Picking up where we left off yesterday, the countdown of 2010’s best offensive lines continues.
Today, we run through the top half of the league – No.’s 16 to 1 – and you’ll find this is a group of lines that are missing fewer pieces, that finally gelled, or that are already holding their place at the pinnacle.
Again, we looked at three categories to come up with these rankings – Run/Screen Blocking, Pass Blocking, and Penalties – and considered starters as well as their backups.
The Top 16:
16. Cleveland Browns (2009 Rank: 8th)
Run Rank 22nd, Pass Rank 6th, Penalties Rank 7th
For all the good in having two of the better players in the league, if you surround them with guys who struggle you’re going to get found out. On the plus side, Eric Steinbach was bad, but not as bad he has been, and Alex Mack continues to show himself as one of the best young centers in the league.
Best Player: The Browns have the best left tackle around in Joe Thomas, even if he was battling a mystery illness early in the season.
Biggest Concern: Time to upgrade on both guards but there’s no one on the roster who inspires massive confidence.
15. San Diego Chargers (2009 Rank: 21st)
Run Rank 10th, Pass Rank 26th, Penalties Rank 2nd
Imagine how much higher the Chargers would be without ‘that’ Brandyn Dombrowski game against Seattle. A better run blocking unit, the Chargers have never made life all that easy for Philip Rivers. Marcus McNeil is a prime example of this, getting beat far too often even if he only gave up one sack this year.
Best Player: Center Nick Hardwick looked a lot better in 2010. He’s one of the league’s most consistent centers.
Biggest Concern: He played quite well in 2009, but Jeromey Clary became a sack specialist this year.
14. New Orleans Saints (2009 Rank: 4th)
Run Rank 15th, Pass Rank 14th, Penalties Rank 25th
What happened to the Saints? We knew their tackles had it in them to struggle, but only one guy really played up to (and beyond) what we’ve come to expect of them. No wonder they were going pass-heavy with their inability to consistently create holes for their running game.
Best Player: Jahri Evans may be the highest paid guard in the league, but last year Carl Nicks was the best interior lineman on the Saints roster. Can beat defensive tackles and is excellent at the second level.
Biggest Concern: Both tackles, but at least Jon Stinchcomb can run block. Jermon Bushrod just hasn’t got it, and the Saints would be wise to move away from a man who offers very little other than continuity.
13. New York Giants (2009 Rank: 6th)
Run Rank 17th, Pass Rank 9th, Penalties Rank 14th
Age is starting to catch up with some of the guys on this line, with their bodies becoming susceptible to injuries. Nowhere was this more evident than as a group of run blockers, leaving their backs to get more yards after contact than they’ve been accustomed to.
Best Player: You want a right tackle to hold his own in pass protection and run roughshod over people with his run blocking. You want Kareem McKenzie.
Biggest Concern: It’s important to remember David Diehl was initially a left guard, and a good one at that. You can’t expect him to deal with pass rushers like DeMarcus Ware.
12. Green Bay Packers (2009 Rank: 22nd)
Run Rank 12th, Pass Rank 15th, Penalties Rank 15th
Nothing too flashy about the Packers, they get a good push up the middle but had some issues with pass rushers coming off their right side. When you have a quarterback as mobile as Aaron Rodgers, that’s not necessarily the worst combination in the world.
Best Player: Impossible to look past Josh Sitton. He elevated his game to another level in the post season, showing he’s more than just an excellent technician.
Biggest Concern: He was a rookie, but 13 sacks is way too many to give up, Bryan Bulaga. He needs to step up.
11. San Francisco 49ers (2009 Rank: 14th)
Run Rank 6th, Pass Rank 24th, Penalties Rank 13th
It’s pretty much as the rankings say. Run block, good. Pass block, bad. All of the starters had negative grades in pass blocking and positive grades in run blocking (except for young rookie right tackle Anthony Davis who struggled in both). The strength of this line is the interior that is as physical a unit as there is in the league.
Best Player: You have to like Mike Iupati, but Chilo Rachal is just a little more consistent at this stage of his career. Big, physical run blocker.
Biggest Concern: Two seasons in a row now that Joe Staley hasn’t finished the year. Can he stay on the field and continue his development?
10. Kansas City Chiefs (2009 Rank: 28th)
Run Rank 7th, Pass Rank 20th, Penalties Rank 8th
One of the most improved lines, with the Chiefs focusing on what they’re good at (running) and seeming to accept that they didn’t have a game built to go pass-happy. Only one player (Brian Waters) had a positive grade in pass protection, but 80% of starts got the green grades in run blocking to show their talent in this area.
Best Player: No one contributed more to their running game on the line than Ryan Lilja. A shrewd signing.
Biggest Concern: It’s a concern that Brian Waters is no longer dominant, but not as big a one as the tackle spots. It’s a particular issue that college guard Brandon Albert can’t seem to hack it in pass protection yet.
9. Dallas Cowboys (2009 Rank: 10th)
Run Rank 5th, Pass Rank 17th, Penalties Rank 28th
A big, punishing line, the Cowboys know how to get defenders going backwards. They probably left it a year too long to upgrade at right tackle, but they can be happy with the development of Doug Free.
Best Player: It is Doug Free himself. May be better suited to a RT role, but he more than held his own against top pass rushers and was our highest graded run blocking tackle.
