Fantasy Implications for Every NFC Offensive Line Before the NFL Draft
Oh boy… what did I get myself into. After painstakingly detailing every offensive line in the AFC in just under 6,700 words a week ago, I decided to go into overdrive and finish the drill with the NFC. I wrote an article a couple of years ago entitled Forecasting Offensive Lines & Drafting if you need a crash course on offensive line metrics and how sites like PFF and Football Outsiders grade.
In this massive write-up, I’ve detailed every team in the NFC with their offensive line outlook and a few fantasy implications for 2021 heading into the NFL Draft. A couple of reminders about offensive lines:
- Many of these are fluid situations. They will change either through the draft, injuries, or camp cuts.
- Offensive line continuity is key. I’ve put an asterisk (*) next to every new acquisition or player I have penciled into the starting unit. There are other free agents that could come into the mix as well.
- If you see a “?”, I have genuine concerns and the replacement player for that hole on the O-Line is not someone I envision currently on the roster. Linemen are sometimes tricky to peg given we aren’t working with traditional statistics the way most of us view RBs or WRs. There are likely backups that teams have groomed to step in but to immediately dub an “in-house” backup offensive line with limited reps as the starter is a tough task at this point in the offseason.
This is your final “get-ready-for-the-draft” primer and maybe “you-need-to-take-a-long-hot-bath” to get through this whole thing. If you want to add another piece to the fantasy pie of goodness, it’s vital to take a look at how offensive lines are assembled, reconstructed, and sometimes completely blown up during the offseason.
Editor’s Note: For more insight into each NFC team and how the Fantasy Footballers project them for 2021, check out the Ultimate Draft Kit.
Arizona Cardinals: Underrated Unit
The headline is center Rodney Hudson whom the Raiders all of a sudden decided was expendable. He’s allowed two sacks over the last five seasons and provides an anchor. Great centers make a huge impact as Jason routinely points out on the Fantasy Footballers podcast. Humphries had a bumpy start to his career but in 2020 he put it all together and justified with his superb run-blocking the 3-year, $43+ million extension they gave him before the season. However, he now carries the largest LT cap hit in the league but graded out as best run-blocking tackle on zone plays in 2020. Kelvin Beachum was re-signed after playing the 2nd most snaps among all RTs. He’s more steady than great but the money it took to bring him back (2-years, $4 million) is almost laughable. In terms of the guard spots, Pugh & Murray both are average at best and were exposed down the stretch in terms of run-blocking especially in Week 17 against the Rams.
Despite most of his clean pocket metrics being relatively stable from 2019 to 2020, Murray produced 34 more first downs despite having the same adjusted completion rate year-to-year when not pressured. The guy was just more confident and as a scrambler, he was elite. Scrambling is a QB skill also aided by spacing and for all the poo flung in Kliff Kingsbury’s general direction, his offense is set up to flourish with Kyler in command.
|Arizona Cardinals||D.J. Humphries||Justin Pugh||Rodney Hudson*||Justin Murray||
- One of Kyler Murray‘s biggest improvements in 2020 was what he did in the red zone. His rookie year their success rate was abysmal as the team scored a TD on only 45.3 percent of their trips, 29th in the NFL. But last year, he improved his completion rate inside the 20 by more than 10 percentage points while tripling his rushing TDs (from 3-to-9). On the recent Top-12 QB podcast, Mike had Kyler ranked #1 for 2021. It’s ok to be bullish on a player who is the only QB in league history to throw for 3,500 passing yards and run for 800+ yards in the same season. Murray held the QB1 spot from Weeks 1-16 before Josh Allen wrestled it away at the end. The pass protection showed in 2020 that they can make Murray more than just a pure scrambler.
- The running game in Arizona currently is being manned by two players who could not be more different in their utilization. James Conner saw a stacked front on 28 percent of his carries while Chase Edmonds saw only six or fewer men in the box on 90+ percent of his carries. The Cardinals run a ton out of shotgun and pistol formations where Edmonds’ skillset as a pass-catcher is maximized. Many have linked the Cardinals to an early RB in the draft but regardless Conner’s history sees him as the goal-line back and Edmonds as the between-the-20s spark. Their current ADPs (Edmonds-RB30/Conner-RB39) is strange considering Conner’s hasn’t budged even after the signing but Edmonds has fallen a full two rounds since. Take the dip in Edmonds’ stock, the variance, and bet on the player who is more electric with the ball in his hands.
Atlanta Falcons: Play-Action Fake to…
Right now the face of Atlanta’s run game is… Mike Davis? Qadree Ollison? Woof. New HC Arthur Smith’s offenses were built on play-action (thanks in large part to Derrick Henry) with lots of success. How much does Julio Jones and Matt Ryan have left in the tank? The big fix for Smith will be the dysfunctional Atlanta run game which sputtered down the stretch with Todd Gurley II. His offenses in Tennessee relied on efficiency, zone-run schemes, and play-action passing. Ryan Tannehill, despite being 30th in total pass attempts, had the 4th most play-action dropbacks in the NFL. On the other hand, Matt Ryan had the most dropbacks in NFL but ranked 16th in Play-Action rate.
In terms of the offensive line, this team sports three 1st round picks (Matthews, Lindstrom & McGary) who all are above average yet not elite at their respective positions. Guard James Carpenter was released and long-time center Alex Mack signed on with Kyle Shanahan, the former Atlanta offensive coordinator. The interior of the line is the big question mark heading into the draft especially if Smith wants to convince teams to respect the run. Last year, Atlanta ranked 22nd in PFF run-blocking grades as a unit and the RBs ran at an uninspiring clip of 3.9 yards per carry.
|Atlanta Falcons||Jake Matthews||Matt Gono||Matt Hennessey||Chris Lindstrom||Caleb McGary|
- This team is at a crossroads with the QB position. They could certainly lean into another two years of Matt Ryan. Ryan sacks taken. On the other hand, if someone like Justin Fields falls to them at Pick 4, the offense eventually would work in some of Fields’ For more on Fields, check out my recently released Rookie Profile on the Ohio State prospect.
