Extensive write up of each NFL team's offensive line, prior to the 2014 preseason.
by Matt Bitonti, July 4
With an entire offseason under our belts, the draft, minicamps and OTA's, you might wonder: "where do all the team's offensive lines rank?" Well, I'm glad you asked.
2014 rank: 1st. Difference from final 2013 rank: +6.
Overall: A+ Run: A+ Pass: A
Returning all five starters at all of the same positions, with two of those starters considered current All-Pro’s, the perpetually underrated Browns are our top ranked offensive line this preseason. Left tackle Joe Thomas continues to be the best left tackle in football; with his seven pro bowls (so far), he is constructing a Hall of Fame caliber career. While not quite as dominant as Thomas, center Alex Mack is a key part of the offensive line and the franchise dodged a bullet when they matched his offer from Jacksonville. Mack would have been very hard to replace. Right guard John Greco turns in very solid performances week to week. On the whole, the closest thing to a weak spot is the left guard position, where oft-injured Jason Pinkston will likely face immediate competition, both from free agent veteran Paul McQuistan, and from second round rookie Joel Bitonio. Bitonio is a versatile athlete who can challenge both Pinkston and even right tackle Mitchell Schwartz for playing time. We are projecting Bitonio to crack the starting lineup by Week 1, but it's not definate. The good news about left guard is that whoever plays it, will be between two of the best in the game, and that has to make the job easier. By selecting Bitonio and signing McQuistan, the Browns have reloaded from the loss of Shawn Lauvao to free agency. At the right tackle spot, Mitchell Schwartz is highly thought of by the coaching staff, and is still young enough to improve his game significantly. In other depth, tackle Reid Fragel is actually a decent player (converted tight end) and could factor in as a swing tackle (or more) due to his athletic gifts. Garrett Gilkey was effective in spot start duty last season, and even more interestingly, seems to be the NFL’s version of Ron Swanson. Overall, the Browns line is often overlooked, but their elite talent, depth and consistency make them the current top dogs going into the preseason.
2014 rank: 2nd. Difference from final 2013 rank: +8.
Overall: A+ Run: A+ Pass: A
The Eagles begin the season as one of the top ranked lines in all of football. Nominally, they return all five starters at all five positions, which is great for cohesion. However they will be without one starter for several weeks (more on that below). Two of their five starters made the most recent All-Pro team, a statement which no other line in the conference can currently boast. At left tackle, Jason Peters has fully regained his form, after missing all of 2012 with a torn Achilles. During the second half of last season, Peters was unstoppable in run blocking and a dancing bear in pass protection. Next to him, left guard Evan Mathis is also coming off an outstanding season, especially in run blocking. These two players together create an almost automatic pathway for tailback LeSean McCoy. Center Jason Kelce made headlines this offseason for supporting the team’s release of Desean Jackson. But Kelce is good for more than just quotes, as he has rounded into one of the better centers in the league. Kelce is underrated nationally but local fans are aware of his value to the team. If the line has a weak spot it could be right guard Todd Herremans. A converted tackle, Herremans can sometimes play high and lose leverage. Still he is a solid player, and the team probably doesn’t need to replace him right away. Right tackle Lane Johnson had an excellent rookie season and he has exhibited the athleticism to possibly move over and replace Peters, down the road. Unfortuntely, Johnson is reportedly facing a four game ban for violation of the league's substance abuse policy. Had this not been the case, the Eagles would have graded out as the league's best line, and they could still grab that title by Week 5 of the regular season. In terms of depth, Allen Barbre is likely the first player off the bench at every position but center and he should be a capable starter while Johnson serves his suspension. The coaching staff seems to really trust this player. Julian Vanderwelde and David Molk will likely battle for the backup center position, and there will be a similar competition between Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin, and Michael Bamiro for backup tackle. Overall this is an excellent line, with tons of experience. They are dominant in the run and are a strength of the football team.
3. San Francisco
2014 rank: 3rd. Difference from final 2013 rank: -2.
Overall: A Run: A Pass: A
Despite a change at the center position, the Niners still boast one of the league’s best offensive lines. Last year’s starter Jonathan Goodwin was allowed to test the free agent market and the battle in San Francisco will be between veteran Daniel Kilgore and third round pick Marcus Martin. Kilgore has experience at the center position in college, and he has played a significant amount over the years in jumbo packages. The team recently signed Kilgore to a three year extension, so even if he doesn’t win this job, he still will be in the team’s plans. As for Martin, he is a talented player who started at guard as a 17 year old freshman. The question with Martin is the same as most rookies, can he learn enough of the complex play book to be reliable when the season starts? While it is certainly possible, I don’t feel comfortable predicting Martin as a starter from day one. Either way this is one preseason battle to watch. As for the rest of the line, it is mostly good news. Left tackle Joe Staley performed at an All-Pro level again, and is one of the league’s best blind side protectors. Left guard Mike Iupati had a tremendous year before getting hurt in the NFC Championship game. Iupati should be full go by week one but his rehab is another story to watch closely. At right guard, Alex Boone was considered a steady performer last season, and right tackle Anthony Davis had a very good (borderline Pro Bowl) year. The players other than Kilgore have all started together for over two seasons, which is a rare case of cohesion in this league. In terms of depth, Adam Snyder remains the first off the bench at every position, but could face competition at swing tackle from Jonathan Martin, who was recently traded from the Dolphins. Joe Looney is a versatile backup and Al Netter was recently re-added to the roster. Overall this line is very good but sits just below that top ranking. Should they sort out their uncertainty at the center spot, this group can once again claim the top spot.
4. St. Louis
2014 rank: 4th. Difference from final 2013 rank: +2.
Overall: A Run: A- Pass: A
The Rams’ offensive line currently grades out among the league’s best units. Among the key issues for this line is the health of former All-Pro left tackle Jake Long. Long tore his ACL and MCL toward the end of last season, and his rehab is a situation to be watched closely. If he’s healthy, Long is among the league’s most dominant left tackles. If he isn’t healthy, the Rams have many options to replace him. First on that list is probably right guard Rodger Saffold. Saffold signed an enormous deal with the Raiders this offseason, who failed his physical (probably not a real injury but rather regret about the price paid). Saffold returned to the Rams on a more moderate deal. Saffold is a mauler who has played well at guard, but should the need arise, could swing back to the left side. Joe Barksdale, currently the right tackle starter, is a hugely underrated player, who could also swing back to the left side in an emergency. First round selection Greg Robinson played left tackle at Auburn, but is more likely to start his career at left guard, which was his position as a prep. Robinson is a ridiculously talented prospect physically, but extremely raw in pass protection. It could take multiple seasons before this player can be trusted to be an island against top pass rushers. At center, Scott Wells is another player who is great when healthy, but like Long, finished the year on the injured reserve. Wells is likely to be full go for week one, after rehabbing his broken leg. Overall this is a very talented group of starters, and the depth picture is also interesting. Former fourth round pick Barrett Jones can back up at guard and center, but Tim Barnes is more likely to be the first on the field should Wells get injured again. Former Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph recently signed with a team on a “show me” deal that is unlikely to see him challenge for a starting position. Still, if Long gets hurt or suffers a setback, he could step in for Saffold at that right guard spot. Brandon Washington appears to be on the way out, as Greg Robinson is going to get his starting position and it’s questionable if the team still has him in their plans. Other depth names at tackle include Mike Person, Mitchell Van Dyk and Demetrius Rainey. Person is a seasoned player but the other two names are recent late round picks and could be candidates for the practice squad. Overall this line has a lot of talent, and can be the best line in the league, should Long and Wells return healthy and Robinson acclimates to the pro game.
2014 rank: 6th. Difference from final 2013 rank: +5.
Overall: A Run: A Pass: A-
The Bears return all five starters at all five positions, and as a bonus, all five started the entire season. Not many teams can make those statements and this is all great news for the line’s cohesion score. The Bears’ line played very well last season, and the extra experience together will only help their performance in 2014. At left tackle, Jermon Bushrod is playing at a Pro Bowl level, despite not making the exhibition last season. The Bears rewarded Matt Slauson’s consistent play with a new deal after last season, and he should man the position in the seasons to come. There was some concern that solid thirty-four year old center Roberto Garza would test the waters of free agency, but the team signed him to a one year deal just prior to the opening of the market in March. The Bears also added veteran Brian de la Puente behind Garza, and at five years younger, could be considering him as Garza’s replacement in future seasons. The revamped right side played excellently last season, and the Bears have high hopes for second year players Kyle Long and Jordan Mills as they become seasoned veterans. In terms of depth, Eben Britton seems like the first man off the bench at most positions. Britton has starting experience and, while certainly not perfect, can be a capable swing tackle. The Bears have to make a decision on talented guard James Brown, as his contract is up after the season and there’s no clear path for him to start. The Bears took a flyer on former basketball player Charles Leno in the seventh round, and this athletic prospect is one to keep in mind in the seasons to come as a potential replacement for Britton. Overall this is one the league’s better lines and as the young players on the right side improve, the Bears’ line could potentially crack the top three in the offensive line rankings.
