Evan Silva


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2011 Offensive Line Rankings

Friday, August 12, 2011

Offensive line play heavily influences fantasy production. A dominant run-blocking line can turn an undrafted free agent into a 1,600-yard rusher, or help resurrect a declining back's career. A unit that can't pass protect may get its quarterback hurt and ruin a team's season.

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Taking stats, scheme, experience, and depth into consideration, I've ranked the NFL's offensive lines in order from 1-32. Keep in mind that in-season injuries are an unpredictable but often difference-making variable. Experienced and/or promising depth behind a first-team front five can be crucial.

* = new starter. + = switching position. Number of returning starters is in parentheses.

1. Houston Texans (5)

LT: Duane Brown
LG: Wade Smith
C: Chris Myers
RG: Mike Brisiel
RT: Eric Winston

Houston returns all five starters from a line that paved the way for NFL rushing leader Arian Foster and allowed just two sacks a game. Gary Kubiak is keeping competition alive by listing undrafted rookie Darius Morris at first-team right guard, a position that should be won back by Brisiel before the season. This unit has zero Pro Bowls to its credit, but executes zone blocking to perfection and holds its own in protection. Top reserves are athletic swing tackle Rashad Butler (four starts last season), G/C Antoine Caldwell (10 career starts), and G Kasey Studdard (14 starts in 2009).

Biggest beneficiary: Arian Foster. Zone blocks are his best friend.

2. New England Patriots (5)

LT: Matt Light
LG: Logan Mankins
C: Dan Koppen
RG: Dan Connolly
RT: Sebastian Vollmer

Elite starters and elite depth. The Pats are so talent-laden in the front five that No. 17 pick Nate Solder will ride the bench as a rookie. Mankins is the best guard in the game, and Vollmer may possess more impressive athleticism than any right tackle in the NFL. Koppen is a stalwart, having missed one start since the 2005 season. Among backups, swing tackle Mark LeVoir, C Ryan Wendell, and G/C Chris Morris have started before. Fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon, a first-round talent, could be a real difference maker if he cracks the lineup after beating lymphoma.

Biggest beneficiary: Tom Brady. Pats are loaded with pass blockers.

3. Carolina Panthers (4)

LT: Jordan Gross
LG: Travelle Wharton
C: Ryan Kalil
RG: Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT: *Jeff Otah

Don't laugh. The Panthers went 2-14 last season, but they'll be much better this year and line play has a lot to do with it. Gross and Kalil return from Pro Bowl berths, and Wharton is an elite left guard in protection when healthy. A mammoth run blocker, Otah is the big addition after a season lost to injury. Bernadeau, the question mark, was shuttled between guard spots last year and briefly lost his job, but the Panthers could switch to mauling, 25-year-old "backup" Geoff Schwartz (19 career starts) and probably upgrade the position. G/T Garry Williams (11 starts) is another experienced reserve. Seventh-round value Lee Ziemba fits Carolina's nasty mentality up front.

Biggest beneficiary: DeAngelo Williams. Think along the lines of 2009.

4. New York Jets (4)

LT: D'Brickashaw Ferguson
LG: Matt Slauson
C: Nick Mangold
RG: Brandon Moore
RT: *Wayne Hunter

The Jets have fielded the best line in football over the past two seasons. The reason they're not in the top spot this year is the retirement of Damien Woody and downgrade to Hunter, who's been in the league eight years but made just four career starts. Hunter was the line's weak link down the stretch last season, so the Jets may have to turn to enigmatic former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse sooner than they'd prefer. Right tackle is a critical position for such a run-heavy team. The rest of the front five is elite, but New York's depth is near-nonexistent. Behind the first string, only Undertaker-lookalike Robert Turner has ever started a game. And Turner's done it just twice.

Biggest beneficiary: Santonio Holmes. More emphasis on pass game.

5. Green Bay Packers (4)

LT: Chad Clifton
LG: *Derek Sherrod
C: Scott Wells
RG: Josh Sitton
RT: Bryan Bulaga

The lone starter lost is Daryn Colledge, who was overpaid by Arizona. Green Bay has penciled in first-round pick Sherrod as Colledge's replacement, though the college left tackle is experiencing growing pains early in camp. Still, this is one of the NFL's most talented lines on the right side with Sitton as an All-Pro caliber strong-side guard and Bulaga likely to make strides in his second year. The top subs include potential left tackle of the future Marshall Newhouse and versatile T.J. Lang.

Biggest beneficiary: Jermichael Finley. He'll do very little blocking.

6. Atlanta Falcons (4)

LT: Sam Baker
LG: Justin Blalock
C: Todd McClure
RG: *Garrett Reynolds
RT: Tyson Clabo

Free agency stole away road-grading right guard Harvey Dahl, but GM Tom Dimitroff did well to retain Blalock and Clabo, keeping the unit mostly intact. This line will be relied on for protection more than ever with Atlanta's offensive philosophy gravitating to the pass. Reynolds has never started a game, but has a nasty reputation, goes a legit 6-foot-8, 317, and has been taught how to bend. The reserves are short on experience, but long on promise. Joe Hawley is the heir apparent at center, and Mike Johnson is a game-ready fallback option if Reynolds flops. Swing tackle Will Svitek has the most career starts of the reserves (six). He's also a tight end in jumbo packages.

Biggest beneficiary: Matt Ryan. Passing game opening up.

7. New Orleans Saints (4)

LT: Jermon Bushrod
LG: Carl Nicks
C: *Olin Kreutz
RG: Jahri Evans
RT: Jon Stinchcomb

It's no secret that the Saints field the NFL's best guard duo; both Nicks and Evans were voted top-100 players by their peers in NFL Network's offseason poll. Kreutz's performance is declining, but he'll look plenty good between the two. While the tackles are shaky, Drew Brees' consistent ability to get rid of the football quickly covers up many of Bushrod's flaws. At age 32, Stinchcomb's knee problems are becoming a worry. He's been missing practice time of late. Depth remains a plus with swing tackle Zach Strief (seven career starts) and former second-round pick Charles Brown available in case of emergency. Backup center Matt Tennant will probably replace Kreutz in 2012.

Biggest beneficiary: Mark Ingram. Interior run blocking is elite.

8. Philadelphia Eagles (2)

LT: Jason Peters
LG: Todd Herremans
C: *Jamaal Jackson
RG: *+Danny Watkins
RT: *Ryan Harris

The Eagles have discarded continuity in favor of talent and scheme change. New position coach Howard Mudd wants long, lean, athletic linemen, and at least four of the above fit the bill. Jackson is on notice after missing 16 games over the past two seasons, being pushed hard by fast-moving rookie Jason Kelce. As for other four, Peters is back playing at an elite level and Herremans is over his foot problems. Harris certainly possesses starting-caliber talent, and Watkins was the most pro-ready lineman in the draft. Experienced depth is not a concern with G/C Mike McGlynn, OTs Winston Justice and King Dunlap, and new OG Evan Mathis combining for 71 career starts.

Biggest beneficiary: Michael Vick. Mudd knows how to keep QBs upright.

9. New York Giants (3)

LT: *William Beatty
LG: +David Diehl
C: *David Baas
RG: Chris Snee
RT: Kareem McKenzie

The Giants' offense will return to a run-to-setup-deep shots approach, which plays to its members' strengths. (Eli Manning shouldn't be throwing 530 times a year.) While a lot of shuffling took place in the front five, this remains a unit rich on talent. Beatty is a finesse tackle with elite upside as a pass protector. Diehl is best suited to guard at this stage, and Baas was a big addition inside. Snee is still just 28, and McKenzie, 32, remains a dominant run blocker when healthy. There is no shortage of depth with OG Mitch Petrus, and OTs Kevin Boothe and James Brewer in the fold.

Biggest beneficiary: Hakeem Nicks. And Mario Manningham.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5)

LT: Donald Penn
LG: Ted Larsen
C: Jeff Faine
RG: Davin Joseph
RT: Jeremy Trueblood

The Bucs have depth and youth on their side; no starter is over 30. OT James Lee and super sub Jeremy Zuttah have 39 starts between them, with Zuttah having seen action at center, guard, and tackle. Re-signing Joseph was Tampa's top free agency priority, though he's more projection than sure thing. The team is banking on new OL coach Pat Morris' power-run scheme to kick start the $53-million guard. Opinions around the NFL are mixed on Penn, and Trueblood hasn't played well since his rookie season. Still, this unit is above average at worst with lots of room for growth.

Biggest beneficiary: LeGarrette Blount. Blount is a power runner.

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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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