Gregg Rosenthal

Offseason Low Down

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Going on the Offensive

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Offensive linemen are walking paradoxes. They are freakishly large, but nearly invisible on the field. They play a brutally physical position, but are among the most well-spoken, intelligent athletes in all of sports. They are offensive players who spend the majority of their time going backwards.

It's difficult to appreciate individual linemen while watching on television, but fantasy owners can appreciate the efforts of the entire unit when reading the boxscore every Sunday. Behind every great running back and quarterback is usually a great offensive line. Identifying the best lines in the summer can often point you to fantasy players who are undervalued. So let's give it a try, with last year's ranking in parentheses.

1. Colts (10) – These guys are technicians. Peyton Manning's low sack total is partly due to the quarterbacks smarts, but Tom Moore's system makes everyone look good. They picked up blitzers beautifully against the Patriots and Ravens in the playoffs. They get the nod as our top-ranked team because they are the most balanced team in in run blocking and pass blocking. LT Tarik Glenn may only have one year left in Indy.

2. Chargers (11) – They don't get enough credit for LaDainian Tomlinson's success. Or Michael Turner's. This young group bounced back from a weak 2005 season largely because of standout rookie LT Marcus McNeil solving the left tackle spot. The interior line of Nick Hardwick, Mike Goff, and suddenly rich Kris Dielman are nasty. They are solid in pass protection as well.

3. Eagles (12) – They turned it up a notch last season. Any squad that makes Jeff Garcia look good at his age is doing something right. Jammaal Jackson is turning into a great center. I love that this unit has promising replacements ready to go at most spots they are aging. After pass protecting so much over the years, this unit showed in 2006 they can be top-notch run-blockers when given the chance.

4. Bengals (4) – This ranking is for their talent and potential more than their 2006 production. Injuries ravaged this line last season and Eric Steinbach left town, but Levi Jones and Willie Anderson remain fantastic bookends. Andrew Whitworth should fit in nicely at guard. Look for this group to make Carson Palmer and Rudi Johnson look great this year.

5. Jaguars (20) – The next great line? No team ran block better than the Jaguars last year. Their guards are terrific, but their tackles need to improve their pass protection. Khalif Barnes and Baltimore import Tony Pashos could make Byron Leftwich (or Daunte Culpepper) a sleeper if they play to their potential.

6. Broncos (3) – A unit in transition, but they are still the Broncos. LT Matt Lepsis is recovering from a torn ACL. C Tom Nalen is 36 years old. The group is a little larger at the other spots than normal, but they will still be zone-blocking fools. Travis Henry's rank depends on them maintaining their level of play.

7. Redskins (5) – Great run blockers. Will the rest of the offense come together? Consider that some Redskins observers thought Derrick Dockery, he of the $18.5 million guaranteed from the Bills, was their fifth-best lineman. With veteran savvy at almost every position, this group risks getting old. But I think they have one big year left. Santana Moss and Jason Campbell could be seriously undervalued because of it.

8. Vikings (9) – Steve Hutchinson was a disappointment for the money paid to him, but he still is part of a potentially dominating left side of the line with Bryant McKinnie and Matt Birk in the middle. Minnesota's passing game looks terrible on paper, but perhaps their strong line can carry Tarvaris Jackson.

9. Patriots (8) – Greater than the sum of their parts, although some of the parts (Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins) should start making Pro Bowls. This group needs to protect Tom Brady better, though. If Matt Light doesn't improve this season, the team could consider looking for another left tackle.

10. Seahawks (1) – How low can you rank a line that has Walter Jones on it? Some observers feel that Jones' play fell off some last season, but it was Sean Locklear's decline, Steve Hutchinson's absence, and a number of injuries that caused the most problems. This group has the potential to rebound. Shaun Alexander needs it.

11. Saints (28) – This is a great pass-blocking unit and they came out of nowhere last year. Jammal Brown can improve his consistency, but he deserved his Pro Bowl nod. The interior line is strong with Jahri Evans leading the way. The only question is at right tackle. Can Jon Stinchcomb do it again? Some regression to the mean seems likely for the whole group.

12. Bears (15) – Based on the last few years, the Bears should be in the top ten. In fact, they were one of three teams to rank in the top ten of both passing and rushing in's adjusted offensive line stats. I'm skeptical a unit bookended by tackles over 32 can stay so effective.

13. Steelers (6) – A great system, but this is a transition year. Alan Faneca is likely to leave after the season. Willie Colon may replace Max Starks on the right side. Bill Cowher is gone and long-time RB Dick Hoak retired, so the running game may take a step back. At least we know the linemen will have good reading material.

14. Titans (24) – Jeff Fisher consistently puts together an underrated unit and they should improve after a recent youth movement. They have a pair of young tackles in Michael Roos and David Stewart that are each 6'7! They like to run in power formations, which will help LenDale White and Chris Henry.

15. Giants – (14) Who will replace Luke Petitgout? David Diehl and Guy Whimper will battle for the job in August. Otherwise, this is a roughneck crew whose run blocking should make Brandon Jacobs look good. They aren't quite as good at pass blocking.

16. Packers (27) – Another rising group. Chad Clifton remains on the left side, but the zone-blocking scheme Green Bay installed combined with two promising second-year starters (Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz) could lead to a big season for Brandon Jackson.

17. 49ers (32) – Frank Gore makes this group look better than it is, but it has some interesting young pieces. Justin Smiley, Joe Staley, Eric Heitmann, and Adam Snyder are the future. Larry Allen is still hanging around. This is one of the few groups ranked this low with excellent depth on the bench.

18. Ravens (22) – Not sure what to think about this group. Was the running game the last few years their fault or Jamal Lewis'? With Jonathan Ogden back, this is still a team that can pass protect. Steve McNair needs it.

19. Jets (29) – D'Brickashaw Ferguson was good, Nick Mangold may already be great. With those two pieces in place, the Jets should be solid for a long time. They need to improve their run blocking overall to help Thomas Jones out.

20. Rams (18) – Mike Martz is gone and Marc Bulger is staying healthier. I doubt it's a coincidence. Once the last Donut Brother standing (Andy McCollum) is gone, the entire unit will be playing on their rookie contract except future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace. Alex Barron took strides last year.

21. Panthers (13) – They were worse than this ranking last year, but a return to health for Travelle Wharton and Justin Hartwig will help. Rookie Ryan Kalil may make Hartwig obsolete before long though. The Panthers usually have a mediocre running attack, so DeAngelo Williams needs improvement upfront.

22. Cowboys (17)– They look good on paper, but that was the case last year at this time. This line will go as Flozell Adams goes, and the old warhorse is starting to wear down.

23. Falcons (7) – Fantasy owners should be afraid that Bobby Petrino took one of the best offensive lines in football and completely changed the philosophy. The linemen don't seem to mind because they can eat again.

24. Lions (25) – Two ways to make linemen mad: pass every down and don't give them enough help with tight ends. As a Jon Kitna owner, I'm concerned about a potential injury.

25. Chiefs (4) – The future Hall of Famers are gone. Damion McIntosh, Chris Bober, and Chris Terry are starting. Let's hope the system prevails because it could be an ugly season for Larry Johnson otherwise.

26. Bucs (16) – Luke Petitgout was a find if he can stay healthy. There is potential for some good run-blocking play in the middle if Jon Gruden ever chooses to run.

27. Cardinals (26) – A good test to see how much coaching matters. Levi Brown and Ken Whisenhunt must be worth five spots because this was the worst group in the league except Oakland last year.

28. Bills (30) – The Bears are the only team I can think of that successfully re-built its offensive line with free agent acquisitions. I'm not buying that Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker will make that big a difference, and this group has been consistently bad. Their performance against Baltimore late last year was dreadful. It's one reason to question Marshawn Lynch in his rookie season.

29. Browns (19) – Joe Thomas will help, but he proves that Kevin Shaffer was a waste of free agent dollars. So was LeCharles Bentley, even if was just bad luck. It's hard to have faith in this unit after the last few years.

30. Dolphins (21) – Line coach Hudson and Houck and Cam Cameron have a nice history together. They will need all the help they can get re-making this perennially weak group. At least they are looking to go young by starting two rookies. Expect a learning curve.

31. Texans (31) – There were some strides forward last year, but left tackle remains a huge question mark if Charles Spencer can't get healthy. They have a good coach in Mike Sherman to get it done and a promising zone-blocking system, but they have to prove they can do it.

32. Raiders (23) – Losing Art Shell and the Oakland coaching staff may be all the upgrade this group needs to become average. The Raiders are banking on it because they barely changed personnel on the worst unit in the league.

Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for and Catch him on Twitter.
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