For the third straight year, the Chiefs top my rankings, and the numbers support me. The Chiefs led the league in rushing touchdowns, they allowed just 21 sacks, and were in the top five in the NFL in rushing first downs, 4th down conversion percentage, and yards per pass. Also, the Chiefs committed the 4th fewest penalties in the league on offense. The departure of John Tait via free agency broke up a group that has been together forever, but the team replaced him with the acquisitions of Chris Bober and John Welbourn. Roaf and Shields are perennial forces at left tackle and right guard, and Waters and Wiegmann are very good players who get less respect than they deserve playing with the aforementioned Pro Bowl duo.
The Vikings were near the top of the league in both
rushing and passing last year, and have a dominating young line that seems to
get better each season. Viking running backs averaged 4.8 yards per rush and
147 yards per game last season despite a committee approach. Birk is one of
the best centers in football, and McKinnie is a blossoming star at left
tackle. Liwienski and Dixon are possibly the most underrated pair of guards
in football, who have benefited from playing under Mike Tice, a former OL
coach and NFL tight end. Rosenthal played above expectations after coming
over from the Giants last year, and the team drafted Nat Dorsey from Georgia Tech to back him up.
Statistically, the Packer offensive line posted one of
the most impressive seasons in recent history. The Packer offense averaged
over five yards per rush last year, and also allowed just 19 sacks all
season. They were in the top five in the NFL in total rushing yards, rushing
touchdowns, rushing first downs, runs of 20+ yards, 4th down conversion
percentage, and also fewest penalties committed. This is a gritty veteran
group that has played together for some time now. However, the Packers do not
have much depth behind this fab five, and the group is collectively not
getting any younger.
Despite not having a consistent running back, the
Eagles were second in all of football with 23 rushing touchdowns, and third in
the league with a 4.8 average per carry. Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan are the
meanest pair of tackles in the league, and make life miserable for opposing
defensive ends. Mayberry was a Pro Bowler in 2002, and excels in the run
game. Fraley is smallish, but is a nasty SOB that fits in well with this
group. The Eagles traded up in the 1st round to grab Shawn Andrews from
Arkansas, who will likely end up starting at LG.
Death, taxes, and a solid Bronco offensive line are about all that is guaranteed in life. However, the man who has been credited with the Bronco blocking wizardry, OL coach Alex Gibbs, has left to take the same post with the Falcons. Was it Gibbs? Or was it an uncanny ability to accumulate offensive line talent by the Bronco brass? Last season, the Broncos ranked in the top three in the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, rushing average, rushing first downs, and runs of 20+ yards. Also, they allowed just 25 sacks on the season. Nalen is dominant at center and Lepsis and Neil are solid as rocks in both the run and the pass game. Foster was their 1st round pick a year ago, and will battle Blake Brockermeyer for the RT spot, while the other is used for depth.
The Colts allowed just 19 sacks last year, finishing second in the NFL in that area. Also, they had the second best 4th down conversion percentage in the NFL, and also committed the second fewest offensive penalties in the league. Ryan Diem did a very nice job replacing Adam Meadows last year, and Tarik Glenn is one of the league's best pure pass blockers at the other tackle spot. DeMulling and Saturday are unheralded lower round picks that have really developed into solid players. Tupe Peko will battle Steve Sciullo, a first day pick last year, for time at RG. This group could stand to improve a little in the run game, but all in all, is one of the league's top units again this season.
I don't think too many people would argue with my contention that Seattle has the best left side in all of football with perennial Pro Bowler Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, who made his first Pro Bowl last year. The Seahawks enjoyed a fine year offensively behind this group. Chris Terry has been a very pleasant surprise at RT after being picked up on waivers from Carolina a couple years back. Tobeck does yeoman's work in the middle and Gray will be pushed by Sean Locklear, a kid I really like that the Seahawks took out of North Carolina St. in round three this year.
