During fantasy football season, we hear every little detail related to running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks, and tight ends. All of these skill-position players are broken down relentlessly, with experts using even the most minute details to identify sleepers, pick out busts, and determine draft strategy regarding these picks.
But among this research, one thing is often lost. And that’s the impact an offensive line can have on players.
In the modern NFL, offensive line play is one of the most important facets in deciding which teams will be contenders. The same can be said in fantasy. There are many players who can overcome poor offensive line play to be contributors -- Russell Wilson is a great example of this. But some really can’t do that. (David Johnson last year).
In the greater context of things, it’s important to know how each offensive line grades out. Because if you do, you can identify some critical sleepers and busts that others may not know much about. Here’s a look at the rankings for all 32 NFL offensive lines and how they might impact some top fantasy options.
1. Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have had one of the best lines in the NFL for quite a while, as the tackle duo of Jason Peters and Lane Johnson has been dominant in for the better part of the last decade. On the interior line, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks are among the best at their respective positions, as well. Isaac Seumalo is the one weak link on the starting unit, but the former third-round pick is still young and could improve. The Eagles’ top-notch blocking should boost the value of running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders while also giving Carson Wentz more time in the pocket to find open receivers.
2. Dallas Cowboys. Last year, the Cowboys were one of the stronger lines in the league without star center Travis Frederick. Frederick will return from a battle with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2019 and should bolster an already strong unit. Zack Martin is the best guard in the league while Tyron Smith is one of the league’s top left tackles. This unit has played a massive part in Ezekiel Elliott’s 4.7 career yards per carry mark. Provided that he ends his holdout soon enough, he again should benefit from the Cowboys' elite line.
3. Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck had the best season of his career last year. He also had the best protection of his career. That isn’t coincidental. Last year, the Colts' line only allowed Luck to be sacked 18 times. They are returning all five of their starters from last year and second-year players Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith should only be better this year. That will help Luck stay healthy, help Marlon Mack find space and give T.Y. Hilton the time he needs to make some big-time downfield plays.
UPDATE (Saturday, Aug. 24, 10 p.m ET): Luck shockingly retired from the NFL on Saturday night, meaning the Colts' line now will be tasked with keeping third-year QB Jacoby Brissett upright.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers made a somewhat puzzling trade this offseason by giving up solid right tackle Marcus Gilbert for just a sixth-round pick. Still, the team is replacing him with another good player in Matt Feiler and the other four starters up front have played together for the past three seasons. Their interior line -- Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro -- is particularly good and is a big part of why the team didn’t experience much drop-off when James Conner took over for Le’Veon Bell last season. Conner once again should stand to benefit from running behind them.
5. New England Patriots. The Patriots easily could have cracked the top three on this list had they kept Trent Brown, who was excellent at left tackle last year. Isaiah Wynn is set to take over for him, but he was limited in camp. So, that hurts the potential of this line, as they are thin at tackle. The rest of the line, highlighted by the elite guard tandem of Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, is terrific and allowed Tom Brady to be sacked just 21 times last year (tied for second-fewest in a 16-game season in the last 10 years). Brady should benefit from this protection, while Sony Michel and Damien Harris look to take advantage of the 4.4 yards per carry average running backs enjoyed behind the unit last year.
6. Tennessee Titans. Taylor Lewan is in the running to be one of the best left tackles in the league, while right tackle Jack Conklin was a top-10 pick. The team was able to sign Rodger Saffold away from the Rams in free agency as well, so that should be a massive upgrade for them at left guard. The only thing keeping them out of the top five is that Lewan is suspended for four games to start the season. Dennis Kelly will be a solid replacement for that stretch, but it could cause Derrick Henry’s blocking to be a bit shakier to start the season. And if you’re thinking about taking a flyer on Marcus Mariota, just know that his blindside won’t be as strong to start the year, so that’s definitely a stock down for the injury-prone signal-caller.
7. New Orleans Saints. The Saints have a lot of talent on their offensive line, including two former first-round picks (Ryan Ramcyzk and Andrus Peat) and a couple of players who were third-round steals (Terron Armstead and Larry Warford). The center position is in a bit of flux after Max Unger, one of the best centers in the game, surprisingly retired. The team was able to land Erik McCoy, one of the top centers in the 2019 NFL Draft, to replace him, but he and Drew Brees could have some growing pains to start the season. However, once McCoy settles in, this unit should continue to help Brees and Alvin Kamara continue to be consistent and successful.
8. Baltimore Ravens. Being a ground-dominant team requires a strong offensive line. The Ravens have that. Their young tackle tandem of Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. is very good while Marshal Yanda has long been one of the better guards in the NFL. If either Matt Skura or Jermaine Eluemunor can improve this season, the line could be really strong. The Ravens are going to be a run-heavy team, so having strong line should help scrambler Lamar Jackson and the newly-signed Mark Ingram. Conversely, the strong offensive line could ensure that the team doesn’t pass much, so consider that a minor hit for target-dependent guys like wide receiver Willie Snead.
