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Offensive Line Rankings and Notes: Training Camp Battles

An in-depth look at the positions up for grabs this preseason, and the linemen to watch in training camp.

With players reporting for training camp, fall is right around the corner. The new rankings are here and several teams stand out as being under the radar, either in a good or bad way. As usual, there’s a ton of news to cover, so let’s get after it.

POSSIBLY UNDERRATED

NEW YORK (N) – CURRENT RANK: 11TH

The Giants return all five starters in all five positions from the end of last season, which is great news for cohesion. Certain players on this roster have been beleaguered by the media (Ereck Flowers at left tackle, John Jerry at right guard) but both of these players had better 2016 seasons than they did the year prior. Jerry especially has really stepped up since working with LeCharles Bentley before last season. This unit also has youth on it’s side as Flowers is only 24 and Bobby Hart, the likely starter at right tackle, is only 22. Left guard Justin Pugh (the glue guy) and center Weston Richburg are both 26. The Giants currently grade out on the cusp of top-tier but it seems like most are sleeping on the quality of this unit.

LOS ANGELES (N) – CURRENT RANK: 16TH

The Rams’ line isn’t much on upside but in the short term, the left side especially is solid. Andrew Whitworth will start at left tackle, bringing stability to a position that this franchise hasn’t had for years. Rodger Saffold has been injured in recent years but if he remains healthy, he should settle in nicely at left guard. At center, John Sullivan is the likely starter. He is a savvy vet familiar with new Head Coach Sean McVay’s offensive system from their time together in Washington. Critics will point out that the right side isn’t as experienced, with Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown as the likely starters (with Andrew Donnal in the mix as well). That is true, and why this line is ranked middle of the pack. But for the Rams’ offensive line, a veteran heavy middle of the pack line could be a revitalization for Todd Gurley’s fantasy prospects. I have been drafting this player higher than most in staff mock drafts and the Rams’ offensive line is the reason why.

RISKY LINES

Baltimore – Current Rank – 25th

The Ravens’ offensive line has some good young talent in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard Alex Lewis. Right guard Marshal Yanda is still one of the best interior linemen in the league. With three above average starters, this line should be ranked higher. But the center competition ended prematurely with the recent retirement of 26-year-old John Urschel. Urschel has been a utility player in past years but was considered a possible starter at center or left guard (allowing Lewis to play right tackle). Without him, Ryan Jensen wins the job by default and the interior depth consists of rookie Nico Siragusa and Matt Skura. There have been rumors that the unit could add Nick Mangold via free agency but the team is pressed against the cap and might not be able to afford additional investment on the line. Right tackle could also be sub-par as James Hurst will likely start for departed free agent Rick Wagner. Jermaine Eluemunor played right tackle in college but the rookie should be too raw to contribute right away. Overall, this line used to be considered elite but two new starters force this unit into disarray as the season starts.

Detroit – Current Rank – 26th

The Lions invested a great deal of money in their right side, acquiring T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner via free agency. The line was shaping up nicely on paper. However, Taylor Decker, who started all sixteen games at left tackle as a rookie, tore his labrum and should be out for at least the first month of the season (if not longer). Corey Robinson, who started three games last year at right tackle, is still recovering from his offseason surgery. In response, the team has traded for Greg Robinson from the Rams, signed Tony Hills and Cyrus Kouandijo from the street. Greg Robinson will likely get the first shot to start but it’s not clear that any of these players will be a decent placeholder while Decker recovers. It should also be noted that while starting center Travis Swanson is said to be fully recovered from concussions that sidelined him for the last month of the season, those injuries are easier to incur after the first incident. This line has improved the right side but with the injuries, the unit comes with a ton of risk.

CINCINNATI - CURRENT RANK – 32ND

This Bengals’ offensive line was once considered among the better in football. But high turnover leaves only Clint Boling at left guard and Russell Bodine at center as the only returning starters from last season. The team will be starting two tackles with low NFL experience in Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi. Ogbuehi had played right tackle last year but the team will move him to left tackle for opening day. Jake Fisher will be given every chance to win the right tackle job after some reps as a blocking running back last season. Both players are physical specimens in their own ways but neither has proven themselves as a reliable replacement after Andrew Whitworth departed via free agency. Andre Smith, who started the 2015 season for the Bengals at right tackle, has rejoined the team and is the nominal starter at right guard. Smith is the most experienced veteran on paper but he has been injury plagued recently. Christian Westerman would be the next interior lineman and Eric Winston is winding down his career as the swing tackle. If the young starting tackles can become professionals, this line can climb in the rankings quickly. But defensive coordinators will be salivating at passing down matchups, especially early in the season.

