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By the Numbers

Tracking the NFL's Offensive Line Continuity

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: April 18, 2020, 4:15 pm ET

How do you get better at anything?

Practice.

Hence, it makes sense that offensive lines that spend more time together *should* have an advantage over those that have been haphazardly patched together. Obviously there's something to be said for replacing a bad player with a better player, but generally the more time a group of starting linemen spend together, the better.

What follows is a breakdown on how many starters each offensive line is replacing from 2019. There will still be injuries, additional signings, and plenty of draft picks; this is merely the first step of the offseason in attempting to identify which offensive lines could get better or worse in 2020.

Special thanks to Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, Over The Cap, OurLads, Football Outsiders and underrated Twitter follow Thomas Emerick for data on offensive line production, usage and carryover from 2019-2020.

Note that starting linemen are determined by 1) If that player was a Week 1 starter and/or 2) If that player took at least 50% of the offense's snaps in 2019.


Offensive lines returning all five starters

  • Atlanta Falcons: Dealt with only minor injuries to guards Jamon Brown (7 missed games) and James Carpenter (5) in 2019. Still, continuity of a bad unit isn't necessarily a good thing; Matt Ryan was pressured at the league's fifth-highest rate last season and looked like a shell of his former self in the second half of after returning less mobile from an ankle injury. Only the Dolphins, Jets, Bears and Bucs were more inefficient on a per-carry basis.
  • Buffalo Bills: Largely re-invented their offensive line through free agency in 2019 and return the entire group ahead of 2020. Whether or not everyone will start at least 15 games again remains to be determined. It'd be nice to see some sort of draft capital added to the position; OT Cody Ford (2019 2nd), G Wyatt Teller (2018 5th) and G Dion Dawkins (2017 2nd) are their only o-linemen drafted since 2015.
  • Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson regularly holds the ball for an extended period in an effort to find an open receiver, sometimes leading to unnecessary sacks ... and other times brilliant game-changing plays. The Texans *should* be solid at tackle with former first-round picks Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard, although they ranked just 27th and 30th in adjusted line yards over left and right tackle, respectively, in 2019. Ultimately, protecting Watson needs to be prioritized above all else, and more talent is needed – particularly in the interior. The Texans haven't drafted a guard or center inside of the top-six rounds of the draft since 2016.
  • Indianapolis Colts: Somehow, none of the Colts' starting five offensive linemen missed a game last season. Their decision to re-sign LT Anthony Castonzo ensures that the gang will be back together in 2020. If Jorge Masvidal is the BMF of the UFC; Quenton Nelson is that for the NFL. The 2020 Colts might just be the team that everyone wants the 2020 Bucs to be.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Gardner Minshew and Leonard Fournette will be operating behind the exact same usually-porous offensive line in 2020. Overall, this offense was the league's fifth-worst group in yards before contact per rush. They need to address guard and center in particular considering the Jags haven't drafted an interior offensive lineman since 2015. The good news is that Minshew has already demonstrated a penchant for creating off-script goodness.
  • Kansas City Chiefs: The Super Bowl champs will return virtually every starter from 2019. This includes the same offensive line that paved the way for the league's fifth-best scoring offense a season ago. PFF has graded RT Mitchell Schwartz as the league's No. 5 overall tackle in each of the last two seasons. Still, additional help up the middle would be much appreciated. Overall, the Chiefs ranked just 28th in adjusted line yards per rush up the middle or over either guard in 2019.
  • Los Angeles Rams: The Rams' offensive line was absolutely dominant in both 2017 and 2018. Then they slipped in run blocking (No. 19 in adjusted line yards per rush) and allowed Jared Goff to be pressured at a not-good 35.8% clip last season. Things usually have to be pretty perfect for Goff to truly ball out; re-building a dominant offensive front through the draft seems like a wise idea here. Only the Vikings, Dolphins and Ravens have fewer 2020 dollars devoted to the offensive line than the Rams.
  • Las Vegas Raiders: Nobody is spending more money on their offensive line than the Raiders. Last season's group performed admirably in the run game, enabling the league's No. 6-ranked offense in adjusted line yards per rush. They also ranked sixth in adjusted-sack rate, although it's tough to tell how their pass protection is truly holding up considering Derek Carr tends to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible at the first sign of pressure.
  • New England Patriots: 2019 starting C Ted Karras joined the Dolphins, but the return of 2015-2018 starter David Andrews should be an upgrade. This was a top-10 unit in both adjusted line yards per rush and adjusted sack rate in 2019. It remains to be seen if adding a more-mobile QB will help the group's pass protection, or if Tom Brady's decisiveness and experience will be missed. The good news is the run game should be better by default; nobody had a larger positive difference in adjusted line yards per rush compared to yards per carry (indicating the team's RBs under-performed relative to the offensive line).
  • New Orleans Saints: The Saints have been a top-five offense in both adjusted line yards per rush and adjusted sack rate in each of the past four seasons. Obviously coach Sean Payton's scheme, Drew Brees' general excellence, and the offense's steady supply of great RBs helps, but the big uglies up front have been the engine of one of the league's top-scoring units. Don't expect much to change in 2020.

