In the past when we have brought you offensive line rankings, they have been based purely on the play-by-play grading of each player on each play over the season. Entering Week 11, however, we are going to focus on things through a slightly different lens.
The team of Pro Football Focus analysts has crafted a metric that looks solely at the offensive line using some of the more in-depth and complex data in PFF’s database to come up with a statistical way of evaluating line play, as well as a more subjective grading one.
This PFF O-Line metric assesses the performance of each line in the run game, as well as how well they are pass protecting their QB, all while adjusting for the quality of opponent.
One of the first takeaways from this is that, if you thought there was an offensive line problem in the NFL, you weren’t imagining it. There are some quality units in the league, but it’s amazing just how quickly the list gets into average territory, and how highly ranked you can be with a major hole or two on your line—simply because everybody else has a worse one.
And according to the numbers, the Dallas offensive line isn’t just the best in the league this season—the Cowboys have fielded a top-five O-line in each of the past three seasons, forming something of an offensive line dynasty.
For more on the methodology behind PFF’s new offensive line metric, see the bottom of this article.
1. Dallas Cowboys (85.0)
This won’t come as a galloping shock to anybody, but the Dallas Cowboys own the best offensive line in the game, and that’s reflected in just about every way you care to measure it. As a run-blocking force, there is little that can hold up to the Cowboys’ road-graders, and they have been able to gain Ezekiel Elliott 439 rushing yards before contact this season in just nine games. As a unit, they have surrendered just 71 total pressures in pass protection, the second-best mark in the league, and if anything, they actually got significantly better when they lost LG La’el Collins to injury and Ronald Leary came into the lineup. Leary has yet to surrender a sack or hit in 2016.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (83.0)
The only team to allow fewer total QB pressures as a unit than the Cowboys this season is the Philadelphia Eagles (70), but they can’t match the Dallas line when it comes to run blocking. Philadelphia’s line also won’t be quite as strong going forward, given RT Lane Johnson’s suspension; Johnson was playing at an All-Pro level this year. His replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, started off extremely poorly, but has improved with each subsequent start, and has been fine in each of the past two games. Free-agent acquisition G Brandon Brooks has been the standout performer on this unit, allowing just eight total pressures this season and also run blocking well.
3. Oakland Raiders (82.8)
On paper heading into the season, the Oakland Raiders had put together an offensive line that could challenge Dallas for the crown of best in the league. While it hasn’t quite hit those heights consistently, the Raiders’ unit has at least moved to the sharp end of these rankings and is not a million miles away from the top. There is no real weak link to this unit, and they have suffered from a laundry list of injuries at the right tackle spot; while Austin Howard isn’t able to hold up to the likes of Von Miller, though, he can withstand the onslaught from most other pass-rushers on that side.
4. Buffalo Bills (82.2)
The Bills definitely have an issue on the line, and while RT Jordan Mills threatened to maintain passable play earlier in the season, that has fallen off a cliff lately, as he has recorded two of his worst games in the past three weeks, surrendering 17 total pressures and four sacks against the Dolphins and Seahawks—two good pass-rushing teams. Elsewhere, though, the line has been solid, and LT Cordy Glenn has yet to surrender a sack or hit on the QB, despite Tyrod Taylor having the league’s highest average time to throw (by some distance, in fact, at 3.05 seconds).
5. Green Bay Packers (81.9)
Nothing compares to Green Bay’s pass protection this season, despite the team struggling more than usual the last two weeks in that regard. They have allowed 72 total pressures, which is the third-best total in the league, but on a per-dropback basis, they have the best pass protection in football, despite Aaron Rodgers routinely trying to drag out plays in the vain hope that somebody will come open at some point in the play. As a run-blocking unit, they are actually pretty good, the Packers just rarely seem to ask them to prove it.
6. Tennessee Titans (81.6)
The Titans were the best line in the league over the first month of the season, but they have fallen off in recent weeks—enough to slip in the rankings. Both LT Taylor Lewan and RT Jack Conklin had poor games in the past month, and Lewan keeps finding foolish ways of getting himself flagged, even at times ejected from games. The interior trio of Josh Kline, Ben Jones, and Quinton Spain have been solid, and when called upon, Brian Schwenke didn’t embarrass himself in relief duty. This is one of the few lines in the league with no real weak link, but it just hasn’t maintained the elite play it showed early on in the season.
7. Atlanta Falcons (79.5)
The Falcons’ offense has been high-flying and hard to stop, and much of the credit for that belongs to the line, not just the star players getting all of the stats. RG Chris Chester has been the worst performer on the line, getting victimized by Fletcher Cox this past week in particular, but otherwise the unit has been good, with Alex Mack in particular proving to be a free-agency steal. Mack is currently PFF’s No. 3 ranked center, with an 86.5 grade, and is having one of the best seasons of his career. The starting five linemen have missed a combined four snaps over the season, and they were kneel-downs at the end of the Tampa Bay game.
