Evan Silva


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2012 Offensive Line Rankings

Monday, May 7, 2012

11. Pittsburgh Steelers

LT: Marcus Gilbert*
LG: Ramon Foster*
C: Maurkice Pouncey*
RG: David DeCastro
RT: Willie Colon

Top reserves: G/C Doug Legursky*, OT Mike Adams, OT Jonathan Scott, G/T Trai Essex, T/G Chris Scott.

Overview: Beyond RG3 and Luck, perhaps no first-round pick represented a better match of player and team than David DeCastro to the Steelers. A plug-and-play starter, DeCastro will shore up a weak spot on Pittsburgh's line. And the Steelers have more options than they've had in awhile. Colon could kick to left guard if second-rounder Adams proves pro ready, with Gilbert staying at right tackle, his 2011 position. Pouncey has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two years, earning All-Pro honors in the last. Seemingly an annual weakness, Pittsburgh's offensive line could suddenly become a 2012 strength. No position group improved more in this year's draft.

12. New Orleans Saints

LT: Jermon Bushrod*
LG: Ben Grubbs
C: Brian De La Puente*
RG: Jahri Evans*
RT: Zach Strief*

Top reserves: OT Charles Brown, C/G Matt Tennant, G/C Eric Olsen, OG Andrew Tiller, OT Marcel Jones.

Overview: The Saints are one of the league's great teams that gets away without elite left tackle play. Bushrod is just a league-average starter, but Football Outsiders still ranked New Orleans' offensive line third in the NFL in 2011 pass blocking and Pro Football Focus had it seventh. While Carl Nicks-to-Grubbs is a clear downgrade at weak-side guard -- particularly in run blocking -- throwing the football is the Saints' foundation, and they'll continue winging it endlessly in 2012. New Orleans ranks relatively low here because Evans is the lone returning starter with an elite body of work, but offensive line play won't be a stumbling block for the Saints this season.

13. Buffalo Bills

LT: Cordy Glenn
LG: Andy Levitre*
C: Eric Wood*
RG: Chad Rinehart*
RT: Erik Pears*

Top reserves: OT Chris Hairston, OG Kraig Urbik*, OT Sam Young, OT Zebrie Sanders, OG Michael Jasper.

Overview: The Bills' 2011 offensive line graded out as the NFL's top pass-protecting unit, according to both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. Though no doubt assisted by Ryan Fitzpatrick's quick release, Buffalo allowed a league-low 23 sacks, which is another strong vote for the argument that elite left tackle play isn't necessarily a difference-making NFL quality. The Bills feel they improved on the left by stealing Glenn with the 41st pick in the draft, and bring back incumbent Hairston as a talented, tested backup. Similar players Urbik and Rinehart will vie for the right guard job. Wood is returning from a torn right ACL, but should be close to 100 percent by camp and has been a dominant center when healthy. While this group lacks household names, its combination of continuity, athleticism, and impressive scheming makes it quietly a top O-Line.

14. New York Giants

LT: William Beatty*
LG: David Diehl*
C: David Baas*
RG: Chris Snee*
RT: James Brewer

Top reserves: G/C Kevin Boothe*, OT Sean Locklear, OG Mitch Petrus, G/C Jim Cordle, OT Brandon Mosley.

Overview: The Giants' offensive line combined to miss 16 games in 2011, but Lombardi Trophies have a surefire way of suppressing durability concerns. It didn't hurt that the G-Men possessed such impressive depth and versatility. Boothe and Petrus stepped up as fill-ins, and Diehl wound up starting at both guard and tackle. This isn't the most talented front five and will hold multiple camp battles for starting jobs, but it is a resilient, experienced group bereft of egos. Even with stalwart right tackle Kareem McKenzie moving on, expect more of the same in 2012.

15. Cleveland Browns

LT: Joe Thomas*
LG: Jason Pinkston*
C: Alex Mack*
RG: Shawn Lauvao*
RT: Mitchell Schwartz

Top reserves: T/G Oniel Cousins, OG John Greco, G/T Ryan Miller, OG Stanley Daniels, OG Dominic Alford.

Overview: Perhaps no NFL team has poorer offensive line depth than Cleveland, but this is a promising young group with a chance at long-term continuity. All five starters are under the Browns' contractual control through 2013, and weak link Pinkston figures to make strides in his second year as a starter. Pinkston, Mack, Lauvao, and Schwartz are all scrappy mauler types with vast run-blocking potential. Thomas is arguably the best left tackle in the league. While a lack of depth knocks Cleveland's line down a few notches, No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson shouldn't struggle for running lanes if the starters stay healthy. Brandon Weeden still needs some receivers.

16. Dallas Cowboys

LT: Tyron Smith*
LG: Nate Livings
C: Phil Costa*
RG: Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT: Doug Free*

Top reserves: G/C Bill Nagy, OT Jermey Parnell, OG David Arkin, C Kevin Kowalski, OG Ronald Leary.