Offensive lines returning four starters

  • Arizona Cardinals: Arizona re-signed both LT D.J. Humphries and RT Justin Murray. Alas, the 2020 Cardinals have a 2019 Browns vibe. Overall, the 2019 Cardinals ranked 21st in adjusted line yards per rush and 26th in adjusted sack rate (Football Outsiders). The 2018 Browns finished at 18th and 16th, respectively. They currently have the 11th-fewest 2020 dollars devoted to the offensive line. Murray took a league-high 48 sacks even though he had PFF's longest average time between receiving the snap and getting taken to the ground. Arizona has drafted just one offensive lineman with a top-three round pick since 2016.
  • Baltimore Ravens: Long-time stud RG Marshal Yanda retired, but otherwise the league's premiere rushing attack will be fully back in action next season. Overall, Baltimore ranked third and second in adjusted line yards and yards before contact per rush, respectively. Of course, it can't hurt to add some additional resources to the unit considering nobody has fewer 2020 dollars devoted to the offensive line than the Ravens.
  • Chicago Bears: Losing RG Kyle Long to retirement is probably a positive at this point; he finished 2019 as PFF's single-worst guard among 87 qualified players. Still, more work needs to be done on the incumbent starters. Chicago is one of just seven teams with fewer than $30 million 2020 dollars devoted to their offensive line. G James Daniels was the only Bears guard or tackle ranked among PFF's top-30 players at their position in 2019.
  • Dallas Cowboys: Stud C Travis Frederick retired, meaning 2018 starting C Joe Looney will slot into the league's second-most expensive offensive line. Don't be surprised if the Cowboys continue to address the group early and often in the draft. The system is working: last season Dak Prescott and company engineered one of just 11 offenses to average at least 6.5 yards per play since 1970.
  • Green Bay Packers: Former Ravens and Lions RT Rick Wagner will replace Bryan Bulaga, who started 111 games for the Packers from 2010-2019. Adding a high-round pick to the unit wouldn't hurt, but this top-10 unit in both adjusted line yards per rush and adjusted sack rate should again be more than solid in 2020.
  • Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings join the Dolphins and Ravens as the only teams spending fewer than $25 million on their offensive line. They essentially replaced one-year starting RG Josh Kline with incumbent backup Dakota Dozier. Depth is a major concern here. There's certainly room for improvement; Kirk Cousins was pressured at the league's 10th-highest rate. This was a below average run game in yards before contact per carry despite Dalvin Cook's consistent goodness with the ball in his hands.
  • Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard will take over for 16-year veteran Jason Peters as Carson Wentz's blindside protector. Perennially possessing one of the league's best offensive lines, Philly again looks slated to function as an (at worst) above-average offense.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 statistics paint a somber picture of the Steelers' offensive line. Nobody averaged fewer yards before contact per rush than the Steelers in 2019. Each of Hodges (No. 9) and Rudolph (No. 10) ranked among PFF's most-pressured QBs on a per-dropback basis. The offensive line obviously deserves some blame, although defenses also didn't make a habit of respecting this passing attack. Losing long-time G Ramon Foster to retirement won't help, but ex-Chiefs G Stefen Wisniewski should be able to serve as an adequate replacement.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers' offensive front began to peak late in the season after their pair of stud tackles finally got healthy. Their experience together, combined with coach Kyle Shanahan's always-lethal rushing schemes, makes this another group to fear ahead of 2020. Still, the 49ers face a similar problem to the Rams in that everything needs to be perfect in terms of pass protection in order for their statue-esque QB to succeed. Even then it's sometimes not enough.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Keeping Tom Brady upright needs to be a priority, so finding a better replacement than ex-Colts backup OT Joe Haeg for RT Demar Dotson should be prioritized. It remains to be seen if Brady's decisiveness will make up for his lack of mobility now that he has much better pass-game weapons at his disposal. The run game could use an upgrade in talent at the RB position; only the Patriots, Jets and Rams had a larger difference in adjusted line yards per rush and yards per carry in 2019.
  • Tennessee Titans: Replacing RT Jack Conklin with incumbent backup OT Dennis Kelly should be an upgrade in terms of pass protection, although PFF graded the former player as the league's No. 5 overall tackle in run blocking. Luckily, Derrick Henry has already proven more than capable of enabling a lackluster front. The Titans boasted the league's ninth-worst offense in yards before contact per rush ... but were the class of the NFL when it came to yards after contact per rush.


