There's just a huge amount of #offensiveline news this week. There are so many upgrades and injuries to cover that I barely have time to unveil my 2017 "all-hair" team:
LT David Bakhtiari, GB - LG Xavier S'ua-Filo. HOU - C Ryan Jensen, BAL - RG Josh Sitton, CHI - RT Joe Barksdale, LAC - Swing OT: LaAdrian Waddle, NEP. Congrats to these players for this cosmetic honor. Anyone missing?
This upgrade is due to the improved play of the line overall, particularly in run blocking. Left guard Nick Easton has been flashing since his return from injury while rookie center Pat Elflein has been playing like a veteran. The nation noticed the Vikings' line against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, but this unit has been rising in the rankings all season. Right tackle Rashod Hill has played well in place of Mike Remmers. Remmers has actually been out of the concussion protocol since before the Detroit game, but the coaches seem to be fine with playing Hill. With the latest upgrades to the interior linemen, the Vikings' offensive line grades out in the top-tier of the latest rankings.
Left guard Luke Joeckel returned from a five-week injury and played all of the snaps in the win over San Francisco. Joeckel and Duane Brown played together for the first time since Brown's arrival. Joeckel had moments of rust but if he can stay healthy, the Seahawks line could be excellent for a while. It feels like Joeckel has been in the league forever but he is actually 5 months younger than center Justin Britt. Guard Ethan Pocic looked extremely solid switching over to the right side in place of Oday Aboushi. Keeping with the theme of youth, Pocic is the youngest offensive lineman to start at least six games this season and right tackle Germain Ifedi is the seventh youngest. This Seattle offensive line grades out as a top-tier unit (and based on their youth, they could stay in that tier for a while).
After a disappointing 2016 campaign, center Jason Kelce is in the midst of a bounce-back season and (as other Football Guys have pointed out) his play is a huge reason for Philadelphia's offensive success. The model doesn't change individual grades on a week-to-week (or even month-to-month) basis. But Kelce's improvement (or rather, his regaining of top form) can no longer be ignored. Without left tackle Jason Peters in the lineup, Kelce and the rest of the Philadelphia offensive line have stepped up their efforts.
This upgrade is based on the return of left tackle Ronnie Stanley to the lineup last week. Stanley had missed one game and started last week's Monday Night Football. This upgrade occurs under a dark cloud as Stanley "heard something pop" and left last week's game for treatment. James Hurst slid over to left tackle briefly, but Stanley returned to the game and finished it out against pass rushing terror Jadaveon Clowney. Stanley was seen by beat writers arriving late at Wednesday's practice so these rankings take a leap of faith and assume Stanley goes this week. Those with exposure to Ravens' skills players should monitor this situation closely, as their offensive line plays very differently without their left tackle.
After weeks of bad news, the Chargers' offensive line got some good news when right tackle Joe Barksdale returned last Thursday and played all snaps during San Diego's win over Dallas. Barksdale had missed 4 games straight with a foot injury (and also Week 3 with the same injury) and it's not clear if he is all the way back to full health. Michael Schofield is a tough run blocker and he made an admirable effort in Barskdale's absence but Barksdale is a far better pass protector and the Chargers' offense gets more and more pass dominant as the season progresses. Their line grades out as a mid-tier unit, trending in the right direction.
Right tackle Jason Spriggs looked lost in Week 11, and his grade reflected that reality. However, Spriggs had a bounce-back performance against a tough Pittsburgh defensive front last week. Spriggs seems to have "found his sea legs" and this week the head coach named the former second-round selection the starter for the immediate future (read: the remainder of the season). Assuming Spriggs plays closer to average than terrible, the Packers' line still grades out as a low-tier selection. But there's realistic hope for the mid-tier, and that's an improvement.
Nominally, this one slot downgrade is for the injury to center Chase Roullier, which forced Tony Bergstrom into the lineup last Thursday against the New York Giants. Bergstrom is an experienced but flawed vet but the difference between the inexperienced but physical Roullier isn't huge in the model. However, the left tackle situation remains a dice roll on a week to week basis. Trent Williams missed last week's contest but signs seem to point to his participation this Thursday against Dallas. Ty Nsekhe would play left tackle or guard, depending on Williams' health. Arie Kouandijo would get another start at left guard. This is a tough situation to call but those savvy enough to follow the offensive lines should make double sure that Williams is active that hour before game time. Williams is the rare offensive lineman whose absence can move a Vegas spread.
Left guard Josh Sitton left last week's loss at Philadelphia with a concussion. These protocol situations are always tough to predict but Sitton appears doubtful to play this week. Bobby Massie took Sitton's place in the lineup and that appears to be a safer option than elevating Hroniss Grasu to center and sliding Cody Whitehair to guard. The Bears' offensive line can be a top-tier unit when Sitton, Whitehair and Kyle Long are together. Unfortunately, that ideal lineup has been tough to keep on the field this season.
