Fantasy Outlook: Offensive Line Play
One of the things that often gets overlooked in fantasy football is how players on a roster affect one another. We often think about how elite quarterback play can help a wide receiver, but what about the big men up front? The thing that is unique about the role of the offensive line is that they directly affect the performance of every other player on the field. They open holes for backs, and they protect the quarterback to give them time to make plays down the field to the wideouts and tight ends. A dominant offensive line can turn an average back into a star, and a poor offensive line can really diminish the value of a top receiver. We can’t entirely understand the value of skill players based on their offensive line, but there is no denying that they play an important role in giving their skill players opportunities to succeed. Now that we see how important an offensive line can be to your fantasy players performance, let’s take a look at some of the best lines around the league. All starters are projected.
1. Dallas Cowboys – LT Tyron Smith, LG Ronald Leary, C Travis Fredrick, RG Zach Martin, RT Doug Free.
This elite group got national praise last season, and for good reason. Not only does it feature one of the best left tackles in football in Tyron Smith, it has two young impressive maulers in Travis Fredrick and Zach Martin. The Cowboys were tied for 3rd best in the league in yards per carry at 4.6 even though defenses knew it was coming. This unit was also 3rd in the league for only giving up 53 total QB hits, and were 9th in only giving up 30 sacks. It doesn’t get any better around the NFL than this offensive line, and they even have starting potential on the bench by adding La’El Collins after the draft. DeMarco Murray is gone, but don’t expect the running game to go down that much. Whoever wins the majority of the touches in the backfield for Dallas is going to have a productive fantasy season. This elite line will also be instrumental in keeping Tony Romo upright to allow for more balls down field to Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams.
2. Green Bay Packers – LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Cory Linsley, RG TJ Lang, RT Bryan Bulaga.
The Green Bay Packers have one of the best offenses in football, and this unit plays a huge part in their success. All five starters return this season highlighted by Josh Sitton and TJ Lang who are one of the best guard pairings in the league in run blocking, and Bryan Bulaga who is one of the best RTs in the game. Bakhtiari is a a young fantastic pass blocker, and Linsley is a young center who impressed last year. Now that this group has had a full year together, they will likely only get better. With this in mind, Aaron Rodgers should be hit less this season, so expect another big year from him and also from RB Eddie Lacy.
3. Baltimore Ravens – LT Eugene Monroe, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Ricky Wagner.
The Ravens were one of the best teams rushing last season led by a fantastic season by All-Pro RG Marshal Yanda. This group was tied for 6th in the league, averaging 4.5 yards a carry, and only allowed QB Joe Flacco to be sacked 19 times all year. Monroe and Wagner are one of the best young tackle combos in the league who really did a good job of keeping Flacco upright. Expect a huge season out of RB Justin Forsett with OC Marc Trestman now in town who will give him a ton of looks in the passing game. Flacco is one of the most inconsistent QBs in the league, but maybe another year of elite line play with help him and rookie WR Breshad Perriman produce all season long.
4. Cleveland Browns – LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C Alex Mack, RG John Greco, RT Mitchell Schwartz.
The Browns are never known for having much talent at the skill positions, but they have a really good offensive line in place. Joe Thomas is a potential Hall of Famer who has just been flat out dominant his entire career, and rookie Joel Bitonio was an absolute mauler last year. Alex Mack is a fantastic center, and it will really help to get him back healthy this year after missing most of last year with a broken leg. The right side of the line is the weakest, but even they played pretty solid last year. Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot of fantasy relevant players on this team, but whoever wins the starting RB job between Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, and Duke Johnson should have a pretty solid season.
5. Cincinnati Bengals – LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Russell Bodine, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith.
Andrew Whitworth had one of the best seasons we have seen in recent years from a LT, and that really made a difference for this line last season. Zeitler and Boling were great in the run game and helped pave the way for the 6th best rushing attack in the league (2,147 yards). Andre Smith struggled early in his career, but he is starting to turn things around. Russell Bodine was definitely a weak spot in the line last year, but a year of experience should allow for improvement. In addition to the starters on this line, the Bengals spent two top draft picks on OTs Jake Fisher, and Cedric Ogbuehi. When Ogbuehi returns fro his injury, both rookies could make their case for starting reps. This offensive line really features some of the best depth around the league, so expect another big year from RBs Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, and WR A.J. Green.
Honorable Mentions – Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles.