt —which likely caused the slip down the board— but provides incredible upside, particularly with how refined his game is so quickly in his playing career.
9. New England Patriots
Key 2021 Stat: 1.77 blown block% (2nd)
Additions: Cole Strange (first round, UT-Chattanooga),
New England’s offensive line offseason can be defined by two head-scratching moves. The thing is, they may both end up making sense. The first involved sending veteran right guard Shaq Mason —fresh off of yet another dominant season with the Patriots— down to the Buccaneers for a fifth-round pick. Mason logged 111 high-quality starts at either guard position over his seven seasons, many of which were blocking for former and now current quarterback Tom Brady. On paper, the trade seems ludicrous, but if you dig a little deeper you see that New England was up against the cap and will save around $16 million in cap space over the final two seasons of Mason’s contract.
Saving money doesn’t lessen the pain of the imminent downgrade in return for a measly fifth-round selection, but at least the Patriots quickly filled the gap in the line with a first-round pick. A strange pick that raised just as many questions as the Shaq Mason trade.
With the 29th-overall selection this Spring, the Pats took interior lineman Cole Strange from UT-Chattanooga, a selection that baffled the entire mock draft world. A first-round selection on an interior lineman from an FCS school can (and was) be construed as a reach, but when you watch Strange in action and see how he handled defenders from both FBS and FCS programs, you can see where the team was coming from. Strange would allow a career-high five pressures in the 2021 season, adding up to 13 pressures in his time in Chattanooga, and gave up his first career sack in the second-to-last game of his college career. This proficient pass protection can partially be attributed to his incredible athleticism; not only did Strange have the best athletic testing of any interior lineman in this class, but he also had the seventh-highest relative athletic score among any iOL drafted since 1987.
Strange isn’t as big of a downgrade as one would assume from Shaq Mason, and he could even help open up New England’s offense to a more zone-oriented run game.
8. Los Angeles Rams
Key 2021 Stat: Least amount of rookies receiving starts (zero)
Additions: Logan Bruss (third round, Wisconsin)
Subtractions: Andrew Whitworth (retirement), Austin Corbett (Panthers)
The Super Bowl Champions famously do not care about the multiple first-round picks they’ve traded away over the last handful of years, and how can you blame them when the trades had such an impact on them climbing the football mountain? Part of their aging offensive line finally aged out after a remarkable 16-year career and the Rams are going to have a difficult time replacing Hall of Famer Andrew Whitworth, both on the field and in the locker room. As it stands now, it looks as though Joseph Noteboom will move up from his swing tackle position to take over the left side of the line, but even if he’s ready for the promotion it will be difficult to immediately replicate the success of Whitworth who was still performing at the top of his game.
As far as the interior is concerned, the team did spend at least a little bit of draft capital on the o-line for the first time in nearly four years by taking Logan Bruss with their compensatory 104th pick. Bruss has some pass protection issues to clean up but he is still the penciled-in starter in camp while the team shuffles a multitude of options in and out of the lineup.
While everyone seems like a baby compared to Whitworth’s long career, it’s worth mentioning that right tackle Rob Havenstein is entering his eighth season with Los Angeles and his presumed backup at the moment is seventh-round selection A.J. Arcuri, who was the 261st pick of this year’s draft.
7. Cleveland Browns
Key 2021 Stat: 4.85 adjusted line yards (1st)
Additions: Ethan Pocic (Seahawks)
Subtractions: J.C. Tretter (free agent)
As the Giants, 49ers, Vikings, and surely a handful of other teams are clamoring over themselves to get J.C. Tretter on their team, the Browns have moved on in the form of former Seahawks center Ethan Pocic. While Pocic —or third-year player Nick Harris— will offer a downgrade from Tretter, the unit should still have enough talent to remain in the top-10 for another year, particularly if we can see most of a season from right tackle Jack Conklin, who is recovering from a torn patellar tendon.