8. New Orleans Saints (79.0)
The Saints lost some quality play this season due to LT Terron Armstead’s injury, but with him back in action, this is one of the league’s better lines, with the potential to rise even further in the rankings over the season. Only the Packers have been better when it comes to pass blocking when the number of dropbacks are factored in, with the Saints passing more than most teams. They have surrendered just 73 total pressures and run blocked well, though like the Packers, the Saints are often reluctant to make best use of them in that area.
9. Cleveland Browns (74.4)
If the memory of Thursday night against the Ravens is still fresh in your mind, rest assured that the Browns’ offensive line has been better than that most of the season, despite being stressed significantly by the QBs it has been protecting. Cody Kessler has shown promise as a rookie, but holds the ball too long much of the time, and is the league’s most-pressured QB largely because of his own failings, and not those of the line. That being said, this is where the grades begin to fall off and O-lines look seriously flawed. C Cameron Erving has been a major disappointment as a center, struggling to run block or pass protect, while even LT Joe Thomas has shown signs of being mortal.
10. Carolina Panthers (73.8)
Carolina’s problems on the line extend further than LT Mike Remmers, though he remains the biggest issue. Remmers has surrendered five sacks, two hits, and 26 hurries in 384 pass-blocking snaps this season, which isn’t the worst mark in the league (there is much, much worse to come), but it does rank sixth-worst among all tackles. Trai Turner has had a disappointing slump after appearing to be on his way to becoming one of the league’s best guards. Michael Oher being off the field would ordinarily be a positive development, but the depth hasn’t proven to be much of an upgrade, if any; Daryl Williams has only allowed one sack, but has surrendered 16 additional QB pressures on 253 pass-blocking snaps.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (73.6)
The Steelers have a good offensive line and a problem spot at left tackle. Alejandro Villanueva is a fantastic story, as an ex-Army WR and TE converted to tackle in the NFL at 6-foot-10 in height, but he struggles too much to be a cornerstone piece moving forward. This season, his pass blocking has been better, and yet he has still been responsible for five sacks and 32 total pressures already. David DeCastro and Ramon Foster are challenging Dallas for the title of best pair of guards in 2016. They are the only duo from the same team in the top 10 of PFF’s guard rankings, with grades of 85.4 and 84.7, respectively.
12. Washington Redskins (73.5)
Trent Williams has been the league’s best left tackle this season, and even moonlighted successfully inside at guard when injury forced a reshuffle on the line. RT Morgan Moses and RG Brandon Scherff on the right side have been impressive, but Shawn Lauvao has been an issue at left guard. Lauvao has surrendered 24 total QB pressures so far this season, fourth-most among guards. Spencer Long hasn’t been anything special in the middle, but he does at least represent a huge upgrade over their play at the position a year ago, ranking 22nd in PFF grade, rather than 30th and 36th, as the Redskins centers did in 2015.
13. Arizona Cardinals (73.0)
The loss of LT Jared Veldheer could send this unit slipping down the rankings, but John Wetzel held up well at least in his first start, albeit against the 49ers this past week. Outside of the left tackle spot, this is a unit far better at run blocking than it is in pass protection, which is part of the reason this offense has shifted from its heavy pass focus in 2015 to leaning more on RB David Johnson this season, one of the league’s best backs. The right side has been a major issue in pass protection, with RT D.J. Humphries and RG Earl Watford combining to surrender 13 sacks already.
14. New England Patriots (72.8)
The return of long-time OL coach Dante Scarnecchia has had a significant impact on a unit that was one of the worst in football a year ago, though the natural progression of a lot of young players is tough to quantify, too. Another unit better at run blocking than it is in pass protection, many of New England’s O-line struggles are masked by Tom Brady and his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo each had even faster average times to throw than Brady this season, with all three ranking among the 10 fastest times in the league, at under 2.4 seconds per attempt. As a line, they have surrendered 91 total QB pressures on the season.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (72.4)
Brandon Linder at center has been the star of this line in 2016. He currently sits at No. 4 in PFF’s center rankings, with a grade of 85.4, and has allowed just nine total QB pressures in over 410 snaps of pass blocking this season. Outside of him, though, this line has been average, and any strengths in one area are offset by weaknesses in another. Kelvin Beachum has been a disappointment as he comes back from a knee injury. He has surrendered 24 total QB pressures, been flagged five times, and currently has owns a PFF overall grade of 50.3.
