After ranking all 32 offensive lines earlier in the week, we at PFF have put together a list of our top-10 run-blocking offenses in the NFL ahead of the 2019 season.
The Eagles took home the top spot in PFF Senior Analyst Mike Renner’s offensive line rankings following the preseason, and they are able to pair that with a first-place ranking on the top run-blocking units in the league heading into 2019. The line is anchored by Jason Kelce at center and his league-leading 92.9 run-blocking grade over the past three seasons. Kelce’s teammate, Lane Johnson, has been one of the league’s best run-blockers at tackle as well, posting a run-blocking grade of 84.7 since 2016 which ranks fourth among tackles with 1,000 or more offensive snaps. That group up front should open plenty of lanes for the new additions to the backfield – Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard.
The Ezekiel Elliott extension news appears to be imminent, but a large reason that we at PFF weren’t proponents of the Cowboys extending Elliott a lucrative extension was their offensive line. As a unit, they are such good run-blockers that many running backs can have similar success running behind it. It all starts in the middle with Zack Martin and the return of Travis Frederick, both of whom are among the top-five players at their position in run-blocking grade over the last three seasons. If Tyron Smith is able to play a full season unhindered by injuries, Dallas' run-blocking unit only improves.
The holdout of Le’Veon Bell last season and the ensuing questions over whether the Steelers would be able to effectively run the ball seemed to put a chip on the offensive line’s collective shoulder. They responded by helping secure first-year starter James Conner a Pro Bowl berth in 2018. David DeCastro is the rock of the offensive line, and though he had a bit of a down year by his standards in 2018, DeCastro’s three-year run-blocking grade of 81.1 ranks third among all guards with 1,000 or more offensive snaps over that span. The Steelers don’t run the ball all that much – their 31.1% rate of run plays was third-lowest last season – but their big guys up front should lead an effective attack when they do choose to do so in 2019.
Part of what made Andrew Luck’s retirement so surprising was that the Colts had finally surrounded him with the pieces on offense to succeed, including a young offensive line that wasn’t only strong in pass protection but also as a run-blocking unit. The discussion around the offensive line has to begin with their first-round selection out of Notre Dame in 2018, Quenton Nelson. Out of the 65 guards that played at least 500 snaps last season, Nelson finished second in run-blocking grade behind only Shaq Mason. He is already one of the top interior offensive linemen in the league, and he should be paving the way for Colts’ backs for years to come.
The Patriots’ offensive line has the benefit of learning from one of the top assistant coaches in the league – Dante Scarnecchia – who consistently has their offensive line as one of the best in the NFL. The aforementioned Mason has been a force in the run game, leading all guards in run-blocking grade last season by a healthy margin. As a group, the Patriots consistently created room for their running backs in 2018. Their rushing yards before contact per attempt mark of 1.9 yards ranked third-highest of any team last season. Whether it’s Sony Michel, James White or any of the running backs that cycle through the offense, the group up front should be able to create yards on the ground for them.
There are some questions on the interior of the Saints’ offensive line heading into 2019, but they do possess the top tackle duo in the league in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Both of them are excellent run blockers, ranking among the top five tackles in the league in run-blocking grade among players with 500 or more snaps last season. Alvin Kamara is effective at creating his own yards with his elusiveness, but Armstead and Ramczyk are more than capable of clearing some wide lanes off the edge for him. Those two bookends will spearhead what should once again be one of the more potent rushing attacks in the league with Kamara and his new backfield mate, Latavius Murray.
Speaking of elite run-blocking tackle duos, no team had a better pair than the Rams last season. Andrew Whitworth was the number one qualifying left tackle in the NFL in run-blocking grade in 2018, and Rob Havenstein was the top-ranked run blocker at right tackle among qualifiers. No team had a higher rushing success rate than the Rams, and the big guys up front were a large component of that. C.J. Anderson filled in seamlessly for the injured Todd Gurley late in the season thanks largely to how effective the Rams were at scheming and blocking effectively in the running game. Some turnover and questions on the interior of the line keep them at seventh, but the Rams should once again field an effective run game in 2019.
The suspension of Taylor Lewan is a cause for concern for the Titans to open this season, but his likely replacement Dennis Kelly performed well in reserve duty in 2018 as a run blocker. The Titans also brought in veteran guard Rodger Saffold to strengthen the interior of the offensive line. Saffold has been the seventh-best run-blocker among guards with 1,000 or more pass-blocking snaps since 2016. On a team that should feature the run game heavily with lead back Derrick Henry, a strong run-blocking is vital to the Titan’s offensive game plan. They figure to have one of the better groups in the league next season.
The 49ers have a solid offensive line when it comes to run blocking, especially at the tackle position. Both Mike McGlinchey (78.2 run-blocking grade) and Joe Staley (75.4 run-blocking grade) were among the top at their position in the run game. The 49ers also have several players not included in the offensive line that make positive contributions as run blockers. Among all fullbacks and tight ends with 250 or more snaps last season, George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk both rank among the top-10 players in run-blocking grade. That group up front should open up plenty of room for Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida this season.
10. Denver Broncos
Phillip Lindsay burst onto the scene as an undrafted rookie out of Colorado, earning a Pro Bowl nod that would have been hard to predict prior to the season. Lindsay deserves his due as a runner, but he received plenty of help from the guys up front as well. No team averaged more yards before contact per attempt than the Broncos last season at 2.1 yards. They made moves to improve the line in the offseason as well, adding Dalton Risner via the draft and Ja’Wuan James via free agency. Additionally, they poached one of the more well-respected offensive line coaches in the league from Pittsburgh in Mike Munchak. Even with the loss of Matt Paradis, things are looking up for Lindsay, Royce Freeman and the Broncos backfield heading into 2019.