2019 Offensive Line Rankings: 11-21
Evaluating Offensive Line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout the course of our game within a game. I have touched on some of the information I use to spit out my O-Line metric in my first article for 4for4, and followed up with five fantasy football assets whose outputs were shifted directly because of their offensive line’s play.
More Offensive Line Rankings: 22-32
Today we continue our deep dive to rank every single offensive line in the NFL, from 21 down to 11.
21. Seattle Seahawks
Opposing defenses have been terrorizing Russell Wilson for years now, and the Seahawks’ 10.4% Adjusted Sack Rate (30th in 2018) reflects that fact. For better or for worse, Seattle is built to weather the storm of a relentless rushing attack and it starts with an offensive line who ranked 12th in Adjusted Line Yards (4.50 ALY). After watching guard J.R. Sweezy sign with the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle quickly made it apparent they were not looking for a nimble, athletic pass protection specialist and instead replaced him with 345-pound giant Mike Iupati.
The Seahawks are projected to have the most experienced offensive line heading into 2019, with their starting five registering 468 game starts combined. The gameplan is clear: send out large, experienced, road graders and slam the ball into the defense until they tap out. Seattle has run the ball at the second highest clip over the last three seasons (53.72%) and led the league with a 52.44% rushing rate in 2018. Pete Carroll is zigging while the rest of the league zags, much to the detriment of our Russell Wilson fantasy football shares.
20. Oakland Raiders
Although it could be looked at as an overpay, it’s hard to criticize a move that immediately upgrades the edge on a team that clearly believes it is in contention. The move to sign Trent Brown allowed Oakland to maneuver around the first and second round of the Draft while all the other tackle-hungry teams made 12 of the first 48 picks offensive linemen. Oakland made Brown the highest paid tackle in the league and intend to place him at RT so former first-round pick Kolton Miller can continue to improve on the left side. That’s the plan, anyway.
Kolton Miller was ranked 80th by PFF last season at tackle. Out of 80. The Raiders reportedly wanted Mike McGlinchey, who was taken by the 49ers 1 spot ahead of Oakland’s pick. McGlinchey ranked 29th.
— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) May 9, 2019
As it stands, Oakland has missed poorly on Kolton Miller. Lots of rookies have problems adjusting to the league, even more so when they spend their first year fighting through injuries. For what it’s worth, Miller himself admitted that his rookie season was a struggle and he’s seen the game slow down in front of him since last year.
Miller will be attempting to hold down the left side of the line with newly signed left guard Richie Incognito. Yes, the same Richie Incognito that abruptly retired, called Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer a “f****** liar” , was detained for an involuntary mental evaluation after terrorizing somebody at a gym, and finally threatening to shoot up a funeral home in Scottsdale, Arizona. All in the last year. That is who they’ll be lining up right beside giant question mark Kolton Miller. Hopefully, the talents of Trent Brown and center Rodney Hudson are not being wasted on this hilarious franchise.
19. Cleveland Browns
I may be in the minority here, but I am worried about the fact that Cleveland didn’t get OT competition out of free agency or the draft. I’m sure Baker Mayfield isn’t complaining about gaining an incredible offensive weapon in Odell Beckham, but let us not forget that they had to get rid of Kevin Zeitler in the process. According to Sports Info Solutions, Zeitler was the victim of a blown block on 0.8% of his pass blocking snaps which ranked him eighth among all guards to see at least 500 snaps. Last year's second-round pick Austin Corbett will have big shoes to fill when he slides into right guard this year.
Moving to center, we can use the same parameters used above and see that SIS has J.C. Tretter allowing a measly 0.486% of his pass blocking snaps to end in a blown block, good for a top-seven finish in the league. Teaming with Joel Bitonio—who made his first Pro Bowl last year—Cleveland still has an above average interior O-Line, but questions about Greg Robinson (left tackle) and Chris Hubbard’s (right tackle) effectiveness push them down the list.
18. Denver Broncos
Instead of attacking the QB position in the first round of the NFL Draft (again), Denver opted to trade back from the No. 10 overall pick to gather up what they could to help veteran Joe Flacco. Regardless of what you think about Flacco, the Broncos picked some possibly “elite” complements to the offense in route-running prodigy Noah Fant and a slide-stepping-out-of-the-first-round Dalton Risner.
Risner is a brick wall in the run game, but concerns about athleticism and arm length have the Broncos sticking him at right guard for now. The possibility is open for him to play either tackle or center, the latter of which was his main position all his life until his sophomore year when Kansas State moved him out to right tackle, where he remained his final three years of college. Risner allowed exactly zero sacks between 2017 and 2018 combined, while tallying one pressure allowed during his face-off with the number 26 overall pick Montez Sweat, of Mississippi State.
An addition to the team that likely overshadows Dalton Risner is to the coaching staff in offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Munchak has long been considered one of the top O-Line coaches in the league, and despite not getting the head coaching gig in Denver, he’ll look to slot right into his old home among the men in the trenches. The new coach should help improve a strength of both Dalton Risner and the rest of the Broncos run-blocking unit. Denver ranked sixth in Adjusted Line Yards (4.75) in 2018, while ranking seventh in “Power Success” which is a Football Outsiders metric that measures the team’s effectiveness in “runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.” Coincidentally, Mike Munchak’s teams have also been historically good in this scenario, with the Pittsburgh Steelers finishing fifth, twelfth, and seventh in Power Success over the last three seasons.
This will all bode well for the Denver Broncos running back projected for the most goal-line work.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
Mitchell Schwartz may be the best right tackle in the league and boosts the ranking of the Chiefs all alone to one of the middle-of-the-road units. Pair him with consistent, albeit unspectacular right tackle Eric Fisher and you have a formidable tackle duo. The interior is where things get shaky. Kansas City allowed oft-injured center Mitch Morse to walk in free agency (signed with Buffalo) and are left with Austin Reiter to pick up the reins. Reiter was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the seventh round of the 2015 draft and subsequently placed on their practice squad. He has five career NFL starts between the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs.
Lining up to either side of Austin Reiter will be Cameron Erving (left guard) and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (right guard), each of which bring a lot more experience to the table. Erving has been sidelined from OTAs thus far as he’s recovering from a shoulder surgery, possibly prompting KC to bring in undrafted free agent rookie Chidi Okeke as another camp body along the offensive line. It’s interesting to note that two of the three starting inside offensive linemen the Chiefs plan to start came from the Cleveland Browns. If you were to combine the Cleveland and Kansas City units you would probably have the best O-Line in football.
16. Los Angeles Chargers
This is the ranking I’d expect to receive the most flak in this article’s set, but I must heavily weight the analytics that say this line isn’t as bad at producing fantasy points as we may think. The Chargers finished in the top half of the league in each of the following positive metrics: Adjusted Sack Rate, Adjusted Line Yards, and QB Hits Allowed. Where they were crushed from the opposite side was from Sports Info Solutions, who had them blowing a block on 2.2% of snaps, ranking them fifth worst.
If it helps to quell some of the outrage for such a “high” ranking of the Chargers, they are the lowest ranked team bringing back all five of their starters from last year. While that might not instill confidence in those of you that watched this offensive line week after week, remember that former second-round pick Forrest Lamp will be healthy and ready to fight for a starting position throughout an entire preseason for the first time in his career. Lamp didn’t return to health until right before the fourth exhibition game last Summer, and by that point, the Chargers had the O-Line set in stone. If he can push Dan Feeney out of the left guard spot it could make for an interesting starting five.
As for the lack of depth for the Chargers as of late, they did add Trey Pipkins in the third round, a tackle from Sioux Falls who allowed only two sacks in 43 games. If everything doesn’t go right for this group, they could fall far and fast down this list.
15. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons reloaded the entire right side of their offensive line during the 2019 NFL Draft. Despite the young bucks they still rank eighth in terms of projected starting five experience (325 game starts) thanks to the veteran presence of Jake Matthews (LT – 79 career starts), James Carpenter (LG – 97 career starts) and Alex Mack (C – 149 career starts). I appreciate that Atlanta did everything they could to address the O-Line this offseason. They started by adding four players through free agency and two more in the first round—the 14th and 31st overall picks were used on guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary, respectively. Adding an influx of young talent to the established veteran presence would see a team ranked higher in most cases, but the fact that 60% of the line has never played a snap together caps their immediate output a bit.
Both rookie prospects’ biggest strength was run blocking, which should bode well for a Falcons team that finished 25th in rushing yards per game and 24th in Adjusted Line Yards. With the depth that they have acquired across the last four months, the Falcons should not be in the same negative predicament they were in 2018, even with an injury or two.
Speaking of run blocking, look at Kaleb McGary (#58) open a hole for his running back all by himself in the below clip. If anyone is looking for a deep dive on McGary’s unique technique and how he compensates for his known weaknesses, I strongly suggest giving this article a read.
Wow. I’m impressed with McGary’s technique. Let me rephrase that, I’m blown away. Pries open the hole and his teammate picks him up. He understands that, replaces the guard and seals the hole for the RB. He singlehandedly opened the hole for the offense. ??? pic.twitter.com/zsVKYfsole
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) April 1, 2019
14. San Francisco 49ers
Having one of the most impactful, intelligent offensive tackles in the league goes a long way. Joe Staley is 34-years old and is arguably still just as good as he was five seasons ago. Having a left tackle as good as Staley will always translate to some level of success by the man playing next to him, and left guard Laken Tomlinson is doing well enough holding up his end of the bargain. Tomlinson went down in Week 17 of 2018 with a torn MCL but is already back with the team taking snaps at his usual left guard position.
Joe Staley and his 14 career holding calls lead a disciplined O-Line whose 28 penalties as a group ranked as the seventh fewest in 2018. With the 49ers bringing back all five of their starters, they will continue to build chemistry in year three of the Kyle Shanahan experience. With the additions of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford this offseason, the continued development of right tackle Mike McGlinchey should rev up after finishing his rookie season as PFF’s second-ranked first-year linemen. When asked about going against Dee Ford in practice, McGlinchey remarked, “He’s just quicker, and he’s strong as well. If the timing’s off, normally I’m hitting on the second step just a little bit later, and I’m still in control of the block. With Dee, you’ve got to be as fast as humanly possible because he’s that good at getting into you”
13. Detroit Lions
The Lions had a thoroughly mediocre season from a statistical standpoint last season but have some strong young pieces along the offensive line, thus the placement as a slightly above-average total package in these rankings. Detroit will be looking even younger heading into 2019 after the release and subsequent retirement of ten-year veteran T.J. Lang this spring. As a result, the Lions coaching staff has shuffled the lineup around during the initial organized team activities. Graham Glasgow now resides at right guard (Lang’s old position), Kenny Wiggins at left guard and Frank Ragnow is back to his familiar college position, center. The final of those three might be the key to unlocking the highest ceiling for this group.
Ragnow was arguably the most gifted interior offensive lineman in last year’s draft and was slated to be a competent center from the get-go. For reasons that I’m sure are easy to explain (it was easiest to slide him into LG, a position of need, Detroit wanted Ragnow to spend a year at guard to catch up to the speed of the game, etc.) the rookie didn’t get to show his prowess making the calls or pass protecting from the center position. My favorite stat from draft season last year shows how great he was at limiting pressure—through his four-year career in Arkansas Ragnow played 2,603 offensive snaps and allowed zero sacks. With Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner manning the tackle positions, the Lions should have a top-10 pass blocking unit.
12. Tennessee Titans
The final two teams in our rankings today are groups of men built to win with gap-clearing power first and foremost. We will start at number 12 and the Tennessee Titans, who declined right tackle Jack Conklin’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract. This means Conklin will play 2019 in a contract year (good news) but will test free agency once the year is over (bad news). The likely refusal to accept the option is because they already have the highest-paid tackle in football playing across the line from him in Taylor Lewan. That’s about all the contract talk you’ll be able to squeeze out of me, just know that the Titans have a formidable duo protecting the boundaries with stop-gap tackle Dennis Kelly filling in when needed if Conklin’s knee begins to act up again.
Tennessee rightly identified right guard Josh Kline as a weak link in the line last season and let him hit free agency, opting instead to see what Kevin Pamphile can do at right guard after finishing last season on injured reserve. The Titans also inked a deal with 10-year vet Rodger Saffold, who helped make the Los Angeles Rams one of the most formidable units in the league—but more on that in Part Three of this series. The question that needs to be answered after all this shuffling around is: can they help lower the 10.2% Adjusted Sack Rate that ranked them 29th in 2018? Or better yet, can it be helped while Marcus Mariota is still the quarterback? Tennessee allowed only 69 quarterback hits last year, fifth fewest in the league. It makes you wonder exactly how he’s taking so few hits yet getting sacked at such a high rate. Maybe yet another offensive scheme will help Mariota feel comfortable staying in the pocket and making his reads.
11. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are a fun study heading into 2019. They are so very much unlike any other team in football at the moment. After Lamar Jackson took over quarterback duties in Week 11, the rushing offense outproduced the passing offense in six of the final seven games. That is just not happening in the NFL today. With Jackson’s legs a constant threat, the running backs and ground game ran wild. This doesn’t just help the backs, either. Think about how much this helps the offensive linemen when the defense must take an extra split second figuring out which man has the ball.
To exemplify how much more successful the run game was with Lamar in the game, let me head back to one of my favorite places for visuals, SharpFootballStats.com. The first screenshot is the rushing success rate over average (SROA) while Joe Flacco was starting, the second screenshot is the SROA while Lamar Jackson was starting.
Keep in mind, this is only running back success rate, so Lamar Jackson’s running prowess is not being considered. Running backs alone almost tripled their SROA over these splits.
This is a lot of talk about a quarterback in an article about offensive lines, but my long-winded point here is how much easier the Baltimore Ravens’ jobs are going to be when they’re not dropping back to pass protect 35–40 times a game. The Ravens ranked eighth at 4.61 Adjusted Line Yards in 2018. I think that’s the low threshold for next season.