It starts up front.
That's the mantra we hear each and every year, insisting that a team’s fortunes on offense start with the success of their offensive line. Only, for some teams, it doesn’t so much as start up front, as it does finish.
When you have a line that can make things happen, whether buying your quarterback time or giving your running back big holes to gallop through, it can be a thing of beauty. So, we’re celebrating those offensive lines with our annual offensive line rankings. This isn’t the result of which team has the best five players starting, but looks at every player who played a snap on the line in 2015, and measures how well they did their job.
(Editor's note: Last season's ranking are noted in parenthesis.)
1. Dallas Cowboys (1st)
Pass-blocking rank: 1st
Run-blocking rank: 1st
Penalties rank: 32nd
Stud: With studs at three spots on the line, it was hard picking a No. 1 guy. But left tackle Tyron Smith, our second-ranked lineman on the year, is that guy, with a tremendous season that has become the norm for him.
Dud: He was far from disappointing, but rookie La’el Collins was the weakest link on this line, simply by not being as good as the other guys on it.
Summary: That's two years in a row atop our rankings for the Cowboys, who have reaped the rewards on their heavy investment in talent with first-round picks. All three of their former top picks graded in the top three at their respective positions, and even the less-heralded members were hardly poor. The Cowboys are our top offensive line for the second year in a row, and the truth is, it wasn’t even close.
2. Carolina Panthers (22nd)
Pass-blocking rank: 4th
Run-blocking rank: 6th
Penalties rank: 7th
Stud: If Trai Turner looked good as a rookie, he looked great in his sophomore year. Well worth Pro Bowl contention (and the spot we awarded him), there are a lot of teams wondering just how he was allowed to get all the way to the 92nd pick of the 2014 draft.
Dud: When something went wrong in the running game, Michael Oher was usually at the center of it. He did a good job in pass protection, but no tackle came close to grading as badly as he did in the running game.
Summary: The tackles are the weak spot of this line, but not so weak where it really matters for them (pass protection). The strength is obviously the interior, where Andrew Norwell (building on a successful rookie year), Turner, and Ryan Kalil are amongst the best at their position. They’re a foundation for success on the line.
3. New Orleans Saints (11th)
Pass-blocking rank: 9th
Run-blocking rank: 2nd
Penalties rank: 10th
Stud: This was the year that former second-round pick Terron Armstead proved he was a top-tier tackle.
Dud: Nothing overly terrible here, but Senio Kelemete had some issues in pass protection that shouldn’t be ignored.
Summary: The tackles are the most reliable players on this line, and the addition of Max Unger was certainly a good one (though you could debate whether the cost was worth it). Generally a really good run blocking outfit, let down only by their infrequent troubles protecting their QB up the gut.
4. Atlanta Falcons (26th)
Pass-blocking rank: 6th
Run-blocking rank: 8th
Penalties rank: 3rd
Stud: One of the more unheralded players in the league, Ryan Schraeder is the kind of right tackle you don’t realize is as good as he is. A really solid player, you rarely notice him—which is a great thing at his spot.
Dud: The team lost faith in him eventually, with Mike Person’s continual problems snapping the ball playing a pivotal role in the Falcons' second half collapse.
Summary: On paper, this line didn’t inspire confidence, but when you get guys doing what they’re good at, positive things happen. The introduction of Andy Levitre and Chris Chester, as well as the commitment to a zone-based scheme, worked from day one, with their work in the run game excellent. Are they a little lightweight against more powerful defenders? Yes. Are they much better than anyone expected? Definitely.
5. Cleveland Browns (6th)
Pass-blocking rank: 3rd
Run-blocking rank: 13th
Penalties rank: 17th
Stud: Our Bruce Matthews award winner for best lineman in the league, Joe Thomas has never let his high standard drop. This year was no exception.
Dud: First-round pick Cameron Erving had a rough time of things. He looked monumentally out of his depth in his 429 snaps.
Summary: The tackles were the highlight of the line, with both Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz playing extremely well. The interior play prevented this line from being any higher on the list, though both guards were far from disappointing, and Alex Mack never a liability. We’ve just seen them all play better, with it not coming together this year.