Biggest Concern: With Marc Colombo gone, you’re left with a bunch of guys who graded positively. So the biggest concern has to be age and injuries catching up with both guards, and Tyron Smith not panning out. Good situation.
8. Miami Dolphins (2009 Rank: 2nd)
Run Rank 16th, Pass Rank 2nd, Penalties Rank 21st
A significant drop for the Dolphins, with the interior really letting the side down compared to what we had come to expect. Joe Berger is no Jake Grove (injury prone as he was), and they missed Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas. Throw in an injury to Vernon Carey, and they were left with just one guy from the line that finished No. 2 in 2009. Too much change.
Best Player: Remember when people said Jake Long couldn’t play left tackle in the NFL? They should never be allowed to forget how wrong they were.
Biggest Concern: They drafted Mike Pouncey, but if he’s anything like his brother that won’t be enough to turn the interior of this unit around.
7. Carolina Panthers (2009 Rank: 15th)
Run Rank 13th, Pass Rank 5th, Penalties Rank 17th
Some would say this line was wasted on the quarterbacks behind it. Three players scored over a +10.0 in our ratings, and while Mackenzy Bernadeau and others struggled, it couldn’t offset a very talented line.
Best Player: You could quite easily name Ryan Kalil or Geoff Schwartz here, but Jordan Gross has finally become the steady left tackle they hoped he’d become. No longer will we talk about shifting him back to the right side.
Biggest Concern: With Jeff Otah back, hopefully there’s no need to put Garry Williams into the lineup at tackle.
6. Atlanta Falcons (2009 Rank: 12th)
Run Rank 14th, Pass Rank 11th, Penalties Rank 1st
The Falcons lack top end OL talent, but through continuity of line-up they have become a team that gets as much out of what they have as anyone. Big concerns about what free agency (three contracts expiring) and age (Todd McClure is slowing down) could do to them.
Best Player: They’ll miss Harvey Dahl who was the best performer on a generally consistent offensive line.
Biggest Concern: That after three years in the league, former first round pick Sam Baker just hasn’t got it yet. He was responsible for 35.71% of all Atlanta sacks.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (2009 Rank: 7th)
Run Rank 8th, Pass Rank 8th, Penalties Rank 11th
If they didn’t employ the league’s only third down right tackle and insist on mixing things up on a regular basis, they could be higher (heck they could be lower, maybe they deserve credit for being so innovative). In any case, you feel they may be more talented than fifth-best, but they haven’t always got the right talent (Anthony Collins and Evan Mathis) on the field.
Best Player: It’s fair to say Andrew Whitworth is now one of the leagues’ best left tackles.
Biggest Concern: Both Dennis Roland and Andre Smith bombed at right tackle and look pretty incapable of protecting any quarterback, let alone a rookie.
4. Baltimore Ravens (2009 Rank: 5th)
Run Rank 4th, Pass Rank 7th, Penalties Rank 6th
Extremely strong in the run game, Ben Grubbs is becoming the player they thought they drafted and Marshal Yanda continues to impress. Punishing blocker whether at guard or tackle, and someone they need to re-sign.
Best Player: How good (and underrated) a signing has Matt Birk been? Our top ranked center in 2010 during the regular season.
Biggest Concern: As was indicated by his performances at the position in 2009, switching to the left side was a real tough transition for Michael Oher. How much (and how quickly) can he improve?
3. New England Patriots (2009 Rank: 3rd)
Run Rank 2nd, Pass Rank 10th, Penalties Rank 3rd
With the great year Tom Brady had, you forget how dominant the line was in their run blocking. They also did it without two of their best: Logan Mankins held out and the Injury and retirement of Stephen Neal was a big blow given just how good a player he was for them. They were also more than sound in pass protection.
Best Player: All Pro Logan Mankins may be the most dominant run blocking guard in the league. He had more highlight reel blocks in half a season, than most guys manage in an entire year.
Biggest Concern: What is going on with Sebastian Vollmer? Superb as a rookie, a switch to the right side seemed to result in a slide in his performance. Is he better suited for the left and will he end up there?
2. Houston Texans (2009 Rank: 13th)
Run Rank 3rd, Pass Rank 4th, Penalties Rank 4th
How much did this line improve? Every one of them scored a positive grade and they were particularly strong with their run blocking (the unsung heroes in Arian Foster’s breakout campaign). If there’s a complaint it’s that both tackles are prone to getting beaten in pass protection.
Best Player: Surprising as it may seem, Chris Myers is right up there with Mangold and Birk as one of the best run blocking centers in the league.
Biggest Concern: After three years in the league, Duane Brown may be competent, but he’s not good enough to deal with the top edge rushers one-on-one.
1. New York Jets (2009 Rank: 1st)
Run Rank 1st, Pass Rank 1st, Penalties Rank 12th
The reigning champions will reign again. You could pick out four fifths of the starters, put them on any team, and the likelihood is they’d be the best offensive lineman on it. That’s how good they are.
Best Player: In any other team it would be D’Brickashaw Ferguson. But this isn’t just any other line, and Nick Mangold is a once-in-a-generation type player.
Biggest Concern: The decision to move on from Damien Woody. Maybe injuries have taken their toll, but it’s going to be a tough task to fill his boots.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
Signed up yet for Pro Football Focus Premium Stats?