Overview: Flipping Smith and Free might give Dallas the league's top tackle pairing while catering to each player's best position. Lingering concerns exist on the interior, however, despite the all-told $30 million additions of Livings and Bernadeau. The feeling at Valley Ranch is that new OL coach Bill Callahan can get the most out of Livings and Bernadeau, the latter of whom couldn't start in Carolina last year. The former was a coaching staff favorite in Cincinnati, but consistently underachieved. Costa's bad snaps got the headlines in 2011, but he wasn't much of a blocker, either. Ultimately, the Cowboys have excellent tackles and major question marks up the middle.

17. New York Jets

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

Top reserves: T/G Vladimir Ducasse, OG Caleb Schlauderaff, OT Austin Howard, T/G Dennis Landolt, G/T Robert T. Griffin.

Overview: The Jets fielded the best offensive line in football during the 2009-10 seasons, but the unit has quickly devolved into much less of a strength. Right tackle is perhaps the most critical front-five position on a run-heavy team, and New York has gone from starting one of the league's top strong-side tackles (Damien Woody) to arguably the worst. Ferguson and Mangold remain among the NFL's elite, but Slauson is a replacement-level performer and Moore has lost his run-blocking fastball going on age 32 after major hip surgery. Depth is another big concern. Further complicating matters is New York's lack of a running back capable of creating yardage on his own. The Jets' line is suddenly league average at best, and it's not getting any better this year.

18. Detroit Lions

LT: Jeff Backus*
LG: Rob Sims*
C: Dominic Raiola*
RG: Stephen Peterman*
RT: Riley Reiff

Top reserves: OT Gosder Cherilus*, OT Corey Hilliard, OT Jason Fox, G/C Dylan Gandy, OT Johnny Culbreath.

Overview: All five starters return from a unit that finished third in Pro Football Focus' 2011 pass-blocking rankings and in Football Outsiders' top ten. The Lions don't run block nearly as well, but their offensive foundation is throwing the football. No team in the league fired off more pass attempts last season. The major concern on this line is age. Backus turns 35 in September and is showing signs of physical breakdown. Raiola is 33, and Peterman has aged more quickly than his 30 years suggest. Reiff does inject youth as a right-tackle upgrade on Cherilus. The Lions should squeeze one more efficient season out of this corps, but there is fall-off-the-cliff risk here.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars

LT: Eugene Monroe*
LG: Will Rackley*
C: Brad Meester*
RG: Uche Nwaneri*
RT: Eben Britton

Top reserves: C/G Jason Spitz, OT Guy Whimper*, OT Cameron Bradfield, C/G John Estes, C Mike Brewster.

Overview: Whimper was this unit's weak link last season as a 15-game starter. Though Whimper was re-signed in March, the Jaguars will demote him and turn to a hopefully-healthy Britton at right tackle. They'll also plan on major strides in 2011 third-round pick Rackley's second season. Monroe and Meester are the group's rocks at left tackle and center, respectively. While hardly an elite line, the Jags field an above-average group that has potential to improve by leaps and bounds with the reinstallation of Britton. Jacksonville has surrounded Blaine Gabbert with enough pass-catching and protecting talent that it's now up to Gabbert himself to right the ship.

20. San Francisco 49ers

LT: Joe Staley*
LG: Mike Iupati*
C: Jonathan Goodwin*
RG: Joe Looney
RT: Anthony Davis*

Top reserves: T/G Alex Boone, OG Daniel Kilgore, G/T Mike Person, C Chase Beeler, T/G/C Jason Slowey.

Overview: Coach Jim Harbaugh emphasized quality line play in his first year on the job, and succeeded by producing career-best seasons from Iupati and outgoing RG Adam Snyder. The 49ers play power ball up front, leading the NFC in 2011 rushing attempts while fielding a line that averaged over 322 pounds per starter. They'll lose some girth if Boone or Looney emerges as Snyder's replacement, but the philosophy remains the same: Beat up the opponent at the line of scrimmage. The Niners don't have the most talented front five; Goodwin is a workmanlike center, Looney a fourth-round rookie, Boone a former undrafted free agent, and Davis a struggling former first-round pick. For such a run-heavy team, San Francisco also allows far too many quarterback hits. But the left-side pairing of Staley and Iupati is elite, and there is lots of potential on the right.

21. Denver Broncos

LT: Ryan Clady*
LG: Zane Beadles*
C: J.D. Walton*
RG: Chris Kuper*
RT: Orlando Franklin*

Top reserves: OT Ryan Harris, OT Tony Hills, OG Manuel Ramirez, C/G Philip Blake, OT Adam Grant.

Overview: This group's continuity is impressive considering its youth. The average age of Denver's front five will be 26 when the season starts, with Kuper (29) as the elder statesman. Concerns include Kuper's multiple offseason surgeries for a broken left fibula, Walton's inability to hold the point of attack, and a systemic overhaul. Whereas the foundation of last year's success was running the ball, Denver will become a pass-first club with Peyton Manning at the controls. Manning has a long, documented history of single-handedly improving his own pass protection, but this unit may be one of the obstacles he'll be forced to overcome in order to regain past form.

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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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