Each year we present our list of the top offensive lines in football. It’s not built on which teams gave up the most sacks, or who had the most rushing yards.
It goes far beyond that.
No, we understand that the success a team has in running the ball or protecting the quarterback is more than just a reflection of the offensive line. It involves the skill players making plays, whether that's getting rid of the ball before pressure can develop, breaking a tackle to turn a 2-yard run into a 20-yard one, or making sure that blitzing defensive back is halted in his progress.
Our 2012 Offensive Line Rankings look solely at those guys who are offensive linemen, and how they’ve performed. It’s broken down into three categories (Pass Protection, Run and Screen Blocking, and Penalties) and between them they give us an overall score which leads to the rankings.
Now, let’s countdown to No. 1 (2011 rank in brackets – green Improving, red dropping).
32. Arizona Cardinals (21)
PB – 32nd, RB – 32nd, PEN – 16th
Stud: It’s not so much that Daryn Colledge (-0.8) was a stud, as much as he was the best of a very bad bunch. The former Packer was on big money, but his run blocking left a lot to be desired and it was only his work in pass protection that saw him land in this section.
Dud: Look no further than D’Anthony Batiste (-38.7). He was never meant to start, but he was so bad he gave backup left tackles a bad name. In his 10 games he amassed the second-lowest rating of all tackles (the lowest average rating per game), with his pass protection a particular lowlight. You won’t find many players who give up 54 quarterback disruptions on 404 pass blocking snaps.
Summary: Just a truly horrible offensive line. The Cardinals had made progress in recent years, but losing Levi Brown and then deciding Adam Snyder would prove an upgrade at right guard came back to hurt them in a big way. The small consolation was Bobby Massie, who turned his performance around in the second half of the season, raising expectations going forward.
31. Indianapolis Colts (20)
PB – 31st, RB – 31st, PEN – 5th
Stud: You won’t be getting Anthony Castonzo (+7.2) confused with the top left tackles any time soon if he keeps playing like this, but unlike most of his peers he didn’t look out of place on an NFL field. The run blocking was impressive, but as the 55 quarterback disruptions allowed show, he needs to get better in the passing game.
Dud: You don’t often notice guard play unless it's really bad. Well, you’d have to have missed a large percentage of the Colts' offensive snaps not to see Mike McGlynn (-25.1). Manhandled in the run game and treated like a turnstile in the passing game, he made life harder than it needed to be for his quarterback.
Summary: There were some bright spots. Both centers they used got some push in the run game, while former first-round pick Castonzo took a step forward this year. However, there’s a lot of room for improvement and they chiefly need to stop allowing so much pressure. The 245 combined sacks, hits and hurries they gave up were 32 more than any other team.
30. Chicago Bears (32)
PB – 28th, RB – 27th, PEN – 30th
Stud: I never thought I’d see the day where not only would J’Marcus Webb (-0.8) not be the weak link on this line, but also be the most consistent performer. He took a huge step forward this year in becoming an adequate left tackle. You can win football games with them.
Dud: Take your pick. Ultimately it has to be the man who is on the path to ‘Bustville', Gabe Carimi (-10.1). The former first-round pick does get push in the run game, but he’s horribly overmatched when he gets on his heels. That’s a horrible habit for an offensive tackle who earned his late benching.
Summary: They don’t make life easy for Jay Cutler and they make their running backs earn every yard. However you measure them this line just isn’t good enough, to the point where the best performers are the guys who just don’t get beat with regularity.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (18)
PB – 30th, RB – 25th, PEN – 13th
Stud: It really isn’t even close in Jacksonville. Eugene Monroe (+22.9) isn’t just the best player they have on their offensive line, he’s their best player on offense. A top-quality franchise left tackle who gets push in the run game, he’d get more press if he played for a more successful team.
Dud: It’s always hard to pick on an undrafted free agent rookie guard like Mike Brewster (-20.7) but what else can you do when he plays as badly as he did? He may develop into something, but this year the Jags asked way too much out of him.
