The Gents Top 10: Offensive Line
We’ve not shaken things up for a while, so when we sat down at the Gents AGM (obviously virtually), we decided we wanted to do the off season a bit different. On the pod we decided we wanted to have the chance to talk about everyone’s teams, which helps us, is interesting to you guys and forces us to take a look at what each team might be trying to do coming into the 2020 season.
However… we know you guys love a list (and we love a list also), so we decided to put these lists up on the website which gave us an opportunity to bring in some help.
So these lists will be the combined lists of all the podcasters and writers on the Gents site. Any opinions from you guys we’d love to hear them on twitter, but obviously keep it respectful, there will be players that you think should have been higher that we’ve either put low down or in some cases are not on the list. None of this is put together with an attempt to be controversial, these are just the combined opinions of 8 people.
Anyway enough disclaimers… let’s take a look at our top 10 Offensive Lines in the league, heading in to 2020.
As always with the Offensive Line, we decided to look at the unit as a whole rather than individual players. The reason we do this, is because it’s hard to judge one specific player on a unit that generally work as one. Also with Offensive Line play it tends to be a credit to coaching, so we’ll make sure they get a mention as well. Anyway, let’s look at the lines that nearly made the list.
THE NOT QUITE TOP 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Possibly controversial that they didn’t make it. The Bucs had few needs on the Offensive Line coming out of 2019. Add Tristan Wirfs to the team and you have a solid starting lineup. Potentially the reason we don’t have them higher, might be that they’re very good on the left side, whilst not being excellent. Regardless, Joe Gilbert deserves some credit for putting together a solid line.
New England Patriots: The ever changing face of the New England Patriots Offensive Line, has in the past been held together by the continuity of the coaching through Dante Scarnecchia. Well arguably the best Offensive Line Coach of the last 20 years is no longer there, handing over the reins to (it would seem) Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo. Popovich has been on the coaching staff since 2016 and Bricillo joined the team as an assistant in 2019. Both have a herculean task of prepping an Offensive Line, for the first time, over virtual workouts. That being said there is still some talent on the line, but continuity could be an issue here.
Minnesota Vikings: The biggest issue the team had last season was pass protection. It is apparent that the Vikings really want to run the ball, but to get anything from a QB that struggled under pressure last year, they need to give him time to make plays. The addition of Ezra Cleveland goes some of the way to helping that, but it feels like a band aid over what could be a serious problem. That being said, their run blocking was excellent, one of the best in the league.
Kansas City Chiefs: And everything I’ve just said for the Vikings is the reverse for the Chiefs. The Chiefs did a very good job of allowing Patrick Mahomes to do Patrick Mahomes things. However it has been well documented that they struggled to establish the run, a problem which led them to only win a Superbowl… I’m not sure they’re that concerned about their ability to “establish the run” to be fair.
On to the actual list…
10) Las Vegas Raiders
As if the year wasn’t already weird enough, a Tom Cable Offensive Line makes our top 10. I don’t think anyone thought that a line that lost arguably their best player in Kelechi Osemele would have been as good in 2019 as they were. According to Football Outsiders they were ranked 6th in both run blocking and pass protection. PFF had them a little lower than we did at 15. One of the key points heading into the 2020 is the continuity. There are no changes for the starters, so another year under Gruden, with Tom Cable should only get better. Injuries played a part in any potential downturn in 2019, seeing Incognito, Trent Brown and Gabe Jackson all missing time. So potentially depth could be a problem for a line that has a ton of consistency in their starters.
9) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers Offensive Line was pretty much set up for failure in 2019, with Mike Munchak leaving to take on the same role at the Denver Broncos, injuries to Roethlisberger and a laundry list of their weapons also suffering injuries. The personnel have gone through some changes too, with Marcus Gilbert moving on to the Cardinals, Ramon Foster retiring and BJ Finney heading to Seattle, leaving the unit potentially with some issues continuity issues. They have, however added Stefan Wisniewski in free agency and Kevin Dotson in the draft. Add these to some solid back up options and you’ve got a Steelers line that might not quite be as good as a couple of years ago, but probably good enough to give Ben the required 2 hours to make a play (this was obviously a joke). In short, they’ve still got enough talent in Pouncey, DeCastro and Villanueva to hold up the play of whoever is filling the other roles.
8) Tennessee Titans
The Titans in 2019 allowed the 3rd fewest QB pressures, which helped Ryan Tannehill record the best passing grade from a clean pocket. The Titans had one of the stronger run games in the NFL too, although it doesn’t tell the whole story, thanks to Derrick Henry leading the league in Yards after contact with over 1200. There might be some concerns with Jack Conklin heading out to Cleveland, but they’ve done what they can by picking up a huge Tackle in the form of Isaiah Wilson to play on the other side to Taylor Lewan. Wilson should fit in nicely in Tennessee, having played a similar scheme in Georgia. All in all the Titans line shouldn’t lose a step from a solid 2019.
7) Indianapolis Colts
Personally (and I’m trying to put this together without personal opinion), this feels a little low. The Colts are an easy line to judge within itself with 0 changes. If we were doing a list of the best individual Offensive Linemen, Quentin Nelson would probably be top, being one of the best run blockers in the NFL. This line has stayed the same throughout last season with over a 1000 snaps together and heads into the 2020 Season with the same lineup. The big difference this season will be the guy lining up behind them, Philip Rivers. According to Philip Rivers Time to Throw stats, he got the ball out quicker than most of the league last year, that’s whilst being pretty much in the middle for sacks, which compared to Brissett, should help the Colts offensive line. With consistency on their side, a QB that can the ball out quickly and one of the best guards in the league, we should see a Colts Offensive Line that actually improves on last year.
6) San Francisco 49ers
The big change here will be at Left Tackle, with Trent Williams replacing the retired Joe Staley. Williams joins a line that will be very aware that despite his age, Staley was still one of the best Left Tackles in the league last year. These are big boots to fill. There are other changes though. Weston Richburg missed a good chunk of last season and Mike Person’s contract wasn’t extended, which will lead to a competition at Right Guard coming in to the 2020 Season. These are changes to a unit that did a great job of giving Running Backs time to let plays develop on a team that relied heavily on the run game. Whilst Trent Williams will garner a ton of attention, making a successful change at Right Guard will be crucial for success next season.
5) Green Bay Packers
We could get into the Packers struggles with Play Action and we could talk about the lack of receiving options for Green Bay last year, but we’re here to talk about what makes this one of the best Offensive lines in the league. In 2019 they gave Aaron Rodgers nearly 3 seconds to make a play despite issues in play action which can extend time in the pocket and sacks, in which Rodgers sits 8th. So This line gives Rodgers time in the pocket without the usual things that would affect this, affecting this. However… They did lose Bryan Bulaga in the Off-Season, a player that was instrumental in the lines performance. He’ll be replaced with Rick Wagner, who is a good player, but not at the same level as Bulaga. Coaching is massive for the Offensive Line, hopefully Adam Stenavich can get the revamped line up to speed quickly.
4) Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have been pretty consistently at the top of these lists, which is more than can be said for the actual line up and coaching. In terms of Coaching, Joe Philbin comes in to take over from Ex-Cowboys player Marc Columbo, who had been in charge of the unit for 2 years and an assistant for the 2 years before. So in steps Philbin to lead a line that is now missing Travis Frederick, one of the best centres in the league. There are a couple of options to replace him, Joe Looney has filled in, in the past and will be the starter if Tyler Biadasz takes some time to settle in. Either way, it looks like we’ll see a potential drop off. So why is this line still so high on our list? Well they still have Tyron Smith, La’el Collins and Zack Martin, all players that are towards the top end of their position. So this unit still could be very good, there’s just a few question marks.
3) Philadelphia Eagles
PFF had the Eagles as the number 1 Offensive Line in the league last year and for good reason. Every starting player was in their top 10 at their position. So what changed? Well for starters, despite an outstanding season last year Jason Peters, is still a free agent. Okay so he’s advanced in years for his position, but he can clearly still play, has regularly taken team friendly contracts and is someone that is worth having on the team even if Andre Dillard is a player they’ve fallen in love with. Come on Philly, you know it makes sense. Anyway Left Tackle problems means that Seumalo’s job gets a little tougher too if he has to be concerned about the player to the left of him, leaving the Eagles with problems down the left side of the line. A lot riding on Andre Dillard this season, who was rumoured to be on the trade block a couple of months ago… seriously bring Peters back for 1 more Season just incase.
2) New Orleans Saints
The Saints have invested heavily in their Offensive Line with it more often than not working out pretty well for them. Currently every player in their starting lineup (if you assume Ruiz will start), was drafted in the first 3 rounds, including 3 1st rounders. 2020 first rounder Cesar Ruiz, will be a cheaper replacement for Larry Warford, who was released by the Saints a week ago, giving them a cheaper option at Guard. The Saints line, assuming Ruiz can play as well as we expect him to, is stacked. The Saints could very well have the best Offensive Line in the league and appear to have got better from last year.
1) Baltimore Ravens
It was very close between the Ravens and the Saints for the top of our list, but the Ravens ability to give Jackson and Co time to carry out some of the crazy stuff they achieved last year, saw them pip the loaded Saints to the top spot. There are a couple of factors to remember though. It’s well established that play action is a QB’s best friend in buying time in the pocket and the Ravens were the kings of trick plays with 31% of snaps being play action. This itself is helped by the rushing ability of the Ravens. This all helps buy Jackson time in the pocket and lowers the sack rate, potentially making the Ravens line look better. The 2nd point is that the Ravens will be heading into 2020 without Marshall Yanda, a key player for the Ravens in 2019 (and a number of other years for that matter). Replacing Yanda is an unenviable task, that will probably go to either DJ Fluker or Ben Powers, however to expect a like for like replacement is would be a tad optimistic. This could potentially be another weak spot on this line. So why are they no. 1? Well they’ve been consistently excellent for one thing, also Ronnie Stanley might be the best Tackle in the league with Orlando Brown not being that far behind. Whether the interior is worse without Yanda isn’t debatable, but it’s still very good. If there is a drop off in time in pocket, or the success of play action, it will more likely be because the oppositions defence has got wise to what they’re trying to do. In which case Lamar Jackson will call on his line to do more than ever.
And that’s the top 10 Offensive lines dealt with. We’d love to know what you think, so hit us up on twitter (@gridirongents), also don’t forget to listen to the pod where we’re going in depth on every team in the league. Thanks to all the contributors (James, Simon, Duncan, Tim, Allan, Will, Paul) Next up… Top 10 Interior Defensive Linemen.