6. Oakland Raiders (16th)
Pass-blocking rank: 2nd
Run-blocking rank: 18th
Penalties rank: 30th
Stud: After a good rookie year, guard Gabe Jackson cemented his status as a “hit” for Reggie McKenzie with an even better second year.
Dud: If this line had one weakness, and it did, it was J’Marcus Webb. A player who stood out for all the wrong reasons.
Summary: Nothing sums up the transformation going on in Oakland like their offensive line. The left side is particularly strong, with Jackson and Donald Penn ever presents. Sure, Rodney Hudson probably isn’t worth the money, but even his addition resulted in better play on the line.
7. Green Bay Packers (4th)
Pass-blocking rank: 5th
Run-blocking rank: 17th
Penalties rank: 24th
Stud: How can you pick between their two brilliant guards? T.J. Lang gets the stud award with his superior run blocking.
Dud: There were some real horror show performances from Don Barclay. Sure, he was asked to play a variety of roles, which is never easy, but his starts at tackle were really poor.
Summary: It almost feels odd that Green Bay would rank so high, given some of the struggles they had. But spearheaded by one of the best interiors in the league, they still did a remarkably good job. Of course, the problems at tackle when David Bakhtiari went down can’t be ignored, and it prevented a good line finishing higher.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (7th)
Pass-blocking rank: 8th
Run-blocking rank: 9th
Penalties rank: 23rd
Stud: One of the premier left tackles in the league, Andrew Whitworth had another exceptional year. It’s what he does.
Dud: The team would have hoped Russell Bodine took a step forward in year two, but it never really materialized with his play spotty, at best.
Summary: Strong at guard and left tackle, the team was only let down by the inconsistencies of Bodine and the poor performance of Andre Smith, who may have played his way out of town, given the Bengals' top two picks in the 2015 draft. Still, this is the usual top 10 finish for Paul Alexander’s unit.
9. Buffalo Bills (22nd)
Pass-blocking rank: 11th
Run-blocking rank: 10th
Penalties rank: 14th
Stud: You think the Richie Incognito moved paid off? Not only did he show no signs of rust, but he was our top-ranked left guard on the entire year.
Dud: It’s never easy for rookies, and John Miller really proved that with a poor year that saw him yield too much pressure and get beat too often in the run game.
Summary: Quite the turnaround for this group. Spearheaded by the arrival of Incognito, it's really a tale of two sides. On the left, their pairing is as good as any in the league, and on the right, it’s as bad as any. In the middle, the ever-present Eric Wood had a very useful year for a line that has a nice blend of youth and experience.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (8th)
Pass-blocking rank: 7th
Run-blocking rank: 23rd
Penalties rank: 28th
Stud: A strong year from guard David DeCastro is something to be expected these days. 2015 was no different.
Dud: Cody Wallace may play with a nasty streak that a lot of people like, but there was a whole lot more to not like. You don’t see centers give up as much pressure as he did, draw as many flags as he did, or be at the center of so many bad blocks in the running game.
Summary: You take out Wallace and replace him with Maurkice Pouncey, and you’re looking at a group that could challenge the top three. Replace Alejandro Villanueva with Kelvin Beachum, and they could be the best. This line has really transformed over the years, and it’s only injuries that saw them drop down the rankings in 2015.
11. Washington Redskins (12th)
Pass-blocking rank: 13th
Run-blocking rank: 15th
Penalties rank: 12th
Stud: Maybe not his best season, but still a lot better than most. Trent Williams showed why he got the new deal.
Dud: After an impressive enough run, it was surprising to see Kory Lichtensteiger struggle so much before he was put on the shelf injured.
Summary: Washington is reaping the rewards of some good drafting. Trent Williams is a lynchpin on the line, but the pleasant surprise is Morgan Moses looking like a longtime starter, while rookie first-rounder Brandon Scherff finished the year incredibly strong. Heading in the right direction.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (2nd)
Pass-blocking rank: 18th
Run-blocking rank: 3rd
Penalties rank: 26th
Stud: Despite a big dropoff from his best, Jason Peters remained the best player on this line.
Dud: After getting rid of both of their guards last year, they needed players to step up. Matt Tobin most certainly did not.
Summary: Not the cataclysmic collapse some expected, but a big drop off nonetheless. They tried to get younger, but in losing experience, they also lost talent—and the results were far less impressive than anything we’re used to seeing from them.
