Yesterday we went from No. 32 all the way down to No. 17 as we rank the NFL’s offensive lines. Today we finish what we started–taking you through the Top 16, all the way to the team whose line finished with the highest cumulative grade from our player ratings.
The ratings are derived from grading every player on every play while looking at how often they are on the field performing a certain action. It left us with four categories for grading the offensive line, though for the purpose of these rankings we added screen blocking to run blocking given the similarities. The resulting run blocking, pass blocking and penalties grades added up to equal our 2011 Offensive Line Rankings (the number in parentheses is their ranking from 2010). Note: these numbers are just for the regular season.
Now let’s count down to the top!
16. Kansas City Chiefs (10th)
Run Rank 27th, Pass Rank 9th, Penalties Rank 13th
How much better would this line have been without one player letting them down? Aside from the right tackle spot, the entire line graded positively, doing a particular good job of protecting whoever was behind center. Without Jamaal Charles, the line’s inability to consistently open up decent-sized running lanes came to the fore all too often. This remains a key area that the Chiefs need to improve on.
Best Player: A big third year for Branden Albert (+4.4) who was extremely impressive in pass protection, finishing the season third in our Pass Blocking Efficiency ranking for all blindside tackles.
Worst Player: It’s imperative that this line moves on from Barry Richardson (-39.1). He’s just not good enough at this level.
15. Dallas Cowboys (9th)
Run Rank 16th, Pass Rank 15th, Penalties Rank 20th
It was a year of transition for the Cowboys, so they can feel somewhat relieved that they only dropped six spots from their 2010 Top 10 finish. You have to think that this process isn’t quite complete yet, with a rumored switch of tackles and a need to get better at left guard. How the 2012 offensive line performs could very well determine whether the Cowboys are able to challenge the Giants in the NFC East.
Best Player: He’s likely to play out at left tackle next year, but the play of Tyron Smith (+13.7) at right tackle was a joy to behold. If, of course, you ignore those performances against Jason Babin.
Worst Player: What happened to Doug Free (-11.9)? He looked tremendous in 2010, but really struggled with speed off the edge this year.
14. Cleveland Browns (16th)
Run Rank 20th, Pass Rank 10th, Penalties Rank 24th
It wasn’t clear sailing for the Browns who had to start two new guards, both of whom had plenty of problems. Still, it was a line that gave Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace time, even if they themselves didn’t always execute. With one stud lineman here, the Browns have to be hoping Alex Mack is ready to take the leap and make it two.
Best Player: On his day he’s the best left tackle in the league, but we haven’t seen quite the same punch in the run game from Joe Thomas (+11.5) since his marvelous 2009.
Worst Player: It’s always asking a lot for a rookie guard, and Jason Pinkston (-19.5) did the impossible by proving a downgrade on the overpriced Eric Steinbach.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (5th)
Run Rank 18th, Pass Rank 6th, Penalties Rank 30th
The Bengals had some problems at right guard without Bobbie Williams on the field. Clint Boling struggled in the first four games and Mike McGlynn wasn’t overly impressive when he came in at the end of the season. What happens at the guard spots will be something to watch going forward, as the line as a whole did an excellent job in putting Andy Dalton in a position to succeed.
Best Player: It remains Andrew Whitworth (+11.0) who had some problems with his run blocking brought on by a mid-season knee injury, but was one of the finest pass protectors in all the league.
Worst Player: Left Guard Nate Livings (-10.4) had some fine moments (especially his shut down of Antonio Smith in Week 14), but was all too often capable of being beaten like a drum. Ahtyba Rubins’ handling of him in Week 12 is a solid example of this.
12. New York Jets (1st)
Run Rank 14th, Pass Rank 14th, Penalties Rank 11th
If it seems like the Jets had one of the worst lines in the league, it’s only because they’ve been so accustomed to having the best in football. The changes at right tackle didn’t help them at all. That, combined with Brandon Moore getting older, D’Brickashaw Ferguson rarely excelling and Matt Slauson middling along, meant the Jets just didn’t have it in them to control contests with their running game.
Best Player: Even after battling through injuries earlier in the year, the ever excellent Nick Mangold (+26.0) was playing as well as ever by seasons’ end.
Worst Player: Some Jets may think they’re better off without Damien Woody, but they’re wrong. Wayne Hunter (-31.1) was a huge drop off.