16. Houston Texans (72.4)
An undrafted free agent in 2015, C Greg Mancz was a player that had graded exceptionally well in college, and he has been arguably the best player on this line this season as a starter without missing a snap. Mancz has yet to allow a sack, and has been grading well in all areas. Duane Brown showed this past week that he can still be an elite left tackle, with a perfect pass-blocking display against the Jaguars, but the other spots on the line have been varying degrees of concerning. As a unit, they have surrendered 108 total QB pressures on 349 pass-blocking snaps.
17. Kansas City Chiefs (72.3)
Most lines have some studs or duds on them, but the Chiefs are a group that lands in the middle of the pack, having really been average or a little better across the board. LT Eric Fisher has developed to reach that level, but that does seem to be his ceiling at this point. As a group, they have allowed only 76 total pressures, but Alex Smith is once again among the league’s lowest in average depth of target, at 7.5, so they aren’t being asked to protect for the same drops as some other lines.
18. Chicago Bears (72.1)
When healthy, the Bears have one of the league’s best interior trios. Josh Sitton has been an excellent boost to the line, especially given how he unexpectedly fell into their laps before the season. Rookie Cody Whitehair has been very good at center, given his position switch from college tackle, though his past few games haven’t been as strong as earlier in the year. The problem spot on the line is RT Bobby Massie, who has surrendered 27 total pressures in only 339 pass-blocking snaps and hasn’t made up for that with his run blocking.
19. New York Giants (71.9)
LT Ereck Flowers improved massively in year two, dragging his PFF grade up from a disastrous 32.5 as a rookie to a far more respectable 75.2 in 2016. There is still work to do there, as he has allowed 30 total QB pressures, but at least he isn’t the liability he was as a rookie. On the other side, RT Bobby Hart has the lowest-grade of the unit, struggling as a pass protector and run blocker, but Justin Pugh has been the league’s highest-graded guard so far this season, at 87.8—the Giants will just have to hope the time without him isn’t too damaging.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (69.2)
As a unit, the Bucs have allowed 124 total QB pressures on 387 pass-blocking snaps, and LT Donovan Smith has been responsible for 45 of them, the most among any single lineman in the league. Smith has been by far the biggest issue on that line as a pass blocker, but Ali Marpet redresses some of that balance with good pass blocking, allowing 13 total QB pressures so far. As a group, this is a better run-blocking line than it is a pass-blocking unit, with only LG Kevin Pamphile earning ugly grades in the run game.
21. Detroit Lions (68.4)
Taylor Decker has been the league’s best rookie left tackle this season. He has been reasonable as a pass blocker and solid in run blocking, and has outperformed the players taken ahead of him on the left side. Travis Swanson has been good at the center spot, too, giving the Lions a pair of solid performers, but the other three spots have been more disappointing, especially Larry Warford, who we have seen is capable of so much more. As a group, they have allowed 105 total pressures on 353 pass-blocking snaps.
22. Indianapolis Colts (68.0)
The Colts have allowed the most total pressures in the entire league, at 159, in 409 pass-blocking snaps. Only two lines have been asked to pass protect on more snaps (Green Bay and Jacksonville), but that still is the worst rate in the league, and a total that would be one of the worst we have seen over the past decade. The issue, though, is that Andrew Luck holds the ball longer than any QB in the league outside of Tyrod Taylor, averaging 2.75 seconds per attempt, so this line is pass blocking longer than nearly any other unit. The starting five is less of an issue than the depth, but any time they have been forced to the bench, things have been ugly. Jack Mewhort has yet to allow a single sack or hit across 298 pass-blocking snaps at guard.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (67.0)
For years, the Bengals had one of the league’s best lines, but this season they have fallen off. Heading into the season, they had two potential issues on paper at right tackle and center, and both have proven to be problems. RT Cedric Ogbuehi has allowed seven sacks and 32 total QB pressures across nine games, and C Russell Bodine has allowed more sacks than any other center in the league. Andrew Whitworth has remained one of the best tackles in the game, currently second in PFF’s rankings with an 89.8 grade, but he hasn’t had enough help.
24. Miami Dolphins (66.9)
Miami’s fortunes have adjusted drastically as the team pivoted to more of a power-running offense as the season went on, but it was really all on the back of Jay Ajayi’s hard running, rather than any dominance the line has in that area. Ajayi has gained 62.2 percent of his rushing yardage after contact, and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry after contact. Rookie Laremy Tunsil has been solid, allowing just one sack and 17 total pressures in time at left guard and tackle, but solid is the high-water mark on this line.
25. Denver Broncos (66.7)
The Denver Broncos line is actually okay, outside of one prohibitive position that threatens to sink the whole ship. At right tackle, Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo alternate getting eviscerated by opposing pass-rushers, sometimes both within the same game. As a pair, they have surrendered six sacks and 46 total QB pressures on the season, which would be the most in the league if they were one right tackle. Russell Okung has been better, but he himself is responsible for 38 total QB pressures, second-most among left tackles in the league.
