Lion’s Den Special Edition: The Offensive Line Project

Lions Den Offensive Line 2014 Rankings Part I the Worst Offensive Line PlayHere on this blog we are dedicated to giving you content that you cannot find anywhere else, we do our best to give you originality. While it’s arguable that, perhaps, in some other corners of the internet you can find smoking hot dime pieces like our baseball WAGs if you look hard enough, we’re fairly confident that NOBODY talks about the NFL offensive line play in the depth that we’re about to get into here.  That’s probably for a good reason, it’s pretty boring. Still, despite the fact that everyone nods in agreement when they hear the statement that “the game is won and lost in the trenches,” good OL play is still extremely underrated. It’s because most of the guys who cover the game in the media really don’t know good OL play when they see it. Lucky for you, the Lion knows. (Not so lucky for the Lioness).  So, instead of working today I drafted a multi-part post that I like to call, Mr. Lion’s Opus. I looked at the projected staring OL of each team and gave a grade to each player on a scale from 1-6. A grade of 6 means elite, all pro level OL, (very few of those).  5 means very good, pro bowl level, 4 means good starter, 3 means average replacement level starter, etc. You get the idea. Again, there aren’t many 1’s or 6’s. One more thing on rookies, since we have no idea how they will do, all rookies projected to start got a 3 for now. After I graded each guy I added up the scores. I then ranked all 32 NFL OL’s from worst to best with brief commentary on each.  We’ll hit the bottom dwellers today, and the cream of the crop later this week in part II.

LEVEL I: NEED SOME LEAD IN THEIR PENCIL OLS: These teams just are not very good up font. In some cases this holds a talented group of skill players back.  In other cases, Jacksonville is simply terrible from top to bottom.

ARIZONA CARDINALS: 11 points:

This is one of those cases where a bad OL is holding an otherwise good skill group back. Believe it or not at the end of 2012 this group would have scored worse.  Last year, they replaced the 1st round draft BUST from PSU, LT Levi Brown with Jared Veldheer, who has been solid if not very good. The right side of the OL is the problem, particularly Bradley Sowell at RT. I expect him to lose his job to Bobby Massie at some point, but for this purpose, he is a 1 pointer. Things are looking up though, 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper hardly played last year due to injury and if he comes back and plays to his potential the Left Side of the OL will be solid going forward. Poor Carson Palmer, thanks to his anti-mobility he can’t even run around to buy time for himself. I feel even worse for Larry Fitzgerald.

KC CHIEFs: 11 points:

The Lion knows what you are thinking. If KC’s line was so bad why were they so good last year? Well, they lost their best OL, LT Brandon Albert, (awarded a 5), in the offseason.  Eric Fisher (awarded a 2), is moving over from the right side, where he struggled last year, to take Albert’s place. Yikes. Not to mention, KC also lost two other starters. The guys Big Red brought in are definite downgrades, but who knows maybe he is the genius that the people of Philadelphia thought he was for 7 of the past 10 years.  The Lion recommends jumping on board the bandwagon that expects the Chiefs to take a step back this year before it gets too full thanks to a subpar unit up front.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: 12 points:

What is there to say really? Luke Joeckel has not set the world on fire by any means and only receives a 2 from me at this juncture. The Jags are merely average otherwise with the exception of their Center, Mike Brewster. Poor guy is just a very bad NFL C, and got one of the few 1’s. Good luck to the young skill guys they drafted this year, they are going to have to earn those yards without great blocking.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: 13 points:

Good thing RGIII can run, (or can he?) he will need to run for his life. They are average or below average across the board with the exception of Trent Williams the LT who is Pro Bowl caliber when he wants to be. The Skins have so much talent at the skill positions this year, but they will not move up in the NFC East standings without better OL play.

CHICAGO BEARS: 14 points:

This is another example of a team with great skill players held back by a merely replacement level OL (and DL, but that is another article). Their RT situation is a serious problem and wasn’t addressed in the draft. Their only above average starter is Matt Slausen, and he is only that, above average. Slausen is not pro bowl level and definitely not elite. (He got a 4). Despite this OL, Cutler will get the blame when they finish around .500 and either fail to make the playoffs or lose in the first round. Come to think of it, it is perhaps rightfully so because Cutler comes off like a dick. It’s really the OL and DL despite the fact that Cutler is a fun scapegoat to kick around.

LEVEL II:  MEAT OF THE BELL CURVE: This is where the majority of teams end up. It makes sense when you think about the math, 3 (average players) x 5 starting OL = 15. When you see lists like this in other outlets and the majority of teams fall on one extreme end or the other, you know you’re reading complete and utter bullshit.  The internet loves to focus on outliers and that can be interesting, but it isn’t reality.  This is the mean and, accordingly, most statistical profiles fall within it.

DETROIT LIONS: 15 points:

Here we have a quintessential average OL. Tackles Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle are 3’s all the way, they have a hole at LG right now filled by below average Rob Sims, but they do have an underrated, potentially pro bowl level RG in Larry Warford.  These guys aren’t lighting the world on fire, but they aren’t putting Matt Stafford (is this guy any good or not?) in danger of losing his life on a consistent basis.

