“Creep back toward average.”
It’s a common phrase often used on the PFF NFL Podcast to encourage teams to simply not be too bad along the offensive line. While the old adage is that football is won “in the trenches,” the reality is that the pass-first league is won by quarterbacks, receivers and coverage players. The offensive line needs to be successful enough for the passer and pass catchers to get the job done.
The theory is that the best offensive lines don’t necessarily move the needle, but the worst ones can curb offensive production. Ranking toward the middle class at least gives the playmakers a chance to succeed. With all that said, PFF ranked every offensive line last season, and we’ve come up with solutions for each unit to move toward the middle in 2020.
Here’s a fix for the bottom 10 offensive lines in the NFL in 2019, starting with the worst.
The Miami Dolphins were already on their way to having one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL before a preseason trade of left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans sealed their fate. Center Daniel Kilgore is the strength of the unit, and he’s a reasonable starter with four qualifying seasons in which he’s graded at 65.0 overall or above. The tackles need the most love, as LT Julie’n Davenport has been among the league’s worst and RT Jesse Davis hasn’t been much better despite signing an extension prior to last season. The Dolphins must prioritize quarterback above all else in the draft, but if they are not happy with their options at No. 5 overall, the top three tackles on the PFF draft board (Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs) should be available either right at five or a few spots lower if a trade down is on the table. If the Dolphins choose to use one of their two other first rounders on a tackle, Houston’s Josh Jones is a name to watch. Guard is a weakness as well, and Miami is primed to improve there as well with its two second rounders. Fresno State’s Netane Muti is the top option on the PFF Big Board, with Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson right behind him. The Dolphins have the draft capital to leave the draft with at least two of the top offensive linemen in the draft.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
In one of the biggest stories of the 2019 NFL season, the Rams’ offensive line went from strength to weakness almost overnight — it was a huge part of their regression after a 2018 Super Bowl run. The Rams aren’t in the best place to improve the line, either from a cap space or draft capital standpoint, and much of their improvement must come from within. Right tackle Rob Havenstein regressed unexpectedly after four strong seasons to start his career, so the first step is getting him back on track. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is a free agent, though the 38-year-old is still among the better tackles in the league and he’s worth bringing back in the short-term. With no first-round pick, it will be difficult for Los Angeles to draft an instant starter, though UConn’s Matt Peart is a nice developmental option in the middle rounds, especially if they can bring Whitworth back for at least a year. The Rams' rebuild will rely a lot on previously productive players returning to form, and center Brian Allen could make a jump, especially given our knowledge that years three and four are the most likely improvements for offensive linemen. If the Rams want a potential upgrade at center, Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz is an excellent scheme fit on Day 2, and he would at least add another body to the mix, as the Rams could move players around to find their ideal starting five for 2020.
The offensive line is a big reason the Bengals are picking first overall, but they should see an immediate boost from 2019 first-round OT Jonah Williams, who missed the entire season due to injury. While it may take time for him to get acclimated to the NFL, Williams should upgrade the left tackle position that was manned by guard John Jerry for a chunk of the season. It appears that Cordy Glenn has worn out his welcome in Cincinnati after two solid years, but he was a shell of his 2013-16 self when he peaked with the Buffalo Bills. The right tackle spot is another issue for the Bengals despite Bobby Hart being locked up through 2021. The top of the second round could be a good way to address the position, particularly if a PFF first-round tackle like Josh Jones falls to that spot. If they go the veteran route, Bucs free agent RT Demar Dotson has out-graded every Bengals current offensive lineman over the last three years — he’s still a top-32 tackle in the NFL. On the interior, Falcons free agent guard Wes Schweitzer is the type of second-wave free agent who could be a good value play in Cincinnati’s scheme for the right price. If the Bengals are ready to spend more money on the interior, Patriots guard Joe Thuney has the zone-blocking prowess to fit in nicely in the rebuild.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
The offensive line has been a multi-year issue for the Los Angeles Chargers, and they must address it once again this offseason. The tackle position was in rough shape after LT Russell Okung went down due to injury, as Trent Scott and Sam Tevi combined to allow the second-most pressure of any tackle duo in the league last year. Okung was sent to the Panthers in exchange for Trai Turner, last year’s No. 33-ranked guard, a solid move to upgrade the interior and hope that Turner can get back to his 2015-17 form when he was one of the league’s best. Offensive tackle still must be a top priority, and free agent RT Jack Conklin should be in play. Adding Conklin is the first step in the right direction — or perhaps the Chargers could go the one-year veteran route with Jason Peters or Andrew Whitworth. The other option is the No. 6 overall pick, especially if there isn’t a great quarterback option available. Los Angeles is in prime position to add one of the best left tackle prospects in the draft, and they could even try to trade down and still net either Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills or Tristan Wirfs while adding even more draft resources along the way.
NEW YORK JETS
On paper, the New York Jets are starting their offensive line rebuild from scratch. They finished 28th in PFF’s year-end rankings, and four starters are heading to free agency. They need to explore all options, starting in free agency where the big names (guards Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney; tackle Jack Conklin) should all be in play. Unlike some of the other teams on this list, the Jets should be less inclined to look at the offensive tackle stopgaps like Jason Peters or Andrew Whitworth. Even the rumored Trent Williams interest is extremely risky for a team with holes at every crucial position on the roster. Patience and development are key for the Jets, so starting with a long-term free agent, combined with potential multi-year options like Demar Dotson or their own Kelvin Beachum, is the way to go. At center, former Bronco Connor McGovern is the best option, and he may be worth the price in order to keep the Jets from entering the draft with massive, must-fill needs up front. An ideal draft scenario has the Jets taking one of the top offensive tackles at No. 11 — if they can’t trade down, of course — and hopefully filling other offensive line needs in free agency. That would free them up to hit their other crucial needs in the draft, including wide receiver, cornerback and edge rusher.
