Believe it or not there is one player in fantasy football even less respected than the kicker, and that’s the offensive line. Though we do not draft these gridiron warriors, their impact on our fantasy teams may be a revelation for some. Most fantasy owners have no clue which teams boast the best offensive lines against the rush or the pass. For most of us it may just be more information than we have the time to research or absorb.
Some owners debunk the Strength of Schedule impact on fantasy football, and some may dismiss an offensive line’s impact, but of the two, the O-line can be more meaningful when considering who to draft, and who to sit or start each week. Does your league scoring ding you when your QB gets sacked? Many leagues do, and it’s good to know which teams protect their QB the best. I won’t bore you or fry your brain with the names of these fantasy offensive helpers, just which players are prospering or struggling because of them.
Let’s take a look at the best and the worst heading into 2010, and how they can conceivably harm or help your fantasy franchise.
I had the New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons in my top 5 last season and all three return this season at one, two and three.
- New Orleans Saints - The Saints as expected did a ton of passing in 2009 and that won't change in 2010. So the fact that they've given up an average of just 16 sacks the last two seasons is impressive. Their rush blocking improved from 4.0 to 4.5 YPC (yards per carry) last season. Their front 5 all return in 2010. Fantasy impact: A top O-line keeps Drew Brees on his feet, which means another big year. And the improved rush blocking bodes well for Pierre Thomas to have a huge season.
- Tennessee Titans - Despite a slow start to the season, the Titans O-line was mighty effective, limiting opposing defenses to just 15 sacks, and helping RB Chris Johnson to a massive breakout campaign, and a final rush block stat of 5.1 YPC. Four of the teams five starters return in 2010, and they should have another solid season. Fantasy impact: Their ability to keep Vince Young on his feet means good things for WRs Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and TE Jared Cook. And of course there's still Chris Johnson...if he plays.
- Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons O-line had a few injuries that hurt last season, which plays somewhat into Matt Ryan's lack of progression, and Micheal Turner's down year. Still their rush blocking YPC was 4.2, and they only allowed 27 sacks. The latter should improve in 2010, and a healthy squad should help Turner open more holes. Fantasy Impact: Michael Turner gets a bump from a healthy front line, and Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez should all have a slightly better year.
- New England Patriots - The Patriots O-line got a big boost with the return of Tom Brady under center. The team's sack total dropped from 48 in 2008 to 18 last season. The sack totals should once again be under 25, and the team's YPC should be somewhere between 4 and 4.5. Fantasy impact: It's hard to call the impact here. Brady has as alot to do with the O-line's effectiveness against the pass, but together... Whoever the team's RB is the O-line will help, but who that will be is anyone's guess.
- Baltimore Ravens - Their O-line helped lead Ray Rice and Co. to a 4.7 YPC performance. One of the league's best. The return of 4 or 5 starters and the addition of Marshal Yanda, should only further improve the run game. They did surrender 36 sacks last season, but that has as much to do with Joe Flacco's growing pains as anything else. Fantasy impact: O-line keeps Ray Rice a top 5 pick.
- Arizona Cardinals - The Cardinals have solid run blocking, which should improve slightly in 2010, but with Kurt Warner gone, look for struggles in pass protection. They limited defenses to 26 sacks last season. That will go up this year with Matt Lienert at QB. They have excellent depth. Fantasy impact: upgrades for Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, downgrade for Larry Fitzgerald.
- New York Giants - Injuries hurt their performance last season, but when all 5 starters were in the game they were very solid. Look for an all around improvement in 2010, but the fantasy impact will be minimal. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- San Francisco 49ers - The 49ers surprised people on both sides of the ball in 2009. That will likely continue in 2010. The team drafted to improve an already solid O-line including Idaho OG Mike Iupati and OT Anthony Davis, so look for slight improvement across the board because of it. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals O-line really stepped up last season. They were pegged near the bottom of the O-line rankings, but as predicted, having Carson Palmer back helped immensely. Their sacks surrendered went down from 51 to 29. The run block was tepid, and looks to remain the same in 2010, but the pass protection continues to improve. Fantasy impact: Cedric Benson remains on my avoid list, but the improved O-line with Palmer healthy a full season, and T.O. and Ochocinco pushing each other... look out.
- Carolina Panthers - The Panthers have a much better O-line than people give them credit for. They limited the defense to 33 sacks with Delhomme and Moore under center. Their rush block was even better, helping the team's RB tandem to a 4.8 YPC campaign. Look for a slight drop in YPC this season, but all around they should have another solid year. Durability and depth are a concern. Fantasy impact: Expect similar production from Williams and Stewart in the run game. The real surprise could come with Matt Moore and Steve Smith.
- New York Jets - Despite a rookie QB, the Jets O-line kept sacks to 30. The rush block clocked in at 4.5 YPC. Expect the pass protection to stay about the same, and the rush block to improve slightly. Depth is a huge concern. Fantasy impact: Shonn Greene looks to have a breakout season. If Mark Sanchez can remain on his feet and limit his INTs, these guys could win the AFC East division.
- Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins just continue to quietly surprise across the board, and they are a dark horse in the AFC East. They gave up just 34 sacks with a rookie QB last year and they had a laudable 4.4 YPC on the ground. I think the YPC could actually improve this season. Fantasy impact: All around boost.
- Cleveland Browns - The Browns may not be glamorous, but they have a solid O-line that continues to improve. The addition of a veteran QB will help them look better as well. They only gave up 30 sacks last season, and that could go down this year. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Indianapolis Colts - The Colts O-line is an enigma. They never let people get to the QB. Once again Manning only went down 13 times in 2009. Best in the league. However, their rush block was 2nd worst in the league, along with Houston, at 3.5 YPC. The pass protection should remain the same, but I expect improvement in the rush blocking. Fantasy impact: Joseph Addai had a great season without much help, so an improved rush block only makes him more of a sleeper.
- Denver Broncos - Entering 2009 the Denver Broncos had the number one Offensive Line, and we saw early on the impact they had on the game, allowing the Broncos to win their first six games. Unfortunately, the entire team went into free fall after their bye week. How they do against the pass this year hinges on Ryan Clady's health. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys have an aging O-line. Only the Patriots have as many (4) over 30 guys upfront. They had a solid 2009 limiting sacks to 34, and better yet a 4.8 YPC rush block. Age is the big concern with 4 of 5 starters 31 or older. Still they should remain fairly solid barring injuries. Fantasy impact: due to the arsenal of weapons at Tony Romo's disposal it's difficult to upgrade any one or two players.
- Jacksonville Jaguars - All 5 starters return for the Jags and they have Justin Smiley in the wings. Their rush block was excellent, but they need to improve their pass protection, which I think they will in 2010. Fantasy impact: another great year for Maurice Jones-Drew, and better pass protection should help David Garrard and Mike Thomas.
- Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs O-line looked great in the second half of the 2009 season, especially blocking for Jamaal Charles. If they can keep up the rush protection they have a chance to do big things in 2010. Their pass blocking seemed to improve down the stretch as well. Fantasy impact: Jamaal Charles, and to a lesser degree, Thomas Jones are helped if the O-line can play like they did late last year.
- St. Louis Rams - The team has improved their O-line, but how much of an impact they will have in the passing game is hard to say with A.J. Feeley under center. Fantasy Impact: Look for another great season from Steven Jackson.
- Seattle Seahawks - We all know how bad the Seahawks O-line was in 2009, but the addition of Russell Okung immediately makes them better. They are also employing a new zone-blocking scheme. Look for improvement across the board. The could be a nice surprise this year.
- Minnesota Vikings - I don't foresee much of a change from last year, so assume no impact on fantasy production. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Green Bay Packers - No one gave up more sacks than the Pack last season (51), which is a number that should improve this year. Great news for Aaron Rodgers owners. Their rush block at 4.3 YPC was solid, but I expect a drop off there in 2010, which is bad news for Ryan Grant. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Houston Texans - Perhaps the O-line with the greatest chance to surprise. They only surrendered 25 sacks in 2009. Their big whole is at rush blocking where they had a dismal 3.5 YPC (tied for 2nd worst in the league). They improved in the second half last season, and all 5 starters return. They are young so expect improvement. Fantasy impact: Another great year for Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub, but the running game remains suspect.
- Philadelphia Eagles - Not great, not terrible. They had a 4.3 YPC rush block, but gave up 38 sacks. Now they essentially have to protect a fledgling RB in McCoy, and QB in Kolb. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Washington Redskins - It will be interesting to see how Donovan McNabb does in his new digs. He goes from a team with bad pass protection to one with worse protection. They did make some major improvements this off-season though. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Pittsburgh Steelers - It's amazing the Steelers do as well as they do given their O-line woes. Now they've lost Willie Colon for the season. Maurice Pouncey will help, but they're looking at another 50 sack season. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Buffalo Bills - They had a very solid 4.4 YPC last season and their rush blocking should remain the same. Good news for Jackson, Lynch and Spiller. They allowed 46 sacks, and their pass rush will be abysmal again without a legit QB to protect. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Chicago Bears - new offensive coordinator Mike Martz will have his hands full with this O-line supporting him. Nothing exciting here, and limited depth. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Detroit Lions - No real changes here. The addition of Sims help, but they have no depth. Overall they are mediocre. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- Oakland Raiders - The same starters who gave up 49 sacks last season return in 2010. The only real hope of improving on their stats is stronger QB play with Jason Campbell under center. Fantasy impact: negligible.
- San Diego Chargers - The Chargers had the worst rush blocking in the league last season at 3.3 YPC, and it doesn't look hopeful for a big turn around. The pass protection gets hurt too with McNeil holding out, and Vincent Jackson out. Fantasy Impact: Be cautious with drafting Ryan Mathews too high.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs don't have a terrible O-line, but they have a rookie QB, and the team as a whole is in a growing phase. They should be about the same as last season, which is last. Fantasy impact: negligible.