ATLANTA FALCONS: 15 points:

Matt Ryan possesses Palmer-esque anti-mobility, a bad trait for a guy who did not get a lot of protection last year and didn’t have Julio Jones or Roddy White to make plays to mask the lack of consistent protection or holes in the running game.  Honestly they would have scored worse but they got some extra points by my promise to give all rookies (Jake Matthews) 3 points. This means right now the only OL who got higher than a 3 is RG Jon Asamoah.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: 15 points:

Their tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus (this guy’s got a name on him huh?) are a little above average, but their interior OL are below average. Their C, Khaled Holmes played only 13 NFL snaps before getting hurt. Jury is out on him, I was probably generous giving him my standard rookie 3 since he is essentially a rookie.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: 15 points:

Much like the other teams in this category, they are filled with average and below average players.  The Panthers are kind of like the inverse of the Colts as their Panthers T’s are below average, their G’s are 3’s and their lone good OL is C Ryan Kalil.

NY JETS: 15 points:

This OL used to be better, but Nick Mangold isn’t elite anymore, he is merely above average. It’s the same with D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The rest of the OL is average and they have a huge hole at LG. If they can fill that and Mangold and Ferguson can play like they did a few years ago the Jets could be much higher on this list at season’s end. (I am totally going to revisit this in December).

HOUSTON TEXANS: 15 points:

Two years ago this was one of the best OL’s in football. It dominated the line of scrimmage using a Zone Blocking scheme similar to the one used in Denver in the 90’s. Oh, how the mighty have fallen back to the pack. They still have 3 above average starters (4’s) but also have a 2 at LG and a huge problem at RT (1).

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: 15 points:

Yup, the Champs have an average OL. This seems deceiving because they have two very good starters in LT Russell Okung and C Max Unger (probably the two most important spots on the OL in the NFL by the way). The truth is the other starters are 2’s and 3’s at best. Their average ability is somewhat negated by Wilson’s mobility, and Beast Mode’s insanity. It’s also why Seattle often struggles on offense.

ST. LOUIS RAMS: 16 points:

This OL is the inverse of Houston. Two years ago this was one of the worst OL in football and now it is getting better. The key though is if LT Jake Long can return to his former dominant form. I rated him based on where I think he is now, (3), but he could end up being higher. You could say the same with rookie Greg Robinson, who is a 3 now but has All Pro potential. Check back in December.

OAKLAND RAIDERS: 16 points:

The Raiders are average across the board (3’s) with Steve Wisiniewski getting a 4. No glaring holes, no real studs. Unlike some of the teams on this list, their problems are at the skill positions on O and in the front office.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: 16 points:

The Lion is as shocked as you are that the Ravens are merely average at the OL. The unit was a strength of the team for so many years. Upon closer examination, though, you won’t recognize the guys who were the stalwarts on this OL. Like Oakland, they are mostly 3’s across the bored with one 2 at RT where unknown Ricky Wagner is replacing the departed Mike Oher. The lone stand out player on the OL is Marshal Yanda who is pro bowl caliber at G.

NEW YORK GIANTS: 16 points:

Similar to the Ravens, the Giants used to have one of the best OLs in the game. It’s no longer so. A lot of the guys who were on their SB teams are gone. Chris Snee isn’t what he once was, and Justin Pugh while showing potential, is only average at this point. They could have really used an OL in the first round of the draft but none of the elite guys fell to them. They also need a C.

BUFFALO BILLS: 16 points:

Ok, I may have overrated the Bills here, but only because I expect two rookie starters (who get 3’s) to replace guys who got much lower scores last year. The Bills expect RT Cyrus Kouandjio and G Cyrus Richardson to come in and start with slightly better than average C Eric Wood and LT Cordy Glenn. Stay tuned.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: 16 points:

I am surprised that this group scored where it did but tackles King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker are slightly better than average (Editor’s Note: I beg to differ on the King, even though he’s a better fit in San Diego, he made me want to gouge my eyes out as an Eagles fan). SD’s only hole is at RG. Side note, after seeing yet another OL from the Crimson Tide, I need to point out that SOOO many OL from Alabama are starting in the NFL. Not that many offensive skill position guys have panned out. I’m looking at you Marc Ingram, Trent Richardson and Greg McElroy. This is probably the best argument I can think of for the importance of OL. I will make one other later on.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: 17 points:

Miami’s OL was not nearly this good last year. They added a Pro Bowl caliber LT in Brandon Albert from KC, and burgeoning thug Mike Pouncey is very solid. I may be generous in giving rookie RT Ja’Wuan James a 3 because I thought he was a reach in the draft.

DALLAS COWBOYS: 17 points:

The Cowboys are average to above average across the board. No 5’s or 6’s but a lot of 4’s and 3’s. The only below average guy is LG Ronald Geary. The offense wasn’t the problem last year though, and it won’t be this year either (Editor’s Note:  Until Romo inevitably chokes in a big moment of a big game, you can set your watch to that shit).

TENNESSEE TITANS: 17 points:

This is an OL on the rise, with two solid T’s in Mike Oher and Mike Roos. They have first round pick Taylor Lewan coming in as well. Andy Levitre is still very good at LG and Chance Warmack was average his rookie year and could improve this year. The only true weak link is C Brian Schwenke, who got a 2.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: 17 points:

The Packers as a team are fascinating because the roster is filled with elite guys starting next to guys who probably shouldn’t be in the league. Their OL is no different. G Josh Sitton is the best guard nobody knows about. LT David Bakthiari should not be starting in this league. Bryan Buluga was supposed to be elite but is merely average. If the Packers could find a real LT they would improve significantly. This is a case where an elite QB, or at least one who is effectively mobile within the pocket, makes an OL look better than they are. (Seattle is also an example with some others below)

So that concludes Pt. I of my magical mystery tour of NFL OL’s.  Check back here later in the week to see what lines can be classified as a strength for their respective teams.

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