There is generally a lot of lip service paid to offensive lines
in the fantasy community. For the most part, fantasy analysts
and managers overwhelmingly tend to reach the following conclusions
about teams as it relates to offensive lines:
1) they must have a good pass-blocking line if the quarterback
doesn't take a lot of sacks and
2) they must have a good run-blocking line if multiple backs on
the same team run "well" consistently.
As is typically the case in this industry, such analysis is far
too simplistic and far from 100 percent true. So why does that
logic seem to reign supreme? I tend to believe it is because there
are no well-established stats (or easily) available to the public
- other than those that players accumulate at other positions
- to inform the general fan as to how those five linemen are performing
play after play. A nuanced film watcher's educated guess might
be right about 90 percent of the time, but only each team's offensive
line coach can legitimately claim he knows what each of his linemen
should be doing - and who they should be blocking - on every play.
Shockingly, those offensive line coaches are not going to share
that information with Joe Q. Fan anytime soon.
Why does any of this matter? If "it all starts up front"
as coaches have been saying for decades, then getting a sense
of how proficient an offensive line is at clearing space for a
running back or protecting a quarterback should mean quite a bit
to the fantasy game.
I have factored in offensive line play into my final grade for
players on the Big Board for several years but hesitated to add
it to the preseason article series for fear of drawing a collective
yawn for my writing efforts. Many people could care less about
the hot dog is made. They care a lot more about how the hot dog
tastes. Those fantasy managers need to understand that avoiding
such subject matter only increases the chances of a potential
bust landing on our fantasy team this summer.
Below you will find an NFC division-by-division breakdown of
the projected five starting linemen for each team at their likely
spots. (Here is the AFC version
from earlier this week.) The number off to the right side of each
table is last year's average of Pro Football Focus' grade for
the group, regardless if they played for that team or not. Rookies
(in italics) obviously did not earn a grade in 2020, so their
boxes will be colored black and they will not figure into the
I will use the same color-coding system as I did during my Defensive
Weak Spots four-parter. Here are those articles again if you were
a little late to the party: East
| North | South
Green box - Player graded 80 or higher in that
particular discipline per PFF (100 pt scale) White box - Player graded between 70 or 79.9
in that particular discipline Yellow box - Player graded between 60 or 69.9
in that particular discipline Red box - Player graded 59.9 or lower in that
To clear up any possible confusion on the layout, the row above
the lineman's name for each team is how they graded as a run blocker.
The row below their name is how they graded out as a pass blocker.
Charles Leno Jr.
* - Missed 2020 season with hip injury
** - Opted out of 2020 season
*** - Missed 2020 season with Achilles injury
Cowboys: Smith is still one of the best in the
league when he is right, but he played a mere 154 snaps in 2020.
His back issues appear to be chronic at this point and will almost
certainly result in him missing multiple games again this season.
With that said, Dallas is better prepared for his absence(s) in
2021 after adding veteran Ty Nsekhe. Getting Collins back and
playing next to one of the best linemen in the league in Martin
should allow Ezekiel Elliott to bounce back in a big way. Collins
has steadily improved in each of his first three seasons as a
full-time starter and could take yet another step forward this
year. Biadasz is considered the "obvious
frontrunner" for the starting job in Year 2, meaning
he has made noticeable strides in OL coach Joe Philbin's eyes
after what was a trying season for just about every rookie.
Giants: New York cycled through two offensive
line coaches in HC Joe Judge's first season. It will be up to
new OL coach Rob Sale now to mold a somewhat lackluster line into
what should be a reasonably solid unit. Thomas and Hernandez should
form a dominant left side - at least in the running game - while
Solder underwhelmed in his last full season with the Giants in
2019 (opted out last season). The big area of concern now is at
right guard. Lemieux - a fifth-round rookie - registered a run-blocking
grade of 45.3 and pass-blocking grade of 16.9 in 2020, per PFF.
Eagles: Brooks blew out his Achilles in mid-June
and Johnson labored through an ankle injury almost as soon as
the season started, creating chaos up front almost immediately.
If those two return to form and Kelce maintains his recent level
of play, few teams will be able to claim they have a better right
side. The one thing keeping this line from being potentially great
is a no-brainer starter at left tackle. Andre Dillard has reportedly
in some serious work this offseason and may finally be ready
to justify the first-round pick Philadelphia spent on him in 2019.