The Seattle Seahawks are another team that annually ranks among the league’s worst — and the only team among the bottom 10 offensive lines to make the playoffs last year. QB Russell Wilson can overcome a bad offensive line (and he certainly puts more pressure on his pass blocking given how long he holds on to the ball), but the Seahawks had the third-highest pressure rate that got there in 2.5 seconds or less (26.7%). Since 2017, LT Duane Brown has been an excellent addition, grading at 82.2, but the other 12 Seahawks with at least 400 snaps have all graded between 41.2 and 67.3, so that must improve in order to take some pressure off Wilson (literally and figuratively). With Brown as the anchor, Seattle can look to both free agency and the draft in its quest for mediocrity up front. Graham Glasgow would be a nice fit at guard at the right price, while veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga could be another high-upside option despite the injury risk. In the draft, Josh Jones is in play for Seattle as a potential right tackle option, while Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz could play either center or guard as a Day 2 option. Internally, it may be worth giving 2019 rookie Jamarco Jones a shot to play right tackle after he was a proficient left tackle at Ohio State, though he struggled at guard last season. Seattle has other places to address on the roster, and they’ve shown that they can win with subpar offensive lines. Their play this offseason is likely the second tier of free agency and the middle rounds.
The Jaguars may not be as far away as other teams on this list, but it will take players like LG Andrew Norwell living up to his play from 2014-17 rather than the last two years that have seen the two worst grades of his career. Center Brandon Linder anchored the unit last year with a solid 75.7 overall grade, but it will come down to the offensive tackles if this group is going to get back on track. LT Cam Robinson has underwhelmed in his three-year career, and he graded at a poor 54.8 last season. The Jaguars have plenty of pressing needs, but they should be in the mix for one of the top offensive tackles with one of their two first-round picks. Adding one to the mix will at least push Robinson and give more hope for the future, as he’s in the final year of his contract. At right tackle, 2019 second-rounder Jawaan Taylor was OK as a rookie, but his 63.9 overall grade is better than anything we’ve seen from Robinson. If the Jaguars are looking for short-term fixes, they could bring G Stefen Wisniewski back, as he has been a solid player when given an opportunity. In the draft, the Jaguars have three third-round picks, which is prime real estate for a guard like Oregon’s Calvin Throckmorton. With positive regression from Norwell, development from Taylor, a first-round OT like Andrew Thomas and a developmental guard like Throckmorton, the Jacksonville offensive line would be back on the right track after regressing in recent years.
It was a bit of a surprise to see the Bears rank among the league’s worst offensive lines a year ago, as they looked like a classic “creep back toward average” line. Losing RG Kyle Long obviously hurt, and Rashaad Coward graded at just 51.7 while Ted Larsen wasn’t much better at 55.4. The Bears don’t have a first-round pick, but Day 2 is a good spot to add a Netane Muti or Jonah Jackson to the mix at guard. The tackle spots manned by Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie had been reasonable in years past, but Leno posted the worst grade of his career in 2019 (58.6) and Massie’s 63.7 grade was his worst since his rookie season in 2012. Part of the Bears getting back on track is simply hoping both tackles get back to form, but drafting another developmental option is wise, especially given last year’s solid fill-in, Cornelius Lucas, is hitting free agency. UConn’s Matt Peart is one of our favorite options for this role on Day 2 or 3. Center Cody Whitehair and LG James Daniels both have a track record of success, and Daniels is in prime position for a Year 3 bump in production after his strong 2019 season. The pieces are in place for the Bears to look better up front, but they should look to figure out right guard in free agency or in the draft while adding youth at offensive tackle for the future.
The Falcons went from having one of the best offensive line situations in the NFL to needing to rebuild the entire right side of the line in one draft. Last year’s rookies, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, did not get off to a great start as Lindstrom played only 309 snaps (66.6 grade) and McGary graded at just 53.0 overall (34th out of 38 right tackles). The Falcons have a good foundation: LT Jake Matthews (79.7 grade) and C Alex Mack (72.1) provide two of the better starting options at their respective positions, and Lindstrom looks like a viable option at right guard. That leaves left guard, an annual sore spot in Atlanta, where Wes Schweitzer leaves in free agency after the worst grade of his career (56.4). Stefen Wisniewski and Quinton Spain are potential low-risk options in free agency, while LSU’s Damien Lewis is a potential fit in the middle rounds of the draft. At right tackle, McGary may have been over-drafted last year, but patience and adding another developmental tackle are the only options for the Falcons as they look to turn things around this season. Keep an eye on Prince Tega Wanogho as a potential Day 3 option.
Cleveland entered 2019 with high expectations, but the entire offense underwhelmed, including the offensive line. LT Greg Robinson and RT Chris Hubbard aren’t great options on paper — and they weren’t great on the field. This is the place the Browns can make huge strides in free agency and the draft. Given the other pieces in place, including good starters at left guard (Joel Bitonio) and center (J.C. Tretter), the Browns should be in play for one-year stopgaps Jason Peters and Andrew Whitworth at left tackle. They can pay one of them as a stopgap while still grabbing one of the top offensive tackles in the draft, namely Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, who sits atop the PFF draft board among tackles. Thomas, or a similar tackle, can play the right side and eventually replace the veteran on the left side. This scenario immediately gives the Browns solid options at four out of five spots up front, leaving just right guard as a potential question mark. Wyatt Teller underwhelmed last year with a 56.7 grade — even though there's hope he can develop, the Browns should look to the second tier of free agency as well as Day 3 of the draft to add the necessary depth up front.