- If Kyle Pitts is the pick as many experts have mocked, this would decidedly call for a change in the type of sets Atlanta uses. Pitts isn’t a great blocker while Hayden Hurst showed he was pretty much an every-down player in 2020. The Falcons had two or more TEs out on the field on just 18 percent of their plays last year which was a bottom-10 number in the league. Obviously, that would change and perhaps force less playing time for Russell Gage in the slot, who has shown himself as a more than adequate NFL possession receiver.
Carolina Panthers: There’s a Moton.. and Not Much Else
Matt Rhule has not shied away from the fact the Panthers were a QB away from shifting many of the outcomes last year. While the discussion of Sam Darnold is for another day, the offensive line in Carolina is outfitted with one stalwart and a bunch of other question marks heading into 2021. Taylor Moton is an absolute stud at right tackle and has allowed four total QB hits in four years as a starter. He was called for one false start penalty the entire year. He also recently signed a franchise tag at $13.75 million and the Panthers should do their best to lock him up and pair him with another young tackle.
In trying to address the rest of their offensive line, the Panthers basically threw their off-season money in a dumpster and lit it on fire. Tackle Cameron Erving should not be a starter in this league. After being drafted by Cleveland in the 1st round in 2015, he’s now on his 4th team posting below average PFF grades every single year of his career. Pat Eflein was one of the more puzzling free-agent additions of the offseason as Carolina seem to outbid themselves (3-year, $13.5 million) for his replacement level services at guard. John Miller is another stopgap who started 14 games but allowed 27 pressures last year, by far the most on the team. Matt Paradis was an All-Pro when he was with Denver and has settled in as a valuable center in Carolina and about the only other positive for this line apart from Moton.
Rashawn Slater to the Panthers at Pick 8 has been a slam dunk in recent mocks and for good reason. Behind Sewell, he’s one of the few top-tier OTs in this draft and would immediately slot in as the starter ahead of Erving.
|Carolina Panthers||Cameron Erving?||Pat Eflein*||Matt Paradis||John Miller||Taylor Moton|
- Sam Darnold had the worst completion percentage in the league (44.2) when he had 2.5 seconds or more in the pocket. You can blame that on his receivers not getting open or point to the fact that he hasn’t quite been put in a system to get the ball quickly and effectively out of his hands. That was Teddy Bridgewater‘s claim to fame. The offensive line looks like one of the biggest question marks in the league and the NFC South division.
- There’s not much convincing I need to do with Christian McCaffrey. However, in terms of the design of the offense, the Panthers don’t have a viable 3rd receiver on the roster and TE Dan Arnold isn’t really a long-term solution at TE. You could see Carolina running more sets out of the pistol or even I-formation, which sounds like a page from your Madden playbook in 2010 but the talent isn’t there on the roster. In other words, I think you’re going to see a super-condensed target share between CMC, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson. I profiled Moore in WR Breakouts & the Historical Implications from 2020. Anderson was also a WR I looked at
Chicago Bears: Protecting Andy for Allen’s Sake
The offseason question in Chicago all offseason was who is under center? Is it Russell Wilson? (Sorry, it was never happening Bears fans.) We know it’s not Mitchell Trubisky and although Nick Foles is still under contract, it seems like Andy Dalton will be at the helm. I’ll detail more about him below but for the sake of Allen Robinson II, can we please get this right? Beyond who’s throwing the ball, the sentiment in Chicago is this team overachieved last year to get into the playoffs in spite of Trubisky. He was only pressured on 25 percent of his dropbacks, a bottom-five number in the league. Foles was a different story as it seemed like the O-Line crumbled around him. 90 percent of the pressures he faced were “O-Line responsible” according to PFF, the highest percentage in the entire league! Their playing styles differed and it left the line in difficult rhythms to maintain throughout the year.
🏈📽️“A Series of Unfortunate Events: Sadness for ARob”📽️🏈
Here are 14 of Allen Robinson II’s “incompletions” on targets of 15+ yards from 2020.
Many of these get marked down as “uncatchable”. Do you agree? How many of these are catchable? pic.twitter.com/9SSxAPfh8x
— Kyle Borgognoni (@kyle_borg) April 21, 2021
The strength of this line was in the run game where they set up David Montgomery to show out in the final two months of the season. On the book ends, Charles Leno Jr. is entering his 8th year in Chicago and after starting right tackle Bobby Massie was released, German Ifedi looks like he will man the corner after receiving a one-year extension for $4.25 million. Whitehair is what makes this offense have any semblance of confidence in the run game and his versatility (LG/C) makes him invaluable to this team. Daniels played in only five games before being injured but should slide back in on the left side. Exclusive rights free agent Alex Bars was re-signed as a former undrafted guy out of Notre Dame two years ago. He was thrust into a starting role for the second half of 2020 but definitely seemed outmatched as a run blocker.
|Chicago Bears||Charles Leno Jr.||James Daniels||Cody Whitehair||Alex Bars||German Ifedi|
- While poking at the QB that is Andy Dalton is somewhat fashionable these days, it needs to be said that he should be an upgrade from the Foles/Trubisky project. Dalton is competent in a number of areas and one of the specific metrics I look at for a QB able to move the chains through the air is how well they complete intermediate passes. 10-19 yard passes are chain movers and provide chunk plays for fantasy more frequently than “deep” passes which the fantasy community (including myself) often fall in love with. Last year, despite a horrible offensive line decimated with injuries in Dallas Dalton ranked 1st in adjusted completion percentage (74.6) which factors out drops. Don’t write him off completely and imbue that onto the rest of the Chicago weapons. There is value especially for Darnell Mooney to turn some of those empty-calorie Air Yards from 2020 into actual fantasy production in 2021.