Possibly Overrated

Philadelphia – Current Rank: 6th

The Eagles’ line holds high grade in our latest model (see below for full ranks), but the contra case does exist. Left guard is an open competition between Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack. On the surface, that seems problematic, although Stefen Wisniewski is another legitimate option. Meanwhile center Jason Kelce is coming off a terrible season. It feels like a long time since his 2013 dominance. At left tackle, Jason Peters is a stalwart going into his 14th season. But how much longer can he keep making freakish athletic plays? Right tackle Lane Johnson is one more substance abuse violation from an indefinite suspension. Brandon Brooks is rock steady at right guard but it's the tackles that are actually the rare elements of the Eagles' line. Few teams have two legit tackles that can get out in front on screens and pass protect with no tight end help. While Philadelphia is potentially an elite line, there’s a ton of risk, especially at the tackle spots.

Unicorns of the Northwest

Seattle – Current Rank: 30th

Tom Cable knows more about offensive linemen than almost anyone on the planet. He’s one of the best positional coaches in the game, with the assistant head coach title and salary to prove it. He took George Fant, a converted power forward, put 70 pounds on the guy, and turned him into a starting left tackle. He takes the team’s high priced free agent addition Luke Joeckel, and plays him at guard (despite making tackle money). This model rewards teams that keep offensive linemen in the same positions over time. That cohesion factor also rewards players who play in the same spots. A switch from right guard to right tackle for example, as Germain Ifedi going to attempt, is not considered great in the near term. Justin Britt was a converted right tackle playing center and who knows what positions backup centers Ethan Pocic or Joey Hunt will play next? The point of this rant is that I’ve given up trying to figure out what Seattle does on the offensive line. They are low in the rankings now because of cohesion. But as we’ve all learned the hard way, Cable knows more than we do and ranking this unit is a job that will require careful week to week observation.

OL Notes

Houston LT Duane Brown Holds Out

Duane Brown has not attended any workouts this offseason and has been absent from training camp. Either Chris Clark or Kendall Lamm have taken the first team left tackle reps in his place. With Derek Newton’s career in doubt, the loser of that Clark/Lamm battle would likely swap in at right tackle. Taking the morality of honoring one’s non-guaranteed contract out of the mix, the Texans do not have leverage in this situation. The team has the cap space to pay him and Brown is underpaid by current standards. Uniquely, Brown is the team’s second highest paid player so he also has the money saved to hold out indefinitely. Teams would demand this player’s services, and he has trade value. While David Quessenberry’s battle with cancer is a great story he’s been playing left guard while Xavier S’ua-Filo recovers from an offseason injury. With the tackle market and the Texans’ lack of depth, the 32-year-old Brown should be able to get a few more million out of Texans’ GM Rick Smith. The Texans are a mid-tier line with Duane Brown, but a low-tier line without him.

OAKLAND LT DONALD PENN HOLDS OUT

Donald Penn is making $7 million per year, which is underpaid by league standards. This is despite his performance as a top tackle through recent seasons. Penn is 34, which makes a raise hard to stomach but even harder to stomach for Raiders' fans would be the absence of Penn on opening day. In related news, the Raiders released nominal starting right tackle Austin Howard, in what was both a salary and injury related move. The right tackle spot will be a battle between Marshall Newhouse, Vidal Alexander, and several other youngsters (see full positional battles, below).  Whoever starts, Howard was the weak link in the grading. The Raiders' grade remains in the top tier, assuming Penn returns to the lineup.

Positional Battles to Watch

(Listed by Likelihood to Start)

  • Atlanta RG: Wes Schweitzer vs. Ben Garland vs. Sean Harlow (R)
  • Buffalo RT: Jordan Mills vs. Dion Dawkins (R)
  • Cleveland RT: Shon Coleman vs. Cameron Erving
  • Dallas LG: Chaz Green vs. Jonathan Cooper
  • Denver LT: Garett Bolles vs. Ty Sambrailo
  • Denver LG: Ronald Leary vs. Allen Barbre
  • Detroit LT: Greg Robinson vs. Cyrus Kouandijo vs Tony Hills
  • Houston RT: Kendall Lamm vs Chris Clark (assuming Duane Brown at LT)
  • Miami LG: Anthony Steen vs Ted Larsen vs Isaac Asiata vs Kraig Urbik
  • New York (A) RT: Brandon Shell vs. Ben Ijalana vs. Brent Qvale
  • Oakland RT: Marshall Newhouse vs. Vadal Alexander vs. David Sharpe (R) vs. Jylan Ware (R)
  • Philadelphia LG: Isaac Seumalo vs. Chance Warmack

Full Rankings

  Rank Team Notes
TOP TIER 1 DAL  
2 WAS  
3 CLE  
4 OAK A. Howard released.
5 PIT  
6 PHI  
7 ATL  
8 BUF  
9 TEN  
10 SF  
11 NYG  
MID TIER 12 CHI  
13 AZ  
14 IND  
15 JAX  
16 LAR  
17 NO T. Armstead torn labrum.
18 NE  
19 CAR  
20 DEN  
21 HOU  
LOW TIER 22 MIA  
23 KC  
24 GB  
25 BAL J. Urschel retired.
26 DET T. Decker torn labrum.
27 TB  
28 NYJ  
29 LAC  
30 SEA  
31 MIN  
32 CIN  

As usual, if you have a question about a team not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via Twitter.