11. Green Bay Packers (12th)
Run Rank 10th, Pass Rank 11th, Penalties Rank 26th
Outside of problems with injuries and some real issues at left tackle (whoever lined up there), the Packers line were one of the more reliable groups in the league. This was built on an interior that allowed very little push up the middle, and a fine second year from Bryan Bulaga (+14.6). This was a unit that may not have dominated the better defenses, but it allowed their skill players to flourish.
Best Player: A tough one with the entire right side of the line impressing. However, Scott Wells (+18.0) was the most complete player, and losing him could prove huge going forward.
Worst Player: In fairness to Marshall Newhouse (-40.6), he had some good moments, and the man he was forced to replace, Chad Clifton (-11.1) wasn’t much better in a fraction of the snaps. You won’t find as bad a display as Newhouse’s roasting at the hands of Jason Pierre-Paul in Week 13.
10. Detroit Lions (23rd)
Run Rank 22nd, Pass Rank 5th, Penalties Rank 14th
They didn’t do a great job opening up holes in the run game, but the Lions’ offensive line did a good job of preventing the exposure of Matthew Stafford’s poor play under pressure. While the tackles picked up negatives for pass blocking (a combined -1.7 grade), only Jeff Backus picked up a positive grade in the run game. By opting to play so much in the shotgun, the Lions schematically helped out their pass protection. As expected, though, this hindered the run game as defenses had few problems keying in on what the Lions were doing.
Best Player: It’s probably Rob Sims (+6.2) although his performance doesn’t mean he outshined his colleagues by a great deal.
Worst Player: While Gosder Cherilus (-6.7) did a decent job in pass protection, he struggled to get much push in the run game.
9. Carolina Panthers (7th)
Run Rank 5th, Pass Rank 18th, Penalties Rank 19th
Outside of the problem right tackle spot, this is a line that does a particularly good job in opening holes for their backs. They also afford Cam Newton ample time when it comes to making plays. It’s not flashy, but it is effective.
Best Player: Over the past few years, Jordan Gross (+11.5) has worked within his limitations to become one of the most dependable left tackles in the league. Kudos.
Worst Player: In an ideal world Byron Bell (-26.2) wouldn’t have seen any action, but injuries to Geoff Schwartz and Jeff Otah (+1.6) robbed the Panthers of the two guys on the roster capable of playing RT. It’s not an ideal world and Bell was horrible in every phase of the game.
8. Baltimore Ravens (4th)
Run Rank 11th, Pass Rank 7th, Penalties Rank 17th
There were times when the Ravens’ line looked a lot worse than this, but thanks to a strong interior (that earned a collective +39.7 grade), they stayed in the Top 10 for a third year running. The obvious problem spots occurred at tackle and whenever Andre Gurode (-15.0) got on the field. It really showed up in the playoffs against some motivated defensive lines.
Best Player: Without a doubt it’s Marshal Yanda (+27.6), who just so happens to be the best right guard in the NFL.
Worst Player: It would be Gurode, but given that he was depth thrust into the lineup because of injury (and he was playing an unfamiliar position), we’ll cut him some slack and instead turn to Bryant McKinnie (-11.6). For such a big guy you feel like he should do more when he gets his hands on defenders.
7. Minnesota Vikings (21st)
Run Rank 2nd, Pass Rank 16th, Penalties Rank 8th
For years the Vikings’ line has struggled to open up holes, so what happened this year? Well, chiefly, they got a little bit more mobile with the loss of Bryant McKinnie and got excellent play from their interior line. They could still stand to get better at certain spots and may have to deal with moving on from Steve Hutchinson. Overall, things are encouraging with some of the talent they do have.
Best Player: In a move that nobody saw coming, John Sullivan (+22.5) started playing like one of the best centers in the league.
Worst Player: In all honesty, we probably expected worse from Charlie Johnson (-12.4). He may prove a better fit at guard.
6. Tennessee Titans (29th)
Run Rank 17th, Pass Rank 1st, Penalties Rank 1st
Not the most dominant of lines, Tennessee were exceptional when it came to protecting Matt Hasselbeck with the entire line finishing with positive grades for their pass blocking. The downside is only Michael Roos had a grade in the green (+1.0 or better) with his run blocking. You wonder if this line has what it takes to consistently open up holes, and you wonder how they’ll fare pass blocking for a very different type of QB in Jake Locker.