2014 rank: 6th. Difference from final 2013 rank: -1.
Overall: A Run: A Pass: A-
The Vikings return all five starters at all five positions and are currently ranked as one of the top units in the league. The line is led by left tackle Matt Kalil, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012. Kalil experienced somewhat of a rough year last season, and it was revealed in the offseason that Kalil had been fighting through a shoulder injury. Kalil has had surgery in the offseason and is expected to be full strength for the start of the season. At center, John Sullivan is a hugely underrated starter, well known for his cerebral leadership in the middle. Sullivan has consistently graded out among the elite at that position and the Vikings have no worries there. At right guard, Brandon Fusco has a sound grip on the starting job. Fusco is known as a solid player who produces, but he can be prone to occasional bouts of inconstancy. Phil Loadholt took a lot of criticism for signing what was at the time the highest paid right tackle contract in the league. However in the years since that signing, Loadholt has cut down on penalties and actually lived up to that contract. It’s not a crazy statement to call him one of the best right tackles in the entire league. So these are the four positions that are easy to pencil in, which leaves Charlie Johnson at left guard. Johnson is often below average and will face competition from free agent Vlad Ducasse, Jeff Baca, and fifth round rookie David Yankey. Yankey was a highly touted prospect out of Stanford who was once considered an easy first round pick. Yankey fell in the draft due to poor performance in workouts. But the coaching staff is high on Yankey and he could seriously challenge Johnson for this job. Ducasse is also a player to watch at this position, as he (surprisingly) started at left guard last season and is still developing. In terms of depth, Mike Remmers is the likely swing tackle, but he will compete with Joe Berger and undrafted rookie Antonio Richardson out of Tennessee. Richardson was another highly touted prospect, but he fell due to injury concerns in his knee. If Richardson is healthy, he could very feasibly make this roster as a backup. Overall this is one of the better lines in the league, and they could actually improve in the rankings, if they get better production out of the left guard position.
2014 rank: 7th. Difference from final 2013 rank: +5.
Overall: A- Run: A- Pass: A
The Bengals offensive line lost two players from last season, starting center Kyle Cook and swing tackle Anthony Collins. So why did their ranking improve? The short answer is that Collins wasn’t a starter and Cook was putrid. In this center starved league, Cook is still a free agent, and that fact tells the story of his value. Trevor Robinson played well in 2012 but fought through a pectoral injury in 2013 and the team gave the job back to Cook. Currently healthy, Robinson is a better player than Cook and this should be a slight upgrade. The contest for the center position will be competitive, as veteran Mike Pollak, second year man T.J. Johnson and fourth round rookie Russell Bodine will also be in the mix. The team especially is high on Bodine, who put up a beastly fourty-two reps of bench press at the combine. The team traded up for Bodine in the draft and he reportedly has the endorsement of renowned offensive line coach Paul Alexander. Bodine will likely backup at first, but it’s not unthinkable that he starts for the Bengals over Robinson. This is one training camp battle to watch. As for the rest of the line, Andrew Whitworth continues to do a very good job at left tackle, but has struggled with injuries recently. If the veteran can stay healthy, he and Clint Boling make a formidable duo on that left side. Boling is returning from an ACL tear but should be good to go for the opener.The right side of Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith continues to be good but not great. In terms of depth, Marshall Newhouse will be the swing tackle, and the team hopes he doesn’t have to actually play. Tanner Hawkinson received limited snaps as a rookie but still could be a potential challenger to that swing tackle position in the near future. The team is reportedly high on this player and letting Collins walk is an endorsement of sorts. Overall this line is among the better units in the league and should remain in the top tier if they remain healthy. This line can improve in the rankings with better play out of the center position.
2014 rank: 8th. Difference from final 2013 rank: +16.
