We’ve crossed the halfway point of the season for all 32 teams which means it’s time to review the top offensive lines through the first half of the season. I’ll be handing out the biggest surprise performer on each – sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.
[Editor’s Note: Now that we are through Week 9 of the 2018 regular season, we’ve adjusted the rankings to factor in ALL snaps played along each team’s offensive line so far this season. Therefore, the rankings below reflect how every offensive lineman on each team has contributed in Weeks 1-9.]
The Steelers have one of the best track records for offensive line development of any team in the NFL, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that former undrafted free agent Matt Feiler has stepped in at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert and graded competently. Feiler was a practice squad player for the Texans as a UDFA in 2014 before being released in training camp the next year. He was picked up off waivers by the Steelers and has been back and forth on the practice squad ever since. When Gilbert went down with injury, though, it was Feiler getting the call and not 2018 third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor. In three games, Feiler has allowed only five pressures and no sacks.
Right guard Austin Blythe isn’t only the biggest surprise performer on the Rams; he’s the biggest surprise performer in the NFL. The former seventh-round pick had played all of 285 snaps in his career across two different franchises before this season. In those, he allowed more pressures (13) than he has in 607 snaps so far this season (12). His 80.2 overall grade is the second-best among guards in the NFL.
Yet another offensive line that’s so good at developing players that no one seemingly overperforming should be a surprise. Right tackle Marcus Cannon being the weak link so far on a top-5 offensive line is a tad surprising. He earned a big deal after his breakout performance in 2016 where he had an 86.6 overall grade. Injuries have taken a bit of a toll since, and his 65.5 overall grade this season is more reminiscent of the player we saw early in his career.
It’s never a complete shock when a player has injuries and comes back and isn’t the same player we saw before. That’s been much of the case with Taylor Lewan this season. His 70.2 pass-blocking grade is solid but not close to the three straight seasons in the mid-80’s that we’ve come to expect from the Titans left tackle.
After an injury-hampered 2017 season, it was unclear if Packers center Corey Linsley would ever get back to his previous form. Not only has he bounced back, but he’s on pace for a career year with a 77.9 overall grade. He’s allowed all of five pressures in pass protection after yielding 26 a season ago.
The Colts obviously thought highly of Braden Smith, drafting him in the second round, but even I don’t believe they thought he’d be this good as a rookie at tackle. His 73.1 overall grade currently trumps (albeit barely) that of top-10 pick Quenton Nelson, and he’s doing it at a position he only started at once in college. Smith was a three-year starter for Auburn at right guard with one start at right tackle his sophomore year. In four starts at right tackle for the Colts, he’s allowed zero sacks, zero hits, and seven hurries.
While the interior of the Browns offensive line has been fantastic in pass protection, many of them up front have struggled in the running game. Most notably, Kevin Zeitler is on pace for a career-low grade as a run-blocker at 58.7.
Eagles fans have not been happy with the success of their run game so far this season, and much of that has started up front. After utterly dominating a season ago, right guard Brandon Brooks is in the midst of the lowest-graded run-blocking season of his career. His 60.4 run-blocking grade isn’t close to the 79.1 he earned in 2017.
Orlando Brown Jr. was the talk of the combine last February, and not in a good way. His athletic testing was abysmal – even for a 345-pound man. Thought by some to be a first-round talent, he fell to the third but is looking more and more like a steal with each passing game. He’s started that past three games for the Ravens and most recently didn’t allow a single pressure on 45 pass-blocking snaps against the Steelers. His 73.9 pass-blocking grade for the season is fantastic for a rookie.
It’s well past time to admit that the former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher is never going to be the position-changing left tackle he was billed as coming out. Solid is his ceiling at this point, he hasn’t even reached that at times this year. After a career-high 77.2 pass-blocking grade a season ago, he’s dipped back down to a 65.9 this season. His 26 total pressures allowed are the eighth-most among tackles in the NFL.
While the fact that Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are the highest-graded tackle duo in the NFL is noteworthy, it isn’t all that surprising. What has surprised is former first-rounder Andrus Peat struggling mightily after the progress we saw him make in recent years. Peat’s 41.9 overall grade this season is the lowest of any guard in the NFL.
Atlanta has boasted one of the top-5 offensive lines in the league of late, which makes their fall this season a bit surprising. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder’s down year has been the main culprit. He’s already allowed as many pressures this year (20) as he did all of last season and doubled his penalty total (3 to 6).
It might not be shocking if you’ve followed his career path, but the fact that Charles Leno Jr. is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the NFL after being a seventh-rounder in 2014 qualifies as a tad surprising. Leno currently owns the fifth-best pass-blocking grade of any tackle in the league at 85.1.
After a couple seasons of thinking La’el Collins was on the cusp of putting it all together, it might be time to admit that he may never live up to his pre-draft billing. Collins was thought by many to be the top offensive line talent in the 2015 draft but fell to a UDFA due to unforeseen issues in the days leading up to the draft. The Cowboys were thought to have gotten a steal, but now in his fourth season, he’s still never cracked 70.0 overall for a single season. His 22 total pressures allowed this season are 17th-most among offensive tackles while his eight penalties are third most.
The fact that the Panthers are ranked this highly after their starting left tackle, left guard, right guard, and right tackle from a season ago have combined for 385 snaps so far in a Panthers uniform this season is in and of itself a surprise. A big reason for that has been the play of Taylor Moton, who has gone from being a backup to one of the best tackles in the NFL. He’s allowed only 10 total pressures in eight games this year.
