Offensive prowess of Colts, Saints, Chargers starts up front By Eric Edholm July 14, 2007 There isnt a fantasy league in North America that keeps track of pancake blocks or false-start penalties at least none weve heard of but that doesnt mean that offensive line play doesnt affect what the skill-position guys do. Weve seen it before: Talented quarterback gets killed behind Swiss cheese line, running backs daylight gets closed faster than a darkroom door, receiver doesnt have time to run a route and the tight end had to stay home and block. WR Randy Moss (from Oakland to New England), RB Willis McGahee (from Buffalo to Baltimore) and RB Travis Henry (from Tennessee to Denver) are examples of skill guys who changed addresses in the offseason and who also could benefit from stronger OL situations in their new homes. So heres a look at the leagues offensive lines, 1-32, from best to worst: 1. Indianapolis Although its aging some, and the group is not asked to hold blocks long because of Peyton Mannings ability to get rid of the ball, the Colts front wall is one of the NFLs best, headed by Pro Bowlers C Jeff Saturday and OLT Tarik Glenn. ORG Jake Scott is an unsung model of efficiency. ORT Ryan Diem is also rock-solid, and he plays hurt. At left guard, Ryan Lilja and Dylan Gandy provide a solid tag-team situation. Sophomore Charlie Johnson has a bright future (he was outstanding in the Super Bowl), and second-round pick Tony Ugoh (Glenns heir apparent) and free-agent addition Rick DeMulling provide terrific depth. 2. New Orleans The Saints surrendered 23 sacks fourth-fewest in the league last season while protecting Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees, though they also do not require their linemen to hold blocks for long periods. This unit is equally adept at blocking for bruising RB Deuce McAllister and shifty RB Reggie Bush. OLT Jammal Brown is a Pro Bowler, and ORG Jahri Evans and ORT Jon Stinchcomb are out to prove they arent one-year wonders, though Stinchcomb is someone the staff views as replaceable. 3. San Diego The Chargers re-signing of stud OLG Kris Dielman was a major score for an offensive line that is quietly one of the leagues best. This is a smash-mouth group that improved when OLT Marcus McNeill was pressed into the lineup as a rookie. C Nick Hardwick is solid; hes the hardworking leader of the line. RB LaDainian Tomlinsons amazing red-zone success rate says a lot about this talented, cohesive group, though theres no question that L.T. also makes the line look good, as well. 4. Chicago The veteran front five that sprung Thomas Jones to two consecutive solid fantasy campaigns returns intact, providing RB Cedric Benson with every opportunity for a breakthrough season. Anchored by C Olin Kreutz and OLT John Tait, the unit is better in the run game while being vulnerable to speed rushes and blitzes that confuse QB Rex Grossman. Of course, ORG Ruben Brown and ORT Fred Miller are on the back ends of their careers. 5. Philadelphia All five starters started 16 games apiece, and they all return. OTs William Thomas and Jon Runyan are aging, with injury histories, but both are strong performers still near the top of their game. ORG Shawn Andrews might be the best interior run blocker in the game. Hes dominant in one-on-one matchups. The depth is strong, too, and starters OLG Todd Herremans and C Jamaal Jackson are no slouches. 6. New England With tons of skill-position weapons and QB Tom Brady in his prime, a line whose sum is greater than its parts could have a standout season. It's a cohesive unit that is mobile and equally effective in the running game and in pass protection. OLG Logan Mankins is nasty and tough and a potential Pro Bowler. Brady's quick, decisive delivery helps keep him from getting sacked much. The weak spots are outside, where OLT Matt Light has struggled at times and neither right tackle (Nick Kaczur or Ryan OCallaghan) is anything special. 7. Denver All signs are positive thus far with the return of OLT Matt Lepsis following a season-ending knee injury, and his ability to seamlessly step back into the lineup would be big for an athletic and mobile unit that is consistently among the leagues most productive. Of course, there are those who believe that rookie Ryan Harris could beat him out. New OG Montrae Holland provides some rare interior bulk. The Broncos zone cut-blocking scheme makes the sum of the line greater than the individual parts. 8. Washington Losing Derrick Dockery makes left guard a question mark 6-foot-8 Todd Wade is the reported favorite of the coaches but there is good talent at the other four spots. Injuries are the only clear drawback. OLT Chris Samuels isnt a rock every game, but hes dominant at times. ORT Jon Jansen is the groups leader and still a fair blocker. ORG Randy Thomas and C Casey Rabach make a good tandem on traps and counters, and each is tough, but Thomas has to stay in the lineup. 9. Minnesota OLG Steve Hutchinson, OLT Bryant McKinnie and C Matt Birk comprise a potentially dominant mix for a two-headed backfield featuring Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson. However, second-year ORT Ryan Cook is a question mark, and ORG Artis Hicks is considered a weak link. The staff would like to replace Hicks if it could find a better alternative. A weak right side may be targeted as opposing defenses come after first-year starter Tarvaris Jackson. 10. Cincinnati Injuries hobbled this group in 2006. OLT Levi Jones (knee) missed most of the season, as did now-retired C Rich Braham. When healthy, this has been one of the AFCs better lines in recent seasons, but it will be without some familiar faces in 07. Andrew Whitworth will likely replace the departed Eric Steinbach at left guard. Eric Ghiaciuc, who got his bearings after struggling early in 06, gets the call in Brahams old spot. 11. San Francisco A line that improved a lot last season has been further fortified with the addition of first-round pick OLT Joe Staley, who is expected to push for a starting job. OLG Larry Allen was greatly responsible for the lines improvement in 06 but missed five games with a knee injury. OT Jonas Jennings and C Eric Heitmann are injury concerns, and Jennings might be a better fit at right tackle. The right side is a bit unsettled, with Kwame Harris, Adam Snyder and Jennings battling for the starters job at tackle and Justin Smiley battling David Baas at guard. The depth is solid. 12. Baltimore OLT Jonathan Ogden is the only star on a blue-collar, technically sound offensive line that allowed only 17 sacks last season. Position battles to watch are at center, where Mike Flynn may have to hold off Chris Chester, and at right guard, as Chester and rookie Ben Grubbs get the chance to displace veteran Keydrick Vincent. The Ravens lost Tony Pashos in free agency, and the plan is to replace him with Adam Terry, who is green. 13. N.Y. Jets Young OLT DBrickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold are the anchors for an O-line that could look different from last season, though Ferguson was merely average as a rookie. OLG Pete Kendall is unhappy with his contract, and ORT Anthony Clement is vulnerable to losing his starting job. QB Chad Pennington gets help with the addition of RB Thomas Jones, who runs hard between the tackles. 14. Pittsburgh The Steelers O-line will have a slightly different look this season and thats not including Alan Fanecas contract gripe and potential holdout. Sean Mahan likely will replace the retired Jeff Hartings at center, and Willie Colon could push Max Starks out of a starting job at right tackle. Larry Zierlein takes over for Russ Grimm as OL coach, which some consider a big loss, and hes charged with getting more out of a line that disappointed last season. 15. Tennessee An underrated, functional group. Young OTs Michael Roos and David Stewart were quietly strong in not only pass blocking for rookie QB Vince Young but also opening up holes for a 2,200-yard rushing game. C Kevin Mawae, who only has a good year or two left, was the groups glue and helped Young with blocking calls and audibles. OGs Jacob Bell and Benji Olson are stiff but blocked well within the framework of the offensive assignments. 16. N.Y. Giants Left tackle is the biggest question now, as Dave Diehl stands as the steady option to replace Luke Petitgout. But dont be shocked if either second-year man Guy Whimper or rookie Adam Koets gets a crash course and beats Diehl out at some point. ORG Chris Snee is an anchor in the run game, and ORT Kareem McKenzie has been a good power blocker. The rest of the group is solid, not spectacular. 17. Seattle It wasnt long ago that the Seahawks had one of the most solid lines in the NFL. But things changed last year after they lost perennial Pro Bowl OLG Steve Hutchinson. They used eight different starting combinations, and it affected the performances of QB Matt Hasselbeck and RB Shaun Alexander. OLT Walter Jones allowed more sacks than usual last season, but he remains elite, and the team likes Rob Sims, who came on strong while filling in for Hutchinson. C Chris Spencer is coming off shoulder surgeries. The right side is wide open. Chris Gray, Ray Willis, Sean Locklear, Tom Ashworth and Pork Chop Womack will battle for two spots. 18. Jacksonville The Jaguars bolstered their line in the offseason by adding free-agent mauler ORT Tony Pashos. This unit is strong at run blocking, opening plenty of holes for RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew last year. The OG combo of Vince Manuwai and Chris Naeole is very solid. The O-line also does an adequate job protecting methodical passer Byron Leftwich. 19. Dallas The proof is in the pudding with this group, which carries a lot of name value and talent individually but fell short of expectations last season. Retaining ORT Marc Colombo and C Andre Gurode, last years two most consistent blockers, was key, and the addition of ORG Leonard Davis should be an upgrade over what an injured Marco Rivera could do. OLG Kyle Kosier must step up, and OLT Flozell Adams can be dominant if hes healthy. By midseason, it could be an improved unit. 20. Atlanta New head coach Bobby Petrino phased out the zone-blocking scheme that led the Falcons to the top of the rushing charts the past three seasons. Petrino beefed up Atlantas O-line with the addition of rookie OLG Justin Blalock, a second-round pick. But there could be growing pains as the Falcons undersized line tries to block for a power-running offense. 21. St. Louis A revamped line played solidly in 06 despite missing injured OLT Orlando Pace and C Andy McCollum a good part of the season. Both McCollum, who will battle resourceful Brett Romberg for the starting job, and Pace are healthy again. However, the right side of OG Richie Incognito and OT Alex Barron must play a lot smarter and cut down on mistakes, particularly Barron, who has turned false-start penalties into an art form. OLG Mark Setterstrom could be pushed by third-year pro Claude Terrell, who is getting another chance to prove himself after falling out of favor with head coach Scott Linehan. 22. Carolina New offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson is implementing a zone-blocking scheme to take advantage of the athleticism and versatility of Carolinas undersized O-line. This new approach should help one-cut runners DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams find more openings. Rookie C Ryan Kalil is a perfect fit in the scheme, and overall this is a group that should perform better with improved health. 23. Arizona After the Cardinals went through six OL combinations in the first 10 games last season, new OL coach Russ Grimm wants to assemble a physical line like he had in Pittsburgh. But its a work in progress here, with ORG Deuce Lutui the only player returning at the same position from the end of last season. Grimm hopes Lutui and first-round ORT Levi Brown will offer strong blind-side protection for lefty QB Matt Leinart. Projected OLG Reggie Wells graded out as the teams best lineman the past two seasons; he finished the season at right tackle. But center and left tackle where newcomers Al Johnson and Mike Gandy are the respective front-runners dont appear to be as solid. 24. Cleveland Finally, the Browns could have an offensive line thats not a major weakness. No. 3 overall pick Joe Thomas has beaten out Kevin Shaffer at left tackle. Eric Steinbach, a rising star, will step in at left guard. C Hank Fraley started all 16 games last season. However, questions linger on the right side of the line. ORT Ryan Tucker returns after missing the end of the 06 campaign because of personal issues. Seth McKinney, penciled in at right guard, missed last season after suffering a back injury. 25. Green Bay A very young offensive line showed much progress over the course of 2006 as the Pack implemented a new zone-blocking scheme that should get stronger with age, provided they have a capable runner. After max-protecting early and often last year, the offense should open up a bit, giving Brett Favre a few more options in calling pass routes. Overall, though, scouts say that this is a fairly soft group. 26. Tampa Bay The Buccaneers have invested heavily in their offensive line in the past three drafts, landing starters Davin Joseph, Dan Buenning and Jeremy Trueblood, plus OLG Arron Sears this April. This young unit needs to jell to break RB Cadillac Williams out of his sophomore slump and to keep QB Jeff Garcia on his feet. 27. Buffalo The Bills added starters ORT Langston Walker and OLG Derrick Dockery in free agency. The team believes the left side of the line with Dockery and OLT Jason Peters will pave the way in the running game. QB J.P. Losman should also be protected better, allowing TEs Robert Royal and Kevin Everett not to have to stay in and block as often. 28. Miami The Dolphins are likely to have new starters at all five O-line positions, although OLT Vernon Carey (former right tackle), ORT L.J. Shelton (former right guard) and ORG Rex Hadnot (former center) are returning starters. The line needs to jell quickly to protect less-than-mobile QB Trent Green and lead the way for RB Ronnie Brown and the running game. Rookie Samson Satele could win the starting center job. 29. Kansas City The retirements of OLT Willie Roaf and OG Will Shields in less than a years time severely damaged an offensive line that was arguably the leagues best for a four- or five-year stretch. Despite some struggles a year ago, the Chiefs are speaking positively about a new-look group that will feature ex-Dolphin Damion McIntosh at left tackle and former Panther and Seahawk Chris Terry at right tackle. 30. Houston The Texans are still searching for an answer at left tackle. Jordan Black and Ephraim Salaam will compete for the job this season. Right tackle is also a position to watch, with Eric Winston expected to take a step forward. Mike Flanagan and Steve McKinney will compete at center. Overall, this is one of the leagues shakiest offensive lines, but with what they are asked to do, they can get away with having lesser talent. 31. Detroit After a dismal season, the Lions may have as many as three new linemen starting. Veterans George Foster (ORT) and Edwin Mulitalo (OLG) arrive to reinforce a disastrous offense that ranked dead last in rushing and 29th in sacks allowed last season. OG Damien Woody is working hard to shed weight to get back on the field and already is down significantly. 32. Oakland There are plenty of issues here, as the Raiders scored just 12 offensive touchdowns and surrendered 72 sacks in 2006. The new coaching regime can only help and is already making plenty of changes like moving Barry Sims back to left tackle and shifting disappointing OLT Robert Gallery inside to guard. Having a mobile quarterback will be a key, also, for bootlegs, play-action and more quick throws thatll be used more in Lane Kiffins offense.