When you’re watching a film, you don’t sit back and admire the scenery. That’s me paraphrasing a quote from offensive linemen Evan Mathis and it explains a lot about how people view the offensive line. It’s kind of taken for granted with a few sacks here and there, and a highlight reel play or two, which lines and linemen are the best.
Unfortunately, it’s not often an accurate portrayal of who actually is the best. It’s why Ryan Clady can get more credit in his rookie year because he gave up no sacks (even though he gave up more pressure than any other left tackle), than he does in his third year when he really has become one of the best tackles in the game. It’s why the Pro Bowl is filled with terrible choices and guys past their prime.
So we like to pride ourselves on our offensive line analysis. Is it perfect? No. But we don’t just hide behind a number without context, such as how many yards a team picks up behind a guard (as if the running back has no impact on this). Far from it, we look at the role each lineman has on every play, and judge his impact on the play, grading it. It’s this kind of analysis, used by NFL teams to help their scouting departments, that allows us to present our 2010 Offensive Line Rankings.
We looked at three categories to come up with our rankings – Run/Screen Blocking, Pass Blocking, and Penalties – and considered starters as well as their backups.
Today we present the first half of the list, No.’s 32 to 17:
32. Pittsburgh Steelers (2009 Rank: 24th)
Run Rank 31st, Pass Rank 31st, Penalties Rank 32nd
Last? And yet they still made it to the Super Bowl? It’s a crazy world. Losing Max Starks and Willie Colon was going to be hard to overcome, and so it proved. Whomever they put at tackle just couldn’t keep up with what was coming at them. The offensive line makes Ben Roethlisberger’s performance all the more remarkable.
Best Player: Be default, it’s Maurkice Pouncey, even though his overall grade was a negative one. At least he showed signs of being imposing in the run game.
Biggest Concern: Just how much pressure can Chris Kemoeatu allow up the gut? One big block doesn’t negate a season’s worth of below average play.
31. Chicago Bears (2009 Rank: 26th)
Run Rank 21st, Pass Rank 32nd, Penalties Rank 31st
On the plus side, Jay Cutler is somehow still walking. Any lineman who played considerable snaps graded worse than -10.0 in our ratings, with one at -20.4 (Chris Williams), another at -31.6 (Frank Omiyale) and the worst at -42.7 (J’Marcus Webb). Brutal blocking in pretty much every respect that you makes you appreciate the work of the skill players all the more.
Best Player: With a -12.4 grade, Roberto Garza was the ‘best’ of a bad bunch.
Biggest Concern: You’d expect J’Marcus Webb to improve a little in year number two, but he has a long way to go. Let’s hope Gabe Carimi is NFL ready.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009 Rank: 31st)
Run Rank 28th, Pass Rank 30th, Penalties Rank 27th
It’s amazing how much better players like Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount can make an offensive line look. Every one the Bucs tried on the offensive line (and they had nine players on the field for more than 200 snaps) got a negative grade.
Best Player: Can we pass? Pro Bowler Donald Penn got our best grade for a starter with a -10.5. You get that when you get beaten time and time again.
Biggest Concern: It is one of the great mysteries of the NFL how Davin Joseph has such a good reputation. Great tools, but if you don’t know how to use them you can do more harm than good.
29. Tennessee Titans (2009 Rank: 11th)
Run Rank 32nd, Pass Rank 21st, Penalties Rank 29th
No team dropped further, and it probably explains why Chris Johnson’s rushing numbers fell off. The interior was particularly brutal, with a collective run blocking score of -47.8. That’s not good. Worse still, their ‘star’ player Michael Roos continues to get beaten badly in pass protection. No line has gone from great to ghastly so quickly.
Best Player: It’s Michael Roos, but that’s a reflection of the rest of the line.
Biggest Concern: First Roos in 2009, and now David Stewart in 2010? What happened to the Titan tackles that has seen their play slip so much?