Left tackle Terron Armstead was forced from last week's game at Los Angeles in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. The team isn't telling the press what exactly is wrong with Armstead, but they are concerned enough to re-sign Bryce Harris from free agency this week. Assuming the offense is without Armstead, left guard Andrus Peat would side over to left tackle while Senio Kelemente would play left guard. It's still a good lineup, but without Armstead, it's not a top-tier one.
While much has been made of the struggles of quarterback Alex Smith (and certainly, they are real) the point must be made that the left side of the line is not performing in either phase of the offense. Eric Fisher has been a chronic underperformer at left tackle, but the Chiefs (and society) lets this player fail upward for whatever reason. That isn't a surprise. What is a surprise is that Andy Reid hasn't yanked underperforming Zach Fulton for either Parker Ehinger or the already benched Bryan Witzmann. Fulton is a veteran who played well in relief of Laurent Duvarnay-Tardiff on the right side, and he also looked good for Mitch Morse at center earlier in the season. But for whatever reason, Fulton looks bad at left guard and a change is needed. Until that happens, the Kansas City offensive line grades out just inside the low-tier border.
After being forced from last week's loss, center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson were both placed on injured reserve this week. It's not entirely clear what the lineup will be without these players. The most optimistic lineup might be Joe Hawley at center, Evan Smith at left guard while Kevin Pamphile tries right tackle. Tampa Bay's line wasn't a great option but losing two starters in a week is a tough blow for any team to overcome.
Center Ryan Kelly was forced from last week's loss to Tennessee with a concussion. Kelly appears unlikely to play this week and Mike Person is slated to get his first start since 2015. Ryan Kelly's season has been snake-bit with injury. Anthony Fabiano was signed to be Person's backup. Right tackle Denzelle Good got the start less than three weeks after the team activated him from injured reserve.
Left tackle Chris Clark was forced from Monday Night Football with an ankle injury. Kendall Lamm replaced Clark during the game and this week Clark was placed on injured reserve. Chad Slade was promoted from injured reserve but he is more of a guard. The Texans' left tackle situation has been a week-to-week saga all season. Kendall Lamm is the last man standing, and the Texans hope he can remain upright for the final stretch of the season. The Texans' line grade out as a low-tier option in the latest rankings.
Right guard D.J. Fluker was placed on injured reserve this week with turf toe. Fluker had started the last six games and made a real difference in the run game. Jon Halapio replaced Fluker in the lineup last Thursday and made his first career start at Washington. The team is hopeful Justin Pugh can return in time for the Raiders' game this weekend, but Pugh has been in and out of the lineup all season. Currently, Pugh is not included in the rankings. Without him and Fluker, the Giants' offensive line grade out as the worst in football. Perhaps the benching of quarterback Eli Manning was a mercy?
|TOP TIER||1||DAL||1||0||32.85||A+||A+||A+||RT Collins (Bell).|
|3||OAK||4||1||30.53||A||A+||A||RT Newhouse returned.|
|4||WAS||3||-1||30.18||A-||A||B+||LT Williams (Nsekhe). C Roullier (Bergstrom).|
|6||PIT||6||0||30.03||A-||A||B+||RT Gilbert (Hubbard).|
|7||SF||9||2||29.6||B+||A||B+||Assuming RT Brown plays.|
|8||MIN||13||5||29.58||B+||A-||B||RT Remmers (Hill).|
|10||SEA||12||2||29.38||B+||B||A-||LG Joeckel returned.|
|MID TIER||12||PHI||18||6||29.2||B+||A-||B||C Kelce upgrade.|
|13||CHI||7||-6||29.15||B+||A-||B+||LG Sitton (Whitehair).|
|15||NO||5||-10||29.03||B||B||B||LT Armstead (Peat).|
|16||BAL||24||8||29.03||B||B+||B-||LT Stanley returned.|
|19||JAX||19||0||28.78||B-||B||C+||RT Parnell (Wells) & LG Omameh (Reed).|
|20||LAC||29||9||28.78||B-||C+||B||RT Barksdale returned.|
|21||NE||20||-1||28.65||B-||B-||B-||RT Cannon (Waddle) & C Andrews (Karras)|
|LOW TIER||22||KC||15||-7||28.53||B-||B||C+||Poor left side play.|
|24||GB||32||8||28.1||C||C+||C-||RT McCray (Spriggs).|
|26||TB||21||-5||28.03||C||C||C||RT Dotson & C Marpet to IR.|
|29||IND||25||-4||27.75||C-||C-||C-||C Kelly (Person)|
|30||MIA||31||1||27.68||D+||C-||D||RG Bushrod (Davis) Sam Young to RT.|
|31||HOU||23||-8||27.6||D+||C-||D||LT Clark to IR (Lamm).|
If there are any questions about a team or lineman not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via Twitter.