Even with Conklin missing over half of the season, the team was still able to lead the league with their 4.85 adjusted line yards last season, though the team performed better with the right tackle on the field, as we can see in the chart below.
|Rushing Yards Before Contact||2.3||2.1||0.2|
*Data from Sports Info Solutions
With a sample size of hundreds of snaps in either side of the split, it would be farfetched to say that all of this was fluky, and should show how much the tackle means to the cohesion of the line, and the offense as a whole. Baker Mayfield faced far less pressure with Conklin in the lineup, leading to more efficient passing in general, while the line got a better push in the run game. Though 0.2 yards before contact may not seem like a lot, when it’s extrapolated over an entire game —or season— that’s a big difference in space for running backs to be able to operate.
6. Dallas Cowboys
Key 2021 Stat: 4.80 adjusted line yards (2nd)
Additions: Tyler Smith (first round, Tulsa)
Though the depth of the Dallas Cowboys is going to be tested after they lost both La’el Collins and Connor Williams to free agency, the fact is, they left behind a unit that has plenty of talent remaining. Guard Zack Martin is arguably the best player in the league at his position, while tackle Tyron Smith would probably qualify for that title at left tackle if he weren’t so prone to missing large swaths of time. Incumbent center Tyler Biadasz has been fine since the team drafted him in the fourth round of the 2020 draft and Terence Steele had a decent season flipping back and forth from right tackle to left tackle if we ignore a Week 9 matchup in which Denver Broncos edge rusher Jonathon Cooper absolutely ate his lunch.
The biggest question mark here —outside of depth— is whether or not the team goes through with shifting rookie Tyler Smith into a guard position, and how he will perform if he is granted the starting job. Smith turned 21 in April and was one of the youngest players in the 2022 draft class, which causes some consternation when projecting his immediate return on investment at the next level. Because of how raw he is in the run game, he was being projected as a second-or-third round selection to give him a little time to grow that portion of his game. There is still a lot to like with him, and he gets to play next to an all-time great tackle while he continues to learn.
5. Detroit Lions
Key 2021 Stat: 201 QB pressures allowed (8th)
With no key offseason movements necessary, the Detroit Lions are one of only four teams projected to return all five o-line starters. Even though the team dealt with injuries and a slow start from seventh-overall selection Penei Sewell, the line finished the season strong. Much of that may have to do with Sewell himself, as the rookie performed much better after the Lions’ bye week when he was flipped from left tackle to right tackle. Whether it was his performance or the line gelling in general, the offense as a whole was much more efficient from Week 10-on.
|Yards per Pass Att.||6.5||6.6|
|Yards per Carry||4.1||4.7|
The upticks across the board could be because of heightened play from the offensive line, but it also stems from increased usage in play-action passing; something play-callers are likely to avoid if they don’t trust the line to hold up. According to SIS, from Weeks 1-8, before the bye, Detroit ran play-action at an 11% rate, dead last in the NFL. Post-bye, the team executed play-action at a 19% rate, jumping up to the eighth-most in the league. Jared Goff’s average depth of target in turn jumped from 6.2 before the bye to 7.0 after the bye.
More trust in the line —and the addition of Jameson Williams— should equate to a stronger showing from an offense that finished 2021 24th in total half-PPR fantasy points as a team.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key 2021 Stat: 1.51 blown block% (1st)
Additions: Shaq Mason (Patriots), Luke Goedeke (second round, Central Michigan)
Subtractions: Alex Cappa (Bengals), Ali Marpet (retirement)
The Buccaneers did well to fill the holes created by Ali Marpet’s retirement and the loss of Alex Cappa through free agency. Though there may be nominal growing pains, the team is still returning much of the core that had a league-best 1.51 blown block%, finding themselves worlds’ apart from the rest of the pack in the following graph that shows each team’s finish in both rushing-and-passing blown block%
Neither Marpet nor Cappa will be easy to replace, but sticking Shaq Mason in as your right guard sure is a good place to start. There is one red flag along the line, as I don’t believe we’re going to get an answer about their left guard situation any time soon. Aaron Stinnie is the incumbent for all intents and purposes, but he has only logged 349 career snaps since being scooped as a UDFA by the Titans back in 2018 and hasn’t been a world-beater in his allotted chances. The other option would be second-round pick Luke Goedeke of Central Michigan, who played on the same line as Colts’ third-rounder Bernhard Raimann and even arrived at the school as a tight end, much like his former teammate.
