Top 10 offensive lines in college football through Week 12
There are few statistics than can properly quantify the overall performance of an offensive line, but the PFF team has been hard at work creating one out of our extensive database that comes from our play-by-play grading of every college football game.
The result is the PFF O-Line metric, which assesses just how much each line is contributing in the running game and how well they’re protecting in the pass game, all while adjusting based on situation and quality of opponent. It is much more difficult going against a defensive front as stout as Alabama’s compared to a weak defensive line found in the Big 12, and those adjustments are factored in here.
With that quick background behind us (see a more complete methodology explanation at the bottom of this article), here are the top 10 offensive lines in college football through 12 weeks of action:
1. LSU 88.3
The Tigers sit atop the rankings once again this week as they’re coming off a hard-fought battle with Florida. They managed 209 yards on 41 designed runs (5.1 yards/att) while QB Danny Etling was only pressured on 11 of his 30 dropbacks, a solid performance against a stout Florida defensive front. LSU’s strength lies in the interior where C Ethan Pocic ranks fifth in the nation at 84.4 overall while guards Josh Boutte (82.2) and Will Clapp (80.6) rank 12th and 16th, respectively, at the position. As a unit, LSU ranks in the top 10 in both run-blocking and pass-blocking.
2. Auburn 86.7
There was not much to see in Auburn’s thrashing of Alabama A&M, but they maintain their No. 2 spot in the rankings. They run their scheme well, working better as a sum of their parts, though guard Braden Smith’s 81.8 grade ranks 14th at the position, while right tackle Robert Leff’s 82.0 overall ranks 16th among tackles. Their misdirection-heavy run scheme keeps defenses off balance and that aids in their No. 5 ranking in the run game though they’re also strong in pass protection ranking sixth overall in what is one of the best-rounded lines in the nation.
3. Alabama 86.5
Like Auburn, Alabama didn’t move much after their game against FCS Chattanooga, and they hold the fort at No. 3 overall. As a unit, they rank second in pass protection at 86.1, led by C Bradley Bozeman who has only surrendered two pressures all season and true freshman RT Jonah Williams who grades at a strong 81.1 as a pass blocker. In the run game, Alabama ranks 12th as a group and they’ve paved the way for 2,570 yards in the designed running game this season with Bozeman leading the way there as well with the No. 2 run-blocking grade among the nation’s centers.
4. Pittsburgh 84.5
The best pass-blocking unit in the nation was on display against Duke last week, allowing QB Nathan Peterman to be pressured on only four of his 20 dropbacks. For the season, their 89.5 pass-blocking grade leads by a wide margin and their 93.1 pass-blocking efficiency also leads the nation at 93.1 (29 pressures allowed on 321 attempts). The line is anchored by RT Brian O’Neill’s 83.6 overall grade that ranks ninth in the nation and guard Dorian Johnson’s excellent 85.0 pass-blocking grade. Beyond that, it’s a solid unit that also ranks among the nation’s best in the run game as well.
5. West Virginia 83.8
Lost in West Virginia’s loss to Oklahoma was RB Justin Crawford rushing for 330 yards on 24 carries and the line was a big factor in his success. C Tyler Orlosky is the nation’s No. 3 center at 85.8 and he’s been the backbone of the West Virginia line seemingly forever. He’s been aided by RG Kyle Bosch who ranks 23rd among guards at 79.9 overall. As a group, West Virginia’s line excels in the run game where they’re grading at 87.4 and the rushing attack has gained 2,289 yards on non-scrambles this season.
6. Western Michigan 83.8
The Broncos earned their College Gameday appearance with a 38-0 win over Buffalo where the offensive line did their usual fine work in the run and pass game. It starts with RT Taylor Moton, the nation’s No. 8 offensive tackle at 84.0, and C John Keenoy, the No. 21 overall center at 80.0. As a unit, Western Michigan ranks eighth in pass protection when adjusted for competition while their run-blocking also ranks among the best in the country. The skill position players get plenty of publicity, but the Western Michigan line deserves plenty of praise for their undefeated season.
7. Western Kentucky 83.7
The No. 7 run-blocking unit is anchored by LT Forrest Lamp who annually ranks among the best tackles in the nation and is currently at third at 86.3 overall. He can pass protect or move swiftly to the second level in the run game, all reasons for his high ranking. It’s more than just Lamp, however as C Max Halpin’s 82.0 grade ranks 11th and both guards, Brandon Ray and Dennis Edwards, rank among the top 40 in the nation at the position.
8. Washington State 83.6
QB Luke Falk is rarely pressured, and while the Air Raid scheme certainly aids the offensive line, the unit has been fantastic in pass protection all season. When adjusted for competition, the Washington State line ranks third as a group in the pass game, but the difference in this Air Raid attack is their solid 80.0 adjusted run-blocking grade. Guard Cody O’Connell leads the way with a 92.8 overall ranking that ranks second among guards while RT Cole Madison’s 88.2 overall grade leads all tackles. Washington State’s strong pass protection has become the norm in recent years, but their improvement in the run game now has them ranking among the nation’s best.
9. Ohio State 83.0
Ohio State has worked hard to move up on the list, especially after their loss to Penn State, in which QB J.T. Barrett was pressured on 28 of his dropbacks. He’s only been pressured 28 times in the four games since as the line has improved greatly in pass protection. But where they separate themselves is in the run game where their 94.3 grade puts them at No. 2 in the nation. The three-headed rushing attack of Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel and Barrett have rushed for 2,819 yards on designed runs. Center Pat Elflein has rebounded for early struggles at a new position to rank 11th in the nation at 82.0 overall while guard Billy Price’s 78.4 grade ranks 36th at the position. Ohio State’s line is a bit one-sided, but their work in the run game has earned them the top 10 ranking.
10. Tulsa 82.7
Tulsa holds their ranking after a 35-point offensive performance that saw them rush for 334 yards against UCF. The line has allowed only 44 pressures on 405 pass-blocking snaps, good for a No. 3 ranking in pass-blocking efficiency at 91.2. Guard Tyler Bowling has the No. 3 grade in pass protection at 90.5 while LT Evan Plagg’s 89.0 grade ranks second among tackles. They’re also strong in the run game with an adjusted run-blocking grade of 84.9 that ranks 17th in the nation as they’ve paved the way for 2,959 rushing yards on non-scrambles.
The PFF O-Line Metric quantifies the performance of an entire offensive line on a statistical basis, using a range of data collected by Pro Football Focus’ highly skilled analysis and player participation teams. For both run-blocking and pass-blocking situations, the offensive line’s performance is assessed against an expected production level, which is derived from a variety of scenarios. On run plays, the key statistic is yards before contact, where the expected gain before contact is set based on factors like the number of defensive players in the box, the run concept called by the offense and the down-and-distance situation. On passing plays, the key stat is pressures allowed in terms of sacks, hits and hurries only by offensive linemen. The expectation there is set by factors such as the down-and-distance situation, the dropback-type by the quarterback and whether a play-action fake was executed. These numbers are then adjusted for the opposition and combined based upon the run-to-pass ratio that each offense plays within to ensure that each offensive line is judged for their performance level within what they are asked to execute.