NFL

Ranking the NFL Offensive Lines: Who’s Elite

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The backbone of every offense is the offensive line. The running backs, wide receivers, tight end and quarterbacks get the majority of the credit for moving the ball and scoring touchdowns, but none of that what would be possible without diligent effort and effective play from the offensive line as a whole.

Unlike other positions and units, the offensive line has to work together as a whole. If one offensive lineman is not in sync with the others, it will lead to the whole unit failing on any given play. Playing on the offensive line is not for the unintelligent as you have to recognize and understand a variety of looks, blitzes and stunt from defenses.

Furthermore, not only does an offensive lineman have to be extremely intelligent, they must also be incredibly strong and deceptively athletic. Also, an offensive lineman has little room for error from a technique standpoint. On almost every pay, an offensive lineman will line up against a player who is much more athletic then them and it some cases just as strong. Therefore, if they are extremely technical, they will get beaten repeatedly by opposing defensive linemen.

When a team has a great offensive line, it makes everything they do on offense easier. The quarterback has more time to find his receivers and the running backs have bigger holes to run through. It isn’t impossible to have a good offense with a below-average offensive line, but it makes things a lot more difficult.

Without further ado, let’s rank all 32 offensive lines in the NFL and see how it shakes out.

We looked at the worst units in the NFL in our first volumethe below-average units in our second volumethe slightly below-average units in our third volume, the average units in our fourth volume and the above-average units in our fifth volume and the great units in our sixth volume, now we’re moving on to those that are a step above the rest.

4. Cleveland Browns

Best Player: Joe Thomas

Player Who Needs To Improve: Mitchell Schwartz

 

The Cleveland Browns have arguably the best offensive lineman in the league with Joe Thomas. He is the most technically sound lineman in the NFL and he always makes it look easy. Thomas is the type of player that can single-handidly make an offensive line at least average. He automatically improves the play of the guard next to him and he will take out whatever player lines up in front of him.

Next to Thomas, the Browns have one of the best young guards in the game with Joel Bitonio. He burst onto the scene last year as he played at an All-Pro level despite being just a rookie. Thomas and Bitonio are one of the best tackle and guard combinations in the NFL.

Two underrated players on the Browns’ offensive line is Alex Mack and John Greco. Both players are very good players who could be the best offensive lineman on numerous teams. The fact that Mitchell Schwartz is the worst player on the Browns offensive line shows how good it really is.

3. Green Bay Packers

Best Player: Josh Sitton

Player Who Needs To Improve: David Bakhtiari

 

Aaron Rodgers gets all of the credit for the Green Bay Packers’ offensive prowess, but they have an elite offensive line as well. The Packers may have the best interior offensive line in football with Josh Sitton, Corey Lindsey and T.J. Lang.

Sitton and Lang are two of the best guards in the league as they are equally as good in pass protection as they are in the run game. Lindsey is a very good young center with a great future ahead of him. Byran Bulaga may be a better fit as a guard, but he is tough and technically sound, which allows him to get the job done on a consistent basis.

The one player who needs to improve is David Bakhtiari, but he is still young and extremely talented. If he can take the next step, the Packers could have the best offensive line in football. The Packers have to be excited with the plethora of young talent on their offensive line, which should allow them to be great for a long time. 

2. Baltimore Ravens

Best Player: Marshal Yanda

Player Who Needs To Improve: Eugene Monroe

If Joe Thomas isn’t the best offensive lineman in the NFL, then it is definitely Marshal Yanda. He is consistently a dominant player who has the position flexibility to play guard or tackle. He can block in any scheme and carry out any assignment.

On the other side of the offensive line, the Ravens have another elite guard in Kelechi Osemele. He isn’t on the same level as Yanda, no one is, but he is a top-five guard in the NFL. His ability to get to the second level is what really makes him a special player.

Ricky Wagner and Jeremy Zuttah are both really solid offensive lineman and they play at high level on almost every snap. The only reason the Ravens aren’t number one is because Eugene Monroe played at a subpar level for a lot of last year. If he is just above average, the Ravens have a shot at being the best offensive line in the NFL.

1. Dallas Cowboys

Best Player: Tyron Smith

Player Who Needs To Improve: Ronald Leary

Contrary to popular opinion, the Cowboys offensive line wasn’t a truly dominant unit last year. They were fantastic in the running game, but they had their struggles in pass protection. However, the reason they are No. 1 on this list is because they improved from last year.

Tyron Smith is the most physically gifted offensive tackle in the NFL as he uses his athleticism and strength make up for some of his lapses in technique. Zack Martin is the best young guard in the league and he should only get better. Travis Frederick is a top-three center in the NFL and he still has room to improve in pass protection.

Doug Free is the forgotten man on the offensive line, but he is a really good right tackle who is solid in pass protection and a road-grader in the run game. If La’el Collins is the first-round talent that everyone says, he should be able to beat out Ronald Leary for the left guard spot in training camp. Leary isn’t a bad player, but he is easily the weakest link on the Cowboys offensive line

The Cowboys offensive line has the potential to have five very good starters on the offensive line with no real weaknesses and for that reason they are the best offensive line in the NFL.

 


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com