28. Washington Redskins (2009 Rank: 29th)
Run Rank 25th, Pass Rank 28th, Penalties Rank 26th
The Redskins at least attempted to upgrade the unit by investing in Trent Williams and trading for Jammal Brown. The only problem being both men were pretty poor. They weren’t alone, with only Korey Lichtensteiger ending up with a positive grade in run blocking, and Will Montgomery the only one in pass protection. Plenty of work still to do.
Best Player: Will Montgomery. Although the only reasons that makes sense involves telling you how bad the rest were.
Biggest Concern: You want a quicker return than the 11 sacks Trent Williams yielded. Even if he makes drastic improvements you’ve got plenty of other candidates waiting to step into the breach.
27. Oakland Raiders (2009 Rank: 32nd)
Run Rank 18th, Pass Rank 29th, Penalties Rank 30th
They got better at least. Thanks in large part to their run blocking which did more than enough at times, led by the quite dominant Langston Walker. Still, the pass protection was woeful, and there was plenty of blame to go around with each man struggling. Long way to go in rebuilding this line.
Best Player: He’s moving on and wasn’t great in pass protection, but Robert Gallery was a decent run blocker. It does feel wrong to call him the ‘best player’ however.
Biggest Concern: The play of Cooper Carlisle just dropped off a cliff this year. He’s given the Raiders another potential hole to fill and then are no proven candidates on the roster.
26. St Louis Rams (2009 Rank: 19th)
Run Rank 29th, Pass Rank 22nd, Penalties Rank 20th
Weirdly, the one Ram who really impressed us last year was one who saw only 153 snaps, John Greco. Unfortunately the rest of the guys were less impressive. Jason Brown has yet to go any way toward earning that big deal he got, and recent high draft pick tackles are far from impressive. They have some talent and potential, but if it doesn’t show up on the field it’s not much use.
Best Player: He’s not the greatest run blocker, but he very rarely allows pressure. That’s Jacob Bell at left guard.
Biggest Concern: While Adam Goldberg is miscast at right guard, Jason Smith looks great one day, and horrific the next. He needs to start living up to his potential and soon.
25. Arizona Cardinals (2009 Rank: 27th)
Run Rank 23rd, Pass Rank 25th, Penalties Rank 5th
It got better at stopping pressure from getting to their quarterback, but worse at opening up holes for their running backs. Alan Faneca was done by the time he made it to Arizona, and Deuce Lutui took a step back. At least they upgraded one tackle spot.
Best Player: While Jeremy Bridges looked competent, Lyle Sendlein continues to be the best guy on this line.
Biggest Concern: Pick your poison. The most potent though is Levi Brown who is a disaster in pass protection, and has to be seen as a bust by now.
24. Buffalo Bills (2009 Rank: 30th)
Run Rank 26th, Pass Rank 19th, Penalties Rank 23rd
So they got better this year, especially with a noticeable improvement from Demetrius Bell. The good signs are they were better at the end of the year than at the beginning, though none of their players ended the year with a positive grade for run blocking.
Best Player: Best is such a strong word, but the least worst is Andy Levitre.
Biggest Concern: They need to sort out the right tackle spot which was a mess all year, while hoping Bell takes as big a step forward this year as he did last. Tough asks.
23. Detroit Lions (2009 Rank: 18th)
Run Rank 24th, Pass Rank 16th, Penalties Rank 19th
More was expected of this line, but it didn’t quite pan out. Rob Sims wasn’t terrible, but didn’t upgrade the left guard spot, and Gosder Cherilus is still yet to live up to his draft slot. We’ve seen everyone on this line play better in recent years.
Best Player: He wasn’t much better than average, but that pretty much sums Jeff Backus up.
Biggest Concern: After being a revelation in 2009, Stephen Peterman really couldn’t get it going this year. He struggled big time.
22. Seattle Seahawks (2009 Rank: 17th)
Run Rank 30th, Pass Rank 3rd, Penalties Rank 22nd
The Seahawks just couldn’t get anything going in their run game, hence the need for Marshawn Lynch to enter beast mode. On the plus side none of the players had that many issues in pass protection, with many of them distinguishing themselves.
Best Player: So many average to below average players, the best might just be Russell Okung who is the first rookie left tackle in a few years to come out and handle it. If he takes a step up he won’t be too far from some of the better left tackles in the league.
Biggest Concern: Time to move on from Chris Spencer? Yes indeed. Is Max Unger going to be the answer?
21. Minnesota Vikings (2009 Rank: 25th)
Run Rank 27th, Pass Rank 13th, Penalties Rank 9th
It’s like a computer game. One player is too good so you crank the difficulty setting up by making the guys on his team so much worse. That’s the Vikings run blocking line who are determined not to give Adrian Peterson any free yardage.
Best Player: Their best blocker may well be Jim Kleinsasser, but unfortunately he’s classified as a tight end. Bryant McKinnie is at least an above average pass blocking left tackle.
Biggest Concern: That there is no one concern that jumps out at you. This is a line that could use an upgrade and injection of youth at near enough every spot. Even promising rookie Phil Loadholt turned into a struggling sophomore.
20. Indianapolis Colts (2009 Rank: 16th)
Run Rank 20th, Pass Rank 18th, Penalties Rank 10th
Remember this was the team that topped our pass protection rankings, which should explain how much better Peyton Manning makes this line look than what is. They desperately needed an injection of talent so they’ll hope the “draft as many players at one spot plan” works better for them than it has for Jacksonville recently.
Best Player: Center Jeff Saturday had a nice year and was the only Colt to grade positively in pass and run blocking.
Biggest Concern: That they only got two offensive line upgrades and they could take some time to adjust to the NFL. With the performance of Ryan Diem dropping off a cliff, they need instantaneous improvements.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (2009 Rank: 23rd)
Run Rank 9th, Pass Rank 27th, Penalties Rank 16th
Jacksonville took the approach that drafting two offensive linemen early would leave them secure in the future in at least one spot. It hasn’t, and while Eben Britton looked serviceable before injury curtailed his season the same can’t be said of Eugene Monroe. As of right now, the talent level on this line doesn’t come close to the level of investment (money and draft picks).
Best Player: It took him a year to get back to his best but Brad Meester was there in 2010 with a very good year, allaying fears he was done.
Biggest Concern: You can give Monroe more time, but what about Uche Nwaneri? He got a big deal and just isn’t producing. Some of his performances last year were among the worst we saw from a guard. Consistency please.
18. Denver Broncos (2009 Rank: 20th)
Run Rank 19th, Pass Rank 12th, Penalties Rank 18th
The biggest problem they had was at the start of the year, when both rookies on the line were clearly not ready to be in the positions they were. Some reshuffling and experience saw them improve, and so this ranking is probably a little lower than their actual talent come the end of the season.
Best Player: It’s taken three years (contrary to popular belief) for Ryan Clady to become one of the best left tackles in the league. He’s earned the right (on performance not hype) to be in that company now.
Biggest Concern: The line as a whole just doesn’t fill you with confidence in the run blocking department. There’s no one change that you think can fix it and make life easier for their runners.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (2009 Rank: 9th)
Run Rank 11th, Pass Rank 23rd, Penalties Rank 24th
It didn’t help the Eagles losing guys to injury, and then having to accommodate for a switch from a right handed to left handed QB. More so you felt like the line was never overly sure of itself, something the athleticism of Mike Vick can bring to a team. It is hard blocking a guy when you’re not sure where he’s going to be but perhaps that’s an excuse. This unit dropped down way further than the talent it has would suggest.
Best Player: He should be protecting someone’s blindside, but Jason Peters did a fine job on the left side of the line. Doesn’t allow much pressure and is an above average blocker who takes more criticism than he is due.
Biggest Concern: Danny Watkins is expected to contribute and upgrade from day one, which is asking a lot of even an aged rookie. If they can keep most of their guys healthier than they have, the talent is there.
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