- It seems that fantasy twitter has jumped ahead of itself declaring David Montgomery a stay-away in 2021 after he finished last year as the RB4. He had 72 total forced missed tackles (5th most in the league) and the 3rd most yards after contact. He’s a good player that did run into a bit of a hot stretch with a certainly advantageous schedule at the end of the year. While this Chicago line isn’t flashy by any means and lacks “big names”, as a run-blocking unit they are top-half in the NFL and you can have confidence in Montgomery purely as a runner at his current ADP of RB21. While Montgomery ran the 2nd most routes of any RB in football in 2020, he won’t repeat the same receiving performance with Tarik Cohen and Damien Williams now in the mix.
Dallas Cowboys: Paradise Lost & Now Found?
What a fall from grace! The Cowboys plummeted from 7th in 2019 to 29th(!) in terms of PFF run-blocking grades but figuring out the main culprit is not a mystery novel. Dallas was bit by injury variance in a bad way not only losing their quarterback but their offensive line had to play Cameron Erving! Ok, I’ll no longer attempt to dunk on that 6’5 man but with Tyron Smith playing two games, La’el Collins missed the entire season, and All-Pro RG Zack Martin played only ten. The replacements were less than satisfying; in fact, this turned the Cowboys O-Line from a strength to a massive problem. Terrence Steele tried to fill in at right tackle, Brandon Knight played in 11 uninspiring games at left tackle, and center was a mixed bag between Joe Looney and Tyler Biadasz.
Connor Williams is a solid LG and if Biadasz can improve from some of his rookie mistakes, he should be able to anchor this line in the middle. 2019 3rd round pick Connor McGovern is another depth piece who might be in the mix. The big-3 of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins should be back in full health which reinstates Dallas to top-tier status. Reports are especially rosy this time of year but they should be, as Cowboys VP Stephen Jones put it, “as good as we’ve seen them in a long time“. If there is room for optimism, it’s the fact all five are homegrown players drafted by Dallas, familiar with the system Kellen Moore implements. The New Orleans Saints are the only other team able to make that claim about their starting five.
|Dallas Cowboys||Tyron Smith||Connor Williams||Tyler Biadasz||Zack Martin||La’el Collins|
- It’s time for a Cowboys bounce-back season and we know who’s leading the charge after years of back and forth speculation. We all know about Dak Prescott‘s ridiculous pace over the first month of the season before his injury but if you extend that sample to his last 20 full games played, he’s averaged 329 passing yards per game and over two TDs per game. Andy was bullish on Dak as top-3 QB in the latest early QB rankings podcast and erasing what we saw from the offensive line last year is advisable Dak is currently +1600 in MVP odds as one of my favorite longshot bets to take this offseason.
- Now is also the time to believe in Ezekiel Elliott. As I discussed, this was a completely different offensive line he was working with. It showed as Zeke actually had the most pass-blocking snaps of any RB in the league! He was asked to block on 19.8 percent of his pass play snaps, the highest rate of his career. He also couldn’t quite get to the second level the way he used to as only 11.7 percent of his rushing yards came on “big runs” of 15+ yards. Only Frank Gore had a smaller percentage among the top-48 fantasy RBsin 2020. We love some Frank Gore around here but at this point in his career, he’s not someone you want to be compared to. Once again, I’m not using their 2020 offensive line statistics as a measuring stick for 2021. It was descriptive but not prescriptive for what I’m projecting.
Detroit Lions: Kneecaps Beware
It wouldn’t surprise me if the new head coach (and former NFL TE) Dan Campbell decided to take a few snaps blocking for this unit. He’s preached that this team is going to be formed by toughness and grit. I gave my thoughts on this new coaching regime earlier in the offseason but running the ball is a tough assignment when your defense has you down 21 points. The Lions’ “defense” was bullied all season long allowing the most points per game (32.4) including the most passing AND rushing TDs allowed… which is a hard feat to accomplish.
Last year, Detroit’s offensive line was one of the few bright spots for the team ranking 13th in Pro Football Focus’s end-of-season rankings and they should not be overlooked for 2021. Taylor Decker is a top-10 left tackle and had arguably the best season of his career in 2020. Frank Ragnow is a baller in the middle and solidified his status as one of the top-tier centers in the league, especially as a run-blocker. ETR’s Brandon Thorn pointed out that Oday Aboushi was one of the most underrated free-agents this off-season despite popping around to his 5th team in seven years. Jackson and Crosby are the weak links but the game plan will likely shift with new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn calling the shots. Expect more short-area passing especially to the running back and doubling down on Goff’s ability to sell with play-action.
|Detroit Lions||Taylor Decker||Jonah Jackson||Frank Ragnow||Oday Aboushi||Tyrell Crosby|
- There is some growing excitement that D’Andre Swift can hit RB1 numbers in 2021 with a full workload now. While Adrian Peterson is out the door, Jamaal Williams‘ presence has to annoy Swift truthers especially because of the overlap of their receiving skillsets. Since 1990, only two rookie RBs had 45+ receptions in fewer than 14 games played: Lev Bell & D’Andre Swift. That’s it. His 16-game pace was 73 targets and he caught three receptions in every single game from Week 4 on.
- Poor Jared Goff. Here’s a California guy shipped off to what might as well be Siberia. He had the lowest yards per attempt of his career and truly feasted against bottom-16 defenses scoring 11.26 more fantasy points per game against them, the highest discrepancy among all QBs. Yes, he’s a flawed player but when he works within a system that takes advantage of play-action, he can get in a rhythm. Last year, Goff threw for the 6th most yards off play-action among QBs. On a per-snap basis, Detroit’s offensive line ranked 11th in pass-blocking efficiency which is astounding considering they gave up the 10th most sacks in the NFL. It’s still hard being bullish given his limitations.
Green Bay Packers: A Moment of Concern
The Packers’ offense went into high gear in 2020 leading the league in points per game (31.8), points per drive (3.1), and scoring a TD at a ridiculous pace of every 97 yards gained. But in case you didn’t do a ton of offensive line statistical deep diving, the Packers O-Line had a season for the ages allowing the fewest sacks (9), QB hits (10), and pressures allowed (88) in the league. To put those numbers in perspective, I compiled every offensive line unit over the last five years and compared the raw statistics. Out of those 160 teams, here’s where the 2020 line ranked:
|Green Bay 2020||Rank Over Last Five Years|
|Sacks||9||t-4th (out of 160)|
Unfortunately, things could come crashing down for PFF’s 2nd rated unit from 2020. The resigning of RB Aaron Jones left little extra free-agent cash on the table and center Corey Lindsey got paid on his way to Los Angeles. As we’ve mentioned, a center is a huge part of an offense and he played his way to an All-Pro level in 2020. LT David Bakhtiari missed the final six games of the season (including the playoffs) after an ACL injury and it looks like he won’t be ready for Week 1. The Packers hit with 2019 2nd-rounder Elgton Jenkins who has filled in multiple spots on the line as a steady performer. Rick Wagner is one of the better right tackles in the league but did give up two sacks in the NFC Championship game versus the Buccaneers. (But honestly who could stop that pass rush at the end of the year?) Billy Turner had the best year of his career but still is not a great run blocker. There is room not only for regression on an offensive efficiency standpoint but the play from the men upfront in 2021. I would expect the Packers to conservatively come in as a top-15 unit due to Bakhtiari’s injury, which is a far cry from 2021.
|Green Bay Packers||David Bakhtiari||Elgton Jenkins||Lucas Patrick||Billy Turner||Rick Wagner|
- What made Aaron Rodgers so dang successful was the Packers’ utilization of throwing in the red-zone tallying 35(!) passing TDs and deciding to move Davante Adams in the slot over and over again. I’ve mentioned this over and over again this offseason as teams need to diversify where their star players line up. Green Bay made a shift in their overall alignment dropping from 61 percent of their sets being 3+WR in 2019 to 55(!) percent last year. In fact, Green Bay ran 12-personnel (24%) and 21-personnel (14%) higher than 80 percent of the league. Whether it was an extra TE or RB pass-blocking, Rodgers benefitted from the lowest sack rate (3.7%) of his career. His career total is 6.6 percent so expect some regression in that category too.
- The cash thrown Aaron Jones‘ way caused some uproar in “RBs Don’t Matter” Twitter as 4-years for $48 million looked like a lot. However, they can cut him in two years when his cap number balloons to $19+ million(!) and save $12.75 million. But as a fantasy asset, his reliance on TDs might be concerning as Jones has averaged a rushing TD every 17.6 carries thus far in his career, an outlier compared to the rest of the field. But on the flip side, 51.4 percent of his rushing TDs have come from 6+ yards out… only Saquon Barkley and Raheem Mostert have higher career rates. In other words, he’s shown he can score outside goal-line carries. He creates yards even if the offensive line takes a step back and is a worthy 1st round RB. I wrote up a full Fantasy Reaction piece when Jones re-signed if you want a deeper dive on his 2021 outlook.
Los Angeles Rams: Scheme Shift?
As I wrote up in a previous piece, the Rams downshifted from their heavy 3WR reliance due to injuries (Cooper Kupp) and the relative ineffectiveness of Jared Goff. They dropped from 77 percent of their sets being three or more receivers to only 65 percent and saw 130 more snaps in 12-personnel. One thing we need to realize about Sean McVay: he has taken a very Bill Belichickian approach where the game plan could change week to week depending on their opponent. Look at some of Goff’s game logs where he’d go from 45+ passing attempts one week to 20 the week after as the team decided to pound the rock on the ground with 2-TE sets. Over the course of the season, their identity was forged behind an offensive line reborn after a disastrous 2019 season.
The Rams O-Line had the 4th highest run-blocking grade per PFF headlined by Andrew Whitworth. It’s a miracle these Rams made the playoffs and won a wildcard game despite Whitworth missing Weeks 11-17. He was unbelievable in pass protection allowing no sacks or QB hits on the season. Joseph Noteboom filled in admirably but he is a backup. Rob Havenstein rebounded from a poor 2019 and is one of the better RTs in the league. The group is among the best in the league in zone concepts as 2019 pick Edwards & former Cleveland Brown Corbett were important contributors down the stretch. Brian Allen was a 4th round pick in 2018 and steps in at center for the departed Austin Blythe. He’s the biggest question on the line entering 2021.
|Los Angeles Rams||Andrew Whitworth||David Edwards||Brian Allen*||Austin Corbett||
- With Matthew Stafford now at the helm and Gerald Everett out the door, you could see 2021 become more of the offensive game plan that McVay would be comfortable with setting up play-action passing with a dynamite ground game led by Cam Akers. He was featured in the early top-10 RB episode for good reason. Sean McVay offenses have consistently produced for fantasy and last season LAR RBs saw the 8th most combined touches in the league. When you get a look at the type of workload he saw at the end of the season, he could skyrocket to the top-5. In two playoff games, averaged 24.5 touches for 136 yards and a touchdown, good enough for 21.4 fantasy points per game. But even before that explosion, Akers was receiving the type of workload (with Darrell Henderson Jr. hurt and Malcolm Brown being phased out) that have everyone licking their chops for 2021. With a solid line and a QB teams have to respect even more, you should have the boost of confidence to select Akers near the 1/2 turn in drafts.
- Tyler Higbee is one of my favorite post-hype sleepers at TE because his cost is so cheap. He’s fallen in drafts to TE15 in ADP because drafters are likely unsure of how he’ll fit in with Stafford. This is the type of ambiguity to take advantage of now especially in BestBall formats. He saw the 4th most pass-blocking snaps among TEs but managed only 322 routes run. It’s curious for a player with his pass-catching skills. I expect his snaps to hit 75+ percent this year and finding 60+ receptions wouldn’t be that wild.
Minnesota Vikings: On Your Left
I mentioned Minnesota recently as I team I like to hit the over on their 8.5 win total. The Vikings are a curious team to project considering their persona is a smash-mouth run-first group. However, their offensive line finished 26th in overall PFF ranks which is partially misleading considers they should really be graded with six or seven guys as a unit instead of five. They ran 11-personnel a league-low 37 percent of the time, which was actually a 12 percent increase from 2019. Tight-ends are a big part of what they do and they just lost long-time vet Kyle Rudolph, who allowed three total QB hits since 2011.
Brian O’Neill is an asset despite being somewhat undersized. He’s allowed only four sacks in three years although there is talk he could move the left side in place of the departed Riley Reiff. Replacing the veteran Reiff (who signed with Cincinnati) is going to be a challenge after he allowed just one sack on 567 pass-blocking snaps in 2020. This is the major hole that I’ll address below and the subject of my hopefully understood Captain America reference in the team title. Garrett Bradbury graded out as the 2nd worst pass blocker among centers in the league and sadly looks like a bust after being taken 18th(!) overall in 2019. Dakota Dozier was re-signed but out of sheer necessity. Since coming over from the Jets in 2019, he’s been porous in both the run and pass to be kind. Ezra Cleveland is one shining light after Minnesota took him in the 2nd round last year. He’s big enough 6’6′ to slide over to tackle as some have speculated.
|Minnesota Vikings||?||Dakota Dozier||Garrett Bradbury||Ezra Cleveland||Brian O’Neill|
- Among the 15+ mock drafts I’ve indexed, the Vikings are almost universally tied to taking an OT at pick 14. The most common connection is USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker although there are many who project him more as a guard in the NFL. There will be guys in the mix (Christian Darrisaw, Teven Jenkins) that are more pure tackles and this is one of the most glaring needs for offensive lineman among any team in the top-15.
- The Kubes offense is bent on running the ball and throwing with efficiency as Kirk Cousins quietly had the best season of his career with 35 passing TDs. Is he due for some regression? Sure. But there’s room in the offense to support two top-15 fantasy WRs (Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen) and if you combined the production from Irv Smith Jr., Tyler Conklin, and Kyle Rudolph last year, you have a respectable line (78/899/7) that essentially functions as the 4th passing target behind Dalvin Cook. As Aaron Larson pointed out in an earlier Dynasty Day Trader article, Conklin and Smith’s numbers look almost identical over the final month of the season from a fantasy standpoint. Smith was a poor pass blocker (29.5 PFF grade in 2020) and only ran 35 more routes than Conklin. Don’t be shocked if Conklin is on the field more than you think given the team’s need for pass protection.
New Orleans Saints: A New Day Dawns
The Drew Brees era is over and I think we all are still trying to get a good read on where this team will be moving forward. The Saints have an aging roster with two top-heavy stars on offense (Alvin Kamara & Michael Thomas) and not much else. Their offensive line has been paramount in giving them RB groups (Kamara, Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles) that paced the league in fantasy points as a group. It didn’t really matter who was in the mix. I’ll get to the Taysom Hill implications soon…
The Saints are like the Patriots of the NFC striking gold with almost every single one of their offensive line draft picks. Terron Armstead is still an elite tackle although he did allow as many sacks (3) as his previous two years combined. He’ll be entering his ninth year in New Orleans since being a 3rd round steal from Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Former 1st rounder Ryan Ramczyk took a slight step back in some of his efficiency metrics but he’s still a top-tier RT who excels in the run game. The Saints couldn’t have asked for much more from McCoy, who has started every single game since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2019. Rookie Cesar Ruiz will have to work on pass protection as he had a three-week stretch in the middle of the season allowing 14 pressures against some elite pass rushes (CHI, TB, SF). Peat hasn’t quite lived up to the billing of being the 13th overall pick in 2014.
|New Orleans Saints||Terron Armstead||Andrus Peat||Erik McCoy||Cesar Ruiz||Ryan Ramczyk|
- I can’t tell you right now who will be the Saints starting QB. It is worth pointing out that the Saints tied with the Packers for the league-lead in red-zone TDs per game at 2.9. That level of efficiency in the red zone likely is due to regress. For years, Brees’ ability to complete high-percentage passes inside the red zone fueled the offense (and resurrected Jared Cook). Where Brees averaged 2.49 seconds to throw, Taysom Hill was at 3.00, 4th longest in the league along with some other notorious scramblers in Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, and Russell Wilson. His sack rate of 10.4 was alarming and his percentage of pressures that turned into sacks (24.6) was 3rd highest behind only Dwayne Haskins & Carson Wentz. Woof. It’s a different offense with Jameis Winston who prefers the INT to the sack.
- Alvin Kamara‘s RB1 season is hard to argue against because he literally did it all as a receiver and goal-line back, with a couple of monster games that single-handedly won you a week. He’s insanely efficient: since 1970, he’s averaging the most yards per touch (6.18) of any RB through their 1st four years in the NFL. (#3 is CMC & #5 is Aaron Jones) The only mark against Kamara in 2021 is thinking he might hit a wall of inefficiency with the retirement of Drew Brees. His splits last year were somewhat concerning when Brees was out for a 4-week stretch:
|With Brees (11 games)||
Without Brees (Wks 11-14)
Rush Att. per Game
Receptions Per Game
New York Giants: Hold Onto Your Barf Bags Folks
It was a never-ending snowball of disappointment last year in New York as Saquon’s injury, Daniel Jones‘ fumbilitis, and Golden Tate‘s frustration seemed to boil over. Yet, this team was a 1/2 game away from making the playoffs! OT Nate Solder opted out early on in the offseason and the team struggled to piece it together all year long. Some claim Andrew Thomas was a reach at 4th overall and he definitely had some rookie moments allowing the 2nd most QB pressures and sacks among all offensive lineman in 2020. However, when you adjust for how many of those were “QB responsible” the raw totals don’t look as bad. It was a definite learning curve and by the end of the season, his performance was trending upwards. Kevin Zeitler is now gone to Baltimore exposing a guard issue that might be overlooked when you consider the quads stacked up behind them.
We basically have to forget 2020 ever happened due to his injury but as I don’t have to argue with you about Saquon Barkley‘s talent. While he was still a top-10 RB for fantasy, his efficiency dropped in his 2nd season across the board.
|2018 (16 games)||2019 (13 games)|
Touches Per Game
|22 (2nd)||20.7 (7th)|
Yards Per Game
|126.8 (2nd)||110.8 (6th)|
|TD Rate||Every 24.6 touches (20th)||
Every 33.6 touches (28th)
|FPPG||21.3 (2nd)||16.8 (6th)|
Over that span, The Giants offensive line dropped from the middle of the pack as a run-blocking unit (16th in PFF grades) in 2018 to 22nd in 2019 and 23rd in 2020 much of that due to guards Will Hernandez & Shane Lemieux struggling in the interior. Zach Fulton was brought over from Houston but he’s a desperate attempt, to say the least. But I guess it’s worth mentioning he allowed the MOST SACKS in the league. Sorry to scream there for a second. They’ve also had a lot of changes in the middle with three different starting centers (Spencer Pulley, John Halapio, & Nick Gates) in the last three years.
|New York Giants||Andrew Thomas||Will Hernandez||Nick Gates||Zach Fulton*||Nate Solder|
- I recently tried to captivate Daniel Jones‘ outlook for this upcoming season and here’s what I came up with: “Light the World on Fire” OR “Burn This Thing Down”? We’ve seen the upside showcased as he had four games as the QB1 or QB2 in his rookie season. But last year was an utter disaster. The Giants were arguably the least efficient passing team in the league averaging only 10.3 yards per completion and only 12 total passing TDs. Jones is a great late-round QB I’ll be swinging for the fences in redraft leagues in 2021. When given time in the pocket, he can throw a beautiful deep ball as seen in his 3rd Highest PFF Grade among QBs on “Deep” Throws in 2020. The offensive line should give him high variance weeks which makes him perfect for DFS so if you need a comparable, perhaps you’re getting a Jameis Winston 2019-type season… he was the QB2 that year.
- Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph are an interesting pairing at TE and one you likely would be staying away from in drafts. Engram is in a contract year and Rudolph is always a red-zone threat. But in terms of blocking, there is no comparison here. I can’t imagine a scenario where Engram is a high-volume asset although he can still be a mismatch against linebackers and safeties.
Philadelphia Eagles: Aging & Broken
I felt bad bashing on my friend Matthew Betz’s Eagles but this is a team I’m super low on across the board. I wrote them up as one of my favorite Vegas unders for 2021 win totals but have yet to also fully unpack how the offensive line fits into the picture. Lane Johnson is the big name everyone knows but he slipped in the run-game grading out as PFF’s best run-blocking offensive lineman in the NFL in 2019 to being exposed specifically in gap schemes in 2020. He had a season-ending ankle injury after Week 14 versus the Giants. But even at 30 years old, he’s still among the best in the league and should be recovered in time for Week 1. Jason Kelce has had some memorable seasons in Philly but he’ll turn 34 this year and things are changing. He was called for the most penalties of any center in the league and had his lowest pass-blocking grade in years. The sack totals are hard to gauge for Kelce and the rest of the line because Carson Wentz was notorious for holding onto the ball way too long. All-Pro guard Brandon Brooks missed the entire 2020 season with his second torn Achilles in the last three years. He’ll be 32 when the season starts as well.
Beyond the linchpins of the line turning into geriatrics, Philadelphia has also “hidden” some of their recent O-Line woes by running so many sets in 12 personnel. The Eagles tied the Titans for the highest percentage of sets with 2TEs at 35 percent in 2020. (Probably because their WRs left little to be desired…) Nevertheless, the rest of the line is serviceable at best. Jordan Mailata was a nice story seemingly coming out of nowhere to start 13 games and Isaac Seumalo performed better as a pass blocker than opening up lanes. The right side is a big name group but playing with a mobile QB like Jalen Hurts is going to be much different than Wentz. New HC Nick Sirianni comes from Indianapolis but thus far his pressers have been cringe-worthy, to say the least.
|Philadelphia Eagles||Jordan Mailata||Isaac Seumalo||Jason Kelce||Brandon Brooks||Lane Johnson|
- The Eagles 3WR sets shifted from 41 in 2019 to 61 percent last season, the largest jump in the NFL year-to-year. The Carson Wentz-led Eagles were known for deploying two TE sets but with Zach Ertz struggling with injuries and just getting plain old, things shifted. On top of that, Philadelphia played in so many negative game scripts that it forced them to throw at a much higher rate than many of us would’ve anticipated before the season. The combination of Wentz and rookie Jalen Hurts had the 10th most pass attempts in the league. What does that mean for Hurts? He could be forced into negative game scripts Hurts for fantasy will be fine but he averaged 17 completions per game so whoever he throws to likely won’t be super fantasy relevant. There will be an ongoing debate about Hurts and ultimately it will come down to his draft cost in August.
- The Footballers (and especially Mike) are down on Miles Sanders. He noticeably looked different in terms of his elusiveness in 2020 forcing only 34 missed tackles in 12 games. With the return of the heart of the offensive line, Sanders could be found at a discount in 2021 but it remains to be seen if he can be trusted or his body can hold up to a full workload. Management laughably brought back Jordan Howard and with Boston Scott tendered this offseason, it’s more crowded than you think in the backfield. If you think the Eagles end up tanking this season, Sanders could be a lost cause especially if you’re spending a 3rd round pick on him.
San Francisco 49ers: Ready to Run
The 49ers are among the most curious teams to assess from the offensive line perspective because the way they run their offense is so different from the rest of the league. Kyle Shanahan is a master of scheming his QBs on rollouts and timing patterns where George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, or Brandon Aiyuk get the ball in space. You know all about the running game and how it’s an episode of Oprah every week: You get a carry! You get a carry! But the interchangeability of the position is more of a testament to Shanahan and the offensive line’s prowess on creating massive running lanes that take advantage of
Trent Williams was re-signed to the largest offensive lineman contract in league history and he’s worth every single penny. Alex Mack takes over for Dane Brunskill who allowed the 3rd most pressures among centers in 2020. Tomlinson is a mauler in the run game but was exposed in pass protection numerous times en route to the 2nd most QB hits allowed among all offensive lineman. McGlinchey’s 5th-year option was picked up and he remains another integral part of the run game, something many teams can’t say about their right tackles. He did receive his fair share of criticism in pass protection if you’re not picking up on a theme yet…
Keep this in mind about San Francisco's OLine… elite in run-blocking grades, metrics, etc.
But pass-blocking was quietly a major issue.
Does that play into Thursday's decision on who they draft at QB?[A THREAD 1 of 5]
— Kyle Borgognoni (@kyle_borg) April 27, 2021
When San Francisco QBs had the ball more than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, they threw 15 combined INTs…the MOST in the league. Improvisation was a disaster whether it was Nick Mullens, Jimmy Garopollo, or C.J. Beathard. The lack of consistency at QB showed as the group completed a combined 49 percent of their passes under pressure. Beathard had the largest discrepancy of PFF grades from pressured versus clean pocket in the league. And you probably saw this coming, but Garoppolo’s quick release ended with an average time to throw (2.39) that hid their pass protection issues.
|San Francisco 49ers||Trent Williams||Laken Tomlinson||Alex Mack||?||
- Fantasy managers know San Francisco is a revolving door for RBs but I think 2021 is the year that finally changes. IF Raheem Mostert can stay healthy, he clearly is deserving of 15+ touches per game and he’s shown he’s one of the most efficient backs in the game when given the opportunity. In the recent Kyle Juszcyzk interview on the show, he detailed Mostert’s ability and his forecast on him being a special fantasy player in 2021. Despite all the injuries and changes last year, San Francisco RBs totaled the 3rd MOST fantasy points in the league. That’s something worth investing in. Mostert is the RB29(!) off the board but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take your shot on him being a top-24 guy.
- The 49er offense predicates itself on motion. This isn’t only pre-snap but taking advantage of the flow of linebackers and safeties supporting in the run game to get wide-open looks for their receivers. Ross Dwelley is on the field a ton and so is the aforementioned Kyle Juszcyzk. If only they could find a QB in the draft who also could take the offense into the next stratosphere as a premium dual-threat prospect at Pick 3…
Seattle Seahawks: Quietly Improving
For years, Seattle’s offensive line was the weak point for a team that won with defense. While their smash-mouth running concepts have progressed from Marshawn Lynch to Thomas Rawls (remember him?) to now Chris Carson, the unit has slowly started to gain recognition as an upper-tier unit. The issue has always been pass-protection but they improved from 30th in 2019 to 20th in PFF’s grading for 2020. Last year Seattle’s offensive line was responsible for only 72.1 percent of the pressure allowed, which ranked Wilson tied for 25th with Patrick Mahomes among 26 eligible QBs. That’s a good thing folks. But Wilson’s play invites sacks as 14 of his x sacks were deemed “QB responsible”, tied for 2nd most in the league behind only Deshaun Watson.
While we likely can’t change that part of Wilson’s magic act as a QB, the management needs some love after piecing together this crew. Pocic (2nd round in 2017) and Lewis (3rd round in 2020) are the only players homegrown. Pocic was re-signed to a one-year deal but it’s possible he is replaced in the draft or another free-agent signing. Brown is a 14-year veteran who still is manning the left side with guile. After guard Mike Iupati retired, sending a 5th round pick for Jackson was almost a no-brainer. Jackson has played RG his whole career so it makes sense for Lewis to slide over to the left side next to Brown. Lewis did get called for 12 penalties and will need to shore up some of his pass protection issues but he’ll be an average starter. Shell excelled in his first year in Seattle looks like a steal at less than $3.5 million in 2021 entering 2022 as an unrestrictive free agent.
|Seattle Seahawks||Duane Brown||Damien Lewis||Ethan Pocic||Gabe Jackson*||Brandon Shell|
- With a league-low three draft picks, this looks like the unit Seattle will bring into the 2021 season. Depth is needed especially as Brown ages so expect Seattle to address this more in 2022.
- Mike mentioned Chris Carson as one of his favorite dynasty trade targets in the Dynasty Pass. He’s averaged 19 opportunities per game over the last three years although his playing style brings worry that he might get injured every time he’s out there. There isn’t a more solid RB2 for your fantasy roster especially with a guaranteed workload and an offensive line that is improving. I’m bullish on his projections for 2021 as his weekly floor remains one of the highest in the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bring Back The Kick-Ass Crew
The Bucs finished their storybook 2020 season in style… ON A BOAT! With the Lombardi trophy almost dropping to the bottom of the bay, we can almost forget how formidable this offensive line was down the stretch. In the Super Bowl, the plan was clear from center Ryan Jensen, “When Tom stays clean; he’s very dangerous,“. Imagine this: keeping Tom Brady upright works for your team. Brady led the league in Air Yards (5,539) at the age of 43 and you can’t accomplish that through guile alone. The offensive line allowed pressure on just 24.4 percent of his dropbacks, the 4th lowest in the league. It was Brady’s 2nd lowest sack rate (3.3%) of his 21 years in the league. His 36 completions on passes traveling 20+ yards downfield also led the league.
While Jensen was the media darling during the Super Bowl, Marpet has been a steady, under-the-radar guard for years who is just now getting the recognition he deserves. He was a top-5 guard in terms of run-blocking and key in a number of Ronald Jones II TDs. Wirfs was a homerun despite not many draft pundits connecting the Iowa OT to the Bucs at Pick 13. He had the highest PFF pass-blocking grade among rookie tackles although he was the 4th off the board. Smith is an Iron-Man missing only two games since being selected in the 2nd round in 2015. Tampa Bay rewarded him with a 2-year, $31.5 million extension in the offseason. Cappa didn’t allow a sack and is a workmanlike part of an elite unit. If there is one pause to bring up, it’s the fact this group benefitted from a tremendous bill of health in 2020 missing four combined games.
The @Buccaneers will bring back in 2021:
▫️All 22 Super Bowl starters (only team in the salary cap era to ever do that)
▫️Their top 16 snap-count leaders on offense
▫️Their top 21 snap-count leaders on defense
Unprecedented continuity after a Super Bowl W.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 28, 2021
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Donovan Smith||Ali Marpet||Ryan Jensen||Alex Cappa||Tristan Wirfs|
- I’m bullish on Chris Godwin‘s outlook for 2021 with another year connected with TB12. For a full Godwin discussion, listen to the Early WR Rankings: 11-20 episode. While Mike Evans certainly is a TD maker, he benefitted from an absurd TD rate (18+ percent) even for himself. I expect Godwin to come closer to his breakout 2019 campaign and a ceiling as a top-10 WR.
- I’m going to throw my hands up in the air with Tampa Bay’s RB room. Sorry, there is no simple solution for the 4-headed conundrum that is Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II., Giovani Bernard, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Regardless of how well someone is set up with Brady and this offensive line, I just don’t see a scenario where someone takes the reins like Playoff Lenny did apart from injury.
Washington Football Team: This Team Can Mash
Washington’s ascension as a 2020 playoff team (albeit with a losing record) has been written by the media as predominantly by their defensive front. While no one is arguing with the havoc rookie Chase Young and company unleashed alongside a shutdown secondary, the Washington offensive line was honestly the key to a lot of their success in spite of the revolving door of QB play. It’s a miracle that a season started by Dwayne Haskins, bridged to playoff time with Alex Smith, and finished by journeyman Taylor Heinecke somehow held things together.
The Football Team was a PFF darling last year coming in solid across the board as the only team in the entire NFL to have a 65+ grade for all 13 of their main team metrics. Beyond being rated as PFF’s 6th best offensive line unit, they kept their QBs upright even if there were a lot of cheap receptions to J.D. McKissic and Logan Thomas. Moses and Scherff are the big names here and rightfully so. But center Chase Rouiller had his best season as a pro starting every single game as a true difference-maker in the running game. Big Cornelius Lucas (6’9) was a major find after playing for four other teams. He didn’t start a game until Week 7 but only allowed four QB hits in over 400 snaps securing the left side. Washington also made a surprising move Tuesday:
The #Dolphins and Washington Football Team are in agreement on a trade to send guard Ereck Flowers to WFT in a deal involving a swap of late-round picks, sources say. The deal is being finalized. Frees up some money for Miami, while giving Washington an OL to compete to start.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 27, 2021
It’s surprising because Wes Schweitzer played every single snap at LG last year more than holding his own after coming over from Atlanta. Flowers is a former top-10 pick and has settled into serviceable territory on now his fifth(!) team.
|Washington Football Team||Cornelius Lucas||Ereck Flowers*||Chase Rouiller||Brandon Scherff||Morgan Moses|
- As discussed on the Early RB ranking Pt. 2 podcast, Antonio Gibson and his TD rate might be having a reckoning in 2021. Gibson saw the 6th highest percentage of six or fewer defenders in the box among RBs which is confusing considering McKissic was the clear passing back when he was in. Perhaps teams will adjust in 2021 but with 11 rushing TDs on fewer than 180 carries, he joined Gale Sayers (HOF), Marcus Allen (HOF), Herschel Walker, and Maurice Jones-Drew as the only rookies to accomplish that feat. Even his TD rate normalizes, he should see an uptick in workload mixed a passing game respectable enough to allow him to return RB1 value.
- I’ve spent more than my fair share of time thinking, talking, and writing about Ryan Fitzpatrick this year. But he goes from arguably the worst offensive line situation in Miami to one of the best in Washington from a pass-blocking perspective. He’s actually been lethal against the blitz last year and his numbers inside a clean pocket skyrocket to a 79.6 adjusted completion rate the last two years. While he is hard to go all-in on from a fantasy perspective, Fitz’s pension for hyper-targeted his WRs should give you confidence looking at Terry McLaurin as a top-15 WR in 2021. If you can’t get enough of our Hairy Chested Hero, check out 25 Ryan Fitzpatrick Facts to Make You Rethink Your Life.