Offensive lines returning three starters

  • Carolina Panthers: Swapping long-time stud G Trai Turner for ex-Chargers LT Russell Okung seems like a net negative. The verdict is still out on 2019 second-round pick Greg Little. Carolina currently has the 10th-fewest 2020 dollars devoted to the offensive line, although they might have the personnel to make it work. Teddy Bridgewater has never made a habit of holding onto the ball for very long, and Christian McCaffrey helped produce the single-largest negative difference in adjusted line yards per rush and yards per carry (meaning he vastly out-performed his predicted production based on the offensive line).
  • Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals essentially have two first-round picks thanks to the return of OT Jonah Williams. Adding former Texans and Cowboys G Xavier Su'a-Filo to the group can't hurt. This front needs all the help it can get: the Bengals ranked 26th in adjusted line yards per rush and 21st in adjusted sack rate in 2019. They were one of just eight teams to average fewer than two yards before contact per attempt. Only the Rams, Vikings, Dolphins and Ravens have fewer 2020 dollars devoted to their offensive line.
  • Cleveland Browns: The first horrendous sign of the 2019 Browns season was when they briefly released starting LT Greg Robinson after the preseason in a salary-saving move. Although, Baker Mayfield didn't exactly reward the group when they kept him clean, posting the league's fourth-worst passer rating when not under pressure among 39 qualified QBs (PFF). There's plenty of talent to go around at RB, WR and TE, this offensive line just needs to put it all together. New RT Jack Conklin is a great first step, but it'd still behoove the Browns to use a high-round pick to find Mayfield a solid blindside protector.
  • Denver Broncos: The Broncos used high picks on LG Dalton Risner (2019 2nd) and LT Garett Bolles (2017 1st), but otherwise haven't spent a top-four round pick on the o-line since 2015. PFF graded this unit as the league's No. 14 and No. 15 best o-line in pass- and run-blocking, respectively, but they'll need to replace C Connor McGovern and RG Ronald Leary. The latter player's replacement is high-priced free agent Graham Glasgow, while it remains to be seen who will be Drew Lock's center.
  • Detroit Lions: The Lions' newfound deep passing game will only work as long as Matthew Stafford can stay healthy. His 37.5% pressured dropback rate was the eighth-worst mark in the league. C Graham Glasgow is now with the Broncos. In general, the Lions simply need to devote more resources to the group; they've drafted just two offensive linemen in their last three drafts combined and have the sixth-fewest 2020 dollars devoted to the position.
  • Miami Dolphins: Only the Ravens have fewer 2020 dollars devoted to the offensive line than the Dolphins. They ranked 32nd and 29th in adjusted line yards per rush and adjusted sack rate, respectively. There's a reason why the offense's only consistent success was throwing the ball up to the likes of DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki. Call me skeptical, but I have a hard time believing adding Patriots C/G Ted Karras and bust G/T Ereck Flowers is going to produce a quick turnaround. Don't expect a rookie RB to find too much success, particularly after considering how big of a role Jordan Howard could carve out.
  • New York Giants: This offensive line was one of just 10 units to average fewer than four adjusted line yards per rush in 2019. Meanwhile, Daniel Jones joined Sam Darnold as the only QBs to be pressured on at least 40% of their dropbacks. RT Mike Remmers and C Jon Halapio are tentatively expected to be replaced by career backup Cameron Fleming and incumbent backup Spencer Pulley, respectively. Of course, even a below-average offensive line doesn't seem capable of slowing down Saquon Barkley.
  • Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have ranked as a bottom-10 offense in adjusted sack rate in each of the past five seasons. They've failed to properly address this issue, ranking No. 26, No. 31, No. 16, No. 21 and No. 22 in money spent on the offensive line since 2015. Hopefully free agent additions G/C B.J. Finney as well as RT Brandon Shell can provide a spark. Either way, expect bunches of rush attempts mixed in with occasional magic from Russell Wilson once again in 2020.
  • Washington RedskinsDwayne Haskins (3.72 seconds to attempt, PFF) proved much better at holding off sacks compared to Case Keenum (2.91). Still, they were one of just eight teams to average fewer than two yards before contact per rush attempt. This entire unit needs help regardless of how the Trent Williams and Alex Smith sagas play out. RG Brandon Scherff is back, while free agent additions G Wes Schweitzer and OT Cornelius Lucas are reasonable upgrades over departed starters LG Ereck Flowers and LT Donald Penn.

Offensive lines returning two starters

    • Los Angeles Chargers: Adding G Trai Turner and RT Bryan Bulaga to the offense are each major wins for this offensive front. One last hole remains at left tackle, where 2019 third-round pick Trey Pipkins is currently slotted to start. It remains to be seen if Tyrod Taylor's mobility will out-weigh Philip Rivers' experience and decisiveness. An improved offensive line, combined with a plethora of talented skill-position talents, makes the Chargers a potentially underrated offense to watch ahead of 2020.
    • New York Jets: The Jets appear to be taking a page out of the Bills' playbook by simply adding a ton of bodies to what was an extremely underwhelming unit in 2019. Overall, they signed each of OT George Fant, C Connor McGovern, G Greg Van Roten and G/C Josh Andrews. This extreme approach was warranted. Sam Darnold was one of two QBs to be pressured on at least 40% of their dropbacks. The Jets joined the Steelers as the only offenses to average fewer than 1.5 yards before contact per rush.
    Ian Hartitz

    All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.