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Rare Offensive Line Talent Could Lead to Surprising NFL Season

Following the release of PFF's offensive line rankings heading into 2017, some surprising NFL teams may be on the rise. Other teams may be in for a shock.

From Last Word On Pro Football, by Jack Tarrant

If offensive line play is the key to a team’s success, then the NFL better get ready for a dramatic shift in power. This off-season saw a flurry of big money free agent signings in one position group more than any other: the offensive line.

Rare Offensive Line Talent Could Lead to Surprising NFL Season

35-year-old tackle Andrew Whitworth signed a three-year $33.75 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams. Guard Kevin Zeitler also left the Cincinnati Bengals, heading to the Cleveland Browns.

The Detroit Lions threw money at both guard T.J. Lang and tackle Ricky Wagner to better protect franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.

There was big money to be had for even the most average lineman.

Matt Kalil was long considered a problem in Minnesota, on arguably the league’s worst line last season. Yet he landed a big contract with the Carolina Panthers. Former number two overall pick Luke Joeckel somehow convinced the Seattle Seahawks to give him $8 million this season, despite years of shoddy play in Jacksonville.

Teams are Desperate

What does this tell us? Teams were desperate for offensive lineman this off-season. A good offensive line can make or break an NFL team. Teams know that and so will overpay for even mediocre talent.

So what about those teams with the best offensive line units in the league? Surely they are set for big seasons? Well, there are some surprising names in there.

Football statistics gurus Pro Football Focus recently released their offensive line rankings heading into the 2017 season. The ranking is based upon a variety of factors, including snap counts and performance.

If PFF are correct – as they so often are – and good offensive line play is as important as believed, then the NFL could see some surprising teams on the rise.

No. 1 – Philidelphia Eagles

PFF ranked the Philadelphia Eagles line as being the best in the NFL heading into 2017 and with three Pro Bowlers in their starting roster it is easy to see why. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are probably the most dominant pair of tackles in the league, while center Jason Kelce went to his second Pro Bowl last season.

Guards Allen Barbre and Brandon Brooks are good too and, crucially, this unit has real experience playing with each other from last season.

Keeping Johnson – who was suspended for ten games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances last season – on the field will be critical.
If this unit plays to their capability, then second year quarterback Carson Wentz and his new group of wide receivers could drive the Eagles to a shock NFC East division title.

No. 2 – Cleveland Browns

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

In Joe Thomas, Cleveland possesses the best offensive lineman of his generation. Thomas has been a Pro Bowler every season since entering the league in 2007 and will walk into the Hall of Fame.

Thomas hasn’t always had a lot of help over the years as the Browns have plunged to seemingly new depths every season.

But now there is renewed optimism in Cleveland that the Browns won’t be totally terrible and that is largely due to the repairs mentioned on the offensive line.

As well as Zeitler coming in from the Bengals, J.C. Tretter was also brought in at center. Both performed well last season and were two of the best lineman available in free agency.

Whoever gets the nod at quarterback for the Browns this year should at least stay upright long enough to be competent and carry the Browns to a respectable record.

No. 3 – The Pittsburgh Steelers

This comes as less of a shock.

As well as having a Hall of Fame quarterback and arguably the best pair of offensive weapons in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers also have a dominant group up front.

The interior group of Ramon Foster (Left Guard), Maurkice Pouncey (Center) and David DeCastro (Right Guard) is probably the best in the game and only makes this explosive offense more deadly.

The Steelers look nailed on to retain the AFC North.

Cowboys Drop to Nine

There are further surprises in PFF’s top 10.

The Tennessee Titans are at four and the Chicago Bears, roundly ridiculed as having one of the worst rosters in the league, at five.

The Titans are one of the off-season favorites in media circles and their solid line could mean Marcus Mariota stays healthy for the duration of the year, something he hasn’t managed yet in his NFL career.

And the Bears, similarly to the Browns, have questions all over their offense but can at least rely on a solid base from which to build.

Surprisingly, PFF put the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys, two of the most dominant groups in 2016, at seven and nine respectively.

PFF highlights the huge question mark Oakland has at right tackle while Dallas has lost two starters from last season.

Bottom of the Rankings

As for the worst three offensive lines per PFF? Well that would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bengals and the Seattle Seahawks, all playoff candidates this coming season.

Fans of those teams, heading into the season with a lot of optimism at a positive campaign and a deep play-off run may be left disappointed.

All three teams have franchise quarterbacks in place. All three teams have offensive weapons, especially the Bucs and Cincinnati, who are loaded on that side of the ball.

But if they can’t keep the quarterback upright, or open up running lanes to grind out those tight wins, then we may see some favored teams slide away this season.

PFF rankings are largely seen as gospel when it comes to offensive lineman in the NFL. If they are right this season, we are in for a hell of a ride.


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