13. Baltimore Ravens (3rd)
Pass-blocking rank: 15th
Run-blocking rank: 11th
Penalties rank: 13rd
Stud: Whenever Marshal Yanda retires, he’ll become a first-ballot PFF Hall of Famer—of that, you can be sure. He’s had his usual year, which is to say he’s our top-ranked guard.
Dud: Bad things happened whenever James Hurst was on the field. He’s just not at a level where asking him to protect a quarterback's blindside is a smart thing,
Summary: Injuries really hurt the Ravens, so it’s impressive that the unit didn’t slide more than the 10 places they did. It wasn’t just the guy who couldn’t get on the field (Eugene Monroe), but also the drop off from Ricky Wagner, who had a rough season after his breakout 2014. With the talent on paper, they didn’t live up to expectations.
14. Minnesota Vikings (21st)
Pass-blocking rank: 16th
Run-blocking rank: 7th
Penalties rank: 11th
Stud: He wasn’t even expected to start, but Joe Berger finished the season as a second-team PFF All Pro selection.
Dud: Viewed as a project and not meant to start, T.J. Clemmings had a tough rookie year.
Summary: This could have been a lot worse, considering that the team lost their starting center and right tackle before the year. But the surprising play of Berger, as well that of Michael Harris taking to guard much better than he ever did at tackle, helped the unit, especially in the run game.
15. Indianapolis Colts (17th)
Run-blocking rank: 19th
Penalties rank: 16th
Stud: Sophmore lineman Jack Mewhort showed promise as a rookie, but he really took his game to a new level this year. Starting off at right tackle before starring at left guard, it was a true breakout season.
Dud: Bringing in Todd Herremans really didn’t pan out, with the former Eagle struggling in each of his 140 snaps.
Summary: A so-so year for the line. Problems at center and right guard were a constant, and whileAnthony Castonzo played well, we’ve seen him look a lot more assured on the blindside. There’s young talent here, but can it be developed into a better group?
16. Chicago Bears (15th)
Pass-blocking rank: 17th
Run-blocking rank: 5th
Penalties rank: 20th
Stud: Since arriving from New York, Matt Slauson has been everything and more than the Bears could have hoped for. Even when they asked him to move to center, he still delivered.
Dud: Rookie Hroniss Grasu found out that life in the NFL is tough, with general struggles in the run game and more pressure allowed than you’d want.
Summary: A makeshift line, it’s surprising they rallied to play as well as they did. Kyle Long wasn’t a natural at right tackle, but by the end of the year, had made a good enough go at it that you could see him sticking there for the long-term. With some talent on the roster, this line still has a patchwork feel to it that will need some attention in the offseason.
17. Arizona Cardinals (24th)
Pass-blocking rank: 28th
Run-blocking rank: 4th
Penalties rank: 8th
Stud: A big reason the team is much improved in the run game is that Mike Iupati came in and didn’t just hit the ground running, he hit everything in his path. He’ll allow some pressure, but he’s a difference-maker in the run game.
Dud: The other guard spot is a big problem, and Ted Larsen can’t realistically be viewed as the long-term answer, with Jonathan Cooper looking like a guy for whom injury might have derailed his career before he ever really got going.
Summary: It’s been a big jump for this unit, chiefly in the run game, where they really give their backs something to work with. Pass protection remains a problem—especially with everyone not named Jared Veldheer—but fortunately they have a quarterback in Carson Palmer who has really hid that weakness.
18. Houston Texans (5th)
Pass-blocking rank: 10th
Penalties rank: 21st
Stud: It hurt the Texans that Duane Brown missed action. He wasn’t at his best, but his less-than-best is still better than most.
Dud: Does Xavier Su’a-Filo have what it takes to stick around in this league? He took a step forward in 2015, but he’s still a liability whenever the Texans are pass blocking.
Summary: Not quite the year they would have hoped for from their line. A lack of consistent run blocking outside of Derek Newton was there Achilles heel, though for the most part, they kept their quarterback clean (especially when Brown was on the field).
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (18th)
Pass-blocking rank: 19th
Run-blocking rank: 22nd
Penalties rank: 1st
Stud: Former Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski came in and did a good, if not great, job.
Dud: With each passing year, the bust tag on Luke Joeckel is getting harder to shake. There are worse tackles, but for a guy with so much invested in, it really isn’t paying off.
Summary: The Jaguars have tried to improve their line, but the amount spent compared to what they got in return doesn’t add up. Zane Beadles has been a constant disappointment, and while Jermey Parnell wasn’t terrible, he didn’t bring the level of play his contract suggested he would. That seems to sum the Jaguars up.
T-20. New York Giants (20th)
Pass-blocking rank: 24th
Penalties rank: 4th
Stud: Just missing out on a PFF All Pro selection, that shouldn’t diminish what a great year Weston Richburg had at the center spot.
Dud: Did he play hurt, or can you just attribute his struggles to being a rookie? Either way, Ereck Flowers didn’t provide the immediate upgrade the team had hoped for, and was our lowest-graded tackle on the year.
Summary: The injury to William Beatty caused a number of problems, with Flowers unprepared to play left tackle and Marshall Newhouse unequipped to play on the right side. That made a match of the worst tackle pairing in the league, and while the interior played well, it was nowhere near good enough to make up for it.
T-20. Denver Broncos (10th)
Pass-blocking rank: 23rd
Run-blocking rank: 21st
Penalties rank: 2nd
Stud: Bringing in Evan Mathis certainly reaped some immediate rewards. His pass blocking was suspect at times, but his ability to create lanes in the running game hasn’t diminished at all.
Dud: Nobody at tackle performed all that great, but first-year starter Michael Schofield had a tough time, especially in the first half of the year (and any time Khalil Mack was opposite him).
Summary: That eight players got more than 100 snaps on the offensive line tells you all you need to know about their struggles with injury and problems finding a combination that worked. A real downgrade on what they’ve produced in years gone by, they lost Ryan Clady before the season, and never really recovered.
22. Kansas City Chiefs (27th)
Pass-blocking rank: 30th
Run-blocking rank: 14th
Penalties rank: 18th
Stud: A good year from Jeff Allen, which made it a shame that he was limited to just 441 snaps.
Dud: Regardless of whether Jah Reid was at guard or tackle, it rarely went well. In fairness, he did get better at tackle after a really tough start.
Summary: Former first-round pick Eric Fisher has never lived up to the hype, and the host of talent they’ve trotted out this year really makes you appreciate the job their skill players did all the more. The good news? Center Mitch Morse looks like a building block on the interior.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (25th)
Pass-blocking rank: 20th
Penalties rank: 31st
Stud: Rolling back the years, Logan Mankins proved a good role model on the field for Ali Marpet.
Dud: Rookie Donovan Smith had a year of finding out just how talented NFL pass rushers really are.
Summary: It was always going to be hard for the Bucs' starting two rookie linemen, and then losing their starting right tackle at the beginning of the year amplified the issues. All things considered, this could have been much worse, and you’d expect improvements in 2016, given the lumps they had to take this year.
24. Detroit Lions (14th)
Pass-blocking rank: 21st
Run-blocking rank: 26th
Penalties rank: 9th
Stud: Odd, given that he didn’t play all that much, but whether he was at center or guard, Manuel Ramirez was the most reliable player on the Lions O-line.
Dud: He didn’t end the year on the roster, but LaAdrian Waddle was a disaster during his 377 snaps with the team.
Summary: First-round pick Laken Tomlinson flashed some potential, but he was part of a problem that saw the line regress this year. Right tackle was a big issue with Waddle, and then Cornelius Lucas struggling whenever on the field, while there also have to be questions about Travis Swanson’s long-term potential after a second poor year.
25. New England Patriots (23rd)
Pass-blocking rank: 31st
Run-blocking rank: 12th
Penalties rank: 15th
Stud: Far from perfect, but Josh Kline looked the part when he got on the field.
Dud: Pick your poison here. None were truly atrocious, but most were well below average. None more so than Cameron Fleming, who allowed way too much pressure.
Summary: The good news is that, where they struggle (pass protection), they have a quarterback good enough to overcome it. But it was still so bad that you wonder how much easier (and better) life for Tom Brady could have been with better protection.
26. New York Jets (13th)
Pass-blocking rank: 22nd
Run-blocking rank: 25th
Penalties rank: 19th
Stud: By virtue of his teammates playing so poorly, the strong run blocking of James Carpenter made him an easy pick.
Dud: Poor in the run game and allowing too much pressure, Breno Giacomini did not have a good year.
Summary: Once a dominating group, this was the year that things finally turned, and the Jets line morphed from productive to problem. Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson just aren’t the players they once were, and there aren’t enough factors to overcome that. This line needs some good, young talent.
27. San Francisco 49ers (9th)
Pass-blocking rank: 14th
Run-blocking rank: 30th
Penalties rank: 6th
Stud: No doubting that Joe Staley earns the stud spot here. He had himself a year that stood out for the right reasons.
Dud: Sophomore center Marcus Martin was a liability throughout the season. His work in pass protection was poor, but it was his performance in the run game that was a true mess.
Summary: Another line that is heading in the wrong direction. They can only hope that they get Anthony Davis back, because Erik Pears was no ready replacement. Problems at the pivot also caused constant headache on offense. They’re tried injecting some youth, but it just hasn’t paid off.
28. St Louis Rams (31st)
Pass-blocking rank: 25th
Run-blocking rank: 27th
Penalties rank: 22nd
Stud: Journeyman guard Garrett Reynolds came in and was particularly impressive in the run game.
Dud: Another year like this one, and Greg Robinson will be well on the way to bust status. It’s not just the penalties causing problems—it’s the consistent amount of pressure he’s allowing.
Summary: With so much young talent, it may take a while for the Rams' line to come together. Unfortunately, it’s biggest risk (Robinson) isn’t paying off right now, but if there’s solace, it’s that Ron Havenstein looked the part as a rookie. This whole group needs to make a big leap in 2016.
29. Tennessee Titans (28th)
Pass-blocking rank: 26th
Run-blocking rank: 28th
Penalties rank: 5th
Stud: On a bad line, Taylor Lewan is the lone bright spot.
Dud: A sixth round pick, Andy Gallik played like one in his rookie year.
Summary: They’ve tried to fix the line, but it just hasn’t worked. Taylor Lewan looks like a hit, but Chance Warmack has never lived up to the billing. Outside of that, they have a lot of guys playing, but none catching the eye, making up a particularly porous protection unit.
30. Seattle Seahawks (19th)
Pass-blocking rank: 27th
Run-blocking rank: 29th
Penalties rank: 27th
Stud: It wasn’t the year he was hoping for, but Russell Okung continues to prove himself as starting-caliber left tackle in a league short of them.
Dud: The hope was that moving Justin Britt to guard might hide some of his weaknesses. The hope was wrong, with Britt having more issues at guard than he did at tackle.
Summary: It’s amazing that the Seahawks got as far as they did with a line that struggled to open many holes, and a pass protection unit that was sieve-like. It got better when Patrick Lewis came in, but their poor play serves to only highlight how good the backs were, and how talented Russell Wilson is at extending plays.
31. Miami Dolphins (32nd)
Pass-blocking rank: 29th
Run-blocking rank: 32nd
Penalties rank: 25th
Stud: While Mike Pouncey is the best of this bunch, he didn’t even need to have anything close to his best year to be the stud here.
Dud: Is it time to call an end to the Dallas Thomas experiment? He graded worse in 2015 than he did in 2014, and struggled whenever faced with semi-decent opposition.
Summary: On the plus side, they moved up a spot. But that was due more to the Chargers being that bad, rather than Miami getting better. Given how much money and how many high draft picks the team has spent, it has to be considered a monumental failure that they produce as badly as they do.
32. San Diego Chargers (29th)
Pass-blocking rank: 32nd
Run-blocking rank: 31st
Penalties rank: 29th
Stud: Joe Barksdale, and it wasn’t close.
Dud: The seven lowest grades on offense belonged to linemen. None more so than Trevor Robinson, who had the lowest grade of any lineman in the league.
Summary: Just terrible. Injuries hurt them to the point they had 12 players take snaps on the line, and nine feature for more than 100 snaps. That kind of lack in continuity is a killer, but still doesn’t explain how bad this group was. Big-money signing Orlando Franklin didn’t produce, and former first-rounder, D.J. Fluker, is not impressing. They just haven’t got it right on the line and it shows each and every game.