As we know all too well here in Cleveland, Jamal Lewis enjoyed a career year behind this group last season, leading the Ravens to the top of nearly every significant rushing statistic in the process. Ogden is hands down the best lineman in football, possibly the best lineman I've ever seen play, making domination of even the fiercest opposing ends look downright effortless. Despite his epic playoff meltdown, Orlando Brown enjoyed a great comeback season at RT for the Ravens…manning the other end of the line after a return from the eye injury he suffered as a member of the Browns from a thrown penalty flag. Mulitallo continues to progress into one of the better guards in the league, and Flynn and Anderson are solid in the run game.
Talk about addressing the line in the off-season. The
Raiders added former Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone, and then spent their first two
draft picks on the best tackle and center in the draft in Robert Gallery and
Jake Grove. As a result, longtime starters Frank Middleton and Mo Collins
have been moved to second team on the depth chart, and the Raiders have
makings of fielding one of the top offensive fronts in football for years to
come. Many forget that Robbins was one of, if not the best center in football
before his Super Bowl weekend problems. I'm one that is big on having depth
on the OL, and having guys like Jake Grove, Frank Middleton, and Mo Collins as
backup players is a very nice luxury.
This line looks different than the one that helped lead the Panthers to a Super Bowl win, but this edition just may be even better. Jeno James left for Miami via free agency, and will be replaced by either Doug Brzezinski (brought in last year from Philly) or Travis Claridge (brought in this year from Atlanta). Last year's second round pick, Bruce Nelson…who looked very good as a reserve, will replace the retired Kevin Donnelly. Last years first round pick Jordan Gross, will move from right tackle to left after the release of Todd Steussie. And Adam Meadows steps in at RT. The Panthers also have solid vets in Melvin Tuten, Rich Tylski, and Matt Willig available for depth…and drafted the mammoth Travelle Wharton out of South Carolina in round three this year. One of the deepest lines in the league.
11. St. Louis Rams
On paper, this unit looks dominant, but many would be surprised to know that the Rams surrendered 43 sacks last season and averaged just 3.6 yards per rush. Pace is one of the league's best, and Timmerman was resigned, and is a rock at RG. Turley is a much better player in the run game, but is solid overall. McCollum and Wohlabaugh were flat out disappointments last season. The depth is also very shaky here.
Much like their Super Bowl opponents from two seasons ago, the Bucs were very aggressive in addressing their OL, and are now very deep at this spot as a result. The Bucs had big problems running in the red zone last year, and also committed far too many penalties on offense. Steussie and Deese, both graybeards that are still very productive, were brought in to play the tackle positions. Stinchcomb is a physically impressive specimen that Gruden is very high on. Cosey Coleman was resigned, but will have to hold off Matt O'Dwyer for time at LG. The Bucs also still have the talented, but disappointing Kenyatta Walker, who is currently listed as the backup at both tackle spots, should Steussie or Deese go down.
This is an athletic front, and all five starters return from a year ago. Bentley has quickly become one of the league's top interior lineman, and Gandy and Riley are amongst the league's top pairs of bookends. Jacox and Holland will be pushed hard by Jon Stinchcomb (2nd rounder last year), as well as Spencer Folau and Jerry Fontenot. A solid, deep unit.
Jones and Steinbach could rival Jones and Hutchinson as the league's best left side this season. Willie Anderson was a Pro Bowler last season as well. Braham and Williams are nothing special. The team took a flier on Stacy Andrews, Shawn Andrews massive brother, in the 4th round of this year's draft.
This unit has the potential to end the season much higher than the #15 spot I gave them here, as the Jags return all five starters from a year ago. This is a young unit that played much better towards the end of the year. Meester is solid in the middle, and Pearson. Manuwai, and Williams have all been pleasant surprises as late first day selections from the last three drafts. Naeole is the vet, and is one of the nastiest bastards in the league. Also, the Jags signed solid vets Mike Compton and Ephraim Salaam to provide depth this off-season.
16. Dallas Cowboys
The Tuna was once again active in trying to upgrade
this unit, selecting Jacob Rogers and Stephen Peterman in the second and third
rounds of this year's draft. It looks as if Larry Allen will be back as well
to play LG yet again, after rumors that he may be cut to create cap space.
Flozell Adams made the first of what should be many Pro Bowls last season, and
Ben Johnson was a 2nd round pick out of Wisconsin in 2003 that missed last
year due to injury. Matt Lehr, Andre Gurode, and Gennaro DiNapoli will battle
for the RG spot, and Torrin Tucker will try and stave off Rogers at RT. A lot
of interesting bodies in the mix here in Dallas this year.
On paper, you wonder who the hell these guys are that have helped lead the Pats to two Super Bowl titles in three years. Steady yet unspectacular, this unit makes few mistakes and gets the job done when needed. Koppen is a guy they found late in last year's draft (just after we took Pontbriand) that excelled enough that the team felt comfortable letting Damien Woody go in free agency. Hochstein or Adrian Klemm will look to fill his shoes.
18. Chicago Bears
Another very intriguing unit here in the windy city.
Ruben Brown and John Tait were added to rebuild the right side, and the middle
and left side have always been good. Kreutz is a top echelon center, and
Tucker is a very good guard. Gandy may be used at guard if Brown fails, or if
super-project Qasim Mitchell pans out at LT. Also in the mix here are former
high draft picks Aaron Gibson, Marc Colombo, and Terence Metcalf. Keep an eye
on these guys.
19. Arizona Cardinals
L.J. Shelton skipped mini camp, and is in new coach Dennis Green's doghouse in a hurry. As a result, the team is thinking of moving RG Leonard Davis to LT. Kendall is a good enough center, as is Clement at RT…but the guards are weak here, and have helped contribute to an anemic Cardinal running game the last three to four seasons. The team tried to address this weakness by drafting Alex Stepanovich and Nick Leckey this year, as well as adding vet Frank Garcia in free agency.
Great pair of tackles in Samuels and Jansen. The
interior of this line has never really been a strength since Joe Gibbs first
tour of duty. Thomas was OK as a free agent acquisition last season, but
Raymer and Dockery are huge question marks inside. Last season, the ‘Skins
were amongst the worst in the league in preventing sacks (43) and committing
penalties (4th most). Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel have great track records with
offensive lines though, so improvement in the interior is possible.
21. Detroit Lions
The Lions allowed a league low 11 sacks last year, but that was more a testament to Joey Harrington's quick release and refusal to take a sack. No team rushed for fewer first downs or touchdowns (5), and the Lions averaged only 83 yards on the ground per contest. In comes Damien Woody via free agency, one of the league's top interior linemen. Raiola and Backus are both steady contributors as well. McDougle is a tease at RT, as he has great natural talent. His brother Jerome plays DE for the Eagles. Loverne will battle Matt Joyce and Victor Rogers for the LG spot, and the team also landed Purdue's Kelly Butler in the 6th round of this years draft.
22. Tennessee Titans
No team averaged fewer than the 3.3 yards per rush the
Titans cranked out last year, but they only allowed 25 sacks and helped
contribute to one of the NFL's most prolific passing attacks. Hopkins and
Miller are a solid set of tackles; Piller and Olson are highly unexciting at
the guard spots. This group is not getting any younger, has questionable
depth, and could use an infusion of youth. They did draft Jacob Bell in the
5th round of this year's draft.
With Ron Stone and Derrick Deese departing in free agency, the Niners will have to count on youngsters Harris, Heitmann, and Smiley to rebuild their offensive front. Newberry was a Pro Bowler at center in 2002, and Gragg played well last season on the right side, helping lead the Niners to 142 yards rushing per game. In the end though, starting three kids up front usually leads to mixed results as best.
24. Buffalo Bills
The Bills allowed a league-high 51 sacks last year,
crippling the Bills pass game in the process. Ruben Brown was let go, and was
made the scapegoat for this bunch, which figured to be a team strength last
season. This line is filled with promising young talents, that have never
really taken the next steps in their career, and right tackle Mike Williams is
the poster boy.
For years a team strength, the offensive line has quickly become an area of concern for Steeler fans. Faneca is one of the league's top guards, and Hartings is solid in the middle … but the Steelers have never been able to fully recover from the loss of Wayne Gandy, and both Smith and Ross really struggled at the tackle spots last season and Smith also missed time due to injury. Also Kendall Simmons failed to progress from his rookie campaign. Uncharacteristically, the Steelers averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, and only 93 yards per game on the ground last year. The Steelers also drafted rookie Max Starks from Florida, and expect him to compete with Ross for the RT spot.
26. Cleveland Browns
Many fans, myself included, were surprised and disappointed that the Browns did not address their line more aggressively this off-season. Faine and Tucker are solid at C and RT, but there is little else certain up front. Kelvin Garmon was signed as a free agent and can be a force in the run game, but one must wonder why San Diego, with their anemic OL did not offer a fight when the Browns came calling. Verba will move back to left tackle, where he was solid against the run and weak against talented edge rushers starting for the team in 2002 at that spot. The other guard spot appears at this point to be a battle between undrafted free agent Enoch DeMar, last year's starting RG Paul Zukauskas, and underachiever Melvin Fowler Jr.
27. Atlanta Falcons
The biggest move Atlanta made on their offensive line this year was the addition of Alex Gibbs, the coach widely credited with the success the Denver Broncos offensive line has experienced over the past ten seasons. Personnel wise, there is little to get excited about, as the team added just Eric Beverly to a unit that also lost Travis Claridge, and struggled for much of last season.
28. New York Jets
This is a disciplined Jet line that committed the fewest penalties of any unit in the league last season. Unfortunately though, there is little to get excited about here outside of Mawae at C. Fabini and McKenzie have been serviceable as the Jet guards for the past couple of seasons, but the Jet guards need an upgrade, and the run game has regressed as a result the past couple of seasons.
29. Miami Dolphins
This off-season, the Dolphins rebuilt an offensive line that was getting old, and produced just 3.7 yards per game last season despite the presence of Ricky Williams. Todd Wade was let go, and the team drafted Vernon Carey from Miami of Florida in the 1st round. Also added in free agency were Jeno James from Carolina, Damion McIntosh from San Diego, and John St. Clair from St. Louis. The Fins also landed Tony Pape from Michigan late in the draft.
30. Houston Texans
Wade, who came over from Miami, should provide
immediate help to a line that has been a glaring weakness since the inception
of the team. They reduced their sacks allowed from a record 76 in '02 to just
36 last year, but the team still struggled in the run game despite the arrival
of Domanick Davis. McKinney is a decent player, as is Wiegert … but the left
side of this line is weak, and the team still lacks depth. Marcus Spears was
just added to help that depth a bit, but still, the Texans still have a ways
to go here.
It's scary to think what LaDanian Tomlinson would do
behind a line that was actually serviceable. There's simply no talent here.
Fonoti struggled last season after showing promise early in his career, Ball
is average, Van Buren is untested. Goff and Oben are retreads brought in via
free agency. Nick Hardwick was drafted in the 3rd round, and could force Ball
to one of the guard spots if he can handle the load at C.
32. New York Giants
The Giant line of a year ago was one of the worst in recent history, and there's little evidence to think this years version will be much better. They allowed mass amounts of penalties, surrendered the second most sacks in the league, sprung runners for just 97 yards per game on the ground, and were just 2-17 in 4th down conversions. Chris Snee from Boston College is a legitimate addition, but the addition of Cleveland retreads Stokes and O'Hara to fill starting roles was puzzling. The most likely scenario has their one good lineman, Luke Petitgout, moving to LT, with Stokes playing RT. Rich Seubert will compete with Snee for the LG spot.