26. Los Angeles Rams (65.8)
The state of the Rams’ offensive line has to have weighed heavily on Jeff Fisher’s reluctance to throw Jared Goff into the firing line for so long. It isn’t the worst line in the league, but it’s a bigger problem than you’d like for a rookie struggling to adjust. The good news is that they are better in pass protection than they are running the ball. They have surrendered just 92 total QB pressures on the season, and have the 14th-best pas-blocking efficiency. The real problem is run blocking, where Todd Gurley has gained a massive 70.3 percent of his rushing yards after contact over the season. He averages 3.1 yards per carry in 2016, and 2.2 of them have come after being hit.
27. Baltimore Ravens (65.2)
This line looked far better on paper heading into the season, but rookie LT Ronnie Stanley has looked little like his preseason self, having allowed 18 total QB pressures despite missing some time injured. When he hasn’t been playing, fellow rookie Alex Lewis has been asked to kick out to man his left tackle spot, and that went about as badly as you would expect any guard playing left tackle to go (21 total QB pressures in three games at left tackle). When healthy, Marshal Yanda has been among the league’s best guards, but he has missed time, and there has been little else positive on the Ravens’ line this season.
28. New York Jets (62.0)
When LG James Carpenter is arguably the best player on the line, you know you have some issues. C Nick Mangold still has a claim to that title as well, but Mangold is a shell of his former greatness, and has been far from great as a run blocker, in particular. The tackle spots have been the real problem on this line, though, with Ryan Clady, Ben Ijalana, and Breno Giacomini combining to surrender 11 sacks and 74 total QB pressures on the season, with 10 penalties thrown in as well. QB play in New York has not been good, but that’s a tough situation to succeed in.
29. Seattle Seahawks (61.2)
Make no mistake, this is a terrible offensive line, but the last-ditch attempt to resurrect the career of Justin Britt has at least been a success, as he has been a solid center, with a PFF grade of 80.5. Even Britt’s season has been more inconsistent than good, and the rest of the line has been a complete mess, with terrible play coming from the other four spots, regardless of who lines up there. This unit had some success against the Patriots on Sunday night, but this was a failing more of the Patriots’ defensive front than any lasting positive from the Seahawks’ O-line.
30. San Francisco 49ers (59.3)
It’s only four years since the 49ers owned the league’s best offensive line. Like the rest of the roster, this unit has collapsed into ruin. Nobody on the line has a PFF overall grade above 80.0, and even LT Joe Staley, for years one of the league’s best tackles, has surrendered 31 total QB pressures, though his run blocking has at least remained strong. This is a line with no real strength, though it is at least better run blocking than it has been pass protecting.
31. Minnesota Vikings (58.9)
It’s no secret that the Vikings’ offensive line has struggled badly, and without the play of Joe Berger in the middle, it would probably be at the bottom of this list. Berger has been good, if not as good as a year ago, and is PFF’s sixth-ranked center with a grade of 84.5; the next-highest grade on the line, however, is 72.3 from Alex Boone, and the current four-starters outside of Berger average a PFF grade of 51.5. T.J. Clemmings in particular has been a disaster at tackle, surrendering 24 total pressures and owning one of the worst grades we have ever given a tackle over the past 10 seasons of grading.
It seems hard to believe there is a line worse than the Vikings or Seahawks this season, but at least in this metric, the San Diego Chargers take that award. The Chargers have allowed 147 total pressures over the season, worse than every team outside of Indianapolis, and with a QB getting rid of the ball significantly faster on average (2.45 seconds per attempt vs 2.75, the difference between 18th place in the league and 33rd). The run game may look better, but Melvin Gordon has gained 518 of his 838 rushing yards (61.2 percent) after contact, breaking 28 tackles to make it happen, so that flatters the blocking.
The PFF O-Line metric quantifies the performance of an entire offensive line on a statistical basis, using a range of data collected by Pro Football Focus’ highly skilled analysis and player participation teams. For both run-blocking and pass-blocking situations, the offensive line’s performance is assessed against an expected production level, which is derived from a variety of scenarios. On run plays, the key statistic is yards before contact, where the expected gain before contact is set based on factors like the number of defensive players in the box, the run concept called by the offense, and the down-and-distance situation. On passing plays, the key stat is pressures allowed in terms of sacks, hits, and hurries only by offensive linemen. The expectation there is set by factors such as the down-and-distance situation, the dropback-type by the quarterback, and whether a play-action fake was executed. These numbers are then adjusted for the opposition and combined based upon the run-to-pass ratio that each offense plays within to ensure that each offensive line is judged for their performance level within what they are asked to execute.