Goedeke had two very good seasons with the Chippewas but spent all of his time there at right tackle, and was forced to miss the entire 2020 season because of knee surgery. If he wins the starting job but takes some time to progress, he’s certainly sandwiched between two of the best at their position to mask his weaknesses; Donovan Smith and Ryan Jensen.
3. Green Bay Packers
Key 2021 Stat: 178 QB pressures allowed (5th)
Additions: Sean Rhyan (third round, UCLA), Zach Tom (fourth round, Wake Forest)
For as many pieces as they lost in free agency, you would think the Packers’ line would be in a lot worse shape than it is. Green Bay had miserable injury luck along their offensive line in 2021 but still managed to perform at a high level. Combined, center Josh Myers, left tackle David Bakhtiari, and do-it-all Elgton Jenkins combined to miss 36 games through the regular season, and that number is ignoring the other nicks and bruises suffered by the rest of the Packers’ options.
While Josh Myers was back out there by the end of the year, the two injured vets are still sidelined with their respective injuries, though they are at least in the process of rehabbing their ACLs. In order for the Packers to maintain a ranking this high, they desperately need David Bakhtiari to show some sign that he is going to play Week 1 at some point during training camp.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Key 2021 Stat: Coaching Tenure - 9 years (Andy Heck, t-longest in NFL)
Additions: Geron Christian (Texans)
Subtractions: Austin Blythe (Seahawks)
The Kansas City Chiefs quietly didn’t have to do anything to their starting five just one year after completely revamping the entire o-line unit. Much of this has to be attested to offensive line coach Andy Heck, who took a group of players who had literally never played a snap together and put together one of the best performances in the league last year. The unit would finish top-10 in both adjusted line yards (4.55 - 8th) and adjusted sack rate (4.8% - 4th), losing only one piece in the offseason —Austin Blythe, who only saw the field for 12 snaps.
None of the starting five budged, and the only addition the team felt the need to make was to sign Geron Christian, who will battle it out with Lucas Niang for swing tackle duties.
If this hodge-podge group can perform as well as they did with no history of playing together, I can’t imagine what they will look like with a season of continuity under their belt.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Key 2021 Stat: Coaching Tenure - 9 years (Jeff Stoutland, t-longest in NFL)
Additions: Cam Jurgens (second round, Nebraska)
Subtractions: Nate Herbig (Jets)
This is an aging offensive line, and though I would like to think they’re simply more wisened, there is a case to be made that Jason Kelce and/or Lane Johnson could miss time as they continue to take punishment deep into their respective careers. Yet, until that happens, the Philadelphia Eagles are the cream of the crop as far as offensive line play goes. They continue to prove that they can spot talent to groom next to their wily old veterans, as further samples Jordan Mailata (2018 UDFA) and Jack Driscoll (2020 fourth-rounder) can now attest to. That’s not to mention Isaac Seumalo, who suffered a Lisfranc injury only three games into last season.
With Mailata, Driscoll, Lane Johnson, and Andre Dillard, the Eagles hilariously run four-deep at the tackle position which is simply unheard of. A pessimist could point out left guard Landon Dickerson’s iffy first year in the league, but they would be ignoring how much the second-round pick improved as the season went on.
The team is also casually sporting a top-three center and drafted Jason Kelce’s exact prototype in the second round of this year’s draft to learn under him until the 34-year-old decides to hang up the cleats.