NFL O-line Overview: Offseason Observations

With training camp underway and preseason games around the corner, football is officially back. In other words, it’s finally time for our extra-early look at how the NFL’s offensive lines have fared through free agency and the draft. Without further ado, let’s kick off the 2019 Offensive Line Overview series.

Risers:

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts sold out to improve their offensive front last season and did so to great success. After boasting a perennially poor unit for much of the last decade, Andrew Luck now benefits from one of the best O-lines in the league – a unit so good that worries of Luck’s shoulder, which dominated last year’s offseason storylines in Indianapolis, have all but entirely vanished from the NFL zeitgeist. After hitting big on two starters in the 2018 NFL Draft in Quenton Nelson (No. 6 overall) and Branden Smith (No. 37 overall), the team didn’t make notable splashes on the unit this offseason – yet they manage to earn a spot in our “Risers” section. That’s because the Colts’ line could realistically improve upon last year’s performance, a rare feat to manage for an already top-ranked O-line. Usually, from the top there’s nowhere to go but down. The O-line’s strong 2018 performance came in spite of some struggles with injury, and both Nelson and Smith will benefit from a full year of experience at the NFL level at positions which are notoriously difficult for rookies to adapt to. If everything breaks right for Indianapolis, it’s conceivable that the 2019 season could conclude with their offensive line as the consensus best group in the league. If that’s the case, Marlon Mack (ADP 38) could end up being a premier steal in fantasy drafts.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons took a page out of Indianapolis’ book in the 2019 NFL Draft, utilizing both of their first-round picks to bolster the trenches with Chris Lindstrom (No. 14 overall) and Kaleb McGary (No. 31 overall), both of whom are strong candidates to start in 2019. Penciling rookies who have yet to play an NFL snap in as improvements is always risky business, but the 2018 Colts serve as a fresh example of just how strong an impact such moves can make if they work out – and Atlanta’s line can’t be much worse than it was last year. In 2018 the unit allowed 42 sacks and struggled mightily in the run blocking game (Atlanta averaging less than 100 yards on the ground per game). The veterans surrounding the team’s rookies inspire confidence as well: Alex Mack and Jake Matthews each performed at an outstanding level last season, and Ryan Schraeder will likely exit the starting lineup in favor of McGary. All Atlanta’s skill positions stand to benefit from a marked improvement, especially the oft-injured Devonta Freeman.

Fallers

Cincinnati Bengals:

For much of the offseason, all signs pointed towards the debut of an improved Cincinnati O-line in 2019. That all came tumbling down when Jonah Williams, the 11th overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft and a plug-and-play prospect, suffered a season-ending torn labrum. The additional retirement of Clint Boling, who was projected to start at left guard, vacates the entire left side of the line. Barring any surprise moves, that leaves Cordy Glenn at left tackle and one of John Jerry or Christian Westerman to start at left guard. Glenn was a serviceable if not average option in 2018, who had hoped to transition to guard in 2019 but will be forced to resume his usual role. Bobby Hart is set to resume his usual starting right tackle role, despite having proven himself a below-average option, rounding out a wholly uninspiring unit. The Bengals’ lackluster O-line could put a significant damper on the prospects of the team’s skill position players, to the point that even such standout players as A.J. Green, Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd could suffer.

Miami Dolphins:

The Dolphins’ offensive line was one of the league’s worst in 2018, and the group appears quantifiably worse on paper as 2019 approaches. The departure of Ja’Waun James leaves Jordan Mills, a lackluster but inoffensive option, as the team’s top right tackle, and Josh Sitton’s retirement leaves the Dolphins with little in the form of reliable depth. Rookie third-round pick Michael Deiter is being counted to make an immediate impact and could be thrust into an early role at left guard. Laremy Tunsil is certainly a bright spot at left tackle, but one solid starter does not a reliable offensive front make. It’s difficult to a imagine a scenario in which Miami’s offense manages to achieve success behind a line that has the possibility of finishing as the league’s worst group — which casts an especially dark shadow over the prospects of second-year quarterback Josh Rosen, and his hopes to earn Miami’s confidence as a franchise quarterback.

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