NFL Offensive Line Rankings for 2013
1. San Francisco 49ers (Best Player: Mike Iupati) (X-Factor: Joe Staley): The 49ers' game on both offense and defense is all about being big and ferocious up front; winning the battle in the trenches. They've crafted their offense well to fit that playing style with above average starters across the board.
2. Denver Broncos (Best Player: Ryan Clady) (X-Factor: Louis Vasquez): As if the Bronocs' O-line wasn't already good enough in 2012, they went out and got the second best free agent guard (Vasquez) during the offseason. They excel in pass protection. Peyton Manning will have plenty of time to throw the football (not that he needs it) and whoever is running the ball - whether it be Hillman, Ball, or Moreno - should have ample space to rush for a solid average.
3. New England Patriots: (Best Player: Logan Mankins) (X-Factor: Nate Solder): This unit proved last season that they can both protect the passer and pave lanes for the running back at a very high level, and they are bringing back all five starters from 2012. If the 25-year-old Solder can escalate his game to top 6-8 status (an attainable goal), this line could end up being the league's best.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Best Player: Carl Nicks) (X-Factor: Carl Nicks): This unit's strength is their guard play, with Nicks and Davin Joseph dominating on the interior. Of course, the unit was great last year, and those two guards missed a combined 25 games. Joseph is now fully recovered from knee surgery, and Nicks is the X-factor due to his chronic toe issues. They also have a nice left tackle in Donald Penn for pass protection.
5. Minnesota Vikings (Best Player: Matt Kalil) (X-Factor: John Sullivan): You think that Adrian Peterson ran for 2,000 yards all by himself? No sir. He had the help of one of the league's premier units - his offensive line. After a stellar rookie season despite battling pneumonia down the stretch that brought on weight loss, Kalil looks to have Hall of Fame potential. Sullivan underwent microfracture knee surgery in February. Microfracture surgery is some serious stuff, and players often come back having lost a step or experiencing setbacks. Sullivan, however, was the best center in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus, so if he can get near his 2012 form this season, the run blocking will continue to be ferocious.
6. Baltimore Ravens (Best Player: Marshal Yanda) (X-Factor: Bryant McKinnie): McKinnie came on as a starter midseason in 2012 and gave the Ravens' line a huge boost from the left tackle position. There are questions as to whether or not McKinnie - who has often battled weight problems - can put together a full season of dominance at the age of 34 (he turns 34 in September). If he can, this unit can continue to excel in both major facets of blocking.
7. Seattle Seahawks (Best Player: Russell Okung) (X-Factor: J.R. Sweezy): This unit doesn't have the biggest names or the most impressive array of talent, but they are maulers. They channel the personality of O-line coach Tom Cable and fit perfectly in front of the beastly running of Marshawn Lynch. Sweezy - a likely starter at guard - was a college defensive lineman and was considered a high-upside, long-term project. If he can tap into his potential, he could be a difference-maker in the Seahawks' run-first offense.
8. Cleveland Browns (Best Player: Joe Thomas) (X-Factor: Shawn Lauvao/Jason Pinkston): If not for injuries, this unit may have been ranked even higher. When healthy, the Browns boast above average talent at all five offensive line positions, but two starting-caliber guards (Lauvao and Pinkston) are going to miss regular season action. If one of them returns to action at a high level in a timely manner, running back Trent Richardson has no reason not to put up gaudy numbers.
9. New York Giants (Best Player: Will Beatty) (X-Factor: Justin Pugh): Head coach Tom Coughlin preaches discipline first and foremost, so it makes sense that his O-lines are generally effective. The injury to David Diehl at right tackle shouldn't hurt much, as he was already their weakest link, but it will force 2013 first-round pick Pugh to kick outside to Diehl's former spot. If Pugh can live up to the Giants' expectations, expect another great year in the trenches from the G-men.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (Best Player: Kevin Zeitler) (X-Factor: Andre Smith): To be successful in the AFC North, you have to have a good O-line. The Bengals are on the cusp of being one of the AFC's most dangerous teams, and they have done so thanks to the AFC North blueprint - strong defense and a vicious offensive line. The only major question mark is at center with Kyle Cook. Smith is coming off a great season, but it was a contract year - there is question as to how hard he plays when money is not on the line.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (Best Player: Branden Albert) (X-Factor: Eric Fisher): Somehow, the Chiefs managed to get the first overall pick in spite of their wealth of talented players (by somehow, I think I mean "Matt Cassel"). The Chiefs have no holes across their five O-line positions, and they now have first overall pick Fisher at right tackle. If Fisher pans out and Albert stays healthy, this line could prove to be better than I projected them to be.
12. Tennessee Titans (Best Player: David Stewart) (X-Factor: Chance Warmack): The Titans really went out and boosted the talent on their O-line this offseason, particularly on the interior. Warmack was considered by some to be the best player in the 2013 draft. The Titans also added top free agent guard Andy Levitre. Center is a weak spot, but the other four positions are strong enough to make up for it. Running back Chris Johnson could easily put up his best numbers since 2009.
13. Houston Texans (Best Player: Duane Brown) (X-Factor: Wade Smith): The Texans are very strong on the left side (Brown, Smith, Chris Myers), but particularly weak on the right. Right guard Ben Jones has battled weight issues - not good for a player in a strict zone-blocking scheme. Defenders had their way with right tackle Derek Newton in both the running and passing game last year. Smith recently had his knee scoped, and is his status is uncertain for Week 1. The Texans need him on the field for their run-first offense.
14. Washington Redskins (Best Player: Trent Williams) (X-Factor: Tyler Polumbus): Head coach Mike Shanahan is like a miracle worker with his zone-blocking scheme, seemingly turning every O-line he touches into a productive unit. Outside of Williams, the Redskins have no true standout linemen, but most were effective last year. Polumbus graded out as Pro Football Focus' 77th best tackle among 80 qualifiers. This is his first offseason in which he has worked strictly at right tackle, so hopefully he will be improved in 2013.
15. Green Bay Packers (Best Player: Josh Sitton) (X-Factor: David Bakhtiari): Despite their prowess in the passing game, the Packers' strength on the O-line is actually in the middle, where they have Sitton and T.J. Lang as their guards. That bodes well for rookie running back Eddie Lacy. Tackles are a concern, as likely starting tackle Derek Sherrod is recovering from a broken leg, while 2013 fourth-round pick Bakhtiari will stand in at left tackle for Bryan Bulaga (torn ACL) all season.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (Best Player: Evan Mathis) (X-Factor: Jason Peters): The Eagles' line was a mess in 2012, but they have since gotten healthy and added fourth overall pick Lane Johnson to the mix. Peters missed all of 2012 with an Achilles injury, but displayed sheer dominance in 2011 - he graded out as Pro Football Focus' best tackle by a mile and was first-team All-Pro. If he can get close to his 2011 form, and if Johnson can pan out as a rookie, this line could be dominant - but keep in mind that there are a few "ifs."
17. New York Jets (Best Player: Nick Mangold) (X-Factor: D'Brickashaw Ferguson): They may have one of the worst collections of skill position players we've seen in a while, but the Jets' O-line actually isn't too shabby. Mangold is a stud, and Ferguson was closing in on top-5 left tackle status last year. The only significant question mark on the line is at right guard, where 2013 third-round pick Brian Winters is penciled in. Ferguson is the X-factor because if the Jets start rookie Geno Smith at quarterback, he's going to need some serious protection to get acclimated to the NFL game with no one to throw to.
18. New Orleans Saints (Best Player: Jahri Evans) (X-Factor: Charles Brown): Their strong interior bodes well for the running game, but the Saints - as I'm sure you know - are a pass-first team. After losing Jermon Bushrod to the Bears in free agency this offseason, the Saints have Charles Brown locked in as the blindside protector for quarterback Drew Brees. He's only made eight career starts, but Brown needs to be effective for the Saints' offense to roll the way they like.
19. Carolina Panthers (Best Player: Ryan Kalil) (X-Factor: Byron Bell): The Panthers have two Pro Bowl-caliber players in center Kalil and left tackle Jordan Gross, but it's the right side of the line that drags this unit down. Bell has been one of the worst right tackles in the game since entering the league two years ago. His third season needs to be a "breakout" of sorts for this unit to click and reach its potential.
20. St. Louis Rams (Best Player: Jake Long) (X-Factor: Rodger Saffold): The Rams did well in the offseason to bring on a former first overall pick in Jake Long to protect Sam Bradford's blindside. As a result, Saffold kicks over to right tackle, where he should be effective when healthy. The problem, however, is that Saffold has missed 6+ games in each of the past two seasons. The only standout weakness is at left guard, where Shelley Smith looks like the probable starter.
21. Chicago Bears (Best Player: Jermon Bushrod) (X-Factor: Kyle Long): With new head coach Marc Trestman coming in with an offensive mentality, he knew he had to quickly address the Bears' O-line woes. He did so by making Bushrod his biggest free agent signing and Long his first-round draft pick. The two players fill two big holes from last season. Bushrod has proven he's a solid player, but Long will be the X-factor. He has rated extremely high in the preseason according to Pro Football Focus, so if he can keep it up, he should help this unit really improve in 2013.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (Best Player: Maurkice Pouncey) (X-Factor: Mike Adams): Pouncey is a beast in the middle at center, but there's not much else too impressive here outside of right guard David DeCastro. The tackles are concerning. After Marcus Gilbert struggled on the blindside, the Steelers flipped their tackles, putting Adams on the left. Adams is a strong run blocker, but struggles in pass protection, which obviously is not ideal out of a left tackle.
23. Indianapolis Colts (Best Player: Gosder Cherilus) (X-Factor: Anthony Castonzo): Quarterback Andrew Luck was knocked down a ton last year, so the Colts did well to bring in Cherilus, one of the game's top pass blocking right tackles. Donald Thomas is a nice left guard, but current projected starter at right guard Hugh Thornton is a question mark. Former first-round pick Castonzo needs to step it up at left tackle in his third season for Luck to really show us what he can do.
24. Atlanta Falcons (Best Player: Justin Blalock) (X-Factor: Lamar Holmes): It's odd to think that the Falcons' electrifying offense could have a weakness, but here it is - the offensive line. Blalock is a top-10 left guard, and Sam Baker can hold his own at left tackle. Peter Konz was considered the best center in his 2012 draft class, so that position should be okay. Releasing right tackle Tyson Clabo, however, could end up backfiring. Holmes was expected to start at right tackle during the spring, but lost his job to Mike Johnson, who then dislocated his ankle and fractured his fibula, putting Holmes back in the driver's seat for the starting job. He's played just one game during his NFL career, and it remains to be seen how he'll fare as a starter.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (Best Player: Eugene Monroe) (X-Factor: Luke Joeckel): The Jaguars have a shot at having one of the better tackle combinations in the NFL. Monroe is already a stud, and Joeckel was widely considered the likely first overall pick in the 2013 draft. The line's interior, however, is a bit of a mess. Uche Nwaneri is a pretty average talent at right guard, while 36-year-old center Brad Meester is on his last legs and Will Rackley is a poor excuse for a left guard. If Joeckel can pan out immediately, the line could end up being okay.
26. Miami Dolphins (Best Player: Mike Pouncey) (X-Factor: Jonathan Martin): This line probably would not have been so bad if the team had held on to Jake Long during the offseason, but they will now rely on Martin to protect the blindside. Martin struggled at left tackle as a rookie in 2012, and he has reportedly been dominated in training camp by Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan. Tyson Clabo was a nice steal late in free agency. Pouncey has become one of the game's best centers. Guards Richie Incognito and Lance Louis are not very good, but could be somewhat serviceable.
27. Arizona Cardinals (Best Player: Jonathan Cooper) (X-Factor: Levi Brown): I told myself I wouldn't put any rookies as best players, but after what the Cardinals showed me last year, I had to put the seventh overall pick at the top of this unit. New right tackle Eric Winston gives Cooper a run for his money and is a nice upgrade over Bobby Massie. Brown was the fifth overall pick in 2007, and it's obviously too much to ask him to all of a sudden "start playing like it," but he's got to show something on Carson Palmer's blindside this year.
28. Dallas Cowboys (Best Player: Tyron Smith) (X-Factor: Travis Frederick): Not much to love here outside of Smith at left tackle. The team isn't sure who their right tackle is, and three starting guard candidates are currently sidelined due to surgery. I made Frederick the X-factor because maybe he can dominate the interior and prove to the world that Jerry Jones was not an idiot for drafting him in the first round.
29. Buffalo Bills (Best Player: Kraig Urbik) (X-Factor: Left Tackle): The Bills have some solid pieces on the interior with Urbik and center Eric Wood, but the left side is a mess. They recently tried kicking Cordy Glenn inside to guard and using practice squad talent Thomas Welch at left tackle, all because they were so disappointed in their left guard play. Whoever takes over at left tackle needs to play well to protect E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb - one of which is a rookie, the other is not known well for his composure under pressure.
30. Detroit Lions (Best Player: Dominic Raiola) (X-Factor: Riley Reiff): After losing Gosder Cherilus to the Colts and Jeff Backus to retirement, the Lions went from having two solid tackles to having none. Many people believe that Reiff is out of his element at tackle and should be a guard, but the Lions are hoping he proves that they were right when they drafted him in the first round of the 2012 draft. The interior isn't horrible, but is certainly not good. Jason Fox may be a turnstile at right tackle, but it's tough to tell based on his five career appearances.
31. Oakland Raiders (Best Player: Stephen Wisniewski) (X-Factor: Alex Barron): The Raiders' O-line was on the fringe of bad and not-so-bad, but after left tackle Jared Veldheer went down with a torn triceps, the unit plummeted into the "bad" section of this list. Outside of Wisniewski, there is not a single good player on this line. Barron will take over Veldheer's job on the left side. The 19th overall pick in 2005, Barron has been a monumental draft bust and hasn't even played in a game since 2010. He needs to give the Raiders something - anything - if they want to have any success offensively this season.
32. San Diego Chargers (Best Player: Nick Hardwick) (X-Factor: King Dunlap): If Chargers fans want some good news, keep in mind that rookie D.J. Fluker has been performing very well in preseason action. Hardwick is solid at center, but the Chargers have nothing at either guard spot. Dunlap looks like the favorite to start at left tackle, but to be frank, he is bad at football.