Simon’s Top 10 Offensive Lines Heading into the 2015 NFL Season

The headline makers have been analysed and ranked, but what about the men in the trenches – the offensive line? They are the 5 individuals who have to perform as a whole to protect the “stars” and allow them to do their thing play after play.

It’s not impossible to have a decent offense without a good line, but it is considerably more difficult if they can’t open a hole for your running back or stop your quarterback spending most of his time staring at the sky.

So which lines do I think are the best groups heading in to 2015?

10. New Orleans Saints

Last year saw the first signs of a few cracks in an offensive line that had been a reliable unit for several years. With a few key members getting toward the end of their careers, the Saints needed to make some changes in the off-season to ensure the slide didn’t continue, and they did just that.

The trade of Jimmy Graham to Seattle saw the arrival of one of the best centers in the League in Max Unger who, at 29, should be an anchor on the line for several years to come. I think Terron Armstead and first round draft pick Andrus Peat will likely both be starters in 2015, adding more youth to the line and affordability to the salary cap, something the Saints are desperately trying to get under control.

A lot will depend on how the new additions settle in to the line, but Drew Brees should have a solid unit in front of him once again in 2015.

9. Arizona Cardinals

Another team making changes in the trenches for 2015 are the Arizona Cardinals as they look to continue to improve on a line that has struggled historically.

Having secured the services of Mike Iupati from NFC West rivals San Francisco, the Cardinals line is instantly a better proposition for the run game, and the selection of 6’5”, 307lb DJ Humphries in the first round of this year’s Draft means there should be plenty of holes for Ellington et al to exploit whilst Jared Veldheer, in his second year in Arizona, should continue to be a reliable option at left tackle for Carson Palmer.

Like in New Orleans, I think a lot will depend on how they come together as a whole, but this line could be a difference maker next season in my opinion.

8. Houston Texans

When it comes to linemen it is normally the defense that gets all the attention in Houston, but their offensive line isn’t exactly terrible.

They’ll be largely unchanged from 2014 next season, with the one notable exception being the change at center following the Texans’ decision to cut Chris Myers after 7 years. During that time Myers never missed a game, so there will be some pressure on either Ben Jones or James Ferentz to step up.

Whilst the run hasn’t really suffered behind the Texans line, they will certainly want to improve on their pass protection in 2015 and Duane Brown will hope Xavier Su’a-Filo continues to show improvement on the promise he displayed in his Rookie year last year to help with shoring up the left side of the line.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

With one of the most prolific offenses in 2014, it’s not a difficult decision to have their offensive line feature in my Top 10, even though they were often considered the weak link in years gone by.

Mike Munchak’s appointment ahead of last season saw him simplify things for his linemen and, in return, the Steelers improved from 27th to 16th in the League on the ground, and Ben Roethlisberger enjoy a career year through the air.

Whilst that leaves much room for improvement (and why I don’t have them higher on my list), all 5 starters will return next season, and that bodes well for both the pass and run attacks, although maybe not so much for opposing defenses!

6. Cleveland Browns

Whilst it seems almost impossible for the Cleveland Browns to find a franchise quarterback that won’t instantly let them down or underachieve spectacularly, they have an extremely good line ready and waiting for the day they do (if it ever comes!).

Until then, the Browns will likely continue to look to use the line to help with a running game that was productive through the first half of the season, although the loss of center Alex Mack to injury in mid-October saw that productivity decline rapidly.

Mack should be back for 2015 and will be again joined by Joe Thomas and 2014 Rookie Joel Bitonio. Cleveland will be hoping that the latter’s impressive first year will be mirrored by this year’s versatile first round Draft pick Cameron Erving, who I think will likely start from Week 1.

It’s a line many quarterbacks in the League would be very happy with. The Browns just need to find a quarterback they are happy with.

5. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals’ line is one of the most effective in the NFL at protecting their quarterback, and allowed the fewest pressures of any line last year, thanks in no small part to Andrew Whitworth at left tackle who didn’t allow a sack all year.

They will want to see some improvement from center Russell Bodine following his Rookie year. That’s not to say he was terrible in 2014, but in the middle of a strong group he was sometimes the weak link in the line.

The Cincinnati line has been one of the more reliable over recent years and, with the return of their stars and some young talent added through this year’s Draft, I don’t see that changing heading in to 2015.

4. Green Bay Packers

There isn’t much to fault with the Green Bay Packers at the moment, and you won’t find many opportunities with the offensive line, either. Aaron Rodgers has enjoyed the lowest sack numbers of his career over the last two years, which bears testament to the fact that the Packers line was the second most effective pass blocking line in the League last year.

Rookie center Corey Linsley performed admirably in 2014 and can only get better next season surrounded by the likes of Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton.

With the off-season ethos at Lambeau of maintaining the status quo extended to the o-line, all 5 starters are set to return for 2015, and that can only be a good thing for Packers fans.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

There aren’t many people outside of Philadelphia who can be certain of what 2015 holds following an off-season of change at the hands of Chip Kelly, and the offensive line hasn’t been spared from the shuffling of the pack either.

Kelly called time on Evan Mathis’ contract grumbles this past week, releasing the two-time ProBowler. It’s a move that has caused a bit of a stir around the League but the Eagles have a ready made replacement in Allen Barbre, so it shouldn’t have too much of a detrimental effect.

The middle of the line will remain unchanged for 2015, with Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, and Lane Johnson all returning as one of the best trios in the NFL.

The line will be working for a new set of stars next year, but their effectiveness should remain much the same as it was in 2014 I think.

2. Baltimore Ravens

Another team who are set to field the same starting line as in 2014 are the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s a line that was equally effective in both pass and run situations, allowing Joe Flacco to be sacked just 19 times last year, and making holes for Justin Forsett to earn a ProBowl place off the back of 1,270 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Again, like the Eagles, the Ravens have a solid central three, with center Jeremy Zuttah, and guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemeli all having an excellent year.

At 30, Yanda is the oldest of the five starters on a line that could be together for some time and potentially has their best years ahead of them. It’s a recipe that means the Ravens’ line could be a force to be reckoned with in 2015 and beyond.

1. Dallas Cowboys

Hardly a surprise, is it? I don’t think anyone would argue that this group of linemen was by far and away the best in the League last year. In fact, the biggest debate surrounding the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line was how much of DeMarco Murray’s standout year was down to them, and how much was on his own shoulders.

Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zach Martin all enjoyed ProBowl honours on a line that has effectively been built through the Draft. It has been an investment that is now paying dividends and looks set to continue to do so with all three aforementioned ProBowlers with at least 2 years remaining on their deals.

The Cowboys continued to look to the future of the line this off-season as well, picking up undrafted free agent La’el Collins who adds yet more talent and depth to an already impressive line.

The question of their importance in Dallas’ run game will likely be answered next season with Darren McFadden lining up in the backfield rather than DeMarco Murray, but you have to think he’ll never get a better opportunity for a career year.

I think one thing is for certain – this Cowboys line is likely to be impressive for some time to come.