Most Improved Offensive Lines - Footballguys

Predicting which offensive lines will be the most improved this season.

If all the offensive line comments, tweets, and articles were collected, there would probably be two groups: complaints about the bad lines and hype about the dominant groups. This article wades into the murky middle-tier and hopes to identify the lines who, by the midpoint of this season, will be considered the most improved.

Improvement, for the purposes of this article, is defined as not currently top-tier, but a group which is healthy and showing positive improvement over the course of the preseason. Many of these lines were considered problems in the recent past, but change is a constant in the league. Sometimes one or two key moves can turn a weakness into a strength.

MOST IMPROVED LINES OF 2018 (SO FAR)

LA Chargers

Current Rank: 14th

The Los Angeles Chargers added veteran center Mike Pouncey via free agency this offseason. Pouncey brings a Pro Bowl resume but more importantly leadership qualities to a line which lacked an identity in previous seasons. Through two preseason games, the line has been opening giant holes for running back Melvin Gordon III. While some of their success might be due to running against vanilla defensive schemes, there's an edge to this group. Right tackle Joe Barksdale appears fully recovered not just from his physical injuries but also from untreated depression, which also held back his performance in the past. Barksdale and left tackle Russell Okung are quietly an above average set of tackle bookends. The interior next to Pouncey is shaping up with Dan Feeney improving in his second season at left guard and Michael Schofield mauling as the starting right guard. Schofield will be pushed by last year's second-round pick Forrest Lamp, who is finally healthy after a year of rehab. Overall, this line is playing with good chemistry and look like a transformed group with the addition of Pouncey.

SEATTLE

Current Rank: 18th

This offseason the Seattle Seahawks' offense switched to a more man-to-man straight ahead power blocking scheme under new offensive line coach Mike Solari. The system works to the strengths of new arrival right guard D.J. Fluker. Fluker, who is currently nursing a minor finger injury and is expected to be fine for opening day, brings an added dimension to this line it previously lacked. Looking at the first team with Fluker during preseason action, the Seahawks converted obvious short yardage situations using a running back dive, a straightforward play past versions of this offense wouldn't even attempt. Left tackle Duane Brown is still a legitimate left tackle starter and while not perfect, he provides quarterback Russell Wilson with a level of blind side pass protection he's never had before in his career. Critics will point to right tackle Germain Ifedi as a weak spot, Ifedi, who was last seen getting blown up in the preseason by Los Angeles Chargers' pass rusher Melvin Ingram III, is now in a battle for the job. The team reacted and put last year's left tackle George Fant to the right side, where he will likely win the job from Ifedi. The team has other depth options such as J.R. Sweezy, working at left guard behind Ethan Pocic after rehabbing an ankle injury. National media and casual fans are not used to thinking about the Seahawks as having a good offensive line, but perhaps it's time to reconsider these preconceived notions.

CLEVELAND

Current Rank: 23rd

For most of this offseason, the Browns' line was planning to start Shon Coleman at left tackle. This proved to be an unworkable plan, as left guard Joel Bitonio was shifted to left tackle before the first preseason game against the New York Giants. Bitonio is not an ideal left tackle but he might be the next David Diehl (or more recently Andrus Peat): an excellent guard who can also start at tackle. Since the change (elevating rookie Austin Corbett to left guard) the Cleveland offensive line has been dynamic, especially in run blocking for running back Carlos Hyde. Right tackle Chris Hubbard arrived from Pittsburgh, where he started most of last season for the injured Marcus Gilbert. Hubbard has made a seamless transition into the starting lineup and his knowledge of his former team and the other division foes could prove extremely valuable in the future. Center J.C. Tretter is a stalwart and has been clearly assisting the rookie Corbett to his left. Right guard Kevin Zeitler has been out of action with a calf injury, but the line has still done a good job with Spencer Drango in his place. Drango, who at one point was starting at left tackle last season, isn't an ideal player but he looks better at guard. Zeitler should be back for opening day, which will only improve the line further. The Browns' line still has a long way to go before considered top-tier, but they are showing momentum and improving every time they appear on film.

OTHERS WITH POTENTIAL

These lines have current areas of concern holding them back from inclusion in the "Most Improved" group. Still, these lines have real potential to improve as the season progresses.

INDIANAPOLIS

Current Rank: 27th

The Colts' offensive line made a huge addition when they drafted Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson has become an immediate starter and his impact can be seen in the run game, especially on trap blocks. There is much to like about the interior of Nelson, Ryan Kelly at center and Matt Slauson at guard. The reason why this line hasn't risen in the rankings further is because of their tackles. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has been missing time with a hamstring injury. Castonzo is included in the current grade, as he is expected to return to action by opening day. Right tackle has been a disaster. Jack Mewhort retired and Denzelle Good has been hurt all preseason, leaving Joe Haeg, rookie Braden Smith and free agent acquisition Austin Howard to fight for the position. None has performed well enough to be considered a solution. This right tackle situation is the weak link holding back what could otherwise be at least a decent unit.

CINCINNATI

Current Rank: 28th

With left guard Clint Boling the only reliable holdover from last season, the Bengals' front office overhauled the team's offensive line this offseason, by acquiring Cordy Glenn via trade, Bobby Hart through free agency and drafting Ohio State center Billy Price in the first round. Glenn had initial problems handling Bengals' defenders such as Carl Lawson in practice but has settled down. Price had missed time this spring with a partially torn pectoral muscle, an injury suffered during the bench press test at the combine. Price started slow but also has improved with each test. The concerning position is at right tackle, where the 23-year-old Hart was touted as a successful reclamation project from the New York Giants. For several weeks, Hart looked good, far better than his competition for the spot in Cedric Ogbuehi. However, during Preseason Week 2, Hart was demolished by Cowboys' defensive pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence. Right guard Trey Hopkins is also having problems. The team gave Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman every opportunity to win the right guard spot but Redmond struggled with penalties and Westerman hasn't distinguished himself yet. This line could be among the most improved, especially when Price comes up to full speed, but the entire right side needs to get better. Quarterback Andy Dalton has not looked comfortable in the pocket all preseason, and he's starting to show signs of happy feet.

NY Giants

Current Rank: 29th

The Giants' front office overhauled their offensive line this spring, acquiring left tackle Nate Solder in free agency and drafting left guard Will Hernandez at the top of the second round. Solder has been solid in pass protection but is a finesse player in the run game. Hernandez is a bull in the run game but seems lost in pass protection. Center Jon Halapio once worked as a used car salesman and is now on track to start over Brent Jones. Jones is the more technical veteran but Halapio has size. On the right side, Patrick Omameh is holding off John Jerry at guard, while Ereck Flowers has been surprisingly decent at right tackle. Going through these names, there's been a ton of change this offseason, and currently, the line seems disjointed. However, as the left side and Halapio come up to speed, this line should rise in the rankings from terrible to at least decent. But be warned it might take until mid-season or longer before players like Hernandez and Halapio gain enough experience for this line to reach full potential.

If you have a question about a player, team or matchup not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact the author via Twitter.

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