Yet another rookie surprising with his superb play right of the bat. Offensive line has historically been one of the steepest learning curves in our grading from college to the pros. Mike McGlinchey has basically picked up where he left off at Notre Dame, though. The right tackle has the highest run-blocking grade of any offensive linemen in the NFL after dominating in that regard his last couple years in college.
We’re only eight games in, but Ryan Jensen already looks like one of the worst free agent signings of the offseason. At the time he signed his four-year, $42 million deal, it was a head-scratcher and makes even less sense now. The former Ravens center was coming off a paltry career-high 71.4 overall grade and has been even worse in Tampa Bay. His 53.8 grade is one of the lowest at the position, and his 15 pressures allowed is already more than last season.
With as technical a position as offensive line is, you traditionally expect a consistently upward trend for young linemen throughout their first few seasons in the league. That’s what makes Graham Glasgow’s backslide after a 71.1 overall grade a season ago concerning. He’s earned only a 64.0 overall grade through 529 snaps this season after many had hoped he’d take the next step.
D.J. Fluker never allowed fewer than 32 pressures in his four seasons as a full-time starter between tackle and guard for the Chargers. If you were to extrapolate out his play so far this year to a 16-game slate, he’d allow all of 11 pressures for the Seahawks. In his six starts this season, Fluker has yet to allow more than one pressure in a game.
It’s only really a surprise if you hadn’t watched him closely in the past, but swing backup Ty Nsekhe is once again balling out wherever needed. He’s allowed only two hurries so far this season while playing 63 snaps at left tackle, 32 at left guard, and 44 at right tackle.
The Broncos’ ground game has been a revelation so far this season, averaging over five yards per carry as a team. A big reason for that has been the breakthrough of third-year guard Connor McGovern. His 72.2 run-blocking grade is the fifth-best among all guards in the NFL so far.
Jacksonville didn’t go out and make Andrew Norwell one of the highest-paid guards in NFL history to just slightly improved play up front. They expected dominance from their starting five and so far it hasn’t been close to that. Norwell has already allowed almost as many pressures this year (11) as he did in all of 2017 (15), and his 48.9 run-blocking grade is a career low.
It’s hard to believe that someone with a 56.4 overall grade this season has been a surprise in a good way, but if you’ve watched Bobby Hart’s career, you’d agree. The Bengals right tackle was much maligned for his first three years with the Giants, yet he’s come to Cincinnati and provided some stability to the right side. After a dreadful two-sack, three-hurry performance against the Colts in Week 1, Hart has allowed only 16 pressures in seven games since.
The Bills didn’t have much hope up front going into the season, and things have played out about as expected. It’s unfortunate that left tackle Dion Dawkins hasn’t been able to build upon an encouraging rookie season. He’s already allowed more sacks (5) than he did all of last season (3), and his 61.9 overall grade is a big step back.
Yet another free agent signing gone awry. Spencer Long was always solid on the interior for the Redskins after he was third-round pick back in 2014. So far in New York, however, he’s been disastrous. His 14 pressures allowed are more than he gave up in either of the past two seasons, and his 45.5 run-blocking grade doesn’t look much better.
A former third-round pick of the Broncos in 2014, Michael Schofield was waived before he could even finish his rookie deal. He never could quite hack it at tackle, and when the Chargers claimed him expecting to plug and play him at right tackle, they were sorely mistaken last season. His 48.1 pass-blocking grade last year on 407 snaps was one of the lowest in the league, but kicking him inside to guard this year looks to have solved some of those issues. He currently owns a 74.9 pass-blocking grade and has been a massive upgrade over their production from a season ago.
To be quite honest, this might be one of the least surprising groups in the NFL in terms of their performance so far. The fact that free agent Patrick Omameh has already been benched, though, can at least qualify. He’s never graded out well for us at PFF, but his 51.5 overall grade this season has been a career low.
This ranking is no surprise, but the fact that Nick Martin hasn’t lived up to his second-round draft status now two years post-injury is surprising. Martin has struggled mightily to open up holes in the run game, as his 53.8 run-blocking grade is one of the worst among centers.
While not a lot of teams this low have positive takeaways, the Vikings can take solace in the fact that Brian O’Neill has been an upgrade in his time at right tackle. He’s earned a 63.9 overall grade on 382 snaps this season compared to Rashod Hill’s 58.2 overall grade. That may not sound like much, but we’ve seen rookie second-round picks regularly struggle far worse than O’Neill.
Kelechi Osemele, at one point, was one of the elite guards in the NFL, and the Raiders paid him as such. So far this year, though, he’s looked like a completely different player. His 54.5 pass-blocking grade is far and away an outlier over the course of his career.
After a tumultuous entry in the NFL, Laremy Tunsil’s name is making headlines far less often these days. And that’s usually a good thing for an offensive lineman. After allowing 32 pressures a season ago, Tunsil is on pace to allow fewer than 18 this year.
Mike Iupati has never been one of the best pass protectors at the guard position in the league, but even when he struggled there, you could count on him to open up holes in the run game. That hasn’t been the case so far this season. His 61.5 run-blocking grade is far and away the lowest of his nine-year career, as is his 36.2 pass-blocking grade.