8. Cincinnati Bengals (13)
PB – 2nd, RB – 22nd, PEN – 10th
Stud: What a year from Andre Smith (+26.9). Our top-graded right tackle was the only player on this unit to consistently generate movement in the run game, while (Brandon Graham beating aside) holding his own in pass protection.
Dud: Whoever played center. That’s a little unfair to Trevor Robinson (-1.8) who looked the best of a bad bunch, with Jeff Faine (-13.0) completely done, and Kyle Cook (-5.0) far from his best.
Summary: If not for how bad things were at center then you’re realistically looking at a Top 5 line. The big problem is they’re far better on their heels than they are going forward, and outside of Smith don’t do a good enough job of creating space for their running backs.
7. Detroit Lions (10)
PB – 4th, RB – 13th, PEN – 10th
Stud: That was the best we’ve seen Gosder Cherilus (+26.3) look, but, like the line in general, a lot of that came courtesy of not giving up much in pass protection, as opposed to mauling guys in the run game.
Dud: The run blocking from Stephen Peterman (-8.4) was as good as anyone on the team, but it’s inexcusable for a guard in that passing attack to get beat for 45 quarterback disruptions.
Summary: They work well with their quarterback to ensure he’s largely given enough time to make plays in the pocket. They don’t work quite so well with their running backs. They’re far from terrible, and got a boost when Riley Reiff was in on the play, but, with the guys they have behind them, they need to do more.
6. New Orleans Saints (1)
PB – 8th, RB – 7th, PEN – 4th
Stud: He may be the least well known player on the line, but it’s about time people started to recognize how much of a find Brian De La Puente (+23.0) has been for the Saints.
Dud: While he got better as the year went on, 58 combined sacks, hits and hurries are far too many from Jermon Bushrod (+1.5). Some good work in the run game ensured he ended with a positive grade, but you need your left tackle to pass block better.
Summary: The often unheralded part of the Saints’ success, the line didn’t get as good play from their tackles as they might have expected, but they got by without Carl Nicks just fine. That owed a lot to Ben Grubbs stepping up. A fine line that looks set for years to come.
5. Cleveland Browns (14)
PB – 3rd, RB – 11th, PEN – 25th
Stud: In the upcoming weeks or so we’re going to do a piece on how often (per second) Joe Thomas (+25.6) gives up pressure compared to the rest of the league. It’s stunning how shutdown he is. Now, if only his run blocking matched up to his work in the pass game.
Dud: You can get by with players like Shawn Lauvao (-7.3) when the rest of your line is so good.
Summary: It’s not the done thing to give praise to Cleveland. That said, their line is extremely talented and when they were forced to introduce John Greco into the lineup they got even better. The stars are Thomas and Alex Mack, but the play of rookie Mitchell Schwartz bodes well for this line for a long time to come.
4. Denver Broncos (30)
PB – 1st, RB – 16th, PEN – 17th
Stud: You think Ryan Clady (+27.0) liked blocking for Peyton Manning? He responded with a career year that is going to make him an even richer man.
Dud: Though he graded positively for the year, you’d likely want to see more push in the run game from Manny Ramirez (+3.0).
Summary: They had a job to do, and boy did they do it. Protecting their quarterback was their priority and in that regard they did exactly what was required. It started with the tackles, who were excellent in this regard, and not one player on the line ended with a negative grade in pass protection. The downside is they failed to consistently impose themselves in the run game, and this is a big area for improvement.
3. New York Jets (12)
PB – 7th, RB – 3rd, PEN – 3rd
Stud: There were plenty of contenders here, but given some of the guys he kept in check, credit to D’Brickashaw Ferguson (+23.5) for a fine year.
Dud: The run blocking of Matt Slauson (+2.5) left a lot to be desired.
Summary: Everybody wants to poke fun at the Jets, and for some reason the offensive line got caught in the crossfire. It wasn’t quite its dominant self in the early weeks of the season, but they finishing playing as well as any team. Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore played angry, while Austin Howard found his feet as an NFL tackle. Still, a line can only do so much to put skill players in position to do good things, and in that regard the Jets are sorely lacking.
2. New England Patriots (3)
PB – 16th, RB – 2nd, PEN – 2nd
Stud: If not for a spell where injury took him off the field and then slowed him down while on it, it’s fair to say Sebastian Vollmer (+21.5) would have been our top ranked right tackle. He was that good.
Dud: The streaky Dan Connolly (+3.4) had more good than bad moments, but there were still too many negatives for him to get away scot free.
Summary: Incredibly talented, incredibly deep. The tackles make you breathe easy, and the interior can really overpower a team. Even when Logan Mankins went down there was no dropoff, with the play of Donald Thomas actually proving somewhat more consistent. Stunning, I know.
1. San Francisco 49ers (20)
PB – 10th, RB – 1st, PEN – 19th
Stud: Generally speaking, tackles don’t block like Joe Staley(+40.4). He’s better in pass protection than people will give him credit for (a shame for him that nearly a third of the pressure he allowed ended up as sacks), but it’s his run blocking that sets him apart from the rest.
Dud: There isn’t one. The worst you can say is that Jonathan Goodwin is a Top 10 center, whereas the rest of the guys are Top 3 at their positions.
Summary: Phenomenal. A near flawless collection of linemen. Most teams would kill for any one of the guys the 49ers put out, yet they have five of them. The introduction of Alex Boone provided a huge boost, with Anthony Davis upping his game with better play next to them. They’re a young unit by offensive line standards and look set to dominate for a long time.