Summary: There are two players on this line that look like they belong. The aforementioned Monroe and Uche Nwaneri. Everybody else has a replaceable feel about them even if you’d hope young guys like Brewster and Cameron Bradfield learn from the lumps they’ve taken this year.
28. San Diego Chargers (26)
PB – 29th, RB – 24th, PEN – 7th
Stud: He wasn’t perfect, but next to the rest of the guys on the line Louis Vasquez (+12.7) looked like a million bucks. That said, you’d still like to see him doing a better job in the run game.
Dud: When you start a UDFA at tackle what do you expect? Michael Harris (-43.4) earned the lowest grade of all tackles this year. Shame on the Chargers for putting him in that situation.
Summary: No quarterback had as little faith in his offensive line as ‘Throw Away Phil'. So rare was it that they weren’t allowing pressure that he assumed it was coming and just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) go through his reads and progressions. Injuries hurt them for sure, but they find themselves in a horrible position right now.
27. Carolina Panthers (9)
PB – 27th, RB – 23rd, PEN – 14th
Stud: As is often the case, it’s the ever reliable Jordan Gross (+16.4) who continues to get the job done, even if his performance in Week 17 was the worst we’ve ever seen from him. He may never be an elite tackle, but at least he’s more than a one-tricky pony.
Dud: There was a close competition but ultimately the inability of Geoff Hangartner (-14.5) to get any push in the run game meant he was the way to go.
Summary: The Panthers haven’t been shy about investing draft picks on the line, but with the injury to Ryan Kalil this year it fell apart. Amini Silatolu looked every bit the rookie, while Byron Bell isn’t good enough, often enough, to be a starter in this league yet.
26. St Louis Rams (28)
PB – 21st, RB – 26th, PEN – 29th
Stud: After a rookie year where he got too much praise, and a sophomore season where he earned his criticism, I for one wasn’t expecting much from Rodger Saffold (+8.6). Color me wrong, as he excelled in pass protection, looking like the player he was drafted to be.
Dud: The Rams got a lot of sub-standard play from a lot of sub-standard players. None stood out more than Quinn Ojinnaka (-9.5) before he was replaced in the lineup and then cut.
Summary: Every time I write about the Rams' line I wax lyrical about how it’s a miracle they finished as high as they did. They coped with injuries and filled in with guys who were flops elsewhere and managed to get a line on the field that wasn’t an embarrassment. There’s a long way to go, but kudos for that if nothing else.
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25. Pittsburgh Steelers (25)
PB – 24th, RB – 30th, PEN – 18th
Stud: The best player on this line is Maurkice Pouncey (+5.4), though that speaks volumes about this line and less about him. He does his job, but unlike a lot of linemen in this league he doesn’t pop out on tape as someone who makes a massive difference.
Dud: It’s nice to have a player who can play a number of positions, but the Steelers faithful must be hoping they don’t see an awful lot more of Doug Legursky (-10.5).
Summary: Try as they might, the Steelers can’t field a line that can pass protect and open up lanes. That’s despite a significant recent investment of early-round draft picks. That said, this line was never about 2012, and hopefully a healthy unit next year will justify the hopeful optimism.
24. Oakland Raiders (19)
PB – 19th, RB – 29th, PEN – 23rd
Stud: There is but one stud on this line, and his name is Jared Veldheer (+22.2). Emerging as one of the better left tackles in the league, he’s not quite lockdown yet, but he’s pretty close.
Dud: From the first snap Willie Smith (-19.0) was on the field he looked like a guy who was going to have trouble with speed rushers. And so it proved. He made Khalif Barnes look like a world-beater by comparison.
Summary: The zone blocking scheme was a huge failure, and once again it feels like this unit is starting from scratch. Mike Brisiel looked like an ill-advised signing for a team short on funds and so it proved, meaning only Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski are guys you can count on heading into 2013.