Overall: A- Run: A- Pass: A-
Getting Ryan Clady back from injury should be huge for the Broncos offensive line. Having missed most of 2013 with a Lis Franc injury, Clady appears to be on track to start the season at 100% health, and reclaim his title as the best lineman on the Broncos. Next to Clady will be Orlando Franklin, shifting over from right tackle to replace Zane Beadles, who departed for Jacksonville in free agency. While a good tackle, Franklin could be excellent on the inside, as he is known as a dominator at the point of attack. Taking Franklin’s right tackle position should be Chris Clark. Clark stepped in admirably for Clady throughout last year’s campaign and should be a strong contributor as a right tackle starter. Clark will face competition from Michael Schofield, the team’s third round pick out of Michigan. Schofield is a natural right tackle and should be the first player off the bench. The left guard position is manned by Louis Vasquez, coming off his first All-Pro honors. Vasquez has made a name for himself as one of the best interior linemen in the league and the Broncos believe they can rely upon that high level of play going forward. It’s not all sunshine and roses however as the center position is still manned by Manny Ramirez. Many will remember Ramirez in the Super Bowl, snapping the first play from scrimmage over the head of Peyton Manning. While he actually is a decent player most of the time, Ramirez is not a natural center and that fact was made apparent at the worst possible time for the Broncos. The team seems to be aware they have a problem, as they have signed solid veteran backup Will Montgomery and drafted Matt Paradis out of Boise State in the sixth round. Montgomery could beat Ramirez out this season, but even if he doesn’t it’s a positive development that the team has options. In terms of other depth, Winston Justice continues to linger on the roster and could be one of the tackle backups. He will have to battle it out with Vinson Painter, who the team is reportedly favoring for a backup position. Ryan Miller is an interesting possibility as a backup guard. Ramon Harewood is a relatively well known player but seems to be a longshot to make this roster. Despite the uncertainty at center, overall this line is among the league’s better units, and as Clady plays his way back into the lineup, they have the potential to crack the top five of the offensive line rankings.
2014 rank: 9th. Difference from final 2013 rank: -5.
Overall: A- Run: A- Pass: B+
offensive line still grades out as one of the better units in the entire league. Michael Bowie is the likely starter at right tackle after Breno Giacomini departed via free agency. Bowie is no stranger to the lineup as Giacomini battled injuries last year and Bowie started eight games in his place. The coaching staff has faith in Bowie but still drafted competition, as third round pick Justin Britt will likely also see reps at the right tackle spot during preseason. On the other side, left tackle Russell Okung is rehabbing after offseason foot surgery, but is likely to be full go by week one. Okung made his second Pro Bowl last year, but could not attend as he was participating in the Super Bowl. Okung is a supremely talented player but has never made it through a complete sixteen game season. While Okung is recovering, Alvin Bailey has manned the position during organized team activities. Bailey is likely to be the swing tackle when the season starts. At left guard, the team has high hopes for former first round pick James Carpenter, who is reportedly in the best shape of his career this spring. Center Max Unger is another player who made but could not attend the Pro Bowl last year. Unger continues to be one of the league’s better centers. Lemanuel Jeanpierre should be the backup behind Unger, and he’s reliable as a spot starter. At right guard, J.R. Sweezy is a gritty player who the coaching staff favors. Sweezy is a former defensive lineman who started most of last season and played relatively well. Overall this line should be a dominant unit, especially if they can keep Okung healthy.
2014 rank: 10th. Difference from final 2013 rank: -7.
Overall: A- Run: A- Pass: B+
The selection of Taylor Lewan really makes it tough to project the starters on the Titans' offensive line. Lewan is an extremely talented natural left tackle, but veteran Michael Roos has been the team's best starter for a long time. Generally when a team drafts a left tackle high in the draft when they already have a proven starter, they move him to the right side. However, the Titans also gave Michael Oher over $9 million guaranteed in free agency to be their starting right tackle this year. This suggests that Lewan will sit for a season before replacing Roos when he leaves in free agency (which could be as early as next year). The guard positions are in really good shape as Andy Levitre continues his domination at the left guard spot and former first rounder Chance Warmack is a people mover at right guard. Overall the Titans might just have the best "guard combo" in the conference. One position where the Titans are not necessarily set is at center. Brian Schwenke was a fourth round choice of the previous regime. He didn't enter last season as a starter and when he played he was very unimpressive. The Titans don't have great depth upfront and they need to sort out exactly what they want to do with their starting lineup. Another move or two could come before/during training camp. Overall this line grades out as among the league's best units, and could rise in the rankings with better play out of the center and right tackle positions.