Best Player: A hard one to chose from, but given how rarely David Stewart (+14.7) gives up any pressure–just 19 combined sacks, hits and hurries all year–he gets the nod.
Worst Player: Maybe Eugene Amano (-13.8) just isn’t cut out to play center at this level?
5. Houston Texans (2nd)
Run Rank 6th, Pass Rank 4th, Penalties Rank 21st
Only one player really let the line down and we’ll get to him shortly. This was another year of success for a line that continues to impress. A well-oiled unit, each starter graded positively for their pass blocking, with Duane Brown (+12.3) being particularly impressive in not giving up a sack all year. They’re not quite as impressive in the run game, but they still excel in opening up enough of a rushing lane for whomever has the ball in his hand to make something happen.
Best Player: Center Chris Myers (+29.8) was hands down the best center in the league this year. Not as good moving backwards, Myers is as good as it gets when it comes to moving laterally or getting to the second level to take a linebacker out of the play.
Worst Player: In 2010 Wade Smith (-17.0) was an All-Pro alternate in our eyes. Not so much this year with Smith struggling to impose himself on defenders in the run game.
4. Buffalo Bills (24th)
Run Rank 12th, Pass Rank 2nd, Penalties Rank 6th
Quite the turnaround for a Bills line that did a great job giving it’s quarterback sufficient time, and making life easy for their running backs. The impressive thing is how well the Bills did despite suffering a number of injuries, cutting short the breakout year of Demetrius Bell (+6.8) and forcing a number of positional shifts.
Best Player: It’s a testament to Andy Levitre (+13.3) that despite having to play center and left tackle at various points of the year that he still put forth such a strong season. One of the better left guards on the year, how good could he be if he was allowed to flourish in one spot?
Worst Player: It’s always tough to pick on a rookie, but Chris Hairston (-8.0) was the weakest of links in his 475 snaps. He didn’t embarrass himself, but such was the quality of the line that he was the only candidate for this category.
3. New England Patriots (3rd)
Run Rank 4th, Pass Rank 8th, Penalties Rank 5th
Year after year, the Patriots have fielded one of the most balanced and consistent lines and 2011 was no different. Surprisingly, the usual star of the show, Logan Mankins, had a bit of a down year where he looked average for the most part, being upstaged by free agent acquisition Brian Waters. Despite the team’s pass-heavy nature, it’s their run blocking that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves with five linemen getting positive grades in this area.
Best Player: He may be considering retirement, but we have to give credit to Matt Light (+8.1) for doing such a good job in all phases of the game.
Worst Player: While he wasn’t terrible, Dan Connolly (-5.0) had some issues in pass protection and offered little in the run game.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (17th)
Run Rank 1st, Pass Rank 12th, Penalties Rank 22nd
Blocking for Michael Vick isn’t always easy, but the Eagles did a great job of putting him in a position to succeed. The left side in particular was superb, forming one of the best tandems we’ve graded since the inception of Pro Football Focus (earning a combined +62.2 grade). There were some issues at the right guard spot, and you wonder if Todd Herremans (+2.4) is best served protecting anyone’s blindside, but this line has it in them to dominate.
Best Player: If Jason Peters (+27.6) was protecting a right handed QB, the left tackle would get the nod. As it is, he doesn’t, and so the incredible year Evan Mathis (+34.6) had should result in a healthy contract for the veteran.
Worst Player: Just being old for a rookie doesn’t mean you’re NFL-ready. Danny Watkins (-8.4) was proof of that.
1. New Orleans Saints (14th)
Run Rank 3rd, Pass Rank 3rd, Penalties Rank 4th
While the tackles certainly seem to benefit from Drew Brees‘ ability to get rid of the ball before pressure can develop, you can’t take away from how good the Saints are running the ball–whoever is carrying it has success. With the interior being exceptional, you just wonder how much losing their starting left guard could hurt going forward.
Best Player: Free agent to be Carl Nicks (+28.4) didn’t hit the heights of 2010, but he’s still a fine player with a claim to being the best guard in the league.
Worst Player: With every player grading positively in the regular season, it’s not an easy choice. In the end, while Brian De La Puente (+6.2) offered an upgrade at the center spot, you’d probably like to see him do more in the run game.