23. Miami Dolphins (22)
PB – 22nd, RB – 20th, PEN – 20th
Stud: He finished the season poorly by the standards he set, but for a stretch of the season there wasn’t a better center in the league than Mike Pouncey (+17.6).
Dud: You spend a high pick on a rookie, then it’s likely at some point you’re going to want to see what you’ve got. Well, the Dolphins got a good long look at Jonathan Martin (-22.0) and they’ll know he’s got a long way to go before he becomes the player they drafted him to be.
Summary: With Jake Long not the player he was this line was always going to struggle to replicate the performances of years gone by. A slow start didn’t help things either, and right now they appear a unit in transition. Really interesting to watch just what happens with Long this offseason.
22. Dallas Cowboys (15)
PB – 26th, RB – 8th, PEN – 32nd
Stud: Never let us say we can’t be wrong. Nate Livings (+11.3) had his most consistent year as a pro in Dallas, making a mark with his run blocking.
Dud: It may be time to admit that signing Doug Free (-10.1) long-term just hasn’t worked out. There were too many games where he was taken to the woodshed by explosive defensive ends.
Summary: The Cowboys have put some money into their line recently, but the return just wasn’t there in 2012. Tyron Smith had an at times awkward first year at left tackle, while Mackenzy Bernadeau gave up too much pressure for an interior linemen. There is talent here, but like a lot of spots in Dallas you don’t always see it.
21. Green Bay Packers (11)
PB – 11th, RB – 27th, PEN – 21st
Stud: There’s no denying that Josh Sitton (+20.7) had long been one of the best guards in the league. This year was no different than others in that regard.
Dud: Replacing Scott Wells with Jeff Saturday (-5.5) was supposed to ensure minimal dropoff. While technically Saturday was his old self, excelling in pass protection, he just couldn’t get the job done in the run game and was subsequently benched.
Summary: Despite the 51 sacks Aaron Rodgers took, this line more than did their part in protection. When you have a QB who holds on to the ball, sometimes things can look worse than they are. There’s no such excuses in the running game though. They were just weak up front.
20. Seattle Seahawks (29)
PB – 18th, RB – 15th, PEN – 31st
Stud: This was a year where Max Unger (+22.7) emerged as one of the top centers in the game, fully deserving of selection to our All-Pro second team. Unger consistently got movement in the run game and, while he doesn’t ‘wow' you in pass protection, he’s some player.
Dud: There were times when Breno Giacomini (-11.7) more than held his own. Unfortunately, there were plenty of times were he flattered to deceive and had some really rough outings.
Summary: The Seahawks have two extremely talented players in Unger and Russell Okung. The rest? Not so much. Not yet anyway. As was to be expected, J.R. Sweezy has some rough moments in his conversion to offensive lineman as the Seahawks really struggled to get much production out of the right guard spot. Some natural development in their young guys could see this change very quickly.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (2)
PB – 25th, RB – 5th, PEN – 27th
Stud: If you watch tape then you know that there isn’t a more reliably excellent guard out there than Evan Mathis (+51.3). Sometimes we get caught up in looking for a mauler at guard, and miss a guy who has his way with defenders more than any other lineman in the league.
Dud: After some success in his final year in Buffalo, I personally didn’t see Demetress Bell (-24.5) struggling as much as he did. He was a complete liability in pass protection and it’s unlikely we’ll see him in an Eagles uniform again.
Summary: Injuries destroyed a line that headed into the year with a chance at being one of the best units out there. We got extended glimpses of Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce, but losing both men (as well as Jason Peters) wasn’t something they were ever going to recover from. Look for them to rebound.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (23)
PB – 12th, RB – 14th, PEN – 28th
Stud: He’s not an elite left tackle as some would have you believe, but Donald Penn (+15.0) isn’t the type to let you down often — especially when the cameras are focused on him.
Dud: The Bucs never figured that Jamon Meredith (-9.4) would be required to start. Injury meant that he had to, unfortunately, and he was the weak link in pass protection while offering little in the run game.
