NFL Offensive Line Overview: Fantasy Playoffs Pt. 1

From pass protection to run blocking, every aspect of the modern NFL offense runs through the O-line. Aside from skill position players themselves, nothing has a larger impact on the outcome of a play call than the battle up front. In the Offensive Line Overview series, we look at which of the league’s 32 offensive lines are trending up and down.

For many of us, the fantasy football season is over. For some of us, the playoffs have only just begun. For some unfortunate souls whose playoffs stretch through Week 17, the final stretch is in sight. Without further ado, let’s go through which offensive lines are trending up and down across the league — and how that influences out lineup decisions.

Risers:

 

Philadelphia Eagles

The 2018 season has been nothing short of disappointing for the Eagles. The team’s offensive line was the best unit in the league last season, and paved the way for Super Bowl run, but had looked a shade of its former self all year — until last week’s win over the Redskins. The Eagles racked up their highest yardage of the season with 436 yards (306 passing, 130 rushing) of total offense during the Week 13 win. Carson Wentz escaped the divisional tilt without a single sack or hit, which looked anomalous after a season of lacking pass protection. It was Wentz’s first game of the season without a sack. The win not only kept Philadelphia’s playoff hopes alive, but inspired some confidence in the fantasy potential of skill position players. The team’s running back committee of Josh Adams, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement notably looked the part of a threatening ground game.

What to Watch: While many parts of the Eagles’ offense are coming together, the same can’t be said for No. 1 wideout Alshon Jeffery. The veteran has now gone five straight games with under 50 receiving yards, zero touchdowns and no more than four receptions — and has obviously been a dud for fantasy purposes during that time. It’s possible that Jeffery is simply the odd man out now, with Zach Ertz, Golden Tate, and the running game all receiving more focus.

 

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Baltimore Ravens

With rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson under center, the Ravens eclipsed 200 rushing yards and came away with a win for the third game in a row. In recent weeks Baltimore’s offense has looked completely different from the early season Flacco-led passing attack, for both better and worse. During last week’s win over the Falcons, the offensive line did not give up a sack (both the day’s sacks were attributed to Jackson) or quarterback hit, and excelled in run blocking — opening doors for rookie Gus Edwards, who ran for 82 yards on 21 carries. The Jackson-led, run-focused offense has opened up an interesting avenue towards victory for the Ravens, who have ranked first in time of possession (37:40) and allowed the least opposing snaps per game (51.7) in Jackson’s three starting games according to Pro Football Focus.

What to Watch: Jackson’s impressive running ability led the Ravens to a win Week 13, but he now faces the tough test of keeping pace with the Chiefs. The rookie first-round pick missed a few easy throws last week, including what should’ve been an easy second quarter TD to John Brown. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will be more than content to attempt to force a shootout, in which case Jackson will need to adapt and making his arm the focus of Baltimore’s offense. The matchup should offer plenty of fantasy points to go around.

 

Fallers:

 

Atlanta Falcons

O-line woes have derailed the Falcons even more than defensive injuries this year, as the Dirty Birds trudge towards the end of a “what might have been” season. Season ending injuries to both starting guards, along with regression of play at nearly every other spot on the line (Jake Matthews and Alex Mack have still played well, but not to their heights), have ultimately proven too much for Matt Ryan — who’s played at one of the highest levels of his career — to overcome. Ryan has already been sacked 36 times this year, one less sack than he took during the entire 2016 season including playoffs. It seems likely that only Matthews and Mack will return to the starting line next season, of all Atlanta’s current starters.

What to Watch: The Falcons have failed to put up 20 points in each of their last four games, with the running game having sputtered for only 71, 80, 26 and 34 yards across those contents. Even heading into a matchup versus the reeling Packers’ defense, Atlanta’s stud players are difficult to trust as the must-start options they’re usually known as.

 

Detroit Lions

The Lions’ offensive front had a rough day (to say the least) during last week’s loss to the Rams. Granted, the Rams have the best defensive tackle group in the league — when the O-line allows four sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and committees six penalties, it becomes difficult to come up with any sort of recipe for a win. The offense was unable to roll with Kerryon Johnson (knee) sidelined, as LeGarrette Blount averaged only 3.8 YPC on the ground and was unable to reach the end zone — Blount effectively spent much of the game running into brick walls, but took advantage of rare blocking opportunities. On a bright note, the line played fine in pass protection.

What to Watch: Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson has not returned to practice as of Thursday, meaning that Blount could be in line for another start. In that case, Blount would be a TD-dependent flex RB — and against a solid Arizona defense, he’d be had to trust during the fantasy playoffs.

 

Arizona Cardinals

With LT D.J. Humphries lost for the final month of the season due to a knee issue, the Cardinals have now lost six offensive linemen to injured reserve. The team is officially without every single member of their season-opening starters on the O-line, and it’s proven an insurmountable hurdle for the offense as a whole. The lone ray of light is that rookie third-round center Mason Cole has lived up to his durability — he’s made 117 consecutive starts since his freshman year of high school — and has played well enough to secure a future starting role.

What to Watch: The Cardinals ran for 182 yards during Sunday’s 20-17 win in Lambeau Field. Though it’s worth noting that that came against a depleted Packers’ defensive front, the Lions don’t shape up as a much more formidable matchup. David Johnson is primed for a big game.