Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Offensive Line Rankings

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Line play heavily influences fantasy production. A dominant run-blocking line can turn an undrafted free agent into a 1,600-yard rusher, or resurrect a declining back's career. A unit that can't protect will often get its quarterback hurt or ruin a team's season. We saw that last year in St. Louis, and to some extent in Carolina, Chicago, and Baltimore.

Taking statistics, scheme, experience, and depth into consideration, I've ranked the league's offensive lines in order from 1-32. Note that in-season injuries are the biggest variable when ranking offensive lines. That's why having experienced or promising depth behind a starting five can matter so much.

Listed below the teams are Gregg Rosenthal's o-line rankings from the last two seasons. And with training camp only two weeks away, it's getting to be time to pick up Rotoworld's Online Draft Guide.

1. Patriots
2006: 8
2007: 9

Throwing out their Super Bowl performance -- we'll credit Steve Spagnuolo's fire-zone blitzes for that, rather blame line coach Dante Scarnecchia or the Pats' talent -- this Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal, and Matt Light-led unit was unrivaled in 2007. All five starters return from a group that allowed only 21 sacks despite attempting the fifth most passes in the NFL. Reserves Wesley Britt, Ryan O'Callaghan, Oliver Ross, and Russ Hochstein all possess starting experience and position versatility.

2. Colts
2006: 10
2007: 1

The Colts can manufacture linemen and GM Bill Polian drafts for scheme fit. Losing a starter (e.g. Jake Scott this offseason) is rarely a problem. Tony Ugoh didn't miss a beat on Peyton Manning's blind side after Tarik Glenn's surprise retirement last year, and is an upgrade athletically. After C Jeff Saturday retires, 2008 second-rounder Mike Pollak will probably replace him. All the members can pass block. Indianapolis hasn't yielded over 25 sacks in a season since 2001.

3. Browns
2006: 19
2007: 29

The additions of Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach were a godsend to Cleveland's offense last season. Both play with a mean streak and are mobile pass protectors. Kevin Shaffer proved a better fit at right tackle after manning the blind side in 2006, and RG Ryan Tucker and C Hank Fraley are solid starters. The Browns are exceptionally deep with G/C Rex Hadnot signed to push Tucker. Whoever finishes as Cleveland's quarterback should have a nice, clean jersey in Week 17.

4. Cowboys
2006: 17
2007: 22

Dallas' powerful starting five boasts a massive tackle-guard combo of LT Flozell Adams (6'7/340) and RG Leonard Davis (6'6/354). Jerry Jones invested two high draft picks on projects James Marten and Doug Free last April, and either could replace contract-year RT Marc Colombo in 2009. This group supports Marion Barber's no-nonsense running style and protects Tony Romo more than adequately.

5. Vikings
2006: 9
2007: 8

Minnesota might've topped this list if not for LT Bryant McKinnie's legal woes. McKinnie is unlikely to be available for more than 12 games this season and would be replaced by squatty guard Artis Hicks. It's still a top-five unit due to the dominant inside work of C Matt Birk, LG Steve Hutchinson, and rising RG Anthony Herrera. After Herrera was installed as a starter in Week 6 last year, the Vikings averaged 175 rushing yards per game despite Adrian Peterson's injury. Young RT Ryan Cook, a college center, is still developing. Tested veteran Marcus Johnson provides depth behind him.

6. Jaguars
2006: 20
2007: 5

Another group of maulers, Jacksonville's line consistently wins the battle at the point and boasts sound depth. Khalif Barnes isn't the ideal blind-side protector and has had off-field issues before, but RT Tony Pashos and LG Vince Manuwai are 320+ pound run-blocking specialists. G Uche Nwaneri and backup LT Richard Collier are promising prospects. The Jags' yards-per-carry average was second in the league in 2006 and tied for third in 2007, thanks in no small part to these trench warriors.

7. Eagles
2006: 12
2007: 3

The Eagles surrendered too many sacks in 2007 as LG Todd Herremans and LT William Thomas played hurt. Thomas may be on his last legs, but this remains one of the NFL's most talented, deep lines. C Jamaal Jackson, RG Shawn Andrews, and top backup Max Jean-Gilles are beasts inside. RT Jon Runyan is a vicious run blocker. Philadelphia ranked second in the league in yards per rush last year.

8. Chargers
2006: 11
2007: 2

San Diego would be higher if not for C Nick Hardwick's foot injury (Hardwick could miss the first quarter of the season). LT Marcus McNeill does a first-rate job protecting Philip Rivers, while Hardwick, Mike Goff, and Kris Dielman are mainstays inside. RT Jeromey Clary, a potential liability, is probably better cut out to play guard.

9. Giants
2006: 14
2007: 15

There were doubts about David Diehl's ability to play left tackle in 2007, but he held up and was rewarded with a $31 million extension in May. Steady guards Rich Seubert and Chris Snee are also signed long term. RT Kareem McKenzie is a 6'6/330-pound bruiser. The Jints have experienced reserves in Grey Ruegamer and Kevin Boothe, and are still high on the potential of OT Guy Whimper. It's a power blocking unit designed to clear lanes for a deep stable of backs.

10. Titans
2006: 24
2007: 14

Tennessee made sure intimidating tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart would be around for the long haul this offseason, extending both through 2013. Leroy Harris has been developed to replace retired G Benji Olson. C Kevin Mawae is the line's heart and soul and Jake Scott comes from Indianapolis to replace Jacob Bell. The run-first Titans pound the rock behind this group.

11. Jets
2006: 29
2007: 19

The Jets paid the price for mishandling Pete Kendall's situation last summer, but should have one of the AFC's top units again with LG Alan Faneca added between youngsters D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Though he may struggle in protection, RT Damien Woody should be an upgrade over Anthony Clement in the ground game. The additions bode well for Thomas Jones.

12. Buccaneers
2006: 26
2007: 16

Road-grading guards Arron Sears and Davin Joseph, both top-35 picks the last two offseasons, are this group's strength and support Earnest Graham, master of the four-yard gain. New C Jeff Faine also helps. LT Donald Penn was up and down as a first-year starter in 2007, but will benefit from the adversity.

13. Seahawks
2006: 1
2007: 10

Once almost indisputably the league's best, the Seahawks' line has taken a step back since losing Steve Hutchinson. Young C Chris Spencer has battled injuries and RT Sean Locklear has been a shade inconsistent. Still, LT Walter Jones remains a legitimate All Pro and Seattle gets fine all-around line play even if Shaun Alexander's statistics didn't support it.

14. Panthers
2006: 13
2007: 21

When it rains it pours, and we saw how bad it can get last year in Carolina. The Panthers' lost multiple quarterbacks and starting LT Travelle Wharton to injury. With mauling first-round tackle Jeff Otah on board, John Fox should get back to his rock-pounding ways and feed Jonathan Stewart religiously.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva

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