NFL Offensive Line Overview: Regular Season Kickoff Edition

From pass protection to run blocking, every aspect of the modern NFL offence 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, the ebb and flow of all 32 offensive line groups around the NFL is analyzed and relevant fantasy implications are uncovered.

Without further ado, let’s check in on which O-lines are trending up or down as Week 1 kicks off.

 

Risers:

Philadelphia Eagles

Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters seems to have fully recovered from an ACL tear, and the 36-year-old’s presence should bolster an already outstanding Eagles offensive line which performed to outstanding levels in last year’s championship run (even in Peters’ absence), with both center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson earning All-Pro honors. With all major pieces remaining in place and Peters set to return, the Eagles O-line remains an elite option in 2018. This bodes well for running back Jay Ajayi, and even more so for quarterback Carson Wentz, whose protection coming off a season-ending ACL injury should be the team’s priority. The O-line could also serve to make Nick Foles a viable fantasy option for the first few weeks of the regular season, if their performance in last year’s postseason is any indication.

What to watch: Corey Clement, who stands to gain from increased running back usage in the red zone.

Tennessee Titans

Investing first-round draft capital in the offensive line has paid dividends for Tennessee, with Taylor Lewan (2014, No. 11 overall) making his second consecutive Pro Bowl last season and Jack Conklin (2016, No. 8 overall) recovering without setbacks from a torn ACL suffered in January. Even if Conklin is sidelined to begin the regular season, it’s a good sign that he avoided the PUP list. In Conklin’s absence, Dennis Kelly and free-agent acquisition Kevin Pamphile should provide Tennessee with reliable depth to protect an Marcus Mariota – who has proven to be an injury-prone quarterback. A top-tier run-blocking unit, the Titans O-line should create ample room for running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, both of whom recorded an outstanding 3.2 YPC after contact last season.

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What to watch: Corey Davis, who should see increased target quality from a well-protected Mariota.

New York Giants

Following a dismal 2017 showing, the Giants’ O-line was completely dismantled and rebuilt in the offseason – and looks to be markedly improved. The team signed free agents Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh while drafting Will Hernandez at the top of the second round, and the position group’s preseason play should be cause for relief among Giants fans everywhere. The left side of the line has proved solid with Solder and Hernandez playing consistently, and 2015 first-rounder Ereck Flowers has even appeared more comfortable on the right side. Though Jon Halapio has struggled in the interior, overall the Giants O-line appears to be vastly superior to the 2017 group which allowed 27 sacks (fourth most in the NFL).

What to watch: With an improved offensive line and Odell Beckham Jr. returning to the lineup, veteran quarterback Eli Manning is primed for a bounce-back season after a disappointing 2017.

 

Fallers:

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys sturdiest position group has suffered this preseason. Right guard Zack Martin, one of the league’s top players at his position, suffered a concerning knee injury in a preseason Week 2 game against the Bengals. While Martin avoided a season-ending tear and expects to return for the beginning of the season, battling through a hyperextended/bruised left knee is no easy task. Though the star lineman is slated to start Week 1, if his play is in any way hampered every piece of the offense could suffer for it. Starting center Travis Frederick, recently diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome, seems at risk to miss a substantial amount of games if not the entire season. 2018 second-rounder Connor Williams, who showed inconsistent form in college, has struggled in the preseason and been regularly overpowered by physical play. Despite such struggles, Williams seems slated to start at left guard. Ambiguity currently surrounds a Dallas O-line that, if healthy, would slot in as one of the top groups in the league.

What to watch: Dak Prescott struggled mightily against pressure in 2017, and injuries to the team’s O-line could put him in the same position again.

New England Patriots

With the loss of 2018 first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn due to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon, New England’s right tackle role remains a complete mystery. Wynn had looked sharp prior to the injury, earning his way into the first-team offense in quick tempo. 31-year-old Marcus Cannon seems the obvious choice to replace an injured Wynn, but the veteran spent much of the preseason nursing an undisclosed injury. Backup LaAdrian Waddle, who made five starts at right tackle for the Patriots in 2017, will need to serve as a consistent option if New England hopes maintain any depth at the position.

What to watch: No matter how well Tom Brady plays, the fact of the matter is that entering his age 41-season, the three-time league MVP can’t risk taking too many big hits. Solidifying the right tackle position will be a priority for the Patriots.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ offensive line predictably struggled throughout the preseason, having lost left guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood to retirement. Buffalo chose not to address the situation with high draft picks, instead trading left tackle Cordy Glenn to move up in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Russell Bodine and Marshall Newhouse, brought in via free agency, are journeyman options who seem to be locked into the starting rotation. Positional uncertainty and lack of depth are deeply concerning for Buffalo’s O-line, which showed no indication of improvement in training camp. As is, the Bills’ protective front looks to severely cap the ceiling of running back LeSean McCoy headed in to his age 30 season, and cause no shortage of problems for Nathan Peterman under center Week 1.

What to watch: Kelvin Benjamin, an already low-floor receiver whose value could tank due to increasingly shake quarterback play.

Carolina Panthers

No team’s O-line has hurt more than the Panthers’ this preseason. Left tackle Matt Kalil was placed on IR, while right tackle Daryl Williams and left guard Amini Silatolu may be sidelined for multiple weeks – meaning three starters are out for to begin the regular season. Silatolu is recovering from a torn meniscus while Willams’ injury is more serious, having torn his MCL and dislocated his patella, but neither injury should be season-ending. 2017 second-rounder Taylor Moton will shoulder much of the load as with Kalil out, alongside backup tackle/guard Jeremiah Sirles. Carolina’s need for a depth tackle forced the team to trade for Corey Robinson, who projects to play a key rotational role as the season kicks off. The recoveries of their injured starters, alongside the continued development of Taylor Morton, will dictate how well-protected Cam Newton is throughout the 2018 season.

What to watch: Christian McCaffery, who struggled between the tackles last season, could struggle to improve if an injured O-line provides a hurdle.

Seattle Seahawks

Offensive line issues have plagued Seattle for years, and if preseason play is any indication that won’t change in the near future. 2016 first-rounder Germain Ifedi remains a huge disappointment, having been pushed around all preseason, and the 24-year-old’s make or break 2018 season is already off to an uninspiring start. Speaking exactly to that point is the transition of George Fant, a backup LT whose 2017 season was lost to an ACL injury, to the right tackle position as competition tor Ifedi. Starting guard D.J. Fulker is nursing a hamstring injury and may not be suit up Week 1. Russell Wilson is one of the league’s best quarterback against pressure and should remain a top fantasy QB, but another year of lingering O-line mediocrity could spell trouble for Seattle’s running game once more.

What to watch: First-round running back Rashaad Penny, still yet to usurp the starting role from Chris Carson, faces an additional barrier to living up to his capital benind a middling run blocking unit.