Ranking the NFL’s Top Offensive Lines (1 to 32)

Posted by Steve on July, 30th 2013

FantasyGuruEveryone has experienced a moment during their draft when they were on the clock, and just couldn’t decide between one player or the other.  One possible way to break this frustrating tie is to see who has the better offensive line.  FantasyGuru.com and Lance Zierlein are here to help, with this version of the 2013 Offensive Line Rankings.        

 

Note: This article is part of our series that highlights quality content from premium subscription sites. FantasyGuru has been gracious enough to share a weekly article with our users for free. For additional FantasyGuru insight, you can visit FantasyGuru.com

 

About Lance Zierlein: Lance grew up in a football family and his father, Larry Zierlein, is an offensive line coach, who has coached college and pro football for 33 years. Larry Zierlein has coached the offensive lines for three different NFL teams (including the Super Bowl winning Steelers in 2008-2009) and recently came out of retirement to join the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant offensive line coach.
 
 

DraftWizard_inline_710x40_3

 

Zierlein’s 2013 Offensive Line Rankings

 

Before you read my offensive line rankings and grades, it is important that you understand the criteria and the process that I use to judge these offensive lines. Obviously, line play is broken down into pass protection and run blocking, but how a group functions as a unit is all I really care about.

 

Sacks allowed aren’t always the greatest indicators of how talented a unit is in pass protection. I would argue that Peyton Manning has played behind some fairly average lines at times during his career, but he understands the importance of getting rid of the ball and not taking a sack. Manning is also a savant when it comes to recognizing blitzes and changing protections at the line of scrimmage to put the offensive line in the best scenario to succeed. Similarly, QBs who look to extend plays will hold onto the ball longer and take some unnecessary sacks.

 

In run blocking, offensive lines have to work together as a consistent unit. The best offensive lines are usually the ones that have played together for more than a season or two because they have a feel for the guy next to them. Those offensive lines already understand adjustments to make based on late shifting by defenders or based on defensive fronts they’ve seen in the past.

 

Unit Grades and Talent Grades

 

My “Unit Grades” represent my overall grade for the offensive lines. I combined my own All-22 study with formulas I’ve created using data that measures quality rush %, clean rushing yards, consistency of rushing attack, pass protection success, and more. While I think the Viking offensive line did an admirable job last season, I’ve found a way to at least partially separate what they’ve done as a unit from what Adrian Peterson did as a machine.

 

My Unit Grade does not take talent into account. It considers only how these offensive lines have played together and how I expect them to play together this season. Typically, teams that rely more heavily on the zone scheme can get away with lesser talent at interior line positions and still have success, as long as they play well together and play with technique. The Redskins are a great example of this.

 

My ”Talent Grade” is much more subjective. Talent can mean different things for different players. For one guard, “talent” might be the ability to beat his man consistently to the spot and get his defender turned in the running game, while another guard’s talent is getting his man moved off the spot to create a running crease. For tackles, I need to see good hand placement and core strength in pass protection and proper technique in the running game.

 

Talent will often win out on the offensive line, but it is no guarantee. It takes only one player to blow assignments consistently or get beat and that “talented” offensive line turns into an “underachieving” offensive line. I looked at each potential starter on each line and gave him a grade and added those scores up to create my “Talent Grade.”

 

 Team
 Unit Grade
 Talent Grade (1-20)
 San Francisco 49ers
 A
 18
 Washington Redskins
 A-
 15.5
 New York Giants
 A-
 16.5
 New England Patriots
 B+
 17
 Seattle Seahawks
 B+
 16
 Baltimore Ravens
 B+
 17
 Kansas City Chiefs
 B+
 17.5
 Tennessee Titans
 B+
 18
 Houston Texans
 B
 16.5
 Minnesota Vikings
 B
 16
 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
 B
 17
 Buffalo Bills
 B-
 16
 Carolina Panthers
 B-
 16.5
 Miami Dolphins
 B-
 15.5
 Cincinnati Bengals
 C+
 16
 Philadelphia Eagles
 C+
 16.5
 Cleveland Browns
 C+
 16.5
 New Orleans Saints
 C
 16
 Chicago Bears
 C
 15.5
 Detroit Lions
 C
 15
 New York Jets
 C
 16
 Denver Broncos
 C
 16.5
 Pittsburgh Steelers
 C
 16.5
 Green Bay Packers
 C-
 15.5
 St. Louis Rams
 C-
 15.5
 Jacksonville Jaguars
 C-
 15.5
 Indianapolis Colts
 C-
 15
 Atlanta Falcons
 D+
 15
 Dallas Cowboys
 D+
 15
 Oakland Raiders
 D
 14.5
 San Diego Chargers
 D
 15
 Arizona Cardinals
 D
 14.5

 

Quick Observations

 

  • The Baltimore Ravens are an inside/out unit right now (meaning guards better than tackles), but end up having a great season if they get consistency from Bryant McKinnieMichael Oher is fading quickly, but good tackle play from even one spot should put them in a great position.

 

  • The amount of talent the Tennessee Titans have up front after this off-season is frightening. Are the tackles as good as they once were?  No, but they are good enough. Guard Andy Levitre gives them a well-school veteran with talent, while Chance Warmack will play opposite Levitre and brings a mauling presence we haven’t seen from the Titans in a long time.

 

  • The difference between the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line from last year and this year will be night and day. Chip Kelly’s tempo is going to make a huge difference in helping the running game play at a high level this year. Lane Johnson and Jason Peters have a chance to be elite as a pass blocking duo at tackle, and Kelly’s offensive will be friendly in terms of getting rid of the ball quickly.

 

  • The more I watched of the Green Bay Packers on tape, the more I realized that their tackle play wasn’t the only problem last season. The Packers addressed some of their O-line issues through the draft, but there are still holes this year that I’m sure the Packers are hoping RBs like Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin can cover up.

 

  • The Minnesota Vikings are a terrific example of how a unit can be successful, despite having very average guards (and a RT I’m not in love with). The Vikings are well-coached, play with smarts and discipline, and they give Adrian Peterson a chance, despite facing a variety of 8-man fronts. Does Peterson help them out as well and make yards on his own? Of course he does, but that’s just part of the game. It does not diminish was a nice job the Vikings are doing as a unit.

 

2013 Offensive Line Writeups

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesJoe Staley (29), Anthony Davis (23)
GuardsMike Iupati (26), Alex Boone (26)
CenterJonathan Goodwin (34)/Daniel Kilgore (25)
 
Outlook:
Stability along the offensive line is often the mark of a Super Bowl team, and the 49ers certainly have that. A dominant run-blocking line (a 3rd-most 5.1 YPC and a 4th-most 155.7 YPG), the Niners surrendered a high 41 sacks in 2012, although Alex Smith was sacked more often than the mobile Colin Kaepernick. With Kaepernick in there full time this year, the numbers could look even better in 2013. Think about the chemistry up here: LT Joe Staley, the anchor of the line, has been a starter for more than half a decade and is under contract for five more seasons. The Niners just spent big money to extend the still-improving RT Anthony Davis, and he’s under contract for seven more seasons. Shortly after switching to RG from tackle, Alex Boone made a name for himself and was honored as a Pro Bowl alternate. Boone is under contract for three more seasons. While LG Mike Iupati made the Pro Bowl, he’s the only player of these four not signed past 2014. That said, the 49ers have already engaged Iupati in contract talks and are clearly interested in retaining him long term. Yes, there are some questions here. C Jonathan Goodwin is getting older, and he needed to take a pay cut to ensure his roster spot for 2013. But he is still the favorite to open the 2013 as the starter over Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney. Additionally, Staley is coming off a knee scope and Iupati is recovering from shoulder surgery, but both players are expected to be ready for training camp. In the event they miss time, however, veteran swingman Adam Snyder is back with the 49ers. In Snyder, Looney, and Kilgore, the 49ers have valuable depth behind one of the NFL’s most stable lines.
 
Zierlein Says:
Welcome to the best pure running game in football. The Redskins may have ended the season with more rushing yards, but nobody was more efficient than the 49ers, thanks to this talented, highly-drafted offensive line. Jim Harbaugh understands that the running game is about setting a tone of dominance, and he isn’t going to get away from that which is why there will always be value with multiple 49ers RBs. Colin Kaepernick will keep utilizing the zone read, but look for more teams to focus on containing him from getting outside, which means there is greater potential for explosive plays for RBs on the hand-off. San Francisco’s ground game is about pounding defenses up the middle and then hitting them outside. And 23.6% of their rushing yards came up the middle, while 42.9% came from runs around the left and right end. The 49ers will have their best success against teams with average or below-average LBs or slower LB corps. While I love their ground game, I’m very down on their protection. The guards are slow to react to stunts and twists, and their tackles stunk at times. Anthony Davis is overrated and overpaid, and his 10 sacks allowed help to shine a spotlight on the 49ers Achilles heel up front.
 
 
Projected Starters:
TacklesTrent Williams (25), Tyler Polumbus (28)
GuardKory Lichtensteiger (28), Chris Chester (30)
CenterWill Montgomery (30)
 
Outlook:
The zone-blocking Redskins have among the most consistent offensive lines in football in terms of personnel. In 2013, they’re expected to return all five starters to the same positions they were in last season, and the same positions four of the five were in 2011. In fact, the Redskins didn’t select a single lineman in the 2013 draft, speaking to their comfort level with the personnel. Last season, the Redskins surrendered 33 sacks, in the better half of the NFL, and no team in football ran the ball better (a league-high 169.3 YPG and a 2nd-highest 5.2 YPC). LT Trent Williams made the Pro Bowl after a great 2012, and he seems poised to improve in 2013 after taking some huge strides and having a positively quiet off-season. LG Kory Lichtensteiger was among the weak links along the Redskin line last season, but he was recovering from a serious knee injury, and he played through a high ankle sprain. The Redskins were happy with Lichtensteiger’s determination and signed him to a five-year extension this off-season, and he’ll be entering training camp healthy. C Will Montgomery was fantastic in 2012, ranking #3 among all centers according to Pro Football Focus, despite playing through an MCL sprain. Perhaps speaking to the importance of consistency, RG Chris Chester had what might have been the best season of his career in 2012 after his shaky 2011, and he hasn’t missed a snap in over two seasons. RT Tyler Polumbus is probably the Redskin most in danger of losing his starting spot. Although he re-signed in Washington on a two-year deal, he will face competition from veteran Jeremy Trueblood and youngster Tom Compton. According to Pro Football Focus, Polumbus was the worst RT in football last season. The biggest issue for the Redskin line is depth. With QB Robert Griffin III returning from injury, it is imperative the Redskins stay healthy up front because Trueblood is the only reserve with significant experience. If G Josh LeRibeus impresses, he could push Lichtensteiger for playing time, but that’s a big “if.”
 
Zierlein Says:
Last year, I wrote an article during the summer predicting the Redskins would have one of the top rushing attacks in the league. Offensive lines tend to gel in year two after implementing the zone scheme, and RG3 was certain to expedite that process. Washington ended up leading the league in rushing, and while RG3 and Alfred Morris deserve credit, the play of the offensive line deserves its fair share as well. However, let’s not go overboard. The left side of the line was more consistent than the right side, thanks primarily to Trent Williams, who really came on last season. 50.7% of the Redskins rushing yards came running left versus just 38.6% to the right. Chris Chester fits in this zone scheme due to his quick feet, but both he and Lichtensteiger are more steady than talented. I don’t think the right tackle position will matter that much as the scheme will cover that position up. In 2012, almost 50% of Morris’ yards came after contact, and he had to break a whopping 22 tackles. In other words, he still had to work for his yards. The Redskins will likely run fewer zone read plays in an effort to protect RG3, but they will still run just as much zone scheme.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesWill Beatty (28), Justin Pugh (23) ®
GuardsKevin Boothe (30), Chris Snee (31)
CenterDavid Baas (31)
 
Outlook:
The Giants may not have had one of the flat-out best lines in football last year, but they do have some stability, and it appears they’re going to improve where they needed to the most. Whether it was the play of QB Eli Manning or other factors, the Giants surrendered only 20 sacks last season, fewest in the entire NFL, which certainly helped LT Will Beatty secure his monster five-year extension in the off-season. Beatty will form an interesting pair on the left side of the New York line with veteran LG Kevin Boothe. Boothe, who signed a one-year deal in the off-season, isn’t a great anchor in the pass game, but he’s aggressive as a run blocker. Boothe was among the leading factors in the Giants’ finishing in the top half of the NFL in both YPC (4.7) and rush YPG (116.4). RG Chris Snee might not be the best guard in football anymore, but he’s a tough player who plays through pain and still excels as both a run blocker and a pass protector. Snee is recovering from off-season hip surgery, but he is expected to be ready for camp. Also recovering from off-season surgery is C David Baas, who had bone spurs removed from his elbow. Baas was solid last year after a bad 2011, but his inconsistency might be a concern for the Giants. The Giants, however, needed to improve significantly at RT, where David Diehl was bad last year. They drafted rookie Justin Pugh in the 1st round in April, and Pugh is expected to step right into a starting job. Pugh has been criticized for having short arms, but the Giants feel he is athletic enough to make up for it and stick at RT, where he played exclusively in OTAs. Like Diehl, Pugh can also play guard. Diehl and OT James Brewer will be the top backups on the line.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Giants struggled to run the ball effectively in 2011, but they bounced back in a big way in 2012, and they did it with solid, cohesive play as a run-blocking unit that included the TEs and WRs. The Giants are fairly straight-ahead with how they run the ball. They will run some inside zone mixed in with their man blocking, and they prefer to run out of 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 tight end and 2 wide receivers) or 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers). New York ran for 1330 yards out of the “21” and “11” formation groupings, so they aren’t looking to trick you when they run the ball; they are just looking to block you. The Giants are solid from guard to guard in the run game, and Beatty came along as a run blocker last year. The right tackle spot has been a problem for consecutive years and the Giants are hoping that rookie 1st-rounder Justin Pugh takes care of those problems. While Pugh will help in the running game, I think he will struggle as a pass protector, which means the Giants will still have to continue to give their right tackle help. 2013 should look similar to 2012 for the Giants, and I’m sure they will take that.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Nate Solder (25), Sebastian Vollmer (29)
Guards: Logan Mankins (31), Dan Connolly (31)/Marcus Cannon (25)
Center: Ryan Wendell (27)
 
Outlook: 
The Patriot offense has been a volatile group this off-season, but thankfully one area where they haven’t seen much change is along the offensive line, which is completely intact from its strong 2012 season. The group should still be one of the better lines in the NFL, especially in pass protection. The Pats allowed just 27 sacks last season, the 5th-fewest in the league, thanks in large part to this offensive line, but also because of QB Tom Brady, who gets the ball quickly out of his hands. They also improved in run blocking, important for the 2013 season, given the change at TE and WR. The Patriots ranked 7th in rushing YPG (136.5) and tied for 14th in YPC (4.2).  Nate Solder stepped in for the retired Matt Light last season and played admirably, and the third-year pro should only get better. RT Sebastian Vollmer didn’t have much of a market in free agency because of back issues and a knee scope, but he’s expected to be ready for the season after re-upping with the Patriots. LG Logan Mankins continues to play near a Pro Bowl level, and the unheralded member of the group, C Ryan Wendell, barely left the field and played at a high level in this no-huddle offense. About the only spot where the Patriots could see change is at RG, as Marcus Cannon is expected to challenge veteran Dan Connolly for the starting job. This year more than ever, the Patriots will be relying on solid offensive line play from week to week, and fortunately for them, this group almost always delivers.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Patriots have tried to stay ahead of the curve in terms of their approach to their offense. Last season, the Patriots made tempo a bigger part of their offense, and they got back to running the ball effectively under OC Josh McDaniels. The Patriots up-tempo philosophy allows them to get more snaps than other offenses, which accounts for their ability to get more rushing attempts than every other team but one last year, while still finishing 4th in the league in passing attempts. With Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker gone and with a lack of reliable WRs outside, the Patriots could be looking to run the ball even more this season. Unlike the Bills and Panthers who gained a solid percentage of their rushing yardage out of the shotgun, 85.3% of the Patriots rushing yardage came when Brady was under center, which meant the Patriots were able to grind it out up front, and with a big TE like Jake Ballard being added into the mix, the Patriots might be even more prepared to do that once again. There is no real reason to even talk about pass protection, since the Patriots usually do a pretty good job and Brady gets rid of the ball quickly when blitzed.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesRussell Okung (25), Breno Giacomini (27)
GuardJames Carpenter (24)/Paul McQuistan (30), J.R. Sweezy (24)
CenterMax Unger (27)
 
Outlook:

The Seahawks have a young line, which means there’s still a lot of time for zone-blocking guru Tom Cable to coach ‘em up and get the most out of it. And to be fair, the Seahawks ranked 3rd in the NFL, with 161.2 rushing YPG, and 5th with 4.8 YPC. But on perhaps the NFL’s most talented overall roster, offensive line might be the weakest unit on the club.  One of the major reasons? Injuries. LT Russell Okung is a really talented player with the chance to become a star, but he’s dealt with knee, pec, and ankle injuries in his career. He’s also among the most penalized linemen in football. But Okung’s 15 starts in 2012 were the most of his career thus far, so at least he’s trending upward. LG James Carpenter has played only 16 games in two seasons, and he is coming off knee surgery and concussion issues. When drafted as a right tackle in the 1st round back in 2011, many considered Carpenter a “reach,” and he hasn’t really had a chance to prove otherwise. Carpenter is expected to be ready for camp, but the Seahawks won’t rush him, and it’s possible Paul McQuistan opens camp as the starting LG. RT Breno Giacomini didn’t have a good season in 2012, had elbow surgery after the season, and is dealing with knee problems as he heads into camp. RG J.R. Sweezy is hoping to improve heading into 2013 after starting five games in 2012, in which he was inconsistent. At the least, the Seahawks’ depth is best along the interior, where McQuistan and third-year pro John Moffitt could compete for snaps, and projects Ryan Seymour and Jared Smith have upside for the future. And C Max Unger is one of the most underrated players at his position in the league. But the Seahawks lack depth at tackle (the top guy outside of swingman McQuistan could be 2013 7th-rounder Michael Bowie), and injuries could make things tough for Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson (sacked only 33 times in 2012, to be fair).

 
Zierlein Says:
Marshawn Lynch’s career has been resurrected in Seattle, thanks to a well-schemed rushing attack that gets the most out of Lynch and the linemen in front of him. Three out of every 5 yards gained per carry by Lynch were “clean yards,” which speaks volumes about the way the running game is coordinated and how the O-line worked together. While Max Unger gets pushed around by bigger NTs, he’s very technically sound and a big reason for Seattle’s improvement up front over the last few years. If Russell Okung can stay healthy, we are potentially looking at the best LT in the NFC. Okung allowed his QB to get hit just 6 times last year, including only 2 sacks, and the Seahawks averaged 5.4 YPC when running over his left tackle. RT Breno Giacomini has quick feet and works fairly well in space, but Seattle needs to upgrade that position soon. James Carpenter never seemed athletic enough to be a fit at tackle in this scheme, but I do like him at LG, where he’ll play when healthy. The trio of Unger, Carpenter, and Okung in front of the physical Lynch should wreak havoc on defenses all year. Seattle will likely try and open things up for Russell Wilson this year, which means the O-line will be tested more often in pass protection, but I think they are up for it.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Bryant McKinnie (33), Michael Oher (27)
Guards: Kelechi Osemele (24), Marshal Yanda (28)
Center: Gino Gradkowski (24)
 
Outlook: This Raven offensive line has undergone some minor changes heading into 2013, but the group should still be one of the better groups in the league. One of the more underrated stories of the Ravens’ championship year, Bryant McKinnie will be back at LT this season after taking over the spot last January and playing well throughout the Super Bowl run. McKinnie reportedly showed up to minicamp in good shape, which has been the biggest gripe about him the last few years. McKinnie took over for Michael Oher, who moved over to RT and will stay there to start the season. The Ravens allowed 38 sacks last season, which was middle of the pack. Oher’s versatility has certainly helped this offensive line the last few years, even though he’s struggled with consistency. Kelechi Osemele started all 16 games last season at RT before moving to LG in the playoffs, where he will stay this season. Speaking to his natural ability and strength, he played excellently against Vince Wilfork in the playoffs. Osemele has the skill to play at right tackle in the future or in case of injuries, but he has the skill to be dominant at guard. RG Marshal Yanda is one of the best guards in all of football, but he is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. He played and played well through the injury last season. About the only major question mark will be at center, with Matt Birk retiring after the Super Bowl victory. Second-year C Gino Gradkowski is expected to fill the role after learning for one year behind Birk. The Ravens have an above-average run-blocking group, ranking 11th in rushing YPG (118.8) and 12th in YPC (4.3).  Additionally, the Ravens have some solid, experienced depth in G Ramon Harewood and T Jah Reid. If McKinnie is able to stay in shape and healthy, this group should be one of the better offensive lines in the NFL.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Raven offense had its ups and downs, but there is no denying that they rediscovered the running game late in the season, and it carried over into the playoffs.  Baltimore’s five highest rushing totals came over their last eight games of the season, including the playoffs, and only center Matt Birk is gone from that offensive line combination that really clicked on the road to the Super Bowl. The guard combination of Osemele and Yanda reminds me of what the Saints had with Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, but I still think Osemele is best suited to be a full-time tackle for the Ravens. The Ravens have good size up front, but also enough athleticism to be effective with outside zone plays to go with their gap plays. Look for big things from the running game, including not only Ray Rice, but also Bernard Pierce. Bryant McKinnie looks like a man who is desperate to hang onto his career and that is a good thing, but RT Michael Oher is subpar in pass protection and allowed 11.5 sacks in 2012. Oher is likely playing his last season as a Raven. With a new center and a shaky RT, I’m somewhat concerned that Joe Flacco could be under pressure and start falling into his old ways.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Branden Albert (28), Eric Fisher (22) ®
Guards: Jeff Allen (23)/Geoff Schwartz (27), Jon Asamoah (25)
Center: Rodney Hudson (24)/Allen
 
Outlook: 
The Chiefs used the #1 overall pick in the 2013 draft on Eric Fisher, so clearly the underrated group has some potential to be an even better unit this season. Before they landed Fisher, the Chiefs had a young, talented group in place, anchored by Branden Albert at LT. The Chiefs tried to trade the franchised Albert for some 2013 draft assets but failed, so Albert will be around to protect QB Alex Smith’s backside for at least this season, as he wants to get paid, and the Chiefs can eventually transition to the blind side. Fisher played mostly at left tackle during his time at small school Central Michigan, so he’ll have a big transition to RT and to a much higher level of play, but the kid went #1 for a reason. Fisher is still clearly an upgrade over an older Eric Winston from last season. The Chiefs allowed 40 sacks, despite 475 pass attempts, so they’ll need to be better in a more diverse offense. The Chiefs will likely give second-year pro LG Jeff Allen another chance to play, but Pro Football Focus graded him as the 3rd-worst guard in the entire league last season. The Chiefs also signed OG Geoff Schwartz, a 16-game starter for the Panthers last season, to put some pressure on Allen this season. Left guard could be the weakest spot along this offensive line heading into the year, but the Chiefs are also concerned about Rodney Hudson at center. Hudson is the favorite to win the job, but Allen also worked at the spot in minicamp. Third-year RG Jon Asamoah has started all but one game the last two seasons because of a thumb surgery, and he’s a better-than-average run blocker. The Chiefs ranked 5th in rushing YPG (149.7) and tied for 5th in YPC (4.8) last season, impressive marks, despite an awful passing game. The Chiefs have some real talent and youth along their offensive line, so they need to continue to dominate in the run game and improve in protection for Andy Reid’s pass-happy schemes.
 
Zierlein Says:
The zone scheme does it again. Well, it’s hard to put it all on the scheme when Jamaal Charles played out of his mind coming off an ACL injury in 2012, but there is no doubting that this scheme put Charles in position to make big plays in space. The outside zone allows Charles to use his gift or burst, cut-back ability, and breakaway speed to the best of his ability. I have a metric I created called a “consistency indicator” for offensive lines, and the Chiefs ranked 8th in that metric. It is worth noting that Kansas City ran for only 261 yards over LG and LT combined but 612 yards over RG and RT (those stats don’t account for runs around the end), and with the athletic and talented Eric Fisher taking over at RT, the Chiefs might do more of the same. RG Jon Asamoah is one of the most underrated guards in the game as a run-blocker, and I don’t think continuity will be a problem for this unit, despite a new coaching staff. The real question for owners of Jamaal Charles is going to be how often Andy Reid actually runs the ball. The Chiefs were run-heavy last year because they had to be, but with Reid and Alex Smith there, the Chiefs will likely throw it more. With Fisher in for Winston, the pass protection will improve.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Michael Roos (30), David Stewart (30)
Guards: Andy Levitre (27), Chance Warmack (21) ®
Center: Fernando Velasco (28)
 
Outlook: 

The Titans made it abundantly clear this off-season that they intend to run the heck out of the ball next season by signing the best free agent OG, Andy Levitre, and spending a top-10 pick on an OG, Chance Warmack. While Levitre is a better pass blocker than a run blocker, he’ll still provide a major upgrade for an offensive line that struggled on the interior (ask RB Chris Johnson, who has been vocal about his line’s struggles). However, Levitre did battle knee soreness during minicamp and is questionable for the start of training camp. Warmack is wide-bodied blocker, who will pave some gigantic holes like he did for Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson at Alabama.  The Titans ranked 21st in rushing YPG (105.4) and tied for 8th in YPC (4.5) last season, so there is room to improve here. Also on the inside, C Fernando Velasco did well for himself as a first-time starter in his fourth season, and he earned the chance to start another season, although the Titans added competition in 4th-round rookie Brian Schwenke. Titan offensive tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart were the clear strengths of the unit last season, as the Titans allowed 39 sacks last season to rank in the middle of the league. But Stewart’s RT spot has a chance to be a concern. Stewart broke his right leg last December, and his recovery has been a little slower than expected, putting him in jeopardy of being ready for training camp. The injury was enough of a concern that the team took a long look at veteran RT Eric Winston, just in case (Winston remains unsigned). Versatile reserve OT Mike Otto is the most likely candidate to fill in if Stewart isn’t ready to go immediately this preseason. Roos has been extremely durable, as he missed the first game of eight-year career last season because of an emergency appendectomy. If Stewart is healthy enough to play, Warmack doesn’t play like a rookie, and Levitre plays like a Pro Bowler, this Titan offensive line clearly has a chance to be one of the league’s better groups. They also need QB Jake Locker to step up in his third season, and they need CJ to run hard, which are likely the two bigger issues.
 

Zierlein Says:
The Titans’ offense is still a work in progress, but their front office clearly understood the need to remake the interior line. The Titans know they have to take on J.J. Watt twice per year and drafting a power RG like Chance Warmack will help with that matchup. Andy Levitre had a great year for the Bills and was an outstanding addition to this offensive line. While Levitre can move in space and fit into the zone scheme, that isn’t Warmack’s style, and the Titans are much more likely to start trying to pound on teams a little more. The Titans had a higher percentage of runs that went for no gain as opposed to 10+ yards, and that is always a good indicator of how well the line is blocking and how tough the RB is.  Michael Roos is still solid, but I saw signs of RT David Stewart’s game slipping. Rookie C Brian Schwenke is going to be a good player, and he might just be the starter by the middle of the season. The Titans’ commitment to the offensive line means the running game is going to be front-and-center this year, and the results should be much better in 2013.

 

 

Projected Starters:

Tackles: Duane Brown (28), Derek Newton (25)/Ryan Harris (28)/Brennan Williams (22) ®

Guards: Wade Smith (32), Brandon Brooks (23)/Ben Jones (24)

Center: Chris Myers (31)
 

Outlook: 
The Texans had one of the best offensive lines in football a few years ago, but the unit took a bit of a step back in 2012, and there is now some unrest up front. The Texans gave up the 7th-fewest sacks, with just 28 allowed in 2012, thanks to big-money LT Duane Brown. He is one of the best OTs in the league, and a minor off-season surgery to remove a bone spur likely won’t change that. Meanwhile at RT, Derek Newton is a huge worry coming off a season in which he got beat around and had off-season patellar tendon surgery. Rookie Brennan Williams and veteran Ryan Harris will push for playing time if Newton continues to struggle. In fact the whole right side of the Texan line is a question mark, as Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones will compete for the RG job. Brooks has struggled with weight issues early in his career, but HC Gary Kubiak believes Brooks had the slight edge out of off-season workouts. LG Wade Smith made his first career Pro Bowl last season, but he is coming off a knee scope and entering his 11th season, so there’s a little room to worry. C Chris Myers remains one of the best centers in the league and a premier zone blocker, and he helped the Texans rank 8th in rushing YPG (132.7) and tied for 14th in YPC (4.2) last season. The Texans still have an above-average offensive line with studs like Brown and Myers, but the right side of the line needs to improve for this group to get into the upper echelon once again. Remember, RB Arian Foster’s rate stats fell off big time last year.

 

Zierlein Says:
After performing as one of the most fluid and consistent offensive lines in the NFL in 2010 and 2011, the Texans o-line took a step back as they were unable to get the same level of consistency from RG and RT after the departures of Mike Brisiel and Eric WinstonDuane Brown is one of the best LTs in all of football, but he got too heavy last year and his play dipped.  Brown came into OTAs at 300 pounds, which shows a commitment to getting his game back on top. Chris Myers is a rock at center, and second year RG Brandon Brooks has a chance to provide some power that has been missing from the guard position. Despite making the Pro Bowl, Wade Smith’s play isn’t what it should have been last year, and his play should be monitored. The Texans use bootleg play-action off their outside zone plays, which means QB Matt Schaub will usually be fairly well-protected. The RT position is a mess. Derek Newton is hurt and likely not good enough anyway, while rookie Brennan Williams won’t get much of a sniff this year, as Kubiak will look toward veteran Ryan Harris. Issues at RT, combined with the addition of WR DeAndre Hopkins, could signal more passing and less running.

 

 

Projected Starters:

TacklesMatt Kalil (24), Phil Loadholt (27)
GuardsCharlie Johnson (29), Brandon Fusco (25)
CenterJohn Sullivan (28)
 

Outlook:
RB Adrian Peterson had a legendary season in 2012, perhaps the best ever by an NFL player, but he certainly had some help. The Viking line, which is one of the more underrated and effective in the entire game, helped the club post a league-best 5.4 YPC and 2nd-best 164.6 rush YPG. That started with two players have fantastic seasons: LT Ryan Kalil and C John Sullivan. Kalil, in particular, has to make the Vikings giddy. He gave up only 3 sacks in 2012 (the Vikings gave up 32 overall, down from 49 in 2011), and two of those came late in the season after a bout with pneumonia forced him to drop about 15 pounds. Kalil has since gained all that weight back, and he plans to bulk up to about 315 pounds as he’s more comfortable with his role. Sullivan was a total revelation for the Vikings. He got All-Pro votes after a season in which he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ #1 overall center, thanks to his run-game domination. Sullivan is recovering from “minor” Microfracture surgery, however, and while he’s expected to be ready for the start of training camp, “Microfracture” still scares us. Monitor this situation. RT Phil Loadholt is occasionally slow on his pass drops, but he’s a monster who is a total mauler in the run game. The Vikings rewarded him with a big-money four-year extension this off-season. The biggest question marks for the Vikings come at guard. RG Brandon Fusco had an up-and-down season in which he rotated with Geoff Schwartz, but he played his best football in December, and it would be an upset if he wasn’t starting come Week One. The player who is in most danger of losing a job is LG Charlie Johnson. Johnson restructured his contract this off-season or else he might have been a cap casualty. Depth could be an issue for the Vikings, however. The top backups appear to be G Troy Kropog and T Brandon Keith, nether of whom has a particularly impressive resume. C Joe Berger was retained in the event Sullivan experiences difficulties returning from his surgery. But if the Vikings stay healthy, this could be one of the best lines in the entire game. That’s great news for QB Christian Ponder, who has Peterson, the line, and an improved set of receivers to lean on.

 

Zierlein Says:
The lazy way out would be to watch Adrian Peterson break tackles, make an incredible stutter step, run to daylight and assume that he made the line look better than they were. While Peterson did more than his fair share to reach the 2,000 yard barrier, his offensive line cleared the way for 1,050 pre/non-contact yards against a slew of 8-man fronts. The Vikings are one of the better coached run-blocking units in the league, and you don’t see them bust assignments very often. Phil Loadholt is limited athletically and Charlie Johnson is “just a guy,” but the Vikings still run every scheme imaginable up front in their rushing attack. John Sullivan is terrific at working with both guards to help wash down the middle of the defense and open up cut-back lanes for Peterson. Brandon Fusco does some nice things in the run game but is problematic as a pass protector, allowing way too much pressure from inside. Kalil has been terrific as a run blocker, but he still has some work to do in pass protection. Beware of teams with edge speed against Loadholt, as they will always cause problems for him. The Vikings run the delay-lead play better than anyone in football right now.

 

 

Projected Starters:

TacklesDonald Penn (30), Gabe Carimi (25)/Demar Dotson (27)

GuardsCarl Nicks (30), Davin Joseph (29)

CenterJeremy Zuttah (27)

 

Outlook:
Despite losing both big money guards, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, to injury last season, the Tampa Bay offensive line performed admirably, giving up a 3rd-fewest 26 sacks and ranking in the better half of the NFL with 4.4 YPC and 114.8 rush YPG. This has to please coach Greg Schiano, who likes to throw the ball deep and grind out first downs with stud RB Doug Martin. LT Donald Penn will remain in that spot this season, although he was strictly average last season and is constantly battling consistency and his weight (Schiano insists he’s happy with Penn’s weight this off-season). Joining Penn on the left side of the line will be Nicks, who the final nine games of the 2012 season with a toe injury. Nicks played very well until his injury and is expected to be 100% for 2013. Joseph tore his patellar tendon during the 2012 preseason, but insisted he was fully recovered in February and is 100% for training camp. Nicks and Joseph, if healthy, will be a huge boon for Martin. It’s also worth noting that last year’s starters C/G Ted Larsen and RG Jamon Meredith remain with the club as valuable depth, where they’re far better suited. C Jeremy Zuttah is back to his natural position after filling in for Nicks at LG last season, and he played very well in a tough situation. The best chance for a competition along the Buc line is at right tackle. Last year’s starter Demar Dotson remained with the club on an affordable four-year deal this off-season, but the Bucs added G/T Gabe Carimi in a trade for depth. Carimi’s biggest weakness is his pass protection, which makes him a curious fit at RT for QB Josh Freeman in Mike Sullivan’s deep-passing offense, but he does provide depth with his extensive experience. The point remains: Even with some questions at tackle, if Nicks and Joseph are healthy, the Bucs have a really strong offensive line, and a great one for Martin and the run game.

 

Zierlein Says: 
Tampa Bay doesn’t always run the ball, but when it does, it runs left. Stay thirsty, my friends. In all honesty, I don’t know how much credence we should give to the Bucs’ rushing tendencies from 2012, since they lost G Davin Joseph for the entire season, and Carl Nicks after just 7 games, but I have to point out that 50.7% of their rush yardage was gained on the left side, while 24% came up the middle. They clearly didn’t like running the ball right. Tampa likes those delayed lead plays up the gut, but much of the rushing game’s success there came thanks to Doug Martin. Of the top 10 rushers in the league last year, only Martin had more yards after contact than before contact, which means that he had to find his own way far too often. The combination of Nicks and LT Donald Penn should continue to be viable on the left side, but the duo of Joseph and Gabe Carimi is what interests me. With good coaching, I still believe that a healthy Carimi (at RT) can become a solid run-blocker. With their starters back at guard, look for the Buc run game to go from 15th-best into the top 6 and for Martin to have a huge year.

 

 

Projected Starters:
Tackles: Cordy Glenn (23), Erik Pears (31)/Chris Hairston (24)
Guards: Sam Young (26)/Chris Scott (25)/Colin Brown (28), Kraig Urbik (27)
Center: Eric Wood (27)

 

Outlook: 
The Bill offense line will be making a shift from Chan Gailey’s spread offense that typically got the ball out of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands quickly, to the “K-Gun” offense they played when Jim Kelly was in town. Eventually, they’ll make the switch to rookie QB E.J. Manuel, and Doug Marrone will make his NFL head coaching debut this season, so there are a lot of unknowns about this offense. Can the Bills give up a low 30 sacks again? That remains to be seen. The team is expected to run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, so Marrone will expect his linemen to be in good shape. C Eric Wood said the offense would push the pace this season, so the linemen have been running extra sprints in anticipation. However, Bills did lose their top O-lineman from last season with LG Andy Levitre heading to Tennessee. With Levitre, the Bills were one of the best run-blocking teams in both YPG (138.6, 6th) and YPC (5.0, 4th). That leaves three players (Sam YoungChris Scott, and Colin Brown) to compete to fill the big void left by Levitre, so this could be a weak spot. Brown can also play center, which gives him a good chance of securing a roster spot. The RT spot also expects to be a competition, with the younger Chris Hairston as the slight favorite to overtake Erik Pears. Second-year LT Cordy Glenn dealt with ankle issues during his rookie year and missed three games. Kraig Urbik was re-signed this off-season and will man RG, and he’s generally considered a solid option. The loss of Levitre is certainly a big loss, and with the open competitions at RT and LG, this line could be a bit of a work in progress as it adjusts to Marrone’s new offense.

 

Zierlein Says:
I don’t want to take too much away from the Bills’ offensive line from last season because I think they did a really good job; however, there is no doubt that the scheme they used was a perfect fit for C.J. Spiller’s talent. With that said, I see Doug Marrone’s running game having the same level of success even with Andy Levitre gone. Kraig Urbik has really blossomed since leaving the Steelers and Eric Wood’s athleticism is a good fit in an up-tempo, spread-style rushing attack. With the Bills expected to push the pace, defensive linemen will start to gas and we will see defenses staying in nickel packages for much of the game.  Add it all up and Spiller should be ready for another big season. As for the passing attack, I’ll let “Guru” and the boys tell you what they think about Fitzpatrick, Manuel, and the wide receivers, but I’m somewhat concerned about the tackle play. Last year, the quick-release passing game covered up the deficiencies at tackle, but Marron’e system will likely expose their issues. Cordy Glenn is sloppy with technique and a better fit on the right side, but I’ll let Buffalo find that out this year for themselves.

 

 

Projected Starters:
TacklesJordan Gross (33), Byron Bell (24)
GuardsAmini Silatolu (25), Geoff Hangartner (31)/Edmund Kugbila (22) ®
CenterRyan Kalil (28)

 

Outlook:
Once a strength of the Panthers’ club, the offensive line has dealt with injuries and inconsistent play in recent years. LT Jordan Gross has been the anchor here since 2003, but while he’s still unchallenged as the starter, his play has slipped in recent years, and he was asked to restructure his contract this off-season. He is also recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle. The Panthers will start youngster Byron Bell at RT opposite Gross. Bell has played both guard and tackle in his brief NFL career, but it appears unlikely he’ll lose his job at RT in his third NFL season. Still, his pass protection remains poor, and while he can get downfield in front of Cam Newton when the QB opts to take off, too often has Bell allowed Newton to get hit in the pocket. While the Panthers would ideally upgrade on Bell, it’s unlikely Bruce Campbell or Garry Williams will be the ones to push him out. Another spot the Panthers might look to improve upon is right guard. Geoff Hangartner is the incumbent, but he is in the second year of a three-year deal and struggled in the run game last year while filling in for the injured Ryan Kalil at center. If the Panthers want to increase their focus on running the ball under OC Mike Shula, it’s possible they go to 4th-round rookie Edmund Kugbila at some point. The Panthers would really like Hangartner/Kugbila and LG Amini Silatolu to lock down the interior in the event Kalil isn’t totally ready as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery. Kalil played only five games last season before suffering the injury. The Panthers ranked in the top 10 in both YPC (4.5) and rush YPG (130.5) last season, and they didn’t give up a ton of sacks (36), but how much of that was Newton’s doing?

 

Zierlein Says:
New OC Mike Shula has stated that he wants to call a balanced offense and he’s also talked about “thinking fast and playing fast.” This is all coach-speak, and it means that Shula is going to simplify the offense and ask Cam Newton to make fewer reads in the passing game. How does he do that?  For starters, look for the Panthers to lean even more heavily on the running game, which should open up the play-action game for Newton. The Panthers gained 1446 yards out of the shotgun and pistol formations last year, but we may see fewer zone read runs from Newton. We’ll still see the stretch plays, as that is what the Panthers offensive line is clearly built for. Carolina’s run game was left-handed last year, which is no surprise, since Gross is the best tackle and Silatolu is the most athletic guard. While former OC Rob Chudzinski seemed to be caught between doing what was best for the offense and developing Newton as a QB, it sounds like Shula is focused on the strength of the offense, which is running the ball. Ryan Kalil is back from injury, and this unit should be poised for a strong season of opening up creases for the running game. Newton’s passing success has less to do with time to throw and more to do with accuracy.

 

 

Projected Starters:
Tackles: Jonathan Martin (24), Tyson Clabo (31)
Guards: Richie Incognito (30)/Dallas Thomas (23)®, Lance Louis (28)/John Jerry (27)
Center: Mike Pouncey (24)

 

Outlook: 
The Dolphins had a below-average year blocking for young QB Ryan Tannehill in 2012, so it came as a bit of a shock that GM Jeff Ireland invested little with the offensive line in such an aggressive off-season. Ireland made splashes at wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, and linebacker, but he let Jake Long head to St. Louis and brought in just RG Lance Louis and RT Tyson Clabo. Clabo is a solid, under-the-radar move, as he has always been a good power blocker, but he did well in pass protection as well last season. The Dolphins are putting a whole lot of faith into the fact that Jonathan Martin can develop into a solid left tackle, and he’ll need to be much improved or all the off-season additions could mean very little. The Dolphins ranked in the middle of the pack allowing 37 sacks last season, and Martin has put on 15 pounds (6’5”, 320 pounds) to better stand his ground. Louis will challenge John Jerry at RG, and Jerry reportedly got the message as he reported to off-season workouts in the best shape of his career. LG Richie Incognito was average last season, but he could be competing with rookie Dallas Thomas, who is a better zone blocker. Thomas is coming off major shoulder surgery, though, so he might not be ready for the start of training camp. With Incognito, the Dolphins ranked 17th in rushing YPG (112.6) and tied for 18th in YPC (4.1). Mike Pouncey is the glue of the group at C, and it’s arguable that he’s better than his more heralded brother, Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers. The Dolphin offensive line could determine the playoff fate of this team, especially at LT with 2012 2nd-round pick Martin.

 

Zierlein Says:
If you are looking for a running game that could make an unexpected jump this season, it might be Miami. The Dolphins have very average talent at tackle, but both guys can move in space and should be fine in their zone scheme. The Dolphins’ play-action game will help the entire offensive line better protect Tannehill, and with Mike Wallace getting open more quickly than their WRs last season, the Dolphins won’t have to pass protect for as long. Miami will have the same trio working together at LG, C, and RG, and that continuity will show itself next season as they will create cutback opportunities that allow for more explosive plays for the Dolphins RBs. The Dolphins averaged an unimpressive 4.1 YPC, but keep in mind that they had the worst yards-after-contact per carry of any team in the NFL with just 1.5. The yards before contact or “clean yards” were 2.6 YPC which was 8th in the league. That tells me that the RBs (including the departed Reggie Bush), didn’t maximize their yardage opportunities by extending runs after the initial tackle attempt. Lamar Miller and Mike Gillislee could improve on that immediately as both are more physical than Bush and Daniel Thomas.  

 

 

Projected Starters:
Tackles: Andrew Whitworth (31), Andre Smith (26)
Guards: Clint Boling (24)/ Travelle Wharton (32), Kevin Zeitler (23)
Center: Kyle Cook (30)/Trevor Robinson (23)

 

Outlook: 
The Bengals have a solid offensive line, but average RB play from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the indecisiveness of QB Andy Dalton made them look worse than they were at times last season (the Bengals gave up the 7th-most sacks (46) last season, and Dalton didn’t help in the second half of the year). LT Andrew Whitworth has started every season since the Bengals drafted him in 2006, and he’s the clear leader of this group. He did have a knee scope in February, but he’s fine for camp. The Bengals are concerned about keeping RT Andre Smith out of trouble now that they paid signed him for three years, $18 million. He is an improving, and potentially dominant, player, but he was arrested in January for a weapons charge, and then HC Marvin Lewis fined him for skipping minicamp. The Bengals have one of the better backup tackles in the NFL in Anthony Collins, so he’d be ready to step in if Smith doesn’t get his act together. Travelle Wharton missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but he’s healthy and ready to compete with Clint Boling for a starting spot at LG. Boling played pretty well and is expected to have the inside track to the job, with second-year pro Kevin Zeitler starting at RG. Zeitler is a mauler in the run game, where the Bengals ranked 18th in YPG (109.1) and tied for 18th in YPC (4.1). Again, Green-Ellis doesn’t exactly make a line look significantly better. The Bengals are weakest at C, after Kyle Cook played just four games last season because of ankle injury. Second-year pro Trevor Robinson was mediocre in his spot, and the two will compete for the job in training camp. This offensive line could look a lot better this season if the skill players at RB and QB play a little better in a suddenly loaded offense.

 

Zierlein Says:
The Bengals offensive line was workman-like in 2012, as was the offense. And when I say “workman-like”, that is not much of a compliment. The running game wasn’t bad, but it mirrored BenJarvus Green-Ellis – plodding and lacking explosiveness. Cincinnati is fairly average at LG and C, but LT Andrew Whitworth has been a career over-achiever and Andre Smith’s play is significantly better than his sloppy body would have you believe. RG Kevin Zeitler is a hammer and the Bengals will continue to follow his lead for years to come. Pay close attention to the matchups each week for Zeitler and Smith, as they will pound weaker run defenders. The Bengals averaged a whopping 5.4 YPC over Zeitler last year, and they led the league in lowest percentage of rushes resulting in no gains or a loss of yards. Cincinnati added a gifted slot TE this season in Tyler Eifert, and they will try to throw the ball more and take advantage of their new TE packages. The skill-position talent surrounding Andy Dalton has been upgraded substantially over the last two years, but this offensive line is not built for pass protection, so Bengals o-line coach Paul Alexander will have his hands full protecting Dalton.

 

 

Projected Starters:
TacklesJason Peters (31), Lane Johnson (23) ®
GuardsEvan Mathis (31), Todd Herremans (30)
CenterJason Kelce (25)
 

Outlook:

Injuries ravaged the Eagle offensive line last year, with only LG Evan Mathis staying healthy for a full season. Both LT Jason Peters (Achilles) and C Jason Kelce (ACL) missed significant portions, with Peters missing the entire year. So it’s not surprising that the Eagles surrendered a 5th-most 48 sacks, although their gifted backs held up well in the run game (4.5 YPC, 117.1 YPG). But with Peters, Kelce, and RG Todd Herremans presumably healthy and the addition of rookie RT Lane Johnson, the Eagles have perhaps the most athletic offensive line in football, a great fit for the up-tempo style of new coach Chip Kelly. Peters is expected to be 100% for training camp, and fortunately, an off-season arrest for drag racing isn’t expected to be anything more than a blip in the radar. Peters has had his share of injury problems in the past, but when he’s on the field, he’s arguably the best LT in football. What’s amazing is the Eagles might have a better athlete at RT in Johnson than they do with Peters. A former QB (yes, QB), Johnson is incredibly raw but has the athleticism to get downfield in front of backs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown on draws and screens. Johnson isn’t totally guaranteed a starting job ahead of Dennis Kelly, but it would be an upset if he wasn’t at RT come Week One. Johnson’s presence slides Herremans inside to RG, where he has played well in the past. Herremans landed on IR with an ankle injury and needed foot surgery to remove an infection this off-season, but he’ll be 100% for training camp. Herremans is strong as both a pass protector and run blocker. Mathis, the only Eagle lineman to stay healthy last season and one of the most underrated linemen in the game, went down with an ankle injury in spring practices and needed surgery, but the procedure was minor and he’s expected to be 100% at some point during camp/preseason. At center, Kelce was healthy enough to take some snaps in OTAs, and should be 100% by the time Week One rolls around. Given the injuries here, it’s good the Eagles have some intriguing young depth in Kelly, C Dallas Reynolds, G Julian Vandervelde, although it appears 2011 first-round bust Danny Watkins is in danger of losing his roster spot. If healthy, this could be one of the best lines in the game, but that health is a big question mark.
 

Zierlein Says:

Chip Kelly’s running game and blazing tempo is about to raise and answer some very interesting questions. Can a college style approach to tempo create a favorable situation for offensive linemen that will minimize the need for overall talent? Kelly’s run game at Oregon has been outstanding without NFL caliber talent up-front and he steps into an Eagles job that features talent at tackles but a soft interior from guard to guard. The Eagles’ offensive line will be in better shape than almost all of the defensive lines they face (they will have to be) and Kelly’s insane tempo will create advantages within the run game, thanks to defensive lines fatiguing and defensive coordinators having to stay in base defenses more often. McCoy and Brown should both pile up stats this season thanks to the scheme, but also the fact that they will get more snaps than most other offenses. The Eagles are healthier up front and will be blocking for a passing scheme that will ask the quarterback to get rid of the ball more quickly, which will help cut way back on how often the Eagle QBs are getting hit. Last year the Eagle quarterbacks were hit an incredible 189 times, between their sacks and knockdowns allowed.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Joe Thomas (28), Mitchell Schwartz (24)
Guards: Jason Pinkston (26)/Shawn Lauvao (25), John Greco (28)
Center: Alex Mack (27)
 
Outlook: 
The Browns own one of the youngest and most underrated offensive lines in football, which will make the transition to Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner’s offense very interesting. LT Joe Thomas is the oldest player along the line at 28, so this group has some serious potential to get even better. Thomas has never missed a start in his six seasons, and he’s been selected to five straight Pro Bowls, so there’s no reason to worry about the blind side. Second-year pro RT Mitchell Schwartz stepped right into the starting lineup as a rookie last season and was a well-above average pass blocker. With Thomas and Schwartz anchoring things, the Browns gave up 36 sacks total last season, tied for 16th in the NFL, despite playing with a rookie QB. At tackle, the Browns also have some solid depth in Rashad Butler and Oniel Cousins. LG Jason Pinkston played well last season before a blood clot in his lung cut short his season after six games. He participated in off-season workouts and appears ready to compete for his old job with Shawn Lauvao, who has started all 32 games since 2011 and is a solid run blocker. John Greco lined up at RG during OTAs after playing well in Pinkston’s place last season. All three guards should see significant playing time this season, and it’s a competition to watch in camp. C Alex Mack, like Thomas, has never missed a start since entering the league in 2009, and he’s one of the better run-blocking centers. Still, the Browns ranked 24th in rushing YPG (99.6) and 21st in YPC (4.0), so there is plenty of room for growth, especially with talented RB Trent Richardson. If the Browns can get better QB play out of Brandon Weeden, this offense has the potential to break out in 2013, thanks in large part to a strong offensive line.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Browns’ offensive line improved as the season went on, and they have the potential to be one of the better, young offensive lines in the league. The Browns had their greatest rushing success out of 1RB/2TE and 1RB/1TE/3WR packages last season, and that happens to be the personnel groupings that new OC Norv Turner prefers. The Browns have athleticism across the board on their o-line, and Turner might be best served calling for more stretch plays and toss plays in order to get his linemen out in space ahead of Richardson. RT Mitchell Schwartz does too much waste-bending and reaching at times, but he tends to get the job done. Alex Mack is so fluid that I don’t think it matters who ends up winning the starting LG spot next to him.  The Browns YPC was lower than it should have been in 2012, thanks to impatient running by the RBs and Richardson playing hurt. I’m a big fan of the way the Browns pass-protected as one fluid unit, but they will be tested this year when QB Weeden’s indecisiveness meets up with Turner’s down-the-field passing attack. Despite the fact that Turner doesn’t have a rich history of pounding the ball, I think we’ll see a big year from Richardson behind this line.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesCharles Brown (26), Zach Strief (29)
GuardsBen Grubbs (29), Jahri Evans (30)
CenterBrian De La Puente (28)
 
Outlook:
The Saints will have to replace two key cogs of their offensive line, as LT Jermon Bushrod left town to join former OL coach Aaron Kromer, the Bears’ new offensive coordinator, in Chicago. QB Drew Brees is probably the major reason the Saints surrendered a 3rd-fewest 26 sacks last season, but he’ll still be interested in who is protecting his blind side. The first crack will go to the oft-injured Charles Brown. Brown has landed on IR in each of the last two seasons (hip in 2011 and knee in 2012) and has made only eight career starts, but he should be able to hold off former Ram bust Jason Smith and raw rookie Terron Armstead (who has big promise but might not be ready yet). It’s possible 2012 starting RT Zach Strief slides over to the left side, but we’d anticipate Brown locking down the job if he can stay on the field (a big question). The Saints restructured the contracts of both LG Ben Grubbs and RG Jahri Evans this off-season, helping them save some cap space, but the solid Grubbs was never in danger of losing his job, and Evans remains the Saints’ best lineman. However, the unheralded member of this group is C Brian De La Puente, who ranked #2 on Pro Football Focus among all centers last year. De La Puente is playing on a one-year RFA tender, but he could be in the mix for a long-term extension with another strong year. Although the Saints still struggle to run the ball (98.6 YPG last season, which was 8th-worst in the NFL last season but should improve under Sean Payton again), the interior of this line is not the big problem in that department. Eric Olsen and Rickey Henry are the top backups along the interior of the line.
 
Zierlein Says: 
Sean Payton is known for unleashing Drew Brees’ potential on the rest of the NFL, but people forget that he had a physical running attack that he was trying to incorporate at one point. In 2009 and 2011, the Saints finished 6th in the league in rushing and they won 13 games in each season, including a Super Bowl in 2009. Payton is back and he plans on bringing the running game back with him. From guard to guard, there is no reason to think that the Saints shouldn’t be able to run the ball when they want. The combination of Brian De La Puente and Ben Grubbs had success opening holes last year, but Jahri Evans needs to get back to form. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, the Saints RBs aren’t built for speed (other than Darren Sproles), so the running game is going to be more about imposing will than tearing off big chunks at a time, but I still see the Saints rushing TDs going from 10 last season to as high as 15-18 this year. Defenses that are weak up the middle could be gashed by the Saints interior. As for pass protection, the Saints let Brees get hit way too often last year and we could see some trouble early on for them again with athletic but raw Charles Brown manning Brees’ blind-side.

 


Projected Starters:
TacklesJermon Bushrod (29), J’Marcus Webb (25)
GuardsMatt Slauson (27), Kyle Long (24) ®
CenterRoberto Garza (34)

Outlook:
Ironically, the Bears’ path to improvement along the offensive line might have started when they fired a former offensive line coach, Mike Tice, from their offensive coordinator position. New HC Marc Trestman and OC Aaron Kromer (a former line coach himself) spent the off-season revamping both the Bears’ playbook and the offensive line, with no other area on the team getting as much attention. That’s good news for QB Jay Cutler, as the Bears surrendered 44 sacks a season ago, 8th-most in the NFL. The Bears started the revamp by signing former Saint Jermon Bushrod to a monster five-year deal. While we feel Bushrod is really overpaid and has Drew Brees to thank for the big contract, it’s true that Kromer knows him from their time together in New Orleans. Signing Bushrod allowed the Bears to slide the still-developing J’Marcus Webb to RT, where he might be a better fit right now, and to trade the disappointing Gabe Carimi to the Bucs. Webb was arrested in February for marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession, but charges were not pursued, and Webb insists he’s a changed man. He’s a great athlete, and while his skills aren’t fully developed, he believes the position switch will help. The Bears hope to finally get a consistent performer at LG in Matt Slauson, who was signed away from the Jets on a one-year deal this off-season. Still, Slauson is a strong pass protector but not a road-grader in the run game, a bit “backwards” for a guard (the Bears were still a top-10 rushing team, with 123.1 YPG on a decent 4.2 YPC). Slauson and rookie Kyle Long will make up an entirely new guard pair for the Bears. A great athlete with a strong pedigree (son of Howie Long and brother of Chris Long), Long projects as a player who can swing between both guard spots and RT, but he was focusing on RG in rookie camps and OTAs. Veteran C Roberto Garza will continue to anchor the line, giving Cutler some familiarity, with essentially four new starters up front. The Bears have some intriguing, if not particularly strong, depth in T/G Eben Britton, G/C Edwin Williams, and swing T Jonathan Scott. Like the rest of the Bear offense, the line will be a huge work in progress in 2013. But they dumped their worst pass protector in Carimi, and they added some upside for the first time in years.

Zierlein Says:
 
The Bears have been holding on for a long time with an offensive line that they thought had more talent than it actually had. The good news for Bears fans is that Bears management realizes that changes are necessary. J’Marcus Webb has some talent, but he is still learning to play with technique, and that learning curve has taken quite a while. If it is going to click for him, it will be this year, but the problem is that having a rookie guard next to him (Kyle Long) could make the going tougher for both guys on the right side. Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson are both fairly average at what they do, but they are still upgrades for the Bears. However, the Bears also like 2nd-year LG James Brown, so he could challenge Slauson. Chicago had a quality rush percentage of just 43.2%, which was the lowest in the NFC North. Mark Trestman understands what the Bears o-line can and can’t do, so look for Bear passing game to get rid of the ball more quickly than in the past, which will lower the sack numbers. The Bears will still run it, but not as often. Look for the Bears to throw it more in 2013, which means Matt Forte’s value will fall in a standard league, but potentially increase significantly in a PPR.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesRiley Reiff (24), Corey Hilliard (28)/Jason Fox (25)
GuardsRob Sims (29), Larry Warford (22) ®/Dylan Gandy (31)
CenterDominic Raiola (34)
 
Outlook:
In a perfect world, the Lions probably would have added one of the top three tackle prospects in April’s NFL Draft, but they missed out on all three despite picking #5 overall. That means last year’s 1st-rounder, Riley Reiff, will have to move to LT for the retired Jeff Backus. The Lions toyed with playing Reiff at RG this off-season, perhaps because of his short arms, but instead they’ve asked him to bulk up 10 pounds and slide to Matthew Stafford’s blind side. The Lions generally protected Stafford well last season, as he was sacked only 29 times, despite attempting an NFL record 727 passes, but questions remain about Reiff’s ability to play LT full time. Reiff was a part-time player last year behind Backus and RT Gosder Cherilus, who signed with the Colts. While Cherilus was no world-beater, his spot is still a question mark, with Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox competing for the starting job. It appears that Fox is the Lions’ favorite for the job, but he’s been constantly injured, and Hilliard has more experience (five starts to Fox’s zero). The loser of this battle will likely be the swing backup at tackle. The Lions will also have a new starter at RG, where there’s a hole left by the departed Stephen Peterman. Gigantic rookie Larry Warford should be the favorite to win the job, with only underwhelming veteran Dylan Gandy and the inexperienced Rodney Austin to push him. A 3rd-rounder, Warford was considered one of the steals of the 2013 draft and projects as an aggressive short-area blocker (the Lions’ 100.8 rush YPG and 4.1 YPC were both below league average). LG Rob Sims and C Dominic Raiola will be the returning starters here. Sims has had weight problems in the past but is a solid enough LG, while Raiola restructured his contract and gained 20 pounds this off-season in a quest to handle more physical DTs. Stability at center is important for Stafford with so much turnover along the line. The Lions have veterans G Bill Nagy, G Jake Scott, and G/C Leroy Harris for depth along the interior.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Lions needed help on the offensive line because the status quo just wasn’t good enough, but it is conceivable that they take a step backwards this year before they are able to take a step forward. Short-armed Riley Reiff is a plus run blocker who will help the Lions get push at the left tackle spot, but his pass protection will be an issue. He has logged only 162 snaps in pass protection and will not be ready for what he’s about to see. Luckily for Reiff, Stafford is pretty good at getting rid of the ball and side-stepping pass rushers. Without continuity, offensive lines usually struggle, and replacing three offensive linemen in a single season (including both tackles) will have consequences, especially in pass protection. The Lions 9 explosive rush plays (25+ yards) was the worst in the NFL and a stat that should be improved upon this year with Reggie Bush getting carries. Rookie right guard Larry Warford is a physical drive blocker who will work well next to veteran center Dominic Raiola in the rushing game. I think we’ll see a greater commitment to running the ball, which is good for Bush and Mikel Leshoure. Matt Stafford and the passing attack will likely take a dip, thanks to the increased pressure I think he’ll see.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: D’Brickashaw Ferguson (29), Austin Howard (26)
Guards: Willie Colon (30), Brian Winters (22) ®/Stephen Peterman (31)
Center: Nick Mangold (29)
 
Outlook: 
The Jets can have as a good an offensive line as they’d like, and it probably wasn’t going to mean much with QB Mark Sanchez making mistakes and RB Shonn Greene wasting open holes in 2012. At least the team brought in rookie QB Geno Smith and RB Chris Ivory, two players who are at least more talented than Sanchez and Greene, but it’s still difficult to be too optimistic about this offense. The Jets let guards Matt Slauson leave for Chicago, and Brandon Moore is still on the street. So the underrated Willie Colon left Pittsburgh to take over the Jets’ LG spot, and he’s been a pretty effective run blocker when healthy. The Jets ranked 12th in rushing YPG (118.5) and tied for 23rd in YPC (3.8), but we’d blame the latter on Greene’s total inability to create. Still, the Jets could be really hurting at RG, with 3rd-round pick Brian Winters the favorite to beat ineffective veteran Stephen PetermanD’Brickashaw Ferguson is one of the better LTs in the game, and he hasn’t missed a game in his seven-year career, which is pretty remarkable. The Jets did give up the 6th-most sacks (47) last season, despite attempting only 493 attempts, but many of those sacks are on Sanchez. Offensive-line leader, C Nick Mangold, wants Sanchez to be the starter heading into 2013. RT Austin Howard has struggled in pass protection early in his career, but he has been a solid run blocker. Oh yeah, Vlad Ducasse is still here, toiling around the Jets’ depth chart, but he’s running out of chances. Overall, this group has some deficiencies, especially in pass protection, but Ivory should see plenty of holes running behind this above-average run blocking offensive line.
 
Zierlein Says:
At one point, the Jets had the makings of one of the most impressive offensive line units in the league, but those days are long, long gone. The “ground and pound” philosophy morphed into a “grind and stall” run game. Rex Ryan brought OC Marty Mornhinweg in to revitalize the offense, but league insiders believe the combination of Ryan and Mornhinweg could be disastrous. The Jets will likely try to throw the ball more, but poor pass protection combined with shaky QB play resulted in Jets QBs getting hit 129 times, including knockdowns and sacks in 2012. Chris Ivory will be more productive and effective than Shonn Greene, but Ivory isn’t dynamic enough to make things happen on his own. D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s lack of size has always been a concern in the Jets running game, and he got pushed around way too often last year as the Jets averaged a measly 3.4 YPC over Ferguson’s LT position. Willie Colon is a tough drive blocker who looks great on paper, but why should we believe he can stay healthy? RT Austin Howard is an emerging talent as a run-blocker and if rookie RG Brian Winters can get things figured out quickly, that right side of their O-line could become a more significant factor in this year’s running game come mid-season.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Ryan Clady (26), Orlando Franklin (25)
Guards: Zane Beadles (26), Louis Vasquez (26)
Center: Manny Ramirez (30)
 
Outlook: 
QB Peyton Manning has always had a knack for making his offensive lines look much better than they actually were during his time in Indy, but this Denver offensive line is legitimately good even without Peyton’s help. As Peyton is still recovering from serious injuries, that’s a great thing. LT Ryan Clady is the face of the offensive line and one of the best blindside protectors in the league. He did undergo an off-season shoulder surgery, but he’s expected to be ready to go for training camp, as long as his franchise tender status doesn’t drag deep into the summer. RT Orlando Franklin is also healing up from his own off-season procedure (toe surgery) but was good to go for OTAs. Clady and Franklin were among the best tackle pairs in the NFL, as the Broncos allowed just 21 sacks last season, the 2nd-fewest in the league. The Broncos essentially stole one of the best OGs away from rival San Diego this off-season by signing Louis Vasquez. Vasquez will be slotted in to play RG opposite LG Zane Beadles, and Vasquez is considered a strong interior pass protector. The Broncos did suffer a big blow this off-season after C J.D. Walton required another ankle surgery, which could force him to miss the entire season. The Broncos turned to veteran C Dan Koppen once again to replace Walton, as Koppen started the final 12 games of the year after Walton’s initial ankle injury. Koppen is a below-average center at this point in his career with little left, but the Broncos didn’t have many options so close to training camps opening up. With Koppen starting most of the games, the Broncos finished 16th in rushing YPG (114.5) and tied for 23rd in YPC (3.8) last season. Even with Walton’s setback, the Broncos still figure to have one of the better offensive lines in the league, and outside of Koppen, it’s a young group that still has some room to get even better. This is great news for Peyton and rookie RB Montee Ball.
 
Zierlein Says:
The loss of Dan Koppen won’t hurt the running game as replacement Manny Ramirez (usually plays guard) may be better in the run game, but Ramirez is very poor in pass protection.  In essence, with J.D. Walton and Koppen both out, the Broncos are down to their third option at center which almost always causes communication and chemistry issues at times during a season.  The pass protection is good enough for Manning to scan downfield, but delivering that ball will be up to Manning.  Manning has always used the running game as a form of clock control and tempo management, but the Broncos know they have to get the ground game going because Manning won’t be there forever. 

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Marcus Gilbert (25), Mike Adams (23)
Guards: Ramon Foster (27), David DeCastro (23)
Center: Maurkice Pouncey (24)
 
Outlook: 
The AFC North is blessed with some talented offensive lines, but the Steeler O-line is one group that needs to show significant improvement in 2013. While the Steelers have a lot of talent up front, perhaps the most they’ve had in years, their young players must improve and stay healthy. The Steelers drafted RG David DeCastro in the 1st round of last April’s draft, but he made just three starts after a summer knee injury. Pittsburgh talso selected OT Mike Adams in the 2nd round, and he gave up 7 sacks in 10 games. Adams will compete with Marcus Gilbert for the starting LT spot, with the loser playing RT, and Gilbert is currently the favorite for the blind side spot (veteran Guy Whimper was also brought in for tackle depth). Adams was stabbed at the end of May during a carjacking outside his home, but the injury was minor and he’s expected to be ready to go for training camp. The progression of DeCastro and Adams will be essential to this offensive line. DeCastro will start at RG, with the mediocre Ramon Foster at LG. With DeCastro injured and Foster little more than a space-filler, the Steelers ranked 26th in rushing YPG (96.1) and 28th in YPC (3.7) last season. The Steelers also gave up 37 sacks a year ago, ranking them in the middle of the league, but it’s imperative that QB Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t get dinged up as much as his career winds down and the injuries pile up. At just 24 years old, C Maurkice Pouncey is the clear leader of this group and one of the best players at his position. The Steeler O-line continues to be the biggest concern with this offense, so this unit needs to start showing the results to back up the talent.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Steelers’ run game was a mess in 2012, but we’ll see if the Steelers can make big improvements with David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert at full-speed this season. Injuries have been a huge problem for the Steelers offensive lines over the last several years, and they have to stay healthy this year to have any shot at succeeding on the ground. Last year, the Steelers were last in the AFC North in yards per carry, quality rush %, and rushing TDs. The Steelers were next to last in clean yards per rush attempt (1.7), and their longest run of the year was 34 yards, which was worse than every team in the league other than the Broncos and Colts. Mike Adams is a very average tackle who lacks functional strength, but Gilbert has the tools to be a decent tackle. Ramon Foster’s limited athleticism continues to hinder OC Todd Haley’s rushing attack. Protecting Roethlisberger will always be a thankless job due to how long he holds onto the ball, but Haley’s offense definitely helps the O-line because it forces Ben to get rid of the ball more quickly. The Steelers are going to emphasize the running game more this year and there will be statistical improvements, although I wouldn’t go overboard on RBs Le’Veon Bell or Jonathan Dwyer.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesBryan Bulaga (24), Marshall Newhouse (24)/Derek Sherrod (24)
GuardsJosh Sitton (27), T.J. Lang (25)
CenterEvan Dietrich-Smith (27)
 
Outlook:
There’s no doubt that QB Aaron Rodgers’ freewheeling style of play is going to get him hit more often than other NFL QBs, and that’s something the Packers are likely going to have to live with unless Rodgers totally changes his style of play. But we’d still bet that HC Mike McCarthy views the 51 sacks the Packers gave up last year, 2nd-most in the NFL, as unacceptable. So we’re going to pay close attention to the changes Green Bay is going to make along the offensive line. The changes will start on the left side, where Rodgers is most susceptible to pressure. T Bryan Bulaga is sliding over to Rodgers’ blindside. Bulaga is coming off a season ended after nine games because of a fractured hip. But he’s expecting to be 100% healthy for training camp, and he’s hoping to build on a strong performance at RT last year. Bulaga is excited for the switch and expects his game to translate. He and Pro Bowl G Josh Sitton are both making the move to the left side, where the Packers hope putting their best offensive linemen will help Rodgers calm down. The Packers are shifting Marshall Newhouse from LT to RT, where he’ll have to compete with the disappointing but still young Derek Sherrod for snaps. G T.J. Lang is switching sides as well, from LG to RG. He’s a solid player who battled through an ankle injury last year and is entering the second year of a four-year extension. C Evan Dietrich-Smith will enter 2013 as the Packers’ starting center after taking over for a cooked Jeff Saturday late in the 2012 season. Dietrich-Smith also has experience playing guard. For depth purposes, the Packers drafted both T David Bakhtiari and G JC Tretter in the 4th round of April’s draft. Bakhtiari, in particular, could have a shot to win a job if Newhose and Sherrod struggle. The Packers also need to improve in running the football, one of McCarthy’s top off-season goals. They ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in both YPC (3.9) and rush YPG (106.4).
 
Zierlein Says:
The Packers would like nothing more than Derek Sherrod to stay healthy and beat out Marshall Newhouse at RT, but will it matter? Sherrod has been a zero so far as a draft pick, and we already know Newhouse isn’t good enough for the position. While I really like the rookie linemen the Packers brought in, I don’t see them getting many snaps this year unless the Packers get really desperate. There are plenty of teams that run it effectively, thanks to the way they spread the field and throw the ball, but Green Bay isn’t one of those teams, and their interior line deserves its share of that blame. Strong interior linemen get way too much push up the middle against the Packers on running and passing plays and the same guys are still there in the middle this year. Both rookies, Bakhtiari and Tretter, are good zone scheme fits, which may be an indicator that the Packers plan on transitioning to more zone scheme moving forward, since they don’t have the strength to impose their will up front. From a protection standpoint, I see no reason to believe that Aaron Rodgers won’t continue to get bludgeoned. The Packers aren’t the most talented O-line, but they have enough talent to play better than they did in 2012.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesJake Long (28), Rodger Saffold (25)
GuardsShelley Smith (26)/Chris Williams (28)/Rokevious Watkins (24), Harvey Dahl (32)
CenterScott Wells (32)
 
Outlook:
The Rams are among the youngest teams in the NFL, as their only two starters over 30 are both on the offensive line – RG Harvey Dahl and C Scott Wells. Dahl played well in 2012 but is recovering from a torn biceps that landed him on IR in December, while Wells played only seven games in 2012 after battling a broken foot and knee issues. Wells had several cleanup procedures on his knee since November, so the most “veteran” of all the Ram players might also be the biggest question marks in front of QB Sam Bradford (sacked 35 times in 2012). It is likely a concern, then, that the Rams spent so much money on LT Jake Long this off-season. While Long has proven he can be among the best tackles in the game, he’s battled back and triceps issues the last few seasons and hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2010. The addition of Long forces the Rams to move the inconsistent Rodger Saffold to RT. Saffold was vocal about his unhappiness with the move, but he’s since come to grips with it. A good athlete, Saffold could be a good fit at RT in the Rams’ new spread offense. The biggest battle up front for the Rams will be at left guard, where Shelley SmithChris WilliamsRokevious Watkins (coming off a serious ankle injury), and even rookie Barrett Jones could be in the mix. Smith started six games last year and appears to be the favorite heading into camp, but this battle is wide open. The Ram line has a chance to be solid, but there are a lot of question marks here, including how the walking wounded Long, Dahl, and Wells might adjust to the Rams’ spread game.
 
Zierlein Says:
Rodger Saffold had a very strong bounce-back season (2.5 sacks allowed and 5.2 YPC over left tackle) and I strongly endorse the Rams’ decision to sign Jake Long and move Saffold to RT, despite the fact that Long isn’t the pass protector he once was. On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that the Rams can aspire to anything more than mediocrity from guard to guard on this line. The Rams pathetic rushing TD totals of 9, 7, and 5 over the last three years point directly to the inconsistencies of the Ram offensive lines and, to some extent, to Steven Jackson’s lack of burst. While I don’t see much hope for the current guard/center combo in St. Louis, I do think that getting RBs with more burst and wiggle into the backfield like Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead will help the offensive line and OC Brian Schottenheimer. The Rams offense is putting a greater emphasis on speed with the additions of TE Jared Cook and WR Tavon Austin, so we could see the Rams start running even more out of the shotgun and 3-WR sets, which should help open the defensive box up. St. Louis has upgraded its pass protection and I think there is a chance that the scheme will cover up for the lack of talent on the interior line in the running game.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Eugene Monroe (26), Luke Joeckel (21) ® 
Guards: Will Rackley (23), Uche Nwaneri (29)
Center: Brad Meester (36)
 
Outlook: 
The Jaguar offensive line is starting to look up, which will happen when a team uses the #2 overall pick on an OT, as the Jags did with Luke Joeckel. Although many slated Joeckel as the top overall prospect in April’s draft, the Texas A&M product won’t even be slated into the left side, as the team returns Pro Bowl LT Eugene Monroe. Joeckel’s transition to RT went pretty smoothly through off-season workouts, and he dominated against the Jags’ lackluster pass rush during team drills (of course, so could Adam Caplan). The Jags need Monroe and Joeckel to be borderline dominant, as the team gave up the 3rd-most sacks last season with 50 (Blaine Gabbert doesn’t exactly help that, however). As for the interior of the line, the Jags have major questions with durability and age. LG Will Rackley missed the entire 2012 season because of a high ankle sprain that needed surgery after a shaky rookie season in 2011. RG Uche Nwaneri played through torn cartilage and a meniscus tear last season, and he underwent a knee scope and a stem-cell injection to help the knee this off-season. He’s expected to be ready for the start of the season, but both Rackley and Nwaneri should be watched in training camp. C Brad Meester is entering his 14th season, and he was ready to retire this off-season if the Jags didn’t give him one last payday. He’s missed just 15 games since 2000, but his play has considerably dropped off in recent years. Still, the Jags didn’t have any better options, so they decided to bring him back. The Jaguars ranked 30th in rushing YPG (87.3) and tied for 23rd in YPC (3.8) last season, but the O-line should be better, and a healthy RB Maurice Jones-Drew would help a ton in the Jaguars’ new zone-blocking scheme. This Jaguar offensive line is far from being special, but with the addition of Joeckel, the group is definitely starting to turn a corner and could give this offense more of a chance to succeed in 2013 under new coordinator Jedd Fisch. Now, about that QB “battle”…
 
Zierlein Says:
The Jaguars offense had no explosiveness last season, so they drafted some weapons at WR and added an outstanding OT in Luke Joeckel. Unfortunately for Maurice Jones-Drew and the QB tandem of Gabbert and Henne, Caldwell didn’t draft any interior offensive linemen. I’ve never been a fan of Uche Nwaneri and, quite frankly, I’m shocked that he’s still being listed as a starter on this roster. Will Rackley has to prove that he can be a player in this league, and time is running out on Brad Meester, even though I thought he hung in fairly well last year despite his age. The Jaguars had only 11 explosive plays on the ground (25+ yards) and just 5 rushing TDs. The Jags obviously can’t make a living between the tackles, so beware of starting MJD when the Jaguars have to play teams with speed that can flow to the outside. While Joeckel will help with pass protection, LT Monroe isn’t a lock-down LT, and the Jaguars allow too much push in the pocket for a jittery QB like Gabbert to be able to go through his progressions. I like some of the moves the Jaguars are making as a team, but I can’t endorse this offensive line just yet because there are still some issues here.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Anthony Castonzo (25), Gosder Cherilus (29)
Guards: Donald Thomas (27), Mike McGlynn (28)/Hugh Thornton (22) ®
Center: Samson Satele (28)
 
Outlook: 
The Colts had money to spend this past off-season, so a shaky offensive line was obviously one spot where the Colts needed to upgrade for new OC Pep Hamilton. Indy brought in the versatile Donald Thomas, who played the three interior positions in New England but will play LG this year, and former Lion Gosder Cherilus, who will play RT. As a top reserve on the excellent Patriot line, Thomas started seven games last season and is solid as both a run and pass blocker. Cherilus underwent a knee procedure in the off-season, and he’s had Microfracture knee surgery in the past, so there are real concerns about his knees holding up. While Cherilus isn’t a great player by any stretch, he has missed only four games in five seasons, so just by being out there, he’ll be an upgrade over what the Colts had last season. Former 1st-round LT Anthony Castonzo hasn’t been overly impressive in his first two seasons, but he’s slowly made progress and could be an above-average blindside protector this season, a year after the Colts O-line allowed the 9th-most sacks in the NFL (41). Mike McGlynn is once again in the mix at RG after starting 16 games but playing mostly ineffectively, as Pro Football Focus graded him as the worst guard in the league. Third-round pick Hugh Thornton certainly has a good chance of taking McGlynn’s spot in the lineup, if he isn’t overwhelmed during camp. C Samson Satele was hampered by a knee injury for much of 2012, missing five games and limiting him a bit, but he’ll anchor the line once again this season. The Colts ranked 22nd in rushing YPG (104.4) and tied for 23rd in YPC (3.8) last season, but those numbers could easily go up with a much better unit. The 2012 Colt offensive line was pretty bad and let QB Andrew Luck get beat up during his rookie year, but suddenly this unit has a chance to be above-average and let their second-year QB take off to stardom.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Colts won’t be sneaking up on anyone next season and if their interior line play isn’t any better this year than it was last year, they will be in for a rude awakening in Andrew Luck’s second season under center. Samson Satele was a huge disappointment, and I don’t see rookie C Khaled Holmes as much of an immediate improvement at that spot.  I like the addition of Donald Thomas, as he’s a more game-ready starter than Jeff Linkenbach or Joe Reitz, but if Mike McGlynn is still starting when 2013 opens, then look out. McGlynn lacks the necessary tools to be a starter in the league, and it will take time for rookie G/T Hugh Thornton to get his technique to where it needs to be. With that said, Thornton should still push McGlynn. The Colts had an atrocious 3.8 YPC with a long run for the season of only 26 yards, which I didn’t even think was possible. Anthony Castonzo is coming around, but Gosder Cherilus isn’t the answer at RT. While Cherilus is an improvement over what the Colts had, they overpaid for him and will figure that out quickly. Andrew Luck will have most everything on his shoulders again, as I don’t see a big improvement with the running game.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesSam Baker (28), Mike Johnson (26)/Lamar Holmes (24)
GuardJustin Blalock (29), Garrett Reynolds (26)/Johnson
CenterPeter Konz (24)
 
Outlook:
The Falcons’ skill players either improved (RB Steven Jackson) or remained remarkably the same (everyone else) this off-season, but we wonder if there may be a few hiccups along the offensive line. The Falcons will be breaking in some new starters up front, with new Dolphin RT Tyson Clabo released for cap reasons and C Todd McClure’s retirement, along with some instability at right guard. Let’s start with the constants on the left side. LT Sam Baker had his best season protecting QB Matt Ryan’s blindside, as the Falcons gave up a 7th-fewest 28 sacks, and Baker was rewarded with a big-money six-year extension in the off-season. LG Justin Blalock is solid and will be entering the third season of a six-year contract in 2013, having started every game over that span. After that is where the unrest starts. New C Peter Konz started 12 games in 2012, mostly at RG, and struggled both as a run blocker and pass protector. However, Konz’s natural position is center, where the Falcons expect him to make a marked improvement and hold off Joe Hawley. RG Garrett Reynolds missed the final nine games of 2012 with a back injury, and he’ll have to compete to re-earn his starting job. There could be somewhat of a three-way competition between Reynolds, Lamar Holmes, and Mike Johnson. Holmes looks like a swingman thus far, as he played only a handful of snaps last year and failed to separate himself in OTAs. He will need a strong preseason to earn a job. Johnson appeared in 16 games as a part-time player last year and is probably a better pass protector than Holmes, who is more of a road grader. Ultimately, the Falcons hope their line and Jackson help to improve an awful run game, which ranked 29th in the NFL with 87.3 YPG and 3.7 YPG.
 
Zierlein Says:
If there is one area holding the Atlanta Falcons back more than any other area it has been the offensive line. The Falcons have combined a lack of strength up front with a slow-to-the-line RB in Michael Turner and the results have been problematic lately. Losing Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo(and Turner for that matter) is no big deal from a talent standpoint. I expect Peter Konz to fit right into the starting center position, but that RT spot is still a problem. Lamar Holmes was overrated coming out of the draft and might not even beat out Mike Johnson for that starting spot as Johnson is the better run blocker of the two. The Falcons run game featured just 40.5% quality rushes and a league-worst 56% of their yardage came after contact. In other words, the Falcons RBs had to grind it out to get anything going on the ground. Poor Steven Jackson. It looks like more of the same for him, despite finding a new team. While Justin Blalock is the one lineman the Falcons have who can get good push, it is often offset by Sam Baker’s inconsistency and inability to secure back-side blocks for cutbacks. The Falcons averaged just 3.5 YPC behind Baker who also allowed his QB to get hit 20 times last season.

 

Editor’s Note: We understand it won’t be easy for Jackson, but he’s a big and powerful grinder who can get his yards behind almost any line as long as he’s getting volume and is healthy.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesTyron Smith (22), Doug Free (29)/Jermey Parnell (27)
GuardsNate Livings (31), Mackenzy Bernadeau (27)/Phil Costa (26)
CenterTravis Frederick (22) ®
 
Outlook:
The Cowboys will enter 2013 with a talented roster in one of football’s most winnable divisions, but they need some stability along the offensive line to truly take the next step. Last season, their mish-mosh line managed to hold up well enough to surrender a middle-of-the-pack 36 sacks, but they entered this off-season with only LT Tyron Smith guaranteed a starting job. And honestly, there still is going to be a ton of competition for the Cowboys’ line in camp, even though the picture is getting a bit clearer. Smith will still protect Tony Romo’s blindside. Smith gradually improved in that department throughout the 2012 season, but he said himself that he was unhappy with his run blocking and plans to bulk up 10 pounds of playing weight for 2012 (the Cowboys were the 2nd-worst rushing team in the NFL, at 79.1 YPG and 3.6 YPC). Smith and rookie C Travis Frederick are the safest starters here. Frederick, the Cowboys’ 1st-round pick in April, was considered a “reach” by many. But he’s essentially been given Dallas’ starting center job, a rarity for any Jerry Jones rookie. Frederick has drawn praise from OC Bill Callahan for his physical play and his communication, which makes him an ideal center for a team that needs to improve its run blocking. He’ll pair with LG Nate Livings to form a bruising interior duo (Livings is recovering from off-season knee surgery but will be fine for camp). The Cowboys should have two interesting competitions in camp. At RT, the expensive and disappointing Doug Free had to take a $3.5 million pay cut or risk losing his roster spot. Callahan has been excited with Free’s attitude, but he still split time with Jermey Parnell in OTAs, as he did over the final five games of the 2012 season. At RG, Mackenzy Bernadeau will have to prove he’s healthy from off-season shoulder surgery if he’s going to hold off former starting C Phil Costa, who has had his own injury issues. Bernadeau didn’t participate in OTAs, while Costa is recovering from off-season ankle surgery. Jones has praised Costa in the past, but it didn’t stop the Cowboys from drafting Frederick. It’s possible Free and Ronald Leary could also see time at guard.
 
Zierlein Says:
Tony Romo’s fantasy numbers have been fairly solid, despite being sacked a relatively high number of times over the years, but the Cowboys’ offensive line has to get better (and quickly) or the risk of injury will continue to grow for the 33 year-old Romo. Doug Free simply isn’t good enough to consistently man his spot, and the Cowboys know this, but they are stuck with him for another year. The Cowboys’ biggest problem is that they gave up way too much pressure from the interior line and I don’t see that changing much with the same duo of guards. The Cowboys say they want to commit more to the run, but they can’t figure out how to make it work, since they can’t get consistent push up front with their running backs gaining more yards after contact that before contact. If that sounds bad, it is. The Cowboys were tied for last at 1.6 YPC before contact. Rookie Travis Frederick comes from a power scheme at Wisconsin and can play center or guard, which should help with getting more push, but it won’t solve their problems. This is the same offense that features two athletic tackles but asks them to play with power, rather than in space.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Jared Veldheer (26), Menelik Watson (24) ®/Khalif Barnes (31)
Guards: Tony Bergstrom (26)/Lucas Nix (23), Mike Brisiel (30)/Barnes
Center: Stefen Wisniewski (24)
 
Outlook: 
The Raiders rank near the bottom of the league in a number of areas, and their abysmal offensive line is certainly no exception. So the team is once again learning a new offensive scheme for the second straight summer, ditching their failed zone-scheme experiment to go back to a power scheme. The Raiders finished 28th in rushing YPG (88.8) and tied for 23rd in YPC (3.8) last season, despite having the talented but enigmatic Darren McFadden in the backfield. The switch back to a power scheme should help McFadden, but it’s tough to see the Raiders overall line play being that much better. Still, the Raiders allowed only 27 sacks last season, thanks in large part to LT Jared Veldheer’s strong pass protection and QB Carson Palmer’s internal clock. C Stefen Wisniewski is the only other starter clearly entrenched starter on the Raider offensive line. The Raiders drafted Menelik Watson in the second round, and while he’s gifted, he’s a major project, but he’ll likely take over the RT spot at some point from Khalif Barnes. Watson does have significant talent, but he is a questionable fit in the power scheme. Barnes struggled mightily in his nine starts last season at RT, and he could move inside and compete with Mike Brisiel at RG. Brisiel really disappointed in his first season after signing a five-year deal, and he doesn’t fit well into a power-running scheme. Tom Bergstrom, a former college tackle, is the favorite to win the LG spot, and new OL coach Tony Sparano reportedly is high on him. Lucas Nix figures to also be competing for one of the guard spots, leaving potentially five players competing for two spots, so the Raiders do indeed have a mess on the offensive line. The Raider offensive line can’t get much worse than last season, but then at least they had a veteran QB in Palmer getting the ball out quickly, so this year they could be even more exposed with an unsettled QB situation and a new offensive scheme.

 

Zierlein Says:
I think the Raiders made a panic move by getting away from the zone scheme after just one year. This scheme takes time and continuity to get going, but it can cover up for talent deficiencies on an offensive line, which is a problem for the Raiders. My Raiders source tells me that a big reason they are moving away from the zone scheme is because Darren McFadden’s field vision isn’t what it needs to be. Rookie RT Menelik Watson and RG Mike Brisiel really need to play in a zone scheme and making schematic decisions based on an oft-injured RB seems foolish. RT Khalif Barnes isn’t good enough to be a starter on a quality line, and Brisiel will struggle in a power scheme. Veldheer should be fine on the left side, as should Wisniewski at center. Tony Bergstrom is a tough-minded scrapper, but has to show that he has enough talent to go with the toughness at LG. Last year, the protection was pretty good for Palmer, but we’ll see how things change with Matt Flynn under center, as he’s still learning to be a starting QB on the job. This line has a chance to be average, but drafting McFadden is a lifestyle decision if you choose to make it.

 

 
Projected Starters:
Tackles: Max Starks (31)/King Dunlap (27), D.J. Fluker (22)
Guards: Chad Rinehart (28), Jeromey Clary (29)
Center: Nick Hardwick (32)
 
Outlook: 
The Chargers are right in contention with the Cardinals and Raiders for having one the worst offensive lines in the NFL entering 2013, as they can’t protect slow-footed QB Philip Rivers or open many holes for disappointing RB Ryan Mathews. However, the Chargers allowed the 4th-most sacks last season, giving up 49, and they finished 27th in rushing YPG (91.3) and tied for 30th in YPC (3.6), so it can’t get much worse for this group. The Chargers improved their LT spot slightly by signing Max Starks in May, as he’ll likely beat out the statue-like King Dunlap, who is coming over from Philadelphia. Still, Starks was an extremely shaky pass protector in Pittsburgh last season. The Chargers reached a bit to select D.J. Fluker at 11th overall in the 2013 draft, as his slow feet could eventually force him to play inside at guard. Fluker is a powerful run blocker and could dominate at guard in the future, but he likely won’t upgrade the team’s pass protection at RT barring something unforeseen. Fluker’s selection will force Jeromey Clary inside to RG, which will be a tough transition for guy who started 78 games at RT. Still, Clary has actually been a much better run blocker than a pass blocker in his career, so the move could be beneficial. Projected LG Chad Rinehart joined the Chargers in May, his third team in five seasons, to play under his former Bill OL coach Joe D’Alessandris. Rinehart is more ideally suited to be a backup, especially coming off an ankle injury that ended his season seven games into 2012. Along the interior, Rich Ohrnberger looks to be the top backup. Veteran C Nick Hardwick has been at the center of this offensive line, but he keeps getting worse entering his 10th season. The addition of Fluker could help the Charger run game this season, but it’s hard to see their pass protection getting significantly better, which is bad news for Rivers, who depends on a pocket more than most QBs.

 

Zierlein Says:
With only 4 rushing TDs, with 3.6 YPC and just 1.6 clean yards per carry, this was a truly awful rushing attack and offensive line last year. Granted, injuries played a part in how bad San Diego was, but the Chargers have done a poor job of building and rebuilding their offensive lines over the years, and it is catching up with them now. King Dunlap and Max Starks are slow-moving tackles who will continue to get Philip Rivers sacked, no matter who ends up starting. D.J. Fluker is a great drive-blocker who should help in the running game, but he is best-suited to play guard in the future. This offensive line is slow and will force the running game to live inside the tackles. Unfortunately, they aren’t talented enough in the interior to get much out of their power game. We already know that Rivers is a statue in the pocket and got sacked 49 times last year, but what you need to consider this year is that this unit is likely to struggle with protection once again, which means Rivers will have to make decisions quickly and get rid of the ball or take more sacks again in 2013. Either way, this O-line will be an issue again in 2013, even when healthy.

 

 
Projected Starters:
TacklesLevi Brown (29), Bobby Massie (24)/Nate Potter (25)
GuardsJonathan Cooper (23) ®, Daryn Colledge (31)/Earl Watford (23) ®
CenterLyle Sendlein (29)
 
Outlook:
There’s little way around it: The Cardinals have one of the worst offensive lines in football. In last season’s disaster, they gave up a league-high 58 sacks and were the worst rushing team in the NFL, averaging a league-low 3.4 YPC and 75.2 YPG. We’d need Indiana Jones to dig deep enough to find some positive statistics from 2012. But, at the least, change is coming. Make no mistake; new coach Bruce Arians’ vertical offense and the immobile Carson Palmer aren’t great fits for this line, but few offenses and QBs would be. But let’s focus on what has changed. The left side of the Cardinal line will be completely different from where it was in 2012. LT Levi Brown is not and never has been among the top performers at his position, and Arians calling him “elite” this off-season is snicker-worthy. But he missed all of 2012 with a triceps injury, and his experience and continuity were certainly hard to replace. He was rusty in OTAs, but he has all training camp and preseason to get ready. He’ll be helped by rookie LG Jonathan Cooper, who was one of our favorite players in the entire draft. Big, but incredibly athletic, Cooper should instantly become the Cards’ best run blocker, and could well be their best lineman overall before even playing a snap. His presence will move Daryn Colledge to RG. Colledge was consistently decent last season, but could face competition for his job if another rookie, Earl Watford, performs well in camp. Watford also could play some center, where Lyle Sendlein is the returning starter but performed inconsistently before tearing his MCL last November. RT Bobby Massie enters his second season coming off a rookie year in which he was thrown into the fire. Massie was awful early on (including being eaten alive against Cameron Wake). However, he at least steadily improved throughout the year, giving hope that he can turn it around for 2013 and become a consistent player. In fact, GM Steve Keim was so impressed with Massie’s improvement last year that he singled him out as a “break-out” candidate in 2013. However, the Cardinal coaches have been talking up another second-year player in Nate Potter, who could compete for snaps at either tackle spot or right guard. At the very least, there is tangible upside on this Cardinal line, which it seriously lacked last season.
 
Zierlein Says:
The Cardinals offensive line is a work in progress and there is no other way to spin it. Arizona ran for 0 yards or a loss on almost 15% of their total carries, which is awful. From a running game standpoint, there is no reason to believe that RB Rashard Mendenhall will carry more fantasy value than a low-end RB2 at best. The Cardinals are likely to start rookies at both guard spots (Cooper and Watford) and against the defenses in their division, which is a major problem. While both Cooper and Watford have talent, I’m not expecting things to click right away for that interior line. Bruce Arians doesn’t have a history of committing to the run game, so the reunion of Arians and Mendenhall doesn’t carry much weight. Levi Brown’s return from injury should help the Cardinals improve on their 2.4 YPC over the left tackle stat from last season. Carson Palmer will improve the passing game, but as a stationary target, will he get mangled? RT Eric Winston will battle with Nate Potter for the starting spot, but Winston isn’t really a fit in the power scheme that Arians prefers and his weakness (pass protection) is already a massive problem for the Cardinals.

 

To view more great content like this, visit Fantasy Guru and follow them on Twitter: @Fantasy_Guru

photo source