Summary: They spent an awful lot of money on guards, yet injuries meant that Davin Joseph missed the entire year and Carl Nicks was limited to 455 snaps. The good news is both should be back next year. When they finally realized starting Jeremy Trueblood wasn’t a good idea, Demar Dotson stepped up and played like the starter Trueblood never was in recent years.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8)
PB – 23rd, RB – 10th, PEN – 24th
Stud: He’s the best right guard in football and his name is Marshall Yanda (+24.2). You can put him up against any player in the league and he’ll produce. One perennial Pro Bowler who earns his selection.
Dud: In his career with the Bengals Bobbie Williams (-9.6) never got his due for the genuinely elite play he put on tape. The likelihood is this was his last year in football, with him looking some way off the standard we came to expect from one of the more underrated players of recent years.
Summary: As they get ready for the Super Bowl the Ravens seem to have found their best combination, but during the regular season they flattered to deceive. The big problems came on the left side where no guard they put into the lineup did the job, and Michael Oher continued to look a little out of his depth on the blindside. Oh the irony.
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16. Washington Redskins (27)
PB – 15th, RB – 19th, PEN – 9th
Stud: It was close, but Trent Williams (+19.7) had himself a heck of a year where he really became the player he was drafted to be. One of these guys that can contribute whatever play you’re running.
Dud: There’s no denying that Tyler Polumbus (-24.1) had some good days, but all too often he was the guy letting the line down. His performance in pass protection is something they should look to upgrade.
Summary: The line took a big step forward this year with Williams exceptional, Will Montgomery establishing himself as one of the better centers out there, and Chris Chester playing up to his contract. The rest of the line? Well, that’s why they’re not any higher.
15. Atlanta Falcons (17)
PB – 17th, RB – 17th, PEN – 1st
Stud: We’ve always liked Tyson Clabo (+21.3) as one of these tackles you don’t often notice. Unfortunately, while that means he’s doing his job (Charles Johnson games aside) in pass protection, it also speaks volumes for his inability to consistently impose himself in the run game.
Dud: There may be a day when Peter Konz (-12.7) is one of the better interior linemen in the league. However, in 2012 he was just a rookie who found out that the step up from college is steep.
Summary: Just good enough. That’s the Falcons' offensive line, which allows its premium players in the passing game to operate. The downside is that without a truly dynamic back they were often exposed in the run game against more physical lines.
14. Tennessee Titans (6)
PB – 6th, RB – 18th, PEN – 22nd
Stud: Football is a funny old business. Michael Roos (+27.8) had his best season in a fair old while, yet nobody is talking about it. His work in pass protection is what makes him a top tackle.
Dud: Sometimes switching positions can really hurt a player, and so it proved with Leroy Harris (-7.2). He gave up 14 quarterback disruptions in 2011, yet a year later would give up 19 in half as many games.
Summary: If you were to describe the Titans' line as a quarterback's best friend, and a unit that had a rocky relationship with their running back you wouldn’t be far wrong. The investment in Steve Hutchinson was a bad one, though Fernando Velasco proved himself an upgrade at center. As ever though, the tackles personified this line. Excellent in pass protection and very ‘meh' in the run game.
13. Buffalo Bills (4)
PB – 5th, RB – 21st, PEN – 26th
Stud: Although the star of the unit is Andy Levitre (+17.2), we can’t be the only ones that would like to see him do a little bit more in the run game.
Dud: The only player on the line to get a significant negative grade, Erik Pears (-7.3) ended his season on injured reserve watching Chris Hairston make a pretty convincing claim to his starting spot.
Summary: The line got more praise than they deserved for the ridiculousness of C.J. Spiller and his ability to make a lot out of very little. They did, however, hold up well in pass protection, providing one less excuse for the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (16)
PB – 14th, RB – 9th, PEN – 15th
Stud: By his own admission, Eric Winston (+15.9) and the Chiefs fans didn’t exactly hit it off. While he wasn’t exactly perfect this year, he was the most balanced player they had on their line.
Dud: The hope is that Jeff Allen (-19.6) improves after a disastrous rookie year. Given that there were signs of improvement in the second half of the 2012, we’d bet on it [Editors note: well we would with Khaled's money anyway].
Summary: Injuries hurt this line, which was something of a shame. They got strong play from all the guys who were penciled into start, but the problem came when rookies Allen and Donald Stephenson were forced into the lineup. Too much too soon.
11. New York Giants (31)
PB – 20th, RB – 4th, PEN – 12th
Stud: Though he gets next to no praise, Will Beatty (+22.4) had a year that warranted Pro Bowl consideration. The penalties aren’t ideal, but there are not many left tackles who can keep their quarterback upright and generate movement in the run game.
Dud: It was David Diehl (-6.2) again, but the truth is he actually performed a lot better in the second half of the season compared to the liability we’ve known him to be.
Summary: A big improvement from this line, which was terrible in 2011. They made a big contribution in the running game while ensuring Eli Manning faced significantly less pressure. Still, this line is in transition to a degree with a few of players getting to that age where the cliff is approaching.
10. Houston Texans (5)
PB – 8th, RB – 12th, PEN – 6th
Stud: There isn’t a more complete left tackle in the game at the moment than Duane Brown (+35.6). His athleticism is on the tape for all to see, in a way you don’t often imagine from men his size.
Dud: They couldn’t afford to keep Eric Winston and the end result was a big dropoff courtesy of Derek Newton (-8.7). He just couldn’t execute in the run game the way Winston had.
Summary: They lost two starters and it showed at times against bigger and better defenses. Still, the duo of Chris Myers and Duane Brown excelled and they rarely let their quarterback feel pressure. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.
9. Minnesota Vikings (7)
PB – 13th, RB – 6th, PEN – 8th
Stud: It might not be the coolest thing to say, but there’s no denying that over the past two years the best center in the league has been John Sullivan (+27.3).
Dud: The Vikings made a big mistake in keeping Brandon Fusco (-11.8) in the starting lineup when they had better options on the bench.
Summary: The only criticism of this line is that Geoff Schwartz didn’t get nearly enough playing time. That aside, what more could you want from this line? They kept their quarterback upright, and in Sullivan and Phil Loadholt they have two of the most punishing run blockers in the league at their positions. Trending upwards, with rookie left tackle Matt Kalil being exactly as advertised.
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8. Cincinnati Bengals (13)
PB – 2nd, RB – 22nd, PEN – 10th
Stud: What a year from Andre Smith (+26.9). Our top-graded right tackle was the only player on this unit to consistently generate movement in the run game, while (Brandon Graham beating aside) holding his own in pass protection.
Dud: Whoever played center. That’s a little unfair to Trevor Robinson (-1.8) who looked the best of a bad bunch, with Jeff Faine (-13.0) completely done, and Kyle Cook (-5.0) far from his best.
Summary: If not for how bad things were at center then you’re realistically looking at a Top 5 line. The big problem is they’re far better on their heels than they are going forward, and outside of Smith don’t do a good enough job of creating space for their running backs.
7. Detroit Lions (10)
PB – 4th, RB – 13th, PEN – 10th
Stud: That was the best we’ve seen Gosder Cherilus (+26.3) look, but, like the line in general, a lot of that came courtesy of not giving up much in pass protection, as opposed to mauling guys in the run game.
Dud: The run blocking from Stephen Peterman (-8.4) was as good as anyone on the team, but it’s inexcusable for a guard in that passing attack to get beat for 45 quarterback disruptions.
Summary: They work well with their quarterback to ensure he’s largely given enough time to make plays in the pocket. They don’t work quite so well with their running backs. They’re far from terrible, and got a boost when Riley Reiff was in on the play, but, with the guys they have behind them, they need to do more.
6. New Orleans Saints (1)
PB – 8th, RB – 7th, PEN – 4th
Stud: He may be the least well known player on the line, but it’s about time people started to recognize how much of a find Brian De La Puente (+23.0) has been for the Saints.
Dud: While he got better as the year went on, 58 combined sacks, hits and hurries are far too many from Jermon Bushrod (+1.5). Some good work in the run game ensured he ended with a positive grade, but you need your left tackle to pass block better.
Summary: The often unheralded part of the Saints' success, the line didn’t get as good play from their tackles as they might have expected, but they got by without Carl Nicks just fine. That owed a lot to Ben Grubbs stepping up. A fine line that looks set for years to come.
5. Cleveland Browns (14)
PB – 3rd, RB – 11th, PEN – 25th
Stud: In the upcoming weeks or so we’re going to do a piece on how often (per second) Joe Thomas (+25.6) gives up pressure compared to the rest of the league. It’s stunning how shutdown he is. Now, if only his run blocking matched up to his work in the pass game.
Dud: You can get by with players like Shawn Lauvao (-7.3) when the rest of your line is so good.
Summary: It’s not the done thing to give praise to Cleveland. That said, their line is extremely talented and when they were forced to introduce John Greco into the lineup they got even better. The stars are Thomas and Alex Mack, but the play of rookie Mitchell Schwartz bodes well for this line for a long time to come.
4. Denver Broncos (30)
PB – 1st, RB – 16th, PEN – 17th
Stud: You think Ryan Clady (+27.0) liked blocking for Peyton Manning? He responded with a career year that is going to make him an even richer man.
Dud: Though he graded positively for the year, you’d likely want to see more push in the run game from Manny Ramirez (+3.0).
Summary: They had a job to do, and boy did they do it. Protecting their quarterback was their priority and in that regard they did exactly what was required. It started with the tackles, who were excellent in this regard, and not one player on the line ended with a negative grade in pass protection. The downside is they failed to consistently impose themselves in the run game, and this is a big area for improvement.
3. New York Jets (12)
PB – 7th, RB – 3rd, PEN – 3rd
Stud: There were plenty of contenders here, but given some of the guys he kept in check, credit to D’Brickashaw Ferguson (+23.5) for a fine year.
Dud: The run blocking of Matt Slauson (+2.5) left a lot to be desired.
Summary: Everybody wants to poke fun at the Jets, and for some reason the offensive line got caught in the crossfire. It wasn’t quite its dominant self in the early weeks of the season, but they finishing playing as well as any team. Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore played angry, while Austin Howard found his feet as an NFL tackle. Still, a line can only do so much to put skill players in position to do good things, and in that regard the Jets are sorely lacking.
2. New England Patriots (3)
PB – 16th, RB – 2nd, PEN – 2nd
Stud: If not for a spell where injury took him off the field and then slowed him down while on it, it’s fair to say Sebastian Vollmer (+21.5) would have been our top ranked right tackle. He was that good.
Dud: The streaky Dan Connolly (+3.4) had more good than bad moments, but there were still too many negatives for him to get away scot free.
Summary: Incredibly talented, incredibly deep. The tackles make you breathe easy, and the interior can really overpower a team. Even when Logan Mankins went down there was no dropoff, with the play of Donald Thomas actually proving somewhat more consistent. Stunning, I know.
1. San Francisco 49ers (20)
PB – 10th, RB – 1st, PEN – 19th
Stud: Generally speaking, tackles don’t block like Joe Staley (+40.4). He’s better in pass protection than people will give him credit for (a shame for him that nearly a third of the pressure he allowed ended up as sacks), but it’s his run blocking that sets him apart from the rest.
Dud: There isn’t one. The worst you can say is that Jonathan Goodwin is a Top 10 center, whereas the rest of the guys are Top 3 at their positions.
Summary: Phenomenal. A near flawless collection of linemen. Most teams would kill for any one of the guys the 49ers put out, yet they have five of them. The introduction of Alex Boone provided a huge boost, with Anthony Davis upping his game with better play next to them. They’re a young unit by offensive line standards and look set to dominate for a long time.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled