Offensive Line Rankings and Fantasy Football Impact (2019)
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We often talk about a player’s talent level and sometimes we’ll reference their coach and offensive scheme, but when talking about running backs, why don’t we talk about their offensive line a bit more? While there are things more important, offensive line play has a direct impact on the type of success a running back will have.
For instance, many fantasy football players know that Frank Gore is now on the Bills, but most can’t tell you Travis Frederick is coming back to the Cowboys after being forced to miss the entire 2018 season. One of them will have a bigger impact than the other, and it’s not Gore. It’s not just running backs, either, as quarterbacks are impacted quite a bit by offensive line play, too.
Some teams have added significant talent through free agency, while others have added through the draft. Some teams have lost players and haven’t done much to replace them, which will impact their grade. But it’s also important to note that a team will get a bump in the rankings for returning linemen, as continuity absolutely matters. Are there players you should move up or down in your rankings because of this? Absolutely, and we’re going to do our best to let you know why.
1. Indianapolis Colts
You must give the Colts front office tons of credit for sticking with the status quo on the offensive line during last year’s draft. They made it a priority to protect Andrew Luck, and because of that, they might have the best offensive line in the league. They added Quenton Nelson at No. 6 overall, then snagged Braden Smith at No. 37 overall in the 2018 draft, with both becoming direct hits who started immediately. They didn’t really add anyone this offseason, but didn’t need to. Despite dealing with injuries, the Colts offensive line was one of the highlights of their 2018 season and another year of continuity between them should only boost them to the top of the league. There’s good reason everyone is high on Andrew Luck and a potential breakout from Marlon Mack.
2. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons took after the Colts blueprint in this year’s draft, snagging two offensive linemen with their two first-round picks. Chris Lindstrom should start from day one, while Kaleb McGary will compete to start at right tackle with Ryan Schraeder. With Jake Matthews holding down left tackle, Alex Mack continuing as one of the best centers in football, and Lindstrom, the Falcons should have no issues protecting Matt Ryan or running the football. Dirk Koetter’s offense might be the biggest obstacle.
3. Dallas Cowboys
It’s been their way for a long time, so give them credit for starting the “offensive line matters” movement in recent drafts (like the top two teams on this list). Last year’s first-round pick of Connor Williams may not have panned out in year one, but he did seem to get better as the year went on. Missing Travis Frederick was easily the biggest problem on the line and it led to Dak Prescott being sacked 56 times, though he does hold onto the ball quite a long time. Not only do the Cowboys get him back, but they drafted Connor McGovern in the third-round to give Williams competition on the interior of the line. This should only help Ezekiel Elliott, as the Cowboys line gave their running backs an average of just 1.43 yards before contact last year, ranking 19th in the league.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
They were somewhat underwhelming last year for all the talent they have on the offensive line, and this year, they finally selected Jason Peters‘ eventual replacement in Andre Dillard. The Eagles also have all five starters returning, so the continuity should be top-notch between them. The issue with all of this for fantasy is the fact that Doug Pederson is extremely content using a timeshare. That’s going to limit the potential of any running back, even behind one of the best offensive lines in football. If anything, it’s going to provide better protection for Carson Wentz, who’ll be looking to hook up with DeSean Jackson down the field in 2019.
5. New England Patriots
It seems that no matter who the Patriots put on their offensive line, they perform. After losing Nate Solder, they replaced him with Trent Brown, who played at a Pro Bowl level. Now he’s gone too, but they have last year’s first-round pick Isaiah Wynn returning from his Achilles injury, and they selected Yodny Cajuste in the third-round, which was one of my favorite values in the draft. While I have my concerns about Wynn’s size at left tackle, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has proved everyone wrong time and time again. The Patriots running backs enjoyed a massive 1.94 yards before contact last year, which tied for the second-highest mark in the league. Meanwhile, the running backs averaged just 2.34 yards after contact, tied for the lowest mark in the league. No matter who it is getting handoffs from Tom Brady, it’s going to be tough for them not to succeed, though the loss of Rob Gronkowski does hurt a bit, as he was one of the better blocking tight ends in the game.
6. New Orleans Saints
The Saints have taken time to rebuild the offensive line and they may have been No. 1 on this list had Max Unger not retired this offseason. If you don’t recall, he was the primary piece they received when they traded away Jimmy Graham. They went out and signed Nick Easton, though he was not the solution, so they also drafted Erik McCoy in the second-round of the draft. Credit to them for realizing the importance of keeping Drew Brees upright. Their offensive line created 1.67 yards before contact last year, which ranked 12th in the league. Even if they were to take a slight step back without Unger, they should still be a well above-average unit.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
I’ve said for years that the Steelers offensive line has been underrated due to the continuity they had year over year. They did lost Marcus Gilbert to the Cardinals this offseason and will have to rely on last year’s third-round selection Chukwuma Okorafor or Matt Feiler at right tackle. That could put a damper on things, as Gilbert had been a force on that right side for quite some time. Because of the risk there, I’ve lowered them down my board a tad, but they’re still solid overall. The question comes down to how much of a timeshare they plan on implementing and how many more eight-man fronts they’ll see with Antonio Brown out of town.
8. San Francisco 49ers
Many thought the 49ers had gone mad selecting Mike McGlinchey at No. 9 overall last year, but not me. He walked in and started day one and did a phenomenal job at right tackle. With him and Joe Staley on the edges, Jimmy Garoppolo should feel safe. The interior of the line has the most questions, as Weston Richburg is a weak link at center. Both Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person are mediocre talents, but they are returning as the starters, which helps communication and continuity. The 49ers will be using some sort of timeshare at running back, but it’d be wise to expect Tevin Coleman as the lead back. Despite their offensive line clearing out 1.90 yards before contact last year (ranked fifth in the NFL), their running backs didn’t do very much with it.
9. Carolina Panthers
In all honesty, I may be too low on the Panthers unit, as they boasted a ridiculous 1.94 yards before contact for their running backs in 2018, which tied for the second-most in the NFL. Knowing that, it’s no wonder Christian McCaffrey went bonkers last year, as he’s phenomenal in the open field. They are also now Kalil-less, which is a good thing, as Matt Paradis will take over at center, and Daryl Williams will take over at left tackle. The Panthers also added depth in the draft by selecting highly-recruited Greg Little in the second-round, though I don’t necessarily love him as a player. If Cam Newton makes it back by the start of the season (he should), the offensive line is no longer the problem it was in years past.
10. Green Bay Packers
When healthy, the Packers have one of the better offensive lines in football, anchored by the tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari. They snagged Billy Turner in free agency as someone who can play on the inside or outside, and then took my top center available in the draft with Elgton Jenkins. While Corey Linsley may continue to start, the offensive line is in great shape to start the year. With most of them remaining healthy last year, their running backs ranked eighth in yards before contact. With a new head coach with an offensive mind coming to town, you hope they can grow on that. Whoever gets the majority of carries in this backfield should be a borderline RB1 in fantasy and it appears that’ll be Aaron Jones.
11. Chicago Bears
It’s pretty crazy to see the Bears running backs averaged just 3.85 yards per carry last year, which was the fifth-lowest mark in football. Their offensive line created 1.31 yards before contact, which wasn’t great, but the running backs averaged just 2.54 yards after contact, which was also the fifth-worst mark in the league. Make sense why they snagged tackle-breaking running back David Montgomery now? The Bears will have all five starters returning, as they were able to re-sign Bobby Massie. They don’t have the most depth, but their starters are rock-solid. Their continuity combined with Tarik Cohen and Montgomery’s elusiveness, there’s no reason to worry about the Bears running backs.
