- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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Everyone notices when the stars have big games. But remember that every big rushing, passing or receiving game was set up by an offensive line opening huge holes or giving a QB time to throw.
So which team has the best offensive line in the league? Scouts Inc. breaks them down Nos. 1 through 32.
1. Cleveland Browns
While most NFL teams have about four linemen who are truly starting caliber, the Browns have seven or eight. Not only are they deep, but they arguably have the best left side in the NFL with LG Eric Steinbach and LT Joe Thomas. Entering his second season, Thomas is talented enough to potentially be recognized as the best lineman in the game before the end of the 2008 season. He is a great athlete, has ideal size (6-foot-6, 313 pounds) and the passion to bury his opponent. As a rookie, he wasn't overwhelmed by the speed and size of the game at this level, and now he's had an entire offseason to properly prepare. At 6-6, Steinbach is tall for a guard and lacks ideal bulk, but he is very quick, smart and athletic. He consistently gets under the pads of his opponents, works hard to finish and is tremendous in space. The rest of the group isn't too shabby and made QB Derek Anderson look exceptional last year. The pass protection is impeccable. Ryan Tucker will miss time to start the season, but Cleveland shouldn't miss a beat in his absence. Center Hank Fraley is a tough guy in the middle of the line and does a fine job making the line calls. After a great season in 2007, this group will be even better in 2008.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Adding 6-6, 366-pound Leonard Davis to an already stable offensive line was a great move that paid off in a big way last year. A bit of a washout at tackle, Davis proved to be an exceptional guard, and the Cowboys ran behind him when they needed a tough yard. Center Andre Gurode doesn't get the credit he deserves as one of the best pivotmen in the game today. Getting to QB Tony Romo is very difficult against a group that not only pass protects well, but also holds its own as run-blockers. LT Flozell Adams had his best season, but he signed a new contract in the offseason and will need to keep his intensity up after the big payday. RT Marc Colombo is the weakest link among the starters and could be pushed for playing time if he doesn't play better in training camp. Still, this is a tough group that's coached by Hudson Houch, who is one of the best line coaches in the league and has a knack for getting the most out of his players.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Everyone on the planet knew that Minnesota was going to run the football last year, and what did they do? They ran it as well as anyone in the league, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The lack of a passing game cannot be attributed to the Vikings' front five, but this unit is better at run blocking than pass protection. There simply isn't a better offensive lineman in the game than Steve Hutchinson, and his presence on this unit cannot be overstated. The rest of the crew is very solid, but Hutchinson is a superstar. Keep an eye on Bryant McKinnie's legal situation, though, as the Vikes do not have another left tackle to fall back on. McKinnie is more inconsistent than many realize, but playing next to Hutchinson can mask some problems. It is also conceivable that the right side of the line played over its head last year and could come back to earth, but the tandem of RG Anthony Herrera and RT Ryan Cook does have great size and some nastiness.
4. New England Patriots
How do you think Tom Brady was able to stand in the pocket all day and wait for his fantastic receivers to get open? This line is terrific. Last year New England only allowed 21 sacks, even though Brady threw it nearly 600 times. The line's ability to pass block was obvious, but for some reason, the Patriots' ability to open holes in the run game went under the radar. With all the star power on New England's offense, Logan Mankins is easy to forget, but he is one of the top guards in the league. There are some concerns about this group, however. Guard Stephen Neal is coming off shoulder surgery, OT Nick Kaczur -- the weakest link among the starters -- is dealing with off-the-field issues and the last game this group played was not its finest. While OT Matt Light had a good season and is a very good player, pure speed-rushers give him all that he can handle. But for all these problems, this group still had three Pro Bowl representatives last year and is one of the best out there.
5. Indianapolis Colts
Howard Mudd is among the best line coaches in the NFL, and his group of linemen consistently plays at a high level year after year. The Colts put a premium on left tackle and require an exceptional athlete to protect Peyton Manning's blind side, but they otherwise get by with intelligent, hard-working, fundamentally sound grinders who play very well within the system. The group is well-conditioned and handles assignments effectively. LT Tony Ugoh should be noticeably better in his second season. Center Jeff Saturday keeps it all together, and as evidenced by Indianapolis drafting three centers in this past draft, the organization fears for life after Saturday. Saturday is tough, technically sound and excels at handling the line calls in conjunction with Manning. The Colts lost Jake Scott, but he will probably be replaced by rookie Mike Pollak, who is also slated to be Saturday's heir some day. Charlie Johnson could factor in at guard or as a valuable sixth man. It's no secret that this group does a great job of keeping Manning clean in the pocket, but it is also proficient in the run game, executing Indianapolis' zone-stretch scheme. At the same time, it should not be overlooked that the many weapons on the Colts' roster and Manning's uncanny pocket presence help to make this line's job a little easier.
6. San Diego Chargers
This group struggled to start the 2007 season without C Nick Hardwick in the lineup. Unfortunately for San Diego, it will start the 2008 season without Hardwick, who is coming off foot surgery. However, this is a very good group overall. LT Marcus McNeill started slowly last season, but rebounded quickly. At 6-foot-7, 336 pounds, he has tremendous size, long arms and good athletic ability. McNeill and LG Kris Dielman make up one of the best left sides in the league, and this duo can be dominant at times. There are some concerns on the right side, however, as RG Mike Goff is starting to slow down with age and RT Jeromey Clary, who was a pleasant surprise last year, still needs to further prove himself. This group is better at pass blocking than run blocking, and the Chargers might look to throw more next season.
7. New York Giants
Chris Snee is the best player on this offensive line, but overall, it isn't a group loaded with big names. However, these guys produce as a unit and are well-coached, tough and reliable. An above-average pass-blocking group, it is simply an exceptional run-blocking line and paved the way for New York's backs to average a whopping 4.6 yards per carry in 2007. With the ability to consistently gain chunks of yardage on the ground, perhaps the Giants' Super Bowl run shouldn't have been all that surprising. Many felt that David Diehl was a guard playing out of position at left tackle and that speed rushers would have their way with him. Diehl proved his doubters wrong and did an admirable job of protecting Eli Manning's blind side on the edge. The depth here isn't ideal, but this is a line that can be counted on.
8. Green Bay Packers
The Packers have a solid but underrated set of starting tackles in Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton. Both players are smart, tough and highly effective. They also seem to play their best against top competition. On the interior, the Packers are young and deep -- qualities that will lead to excellent overall competition for playing time. At 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, Scott Wells isn't real big, but he is one of the better centers in the league and an exceptional technician. The interior is also athletic, fitting well with the Packers' zone-blocking principles. There may not have been a better pass-blocking line in the league last year, and this group got better in the run game as the season progressed. There should be very little drop-off in 2008.
9. New Orleans Saints
The Saints allowed a measly 16 sacks last year despite Drew Brees' 652 pass attempts. Brees, who is exceptional at feeling the rush and getting the ball out quickly, deserves some of the credit, but obviously, his protection was exceptional as well. However, the Saints didn't do nearly as good a job opening holes for the running backs, who averaged just 3.7 yards per rush. This stark contrast obviously puts a ton of pressure on Brees and the Saints' passing game, but that group has stepped up quite well. Still, to be an elite offense, New Orleans is going to have to run the ball with more consistency. Jammal Brown is one of the top left tackles in the league, but the Saints lost Jeff Faine to division rival Tampa Bay. Jonathan Goodwin, who is bigger and more powerful at the point of attack, will take over at center, but overall, this is a downgrade, and Faine's nasty edge and leadership will be missed. Keep an eye on underrated RG Jahri Evans. He has a chance to develop into one of the best guards in the game today.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
Guard Shawn Andrews and tackle Jon Runyan make up one of the best right sides in the league, and the Eagles can count on them to move their opponent in short yardage and crucial situations. Runyan, who played much of last season with a cracked tailbone, is as tough as they come, and Andrews is versatile enough to kick out to tackle if needed. This is a much better run blocking than pass blocking group, but some of those issues can be attributed to Donovan McNabb's immobility early last season as he nursed his ailing knee. The Eagles' tackles also are getting up in age and not as quick out of their stances as they once were. Still, this is a mauling line that can move bodies, and although it is against his DNA, coach Andy Reid would be wise to incorporate more power running into this offense, which is notorious for throwing the ball. There is some healthy competitiveness and position versatility within this group as well, but there is not a true left tackle of the future. An injury to LT William Thomas could be a major problem.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars
This is a big, physical line that obviously did a great job of opening running lanes for Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Jacksonville was second in the league in rushing (behind Minnesota) and averaged 149.4 yards per game. That should continue this season; this is the type of unit that can simply wear down a defense. Jacksonville's offensive line also was quite effective in pass protection, although it is not the most nimble or athletic group. QB David Garrard deserves some credit for getting the ball out quickly, and the Jaguars' effectiveness running the ball often slowed down their opponent's pass rush, but don't discount the job their big uglies did. Even though the Jags parted ways with OG Chris Naeole, there is continuity here, and the Jaguars return the starting unit they used much of last year. Depth is a bit of a concern, and their ability to succeed if they sustain an injury or two is in question. C Brad Meester is a very good player, but the drop-off with him out of the lineup is substantial and he has struggled to stay healthy. The tackle depth is particularly alarming. Still, LG Vince Manuwai is one of the most physical blockers in the league and a name you should know, and LT Khalif Barnes is talented but must avoid off-the-field issues and become more consistent on game day.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Do not be surprised if the Buccaneers have the best interior offensive line in the league by season's end. Guards Arron Sears and Davin Joseph, matched with newly acquired Jeff Faine, are going to pay huge dividends, particularly in the run game. Faine is a very good leader who excels at getting to the second level to cut off linebackers. The Bucs already had one of the best run blocking lines in the league even before signing Faine. Joseph is a superstar in the making, while Sears started every game during his rookie season and has a fine blend of aggression, size and agility. However, pass blocking is a problem area, and the Bucs' offensive tackles are less than ideal athletes. Perimeter heat will give the tackles trouble, but this is a line that plays the game with nastiness and an edge Jon Gruden loves. Donald Penn came out of nowhere, and while he needs to get stronger and add some weight, he already is a pretty good pass-blocker. There also is very good depth here and a fine blend of youth and experience. Offensive line has been a major priority in recent drafts, and Tampa Bay is beginning to reap the rewards of its efforts.
13. New York Jets
The Jets' offensive line was awful last year, but to their credit, they were extremely aggressive in upgrading this group. They signed Pro Bowler Alan Faneca to play left guard, but his influence on former first-rounders C Nick Mangold and LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson is as important as his play on the field. The Jets are banking on Faneca's professional approach to the game being contagious. Ferguson, in particular, needs to step up his game, and he remains light for an offensive tackle at this level (they may list him at 312 pounds, but the only way he weighs that much is if he has a 20-pound weight in his pocket). In a more curious move, New York also inked Damien Woody to big money to play right tackle, which was a major problem area. While Woody is very talented and did shine at right tackle in a short stint last season, he is better suited to work on the interior. Woody always could bump inside if he can't handle the edge protection, but there isn't another suitable offensive tackle to make this move feasible. Woody, at 325 pounds, also must keep his weight in check. The interior of New York's offensive line looks like a team strength now with Faneca, Mangold and Brandon Moore from left to right. Moore is very reliable and steady. Faneca and Woody both are on the wrong side of 30 years old, but that can be looked at two ways. They could be declining, but this line needs some veteran experience. The addition of Bill Callahan to coach the line cannot be overlooked, as he has an impressive track record. The real worries here are the play at both tackle spots and overall depth. This group, however, features four former first-round picks and will be much better than last year.
14. Cincinnati Bengals
Many found it very curious when the Bengals put the franchise tag on Stacy Andrews, but they shouldn't have. As offensive linemen go, Andrews is a puppy who started playing the game very late in life. He is simply dripping with physical ability, though, and could become an elite right tackle or guard in this league. Andrews will get more consistent as he settles in at a position -- probably right tackle -- and gets more game experience. The rest of this line could be good as well, but they were a major disappointment in the run blocking department last season. Much of that was due to injuries, particularly to tackles Levi Jones and Willie Anderson. Both players are stalwarts who had down seasons as they struggled to stay healthy with knee injuries. Andrew Whitworth and Bobbie Williams are massive guards who play the game with attitude and ruggedness, but they are not overly nimble or athletic. Whitworth also can play tackle. The center position is a weak spot as Eric Ghiaciuc is heady but undersized. While Cincinnati struggled opening holes for its running backs, it was awfully good in pass protection last year. There is no reason why it should digress with its protection, and there is some potential to really improve the running game. Don't be surprised if this group ranks noticeably higher one year from now.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Russ Grimm is one of the very best offensive line coaches in the league, and it showed last year, his first season in the desert. After years of offensive line woes, the Cardinals' front five was efficient in the passing game. As a whole, the run blocking still needs work, but Grimm should make progress in that area this season and has some talented big men to work with and mold. The Cardinals also lack a big-play running threat, which didn't help. RT Levi Brown, a No. 1 pick a year ago, had some ups and downs as a starter while battling an ankle injury, but there is a lot of potential there. The same can be said for RG Deuce Lutui, a wide body with good athletic ability and much upside. The right side of this line soon could be dominant. LT Mike Gandy isn't the prototype for the position, but he is durable and fundamentally sound, while LG Reggie Wells is a jack of all trades. Even with immobile quarterbacks behind center and a pass-heavy attack, this line allowed only 24 sacks last season. Every starter returns to this line, which steadily improved as last season went along. That continuity could be key for their success this season.
16. Denver Broncos
The Broncos are well known for the zone scheme they have run so well for so long under Mike Shanahan. They look for mobile, tenacious blockers over mauling, heavy-footed big men. Despite being riddled with injuries in 2007, Denver's line paved the way for its running backs to average a very impressive 4.6 yards per carry. The pass protection wasn't as impressive, but the Broncos added LT Ryan Clady in the first round of the draft to protect Jay Cutler's blind side. Clady will have his growing pains like any other rookie lineman, but he is extremely athletic and has the great, long build coaches look for at this position. He has a chance to become an excellent left tackle. Maybe more importantly, C Tom Nalen will return to lead the line, but age and durability certainly are concerns with him. There is some versatility with the other positions on the line, which gives Shanahan some nice flexibility while creating competition for playing time. Pile-mover Montrae Holland is set at right guard, but left guard and right tackle will be decided in camp. Expect this group to be improved this upcoming season, particularly in pass protection.
17. Tennessee Titans
This is a physical group that does a nice job of making room in Tennessee's power running attack. The pass protection was middle of the road, but overall, Tennessee's front five put together an impressive campaign in 2007. Michael Roos quickly is developing into an upper-tier left tackle with good strength and technique. Kevin Mawae still ranks among the better centers in the league, but age will catch up to the 37-year-old at some point. Benji Olson retired, Jacob Bell now is playing in St. Louis and Jake Scott Eugene Amano and Leroy Harris will compete for the starting left guard position. None of these guards are especially overwhelming, but each brings some desirable traits to the table. RT David Stewart is a big body the Titans like to run behind, but he needs help in pass protection, especially against upfield speed rushers. With the exception of the anchoring Mawae, this still is a pretty young group, and each player has room for improvement.
18. Miami Dolphins
Obviously, the new powers in charge are putting a lot of emphasis on rebuilding the offensive line. This is a great strategy, and the Dolphins' line should be much better this season. Jake Long, the No. 1 overall selection in April's draft, might not be a left tackle prospect like Tony Boselli or Orlando Pace, but he is a nasty run-blocker with great size and technique. He should be very solid on the left side, and his addition allows Miami to move Vernon Carey to right tackle, a much better fit for his skill set. They could rank among the top tackle pairs in the league within the next few years. As the clock struck midnight on the opening of free agency, Miami locked up Justin Smiley as its starting left guard. Smiley needs to stay healthy but should fill a tremendous void between Long and up-and-coming second-year center Samson Satele. Satele should be a fixture in the middle for years to come, which leaves right guard as the only real question mark. Overall depth also is a concern, but this unit has come a long way in a short period of time. It also should not be overlooked that Miami's front five of a year ago did an admirable job of run blocking, particularly when Ronnie Brown was toting the rock. It should be even better this year. There will be growing pains, but the foundation certainly is in place up front.
19. Houston Texans
This notoriously awful offensive line is showing signs of moving toward respectability. The hiring of line guru Alex Gibbs should get more out of this line than anyone dreamt in recent seasons -- particularly its run blocking. The Texans might have reached a bit in using a first-round selection on Duane Brown. Brown might take time to reach his potential, but his athletic ability can't be questioned. His acclimation to the NFL will have a lot to do with how effective this line is in 2008. Ephraim Salaam is the incumbent at left tackle, but his protection skills are suspect. Eric Winston doesn't get a lot of publicity, but he is a good right tackle and should only get better with time and Gibbs' tutelage. Houston traded for Chris Myers from Denver -- a logical trading partner, considering the similarities in schemes -- and he will start at center. LG Chester Pitts is adequate and moves well with a solid combination of size and agility. Charles Spencer is a wild card in this mix. Once looked upon as the left tackle of the future, Spencer now could add a real presence to the group of guards if he finally recovers from a career-threatening knee injury. Depth here is better than in recent memory, which doesn't say much, but there are some young, unheralded interior linemen who are pushing for playing time. This group did a fine job in pass protection last season but really struggled to open holes in the running game. Expect the run blocking to catch up in 2008 with Gibbs in charge. Whoever is toting the rock for Houston will reap the benefits.
20. Carolina Panthers
There should be a new starter at every position on the line, and Carolina could be vastly improved in 2008. Part of the improvement will come from better play up front, but part of it will come from the much-needed skill position players the Panthers added to put more stress on opposing defenses. The Panthers were very aggressive in moving up to select massive OT Jeff Otah in the first round, and he is exactly the pile mover this team needs for its power running game. The only problem with that move is it forces Jordan Gross, Carolina's franchise player, from the right side to the left. While he should do fine on the left side, he was an exceptional right tackle and more comfortable on that side of the line. Ryan Kalil fell into the Panthers' lap in the draft, and he will have the opportunity to be the full-time center. Expect him to thrive in this role. Travelle Wharton moves from left tackle to left guard, where he should be much more effective. Milford Brown, Toniu Fonoti and Keydrick Vincent were brought in to compete for the starting right guard spot. The one thing these players have in common is simply massive size. It is clear that a premium was placed on adding huge players who can engulf their opponents in a straight ahead, no-frills scheme, and these new additions are better equipped to do that than Mike Wahle and Justin Hartwig, who were released as the Panthers made room for the new additions and brought in the new attitude of this front five.
21. Buffalo Bills
Jason Peters is the rock of the Bills' offensive line and ranks among the elite left tackles in the NFL. At 6-4, 340, he has tremendous size and rare agility with a natural knee bend you just don't see from such a large person. What is amazing is that Peters was a tight end in college and could continue to get better. He makes everyone around him much more effective. Presently, he is unhappy with his contract, and the Bills would be foolish not to get him locked up for the long term. Buffalo signed LG Derrick Dockery to big money before last year, and he teamed with Peters to make up a formidable, massive left side of the line. The other three starters are not in Peters and Dockery's class, and while C Melvin Fowler is intelligent and a very good leader, he can be overwhelmed at the point of attack and struggles against big two-gapping defensive tackles. The Bills are a run-heavy offense, but their line is more effective in pass protection. New offensive coordinator Turk Schonert vows to throw the ball more this year, and that seems like a logical decision as QB Trent Edwards continues to mature.
22. St. Louis Rams
While the Rams' battered line was bad last year, it does have a chance to be significantly better this season. There are some "ifs" involved, but if Orlando Pace can stay healthy, Alex Barron can go back to right tackle, a spot to which he is better suited and in which he can excel if he takes his job more seriously. Newly signed Jacob Bell will take over at left guard, and the combination of Richie Incognito, Brett Romberg, Mark Setterstrom and rookies John Greco and Roy Schuening will battle for the other two spots. Incognito has had a tumultuous career, but he is very talented, has a nasty streak a mile long and could excel at either guard or center. Romberg and Setterstrom have starting experience and can hold their own if surrounded with solid linemates. Greco and Schuening are NFL-ready as far as rookies go. Schuening is a pure pile-moving guard, while Greco is a tackle who could compete with the underachieving Barron but might be better off inside. Discussing last year is fruitless after the ridiculous run of injuries this unit sustained, but new offensive coordinator Al Saunders wants to stress a power running game with Steven Jackson as his workhorse. Even if Pace isn't the same player he was before the injury, chances are he still will be better than most of the left tackles in this league. Few linemen have his natural gifts. It must be noted that Pace has played only nine games over the past two seasons. Almost any way you cut it, though, this line will be far better than it was a year ago.
23. Washington Redskins
The Redskins neither excelled nor faltered with run or pass blocking in 2007. They were without one of their better linemen, RT Jon Jansen, who missed the entire season after dislocating his ankle. A pure right tackle who probably is declining after a rough series of injuries, Jansen is tough, experienced and the type of lineman to run behind in short yardage situations. He will be welcomed back with open arms, although Stephon Heyer filled in quite well and looks to have a place in this league. On the opposite side, Chris Samuels still is playing at a high level, particularly as a blind side pass-protector who faces some elite edge pass-rushers in the NFC East. Both guards, Randy Thomas and Pete Kendall, have battled injuries, and as with this entire line, age is an issue. Thomas has played only one full season out of the past four, and Kendall has a chronic knee problem. