Written by Bobby Greco
Anyone who knows me knows my heart lies with the “big uglies” across the offensive line. I have spent most of my life coaching O-Line and there is nothing more beautiful in the game of football than a cohesive unit, to where five men play as one. So with that being said, I am going to highlight the top five offensive line units in the NFL. I am getting my top five by ranking these lines in a few different areas, continuity, offensive success in 2019, accolades, and 2020 outlook. It’s important to look at all these areas because it is the only way to really see the big picture. For instance, Dallas is just outside the top five. Even though they have two All-Pro linemen, they have two new starters and their other remaining lineman struggled last year. With all that added up, Dallas falls just outside the top five. Now that we understand the big picture, let’s take a look and see what units stand out.
1. Indianapolis Colts, LT A. Castonzo LG Q. Nelson C R. Kelly RG M. Glowinski RT B. Smith: Indy has the best offensive line in the NFL and by a pretty good margin. They have the best lineman in the entire league in LG Quenton Nelson, Anthony Castonzo is returning to the team after a lengthy battle with injury and they are returning the rest of the starters. They also have a very good swing tackle in Le’Raven Clark that adds another able body to an already great line. Before the injury, Marlon Mack was one of the top rushers in the league and it looked like the Colts would be fighting for a playoff spot, unfortunately, they had many injuries across the skill positions. Coming into 2020 the Colts added much-needed depth across their whole offense, on top of that they signed quarterback Phil Rivers and will give him his best O-Line in a long time, if not ever. I think the continuity of the line, on top of the depth added puts Indy in the driver seat of the hotly contested AFC South.
2. New Orleans Saints, LT T. Armstead LG A. Peat C E. McCoy RG C. Ruiz RT R. Ramczyk: The Saints have a very talented offensive line and three of their starters are top tier linemen. I think they have one of the best tackle-guard duos in Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat. The areas that they lose points are McCoy and Ruiz are still inexperienced and their positions are not set in stone, so there are still a few questions that need to be answered. The Saints also struggled in the run game last season, so that will need to improve. That being said, they are the best team in pass protection. Another area of concern is depth, they don’t have the backups you want to see in an elite offensive line. The thing that keeps them as my number 2 line is the leadership and communication the Saints have, between the whole offensive line and Drew Brees at QB. It is really important that a line communicates effectively during a game and the Saints have great communication, which is also a big factor in the success of their pass pro. If McCoy and Ruiz play up to expectations, then NO could easily become the top O-Line in the NFL.
3. Buffalo Bills, LT D. Dawkins LG Q. Spain C M. Morse RG J. Feliciano RT C. Ford: It was a really close race between my third and fourth-ranked line units, but the continuity in Buffalo takes them over the edge for me. They are returning all five starters from last season, which is huge for a successful offense. If your guys up front know what each other is going to do on a play by play basis, it makes everything else in an offense flow that much smoother. As I mentioned before communication is the key factor in having a successful line and having all the same guys puts you ahead of the rest of the teams who are getting to know each other. That being said, you can’t be successful without personal ability and Buffalo does have some things to work on. They had some struggles in pass protection and RT Cody Ford was a rookie who had some growing pains. There were some times he looked overmatched, but he was only a rookie and he showed enough for me to say he can be a very good starter. If he takes the next step, Buffalo is going to be a very difficult team for defenses to overwhelm, though they do need to improve their pass pro. On the plus side, Dion Dawkins really came into his own last year, where he proved himself as a great LT and leader. Buffalo also has a lot of depth on the line, with one of the best swing tackles in the league in Ty Nsekhe and three other very experienced linemen as well. If all goes according to plan, the Bills should have one the dominant O-Lines in the NFL.
4. Tennessee Titans, LT T. Lewan LG R. Saffold III C B. Jones RG N. Davis RT I. Wilson: Tennessee could have easily been my 3rd ranked offensive line, but the right side is virtually brand new held them back. Nate Davis is coming into his second year as a pro and only became a starter midway through last season. Isaiah Wilson the first-round pick from this year should be the starter, but this is definitely not a certainty as the Titans also have Dennis Kelly still and he at least brings experience to the table. I think Wilson will be the better choice, but at the same time, it’s all going to depend on how quickly he can get acclimated to the NFL. The left side though is as strong as any offensive line in the entire league, as long as they stay on the field. These guys pride themselves on being nasty in the trenches and doing the dirty work, Taylor Lewan even calls himself the most disliked player in the league. Their nasty demeanor really paid off though, because they are now blocking for the NFL’s leading rusher. I even like that the Titans have a couple of viable backups if the need came around. I just don’t know if they will have as much success as last year, because losing Jack Conklin leaves a big void.
5. San Francisco 49ers, LT T. Williams LG L. Tomlinson C W. Richburg RG D. Brunskill RT M. McGlinchey: The 49ers are a very talented team, but I think it’s safe to say that a lot of their success started in the trenches. The only difference from last season is All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley retired, but the 49ers replaced him by trading for another All-Pro LT in Trent Williams. Now as great as that sounds, there is a bit of a question mark about what San Fran is getting in Williams as he has not played in over a year. Kyle Shanahan runs a run-heavy offense and needs a powerful and athletic line, that is exactly what he had last season to help lead them to a Super Bowl appearance. The interior of the offensive line isn’t the strongest, but they are very efficient at what they do. I think they have two legitimate backups and look for rookie 5th rounder Colton McKivitz, he has a good chance of making an impact or even push for a starting guard position.