12. Denver Broncos
If there’s one thing clear about the Broncos offensive line, it’s that they know how to run-block. Their running backs averaged a massive 2.13 yards prior to contact last year, which was 0.19 yards more than any other team in the NFL. That’s why we saw their running backs rack up 4.89 yards per carry last year. By comparison, the Titans running backs averaged just 0.79 yards before contact. Garrett Bolles took a step forward in his sophomore year, though losing Matt Paradis in free agency hurts a bit. They also brought in Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line, something he did extremely well while in Pittsburgh the last four years. There’s definitely hope for this unit, especially if second-round pick Dalton Risner pans out.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars
Some may cringe at seeing the Jaguars inside the top-15, but truth be told, they could have gone higher. Did you know they were down 4-of-5 starters at the end of last season? With a combination of Cam Robinson, Cedric Ogbuehl, and Jawaan Taylor at the tackle positions, Andrew Norwell at guard, and Brandon Linder at center, they have a formidable unit. It’s tough to move them up too far considering all the moving parts, but the talent is there. Knowing all the injuries that took place, it’s tough to expect much out of them, but they produced just 1.07 yards before contact last year, fourth-worst in the league. They’ll take a step forward; the question is just how big that step will be.
14. Los Angeles Rams
After losing Rodger Saffold to the Titans in free agency and releasing John Sullivan, the Rams should be thanking their lucky stars for Andrew Whitworth returning for another season instead of retiring. That would have been a complete overhaul, though losing two starters is never easy on an offensive line. So even though they still have Whitworth and Rob Havenstein on the edges, there’s a lot of question marks on the interior. The fun fact about the way Sean McVay calls his offense, though? Todd Gurley say eight-man fronts (loaded box) on just 8.2 percent of his carries, the lowest mark in the NFL. By comparison, Leonard Fournette saw that on 35.3 percent of his carries. The Rams offensive line has it somewhat easy and they’ll likely need it that way in 2019.
15. Baltimore Ravens
The rookie season for the highly-questioned Orlando Brown went well, as now he and Ronnie Stanley make for a solid duo on the edges. Marshal Yanda is still playing at a high level on the interior, but Alex Lewis and Matt Skura are below-average starters. They’ll be run-blocking quite a bit with Lamar Jackson under center, which was a good thing last year, as they ranked 13th when they created 1.58 yards before contact for their running backs. All starters will be returning, which should help. This is a slightly above average unit.
16. New York Giants
Many automatically assume the Giants offensive line is horrible due to their play in years past. That’s not the case anymore, as they’ve successfully rebuilt most of the line with the additions of Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, and Kevin Zeitler. Chad Wheeler is still by far the weakest link at right tackle, but if you have one bad tackle, that’s the side to have it on. A lot have given Saquon Barkley credit for a lot of his success last year, and while he was obviously a big part of it, so was the line. He averaged 1.67 yards before contact, which would have ranked 12th in the NFL among what teams produced, so not bad at all. Eli Manning will make a line look worse than it is due to his non-existent mobility, but Daniel Jones looks to be set-up well when he takes over.
17. Tennessee Titans
It was quite the fall for the Titans offensive line last year, going from one that was considered top-five, to one that couldn’t help anyone. Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert were sacked 47 times on just 515 dropbacks, while the running backs were given just 0.79 yards before contact, the lowest mark in the league. By comparison, the Broncos running backs averaged 2.13 yards before contact. The 3.46 yards after contact by the Titans running backs was the second-highest mark in the league, so if they can get back to the line they were in 2017, that’d help significantly. As a reference, the line created 1.40 yards before contact in 2017, nearly double the mark from 2018. They did add Rodger Saffold from the Rams, which should certainly help, as Josh Kline took a massive step backward in 2018 and was ultimately released. I feel like there’s enough talent on this line to be higher on the list, but they didn’t play like it last year.
18. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers invested a lot in their offensive line a few years ago, but they haven’t exactly seen the returns they’d hoped out of Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp. The former hasn’t been very good, while the latter hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Fortunately, Russell Okung has been able to hold down left tackle and center Mike Pouncey did a respectable job on short notice last year. If Lamp can stay on the field and third-round pick Trey Pipkins can overtake the weak Sam Tevi, the line will be in much better shape. Melvin Gordon and Philip Rivers have been able to make it work the last few years despite the shortcomings of the offensive line, so improvement up front can only help.
19. Washington Redskins
There’s trouble brewing in the Redskins organization, as Trent Williams has requested to be released or traded, saying he doesn’t want to play for the team due to the way they handled injury rehab. If he’s gone, you can move them down this list even further. They have talent on the line, though injuries have never really allowed them to gel together and reach their full potential. With Williams likely out of the equation, they’d be forced to go with an unproven backup. When it comes to the blindside protector for your quarterback, that’s the last thing you want to do. This line isn’t one that’d make you bump up skill-position players.
20. Detroit Lions
The Lions release of T.J. Lang this offseason didn’t make much sense, as they don’t have a clear-cut replacement. Kenny Wiggins has been brutal while Frank Ragnow had a tough time moving to guard his rookie year, so their guard play is very suspect. With Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner on the ends, they’re solid at tackle, though not spectacular. With Lang injured for much of last year, the Lions offensive line created just 1.30 yards before contact for their running backs, tied for eighth lowest in the league. This is certainly a concern for Kerryon Johnson, as many think he’s a potential breakout candidate.
21. Minnesota Vikings
There’s going to be some shuffling on the Vikings offensive line this year, and that’s a good thing. Pat Elflein has been horrid at center, though some believe he’ll work better at guard, which is where he’ll go now that they’ve drafted center Garrett Bradbury in the first-round. They also signed Josh Kline in free agency, though he had a pretty horrendous 2018 campaign. One of my favorite Day 3 picks was Dru Samia, as he’s someone who should compete for a starting guard spot. With all the moving parts, it’s hard to say you should be confident in their ability, but shaking it up is precisely what they needed. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray have been able to produce solid numbers behind this line the last couple years, so their lackluster grade shouldn’t affect their ranking too much.
22. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have always gotten by with a solid, though not crazy-talented offensive line, but they’re starting to push their limits. The lost starting center Mitch Morse this offseason and will rely on backup Austin Reiter to fill that void. They’re also sticking with Cam at guard, which is far from ideal. It helps they’ll get Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back from injury, as Andrew Wylie wasn’t a great replacement. Similar to Sean McVay in Los Angeles, Andy Reid mixes and matches his offense to make life easier on the offensive line, but they aren’t the strength of this team.
23. Buffalo Bills
There are a ton of moving parts on the Bills offensive line this year, which is a good thing after an abysmal 2018 season. Cody Ford was a steal in the second-round and should be a staple on the right side of the offensive line for some time. Dion Dawkins took a slight step back last year, but is a competent left tackle, while signing Mitch Morse in free agency should provide a big upgrade at center. The Bills also signed Ty Nsekhe, LaAdrian Waddle, Quinton Spain, and Spencer Long this offseason, so who knows what the starting unit will look like. Credit to the Bills for acknowledging their line was abysmal, but it’s going to take time for this unit to gel.
24. Seattle Seahawks
You would think that a team who ran the ball 30-plus times per game last year would invest some of their draft picks into the offensive line, right? Does one fourth-rounder count? The addition of Duane Brown has proven to be a great step in the right direction, but he’s the only above average starter on the team. The combination of Chris Carson, Mike Davis, and Rashaad Penny averaged 3.24 yards after contact last year, the fourth-highest mark in the league, but the lackluster 1.42 yards before contact holds them back. There’s something to be said for the continuity of the line staying intact, but there’s simply not enough talent.
25. Cleveland Browns
I’ve heard a lot of people rip on Carlos Hyde for his disastrous 2018 season, but did you know the Browns offensive line gave them just 0.85 yards before contact? The Browns running backs combined to average 3.71 yards after contact, by far the highest in the NFL (closest team was the Titans at 3.4 yards). The addition of Odell Beckham should lighten defensive fronts against them, making life easier, but it won’t help losing Kevin Zeitler in free agency. They will have Austin Corbett step in for him, who has very little experience, while they’re still sticking with Greg Robinson at left tackle. This line could’ve been better, but they didn’t invest any draft capital or add anyone in free agency. Call me skeptical that this unit will be very good.
26. Houston Texans
After essentially ignoring the offensive line in the 2018 draft, we have to give the Texans credit. We don’t know if the players will live up to expectations, but they drafted two offensive tackles inside the top two rounds during the 2019 draft. That’s competition for the group that was likely the weakest tackle group in the league. It’s a step in the right direction for a team that’s had offensive line issues for the past few years. Despite Deshaun Watson‘s mobility, he was sacked a league-high 61 times. I’m expecting improvement, which should help Lamar Miller, though it’s still not an offensive line to get excited about.
27. Cincinnati Bengals
Ever since letting Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler go a couple years ago, the Bengals have been searching for their replacements. They took a chance on Jonah Williams in the first-round this year, but he was hurt during offseason workouts and will be out for the year. That means another year of Cordy Glenn and Bobby Hart on the ends, while they hope for improved play from last year’s first-round selection Billy Price. Not only did they add Williams, but they also drafted guard/center Michael Jordan in the fourth-round, so they’re trying to fix the issues they have up front. To my surprise, they did create a lot of room for Joe Mixon to run last year, as Bengals running backs averaged a very-high 1.94 yards before contact. The only positive was that all five starters were going to remain the same, but that changed when Clint Boling retired just a week ago. This offensive line is one that could hurt the potential of the Bengals offense.
28. Arizona Cardinals
If there’s one area I expected the Cardinals to address in the NFL Draft, it was the offensive line, which is one of the weakest in the league. But, no. They waited until the seventh-round to select one, though it’s important to note they did add Marcus Gilbert to play right tackle this season, which is a massive upgrade. Still, D.J. Humphries at left tackle? They did lose Mike Iupati but replaced him with Max Garcia, which is somewhat of a wash. Kyler Murray can buy time for them, but this all falls on Kliff Kingsbury, whose offense at Texas Tech did well despite not having much top-end talent on his offensive line. The addition of Gilbert should help boost David Johnson‘s rushing production.
29. Miami Dolphins
This offensive line the Dolphins are trotting out there in 2019 is straight-up offensive. They don’t wind-up last on the list because the one good player they have happens to play the most important position on the line. Outside of Laremy Tunsil, the Dolphins don’t have one single average starter now that Josh Sitton has retired. They drafted Michael Deiter in the third-round, but even if he pans out as an average starter, this line is likely to hold back the run- and pass-game. Their offensive line is a reason to lower Kenyan Drake down rankings a bit, though his price already reflects this.
30. New York Jets
It’s going to be a rude awakening for Le’Veon Bell going from the Steelers offensive line to the Jets, as it’s a night and day difference. The bookends are Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell, two below-average tackles, so it makes sense they took a chance on Chuma Edoga in the third-round of the draft. He wasn’t expected to go that early, but kudos for the Jets acknowledging they have an issue. They also acquired Kelechi Osemele from the Raiders, and though he’s been pretty mediocre the last couple years, he has a few Pro Bowls on his resume. If he can get back to form, that’d help, but he’d be the only above-average starter on the line. The line created just 1.14 yards before contact last year, which ranked 27th in the league. By comparison, Bell averaged 1.76 yards before contact in his career with the Steelers. He’s going to struggle running behind this line.
31. Oakland Raiders
It was odd to see the Raiders move on from their rookies so early in the process, but after drafting tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker in the top three rounds last year, they already went out and snagged Trent Brown in free agency. That’s an iffy move considering how often the Patriots make mediocre talents look like Pro Bowlers. It’s hard to see them losing Kelechi Osemele as a good thing, as he had one bad year, which shouldn’t erase a great career. There are far too many “ifs” on this offensive line to believe in them.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Just when I thought the Bucs were finally going to get themselves a legitimate left tackle to replace the weak Donovan Smith, they re-signed him to a big contract. Just how bad is it? Well, there were multiple Saints players tweeting that “it’s time to eat again.” He’s been a weak link for a long time, though the Bucs are now stuck with him at the most important position. Demar Dotson has been solid on the right side, while Ali Marpet holds up his end at left guard, but everything in-between is brutal. When you give running backs just 1.00 yards prior to contact, it won’t matter how good they are, so you cannot simply say that Ronald Jones sucks based on the sample size from last year. The issue is that they’ve done nothing to improve it, though you’d hope that all the options they have at receiver will make life easier on them. Bruce Arians, let’s see if you can work miracles.