If not, Mailata will get another chance to be the long-term answer
at the spot Jason Peters held down for so long.
Football Team: Roullier and Scherff have worked
together for the better part of the last three seasons and generally
done so at a high level. Flowers returns after a one-year stop
in Miami, but he has proven to be an average-at-best run blocker
throughout his career. Leno should end up being an upgrade in
the run and pass game over 2020 starting left tackle Cornelius
Lucas despite the fact the latter had a career year in many respects
last season. Lucas could end up winning the starting right tackle
job over Cosmi after the Football Team parted with last year's
starter (Morgan Moses), but there is no question the line has
enviable depth in 2021 either way.
Bears: The Bears were on the verge of having a
very solid starting five following the selection of Jenkins, but
they felt the best answer to their salary cap problems at the time
was to release LT Charles Leno. As a result, only Daniels and Whitehair
stand out as proven foundation pieces for renowned OL coach Juan
Castillo. Jenkins was considered by many to be a very good right
tackle prospect but may need the better part of his rookie year
before he looks comfortable on the left side. Ifedi can play guard
or tackle, and the Bears may need to milk his versatility if one
of C Sam Mustipher, G Alex Bars or Wilkinson fails to step up in
Lions: There may not be a lot to like in Detroit
this season, but the Lions should have long-term solutions at
the three most important spots along the line. Decker has been
a top-notch pass-protector for most of his five years in the league,
while Ragnow registered near-elite grades in the running and passing
game last season. While a few growing pains should be expected,
Sewell may be the rare rookie who plays like a veteran almost
immediately. Jackson is bound to improve in his second year after
he was thrown to the wolves as a rookie with no offseason. Vaitai
has settled in as a league-average guard.
Packers: Although the above grades do not necessarily
reflect it (particularly in Jenkins' case), Green Bay should have
no concerns about the left side of its line. Jenkins is an emerging
star with the ability to play every position on the line at a
high level. The Packers took a hit when Corey Linsley accepted
the Chargers' offer to become the highest-paid center in the league.
Myers will be a temporary downgrade, but he should be able to
hold up as he gets his feet wet in the league. Although Patrick
and Turner are not going to turn many heads on the right side,
both should be locked into starting roles for the foreseeable
Vikings: O'Neill is the one player on Minnesota's
line that may keep OL coach Rick Dennison's blood pressure in
check. Cleveland is entering his second year and Bradbury has
yet to take off in the way a first-round pick is expected to at
center. Dennison is another one of the top handful of offensive
line coaches in the league, so he will most likely get the best
out of both. While longtime LT Riley Reiff - who bolted for Cincinnati
this offseason - may be on the back nine of his career, it will
be a tall order for Darrisaw to match his level of play as a rookie.
Conversely, Davis' predecessors set such a low bar to clear that
he should be an upgrade regardless if he plays on the left or
the right side.
Falcons: Although Alex Mack is nearing the end
at age 35, losing him and his experience to San Francisco is far
from ideal. His departure leaves Matthews as the one starting lineman
in Atlanta who is not still on his first contract. Lindstrom was
arguably the team's best lineman last season in only his second
season. McGary also took a noticeable step forward despite the fact
he remained a below-average run-blocker. Hennessy took over for
Mack in the pivot late in the season but was mostly a disaster as
a run-blocker, likely convincing the front office to spend a fourth-round
pick on Drew Dalman this spring. Mayfield will be making the difficult
transition from a redshirt-sophomore right tackle at Michigan to
the likely Week 1 starter at left guard.
Panthers: Moton just missed finishing in the green
as both a run- and pass-blocker. Christensen appears to be the favorite
at left tackle and was notably PFF's highest-graded collegiate offensive
lineman ever. Carolina believes he can play both tackles spots and
even guard. His competition for the spot is not great; free-agent
addition Cam Erving is more suited as a swing tackle, while Greg
Little has shown little durability through two years in the league.
Miller has been a league-average guard for the better part of six
seasons and will likely remain so. Elflein was horrible in each
of his 2020 stops and has not rediscovered the promising form he
showed as a rookie with the Vikings in 2017. Paradis was one of
the best centers in the league with the Broncos as recently as 2019,
but he has been mostly average through two years in Carolina.
Saints: New Orleans has made line play a priority
for the better part of HC Sean Payton's tenure and it shows. Few
teams can match the dynamic duo of Armstead and Ramczyk at tackle.
McCoy is only entering his third season and has already established
himself as one of the better centers in the NFL. Ruiz was the team's
first-round pick in 2020 and should experience a dramatic improvement
with a full offseason under his belt. Peat may be the weakest link
for the Saints and he has made three Pro Bowls in his five seasons.
Buccaneers: As most folks already know, Tampa
Bay's desire to "go for two" and bring every starter
back this year means the entire offensive line remains intact.
Wirfs should quickly emerge as one of the game's premier right
tackles soon. Smith is coming off his best season and has been
a 1,000-plus snaps-per-year fixture at left tackle since he was
a second-round pick in 2015. Marpet is a rock-solid guard who
probably should have made at least one Pro Bowl by now. Jensen
fell off considerably as a pass-blocker in 2020 after being dominant
one year earlier. Although Cappa has shown steady improvement
in each of his three years in the league, the 26-year-old may
have already settled in as a slightly above-average guard and
* - Missed 2020 season due mostly to extensive rehab needed for
2019 knee injury
Cardinals: Humphries, Pugh and Beachum return
to the same spots where they played 15 games together last season
(Pugh missed a game or else all three would have made 16 starts
together). Pugh and Beachum are now in their early 30s, which
means we have probably already seen the best they have to offer.
Hudson has also probably seen his best days as part of the 30-and-over
club, but even his disappointing play last year - at least by
his standards - would represent a significant upgrade over what
Mason Cole provided in the pivot in 2020. Murray is the one question
mark of the group (73.7 pass-blocking grade and 45.6 run-blocking
grade last year). If he can bridge the gap between his run- and
pass-blocking in 2021, Arizona could surprisingly boast one of
the top lines in the NFC.
Rams: Whitworth is still among the best left
tackles in the league despite the fact he will turn 40 in December.
He missed the better part of the second half of the season with
a knee injury and his absence had a noticeable impact on the offense.
Havenstein has been an elite run-blocker in each of his last two
full seasons and more than adequate protecting the quarterback.
Edwards enters his third season and appears well on his way to
carving out a long-term home at left guard. Corbett is reportedly
the favorite to start at center right now, but the Rams should
consider keeping Allen at his natural position - assuming he is
completely recovered - and Corbett at the same spot he logged
all 1,120 of his snaps last year.
Seahawks: Brown isn't quite in Whitworth territory,
but he is a soon-to-be 36-year-old that has been an excellent
left tackle for as long as many readers have been playing fantasy
football. Lewis struggled with the pass rush as a rookie in 2020
- hardly surprising without a traditional offseason - but he definitely
got the job done in the running game. (He is expected to stay
at guard but move from the right to the left side.) Shell's career
arc unsurprisingly improved upon leaving the Jets last season
and established himself as a potential long-term answer at right
tackle. Jackson's play has fallen off a bit over the last two
years, but he should be a considerable upgrade over the broken-down
version of (now-retired) Mike Iupati. Pocic appears to have settled
in as an average player at center; he is the biggest question
mark of the starting group.
49ers: While HC Kyle Shanahan's schemes typically
help every player on his offense, it takes more than savvy play-calling
and smart design for one team to have three green-graded run-blockers.
Williams, Tomlinson and McGlinchey have a firm grasp on their
jobs, with Williams generally considered a top-five left tackle
when he is healthy. Mack is getting up there in age (35) and nearing
the end of his career, but it should be noted he had one of the
best years of his career in 2016 with Shanahan in Atlanta. Right
guard is the only question in San Francisco, with second-round
pick Banks and Daniel Brunskill set to square off in training
camp for the right to start. The lack of a true weak link on this
line is one of several reasons why the 49ers are legitimate Super
Bowl contenders in 2021.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and has appeared as a guest analyst on several national sports radio shows and podcasts, including Sirius XM's Fantasy Drive, FantasyPros and RealTime Fantasy Sports. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.