9. Green Bay Packers. The Packers have one of the league’s best left tackles in David Bakhtiari, so they rank high on this list. He has solidified their left side long-term while Lane Taylor has turned into a fine left guard and Corey Linsley is a very good center. The right side is a bit more suspect, as Bryan Bulaga has had trouble staying healthy at tackle and Billy Turner got a big contract despite being a replacement-level starter. Still, the Packers unit will have to keep Aaron Rodgers upright and if Bulaga can stay healthy, that should happen.
10. Chicago Bears. The Bears have done a great job of drafting and developing offensive line talent over the course of the past five seasons. Charles Leno Jr. has turned into a solid starter at left tackle while Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, and James Daniels all have fared well in the middle. They should open up some lanes for David Montgomery and boost the rookie’s value a bit.
11. New York Giants. People are sleeping on the Giants’ offensive line a bit. Dave Gettleman has made some more-than-questionable moves as the Giants general manager, but he has made some nice upgrades to the offensive line. He acquired Kevin Zeitler in a trade with the Browns to strengthen the problematic right guard position while Jon Halapio and Will Hernandez will pair wtih him to make a trio of “Hog Mollies” on the inside. Nate Solder is a solid left tackle, as Patriots fans know, and while Mike Remmers is pedestrian, he is an upgrade over what the team had at right tackle last year. This should seriously help Saquon Barkley and could further establish him as the No. 1 fantasy player this year.
12. Carolina Panthers. The Panthers did a good job of replacing the retired (and now, unretired) Ryan Kalil with center Matt Paradis. Their interior offensive line is solid and getting Daryl Williams back to help at right tackle should be a positive. With better protection, Cam Newton should take fewer hits while Christian McCaffrey will continue to find running room between the tackles, as he did in his breakout season last year.
13. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are another underrated offensive line. They have one of the best centers in the game in Alex Mack and a solid left tackle in Jake Matthews. But their bigger boon was adding stud Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom and Washington tackle Kaleb McGary in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They should help solidify the right side of the line, Lindstrom especially, and give Matt Ryan better protection a year after being sacked 42 times (second-most in his career).
14. Washington Redskins. The Redskins have a very good offensive line when healthy, but health has been a major question for them in recent seasons. Trent Williams has been a key part of the line as well, manning the left tackle spot, but he is now holding out. With that situation unfolding, it’s tough to know exactly how the Washington line will look in 2019. But one thing is certain. If they stay healthy, they should provide better blocking for Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson than what the unit provided down the stretch last year.
15. Denver Broncos. Though the Broncos lost Matt Paradis to the Panthers, they added a couple of players to help on the right side of the line. Ja’Wuan James has been a rock-solid right tackle since the Dolphins took him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft and the team also selected the hyper versatile Dalton Risner in Round 2 of this year’s draft. Add that to the potential-packed Garret Bolles and the ever-solid Ronald Leary and the Broncos line should continue to perform well in 2019. The only thing they are lacking is depth, which could be an issue if a starter goes down.
16. Buffalo Bills. The Bills have upgraded what was a bottom-five offensive line into a middle-of-the-pack unit by making a number of moves this offseason. They have four new starters, including center Mitch Morse, who was signed over from the Chiefs, and that should significantly upgrade the blocking for LeSean McCoy and Josh Allen. Allen will get the bigger boost though, as he’ll have more time to make deep throws and will also have much better blocking on the designed runs he’s sure to get throughout the season.
17. Detroit Lions. The Lions have a solid starting unit, led by the tackle duo of Taylor Decker and Ricky Wagner, that should continue to be good in 2019. The development of youngsters Frank Ragnow and Graham Glasgow will be critical to this unit rising but for the time being, Kerryon Johnson should be able to run well provided that he can stay healthy.
18. Los Angeles Rams. Unlike the Bills, the Rams have lost some key linemen that may make it hard for them to continue their blocking prowess. Rodger Saffold left the team in free agency while former fourth-round pick Brian Allen will take over at center for the ever-steady John Sullivan. The interior line is unproven as a result and with Andrew Whitworth entering his age-37 season at left tackle, it’s fair to wonder if Todd Gurley’s blocking will be more of an issue this season. And that could compound the knee issues he is already dealing with to make him an even riskier pick.
19. Kansas City Chiefs. The good news for the Chiefs is that former first-overall pick Eric Fisher finally started to play up to his talent level to close last season. The bad news is that they lost center Mitch Morse in free agency. They still have talent at tackle, as Mitchell Schwartz is one of the best right tackles in the league, but up the middle, they are weaker. This is a stock-down for Damien Williams, though Andy Reid often helps to create running room with his blocking scheme, but the line issues won’t hurt Patrick Mahomes. He may be pressured more up the middle, but on the edge, he will be safe. And that will give him time to find Tyreek Hill on deep passes.
20. Oakland Raiders. Adding Trent Brown was big for the Raiders, as the former Patriot should continue his strong performance on either side of the line. Right now, the plan is to use him at right tackle and along with Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson, that side of the line should be strong. However, the left side is questionable. Kolton Miller struggled immensely as a rookie while Richie Incognito is a loose cannon and is already suspended for two games. It’s hard to recommend trusting this unit because of the uncertainty on that side, so rookie Josh Jacobs may have more growing pains than expected.
21. New York Jets. The Jets have really improved their line in recent weeks. Landing Kalil at center was a big move. Additionally, trading for Kelechi Osemele should help the team quite a bit at left guard. Right tackle is still a weak spot, but Bell’s blocking is a lot better than most are anticipating. If he slips to the lower-end of the first round due to the ill-will he brought up last year or concerns about the Jets, feel free to grab him. The Steelers units Bell ran behind were still better, but he should be able to do well behind this improving unit.
22. San Francisco 49ers. Joe Staley has long been one of the league’s best left tackles, but he turns 35 before the season. He and former first-round pick Mike McGlinchey are the best linemen on the team, and the interior line has a lot of holes. This, plus San Francisco’s back-by-committee approach, will make it tough to trust any of the team’s running backs outright.
23. Cleveland Browns. The weakness that could capsize the Browns is their below-average offensive line. Joel Bitonio and JC Tretter are great at left guard and center respectively. But elsewhere, the team doesn’t have a lot, and the tackle duo of Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard is just decent at best. Nick Chubb should still find running room behind the two elite interior guys, but the loss of Kevin Zeitler at right guard will hurt. Meanwhile, Baker Mayfield may face a bit more pressure on the right side with Zeitler not around to help out Hubbard at right tackle.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars line has potential, but the tackle positions are major question marks. Cam Robinson is on the PUP list while former Bengals bust Cedric Ogbuehi is set to start on the right side. That could make it difficult for Leonard Fournette to find running room (he has only averaged 3.7 yards per carry during his career) and Nick Foles may find himself under more pressure than he faced during his time in Philadelphia. So, it’s a fantasy stock-down for those two.
25. Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have been able to land a couple of good offensive linemen in center Justin Britt and left tackle Duane Brown. They don’t have much to write home about elsewhere. Germain Ifedi has been awful at right tackle and while Mike Iupati was once one of the league’s best guards, he’s merely mediocre now. The Seahawks will still be a run-oriented offense, so Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny should still produce due to sheer volume.
26. Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings did well to add Garrett Bradbury in the first round to fix their center position. And perhaps a move to guard will do Pat Elflein well. But the team still lacks tackle talent as Riley Reiff is merely a decent-at-best option at left tackle while raw second-year player Brian O'Neill gets a chance at right tackle. Kirk Cousins struggled under pressure last year and Dalvin Cook may not be too effective if he takes a lot of hits. Unless they trade for a guy like Trent Williams, they will have a tough time blocking on the edge this year.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Guard Ali Marpet is one of the best in the NFL, but that’s just about where the good news ends for the Buccaneers. Right tackle Demar Dotson is still solid, but he’s entering his 11th season. Left tackle Donovan Smith hasn’t been consistent though he still has upside. It’s hard to imagine the Bucs finding much success on the ground, which was a problem for them last season, so that’s a stock-down for Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber. Jameis Winston's stock remains the same, as he may throw more if the running game can’t work, but he could suffer more sacks and fumbles as a result.
28. Los Angeles Chargers. Philip Rivers has always managed to make do with a poor offensive line. He’ll have to make do again this year. Left tackle Russell Okung is very good, but he has had trouble staying healthy. The same can be said of center Mike Pouncey. Elsewhere, the guards aren’t very good and unless Forrest Lamp can finally live up to his second-round billing, the Chargers line will struggle. Again, Rivers is used to this, but it could keep Melvin Gordon from repeating his success on the ground last year, when he totaled 885 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
29. Arizona Cardinals. The good news: Marcus Gilbert was added at a low-cost this offseason. The bad news: The rest of the line is still in rough shape. David Johnson only averaged 3.6 yards per carry for the team last season and his improvement behind this line may only be modest at best. Johnson’s production will be helped by his involvement in the passing game, but his line certainly isn’t doing him any favors.
30. Cincinnati Bengals. When Jonah Williams was healthy and Clint Boling wasn’t retired, this line looked much better. Now, all the Bengals have is Cordy Glenn and second-year center Billy Price, who struggled at times last year after being a first-round pick. Joe Mixon somehow averaged 4.9 yards per carry running behind last season, but he may have a tough time repeating that even with the additions of Bobby Hart and John Miller.
31. Houston Texans. The Texans could have an excellent offense, but their offensive line is holding them back. They needed to add help to the unit this year, but all they did was sign human turnstile Matt Kalil and overdraft offensive tackle Tytus Howard when Andre Dillard came off the board one pick ahead of them in the 2019 NFL Draft. Second-round pick Max Scharping may help at guard, but Deshaun Watson is still going to get sacked quite a bit, and that could make him a big injury risk this season.
32. Miami Dolphins. Laremy Tunsil, a former first-round pick, is the only saving grace for the Dolphins. The rest of their line is mediocre bordering on bad. It will be hard for them to generate any push in the running game, so that will push Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage down in many rankings (especially after Drake's recent foot injury).
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