Offensive line is largely a weak link system. Just one fail point can lead to a play ending quickly in the backfield. 

Some franchises are set, having laid down a foundation for easier offensive production through reliably clean pockets and solid running lanes. Other franchises… well, let’s just say that every subpar o-line has a path back to league average, whether it’s through units gelling or picks developing quickly. 

These line rankings aren’t so much an aggregate of ratings, more so a holistic lens that factors continuity and the odds these units will be put in position for success.

OL’s that need a LOT to go right: 

Chicago replaced most of their starting offensive line yet the recent signing of Riley Reiff stabilizes a tackle spot and lifts them ahead of Seattle. Laremy Tunsil’s return does likewise for Houston, another team with major questions at nearly every other spot. Rookie LTs Charles Cross and Ikem Ekwonu would need to come out of the gate like Rashawn Slater Year 1 for the Seahawks and Panthers to pull off a Chargers-esque quick OL turnaround in 2022.

The Jaguars spent big but are also letting it ride with their existing draft capital in Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor, hoping the post-Urban landscape yields a better learning curve. Brandon Scherff (3-year, $49.5M) is an interesting bet; a blue-chipper sidelined by injuries for more than 20% of snaps in each of the past four seasons.

Lines returning most of their starters but need something to click: 

The Saints will find out if they can maintain a dynamic offense without Sean Payton and the Cardinals will find out if they can maintain a functional offense with Kliff Kingsbury. Rodney Hudson’s back in the desert! 

In New Orleans, Trevor Penning has a tough act to follow after Terron Armstead left for Miami.  Ditto for whoever wins Rodger Saffold’s old job in Tennessee after the Pro Bowler left for Buffalo. Losing Saffold certainly hurts but OL coach Keith Carter has overseen a consistently good run-blocking unit since joining Mike Vrabel in Nashville.  Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, and Nate Davis form a core with demonstrated upside. 

Outside of Kolton Miller, Las Vegas doesn’t boast the proven personnel of Tennessee but does now run with Josh McDaniel and OL coach Carmen Bricillo at the helm.  The former Patriots obviously had their fingerprints all over the young, impressive post-Brady offensive line that will be featured further up in the rankings. 

Sneaky, get-back-to-average OL candidates:

I’m probably higher on Pittsburgh and Atlanta than the market here. The Steelers went into 2021 with only one returning starter, but enter 2022 with three incumbents.  PFF graded young tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor in the green over the final several weeks of the regular season. The team then added two value signings in C Mason Cole (from MIN) and OG James Daniels (from CHI). The sum of the parts could add up to a league-average OL — quite the progress compared to where they were this time last year. 

The Falcons could get a boost by replacing bottom-graded guard Jalen Mayfield with Elijah Wilkinson, who fared decently well down the stretch last year with the Bears.

The Vikings and Giants have reason for optimism with the development of LTs Christian Darrisaw and Andrew Thomas respectively. Brian Daboll and OL coach Bobby Johnson traverse downstate after their tenure in Buffalo featured Dion Dawkins becoming a franchise left tackle. 

We’ll also see how #SplurgeForTua goes with the Terron Armstead and Connor Williams signings in Miami. They also signed this Tyreek guy. Moving Williams from guard to center is a high-leverage move for the trajectory of this line, potentially in the right direction. 

OL’s with upside: 

It was hard not to find a place in the top 10 for the relatively young units in LA, DEN, NE and NY especially when they are returning players the caliber of Rashawn Slater, Garett Bolles, Michael Onwenu, and Mekhi Becton. 

However, there are legitimate questions each team has to answer. In LA, former OL coach Frank Smith left for the Miami coordinator gig after managing the Chargers’ turnaround in the trenches. Denver lost all-time great OL coach Mike Munchak. In New England, Matt Patricia’s duties will include management of the offensive line but we’re now in a post-Brady, post-McDaniels, and post-Scarnecchia/Bricillo era. For the Jets, OC Mike LaFleur and OL coach John Benton still have to prove they have the goods without Kyle Shanahan directing the offensive show.

Cincy and Baltimore are both pretty spicy on paper.  La’el Collins (CIN) and Morgan Moses (BAL) provide their respective teams with well-above average answers at right tackle. The Bengals in particular could surge after replacing almost their entire line with good players à la the 2021 Chargers.  That being said, there are typically growing pains in establishing OL continuity with such massive turnover. For the Ravens, Ronnie Stanley is obviously critical to their line’s success so his ongoing ankle concerns keep Baltimore outside the top 10.

Lines with holes but should be just fine:

Great stewards help bump this group up to the penultimate tier. In the Bay Area, C Alex Mack retires yet we’re confident Shanahan will work his magic yet again thanks to the league’s most unique offensive scheme.  Last year, Green Bay saw two Pro Bowl o-linemen in David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins miss time due to injuries yet Aaron Rodgers, Matt LaFleur, and Brian Gutekunst managed. Tampa Bay OG Ali Marpet retired and C Ryan Jensen will potentially miss the season with injury, but Brady’s the GOAT and should be fine. In less turbulent conditions, these units are Tier I candidates. 

Some stewards are a little more low-key. Frank Reich and OL coach Chris Strausser oversaw an all-time great rookie class performance when Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith came out in 2018. This year they’ll try to coach up backups Matt Pryor and Danny Pinter to help replace starters Anthony Castonzo (retired) and Mark Glowinski (NYG).  

Sean McVay and OL coach Kevin Carberry seized a divisional round win in Tampa without Andrew Whitworth. They now hope Joe Noteboom can fill in anywhere near as well as he did that day. For the Commanders, OL coach John Matsko helped to power both the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis and Ron Rivera’s own Super Bowl run in Carolina. To help replace All-Pro Brandon Scherff they signed Andrew Norwell and reunited him with Trai Turner all while fielding an offensive line with no real weak links based on 2021 performance.

Best of the best, elite OL’s: 

Party like it’s 2014, because the Eagles and Cowboys are here with Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin. They’ve picked up enough cogs along the way that even seven years later are notching Top 5 PFF grades in both run and pass blocking. We’re talking about a decade of trench dominance from these two franchises, outlasting the consistently excellent Steelers units of the 2010s. 

Will any of the Chiefs, Browns, or Lions replicate this kind of run in the 2020s? Between the three teams’ starting lineups, the Browns’ Joel Bitonio is the oldest at 30 and is currently PFF’s top-graded left guard. Kevin Stefanski arrived in Cleveland with OL coach Bill Callahan, who’s up there with Munchak among the most successful offensive line coaches in history. 

Detroit is solid or better across their entire starting line while being bookended by two potentially great players in Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell. It’s also a unit being coached by a former Andy Reid offensive lineman in Hank Fraley.  The Chiefs are a year removed from one of the greatest OL revamps in recent memory after getting Joe Thuney, Orlando Brown Jr., Creed Humphrey, and Trey Smith in just one offseason. Reid and OL coach Andy Heck came to KC together in 2013 and got the new class rolling after a slow start to 2021. For these three teams, all the pieces are there to dominate up front.

Thomas Emerick examines offensive line continuity for RotoViz and hosts the Remember That Game podcast, a show about events that low-key changed the trajectory of teams, players, and our own way of thinking. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEmerick.

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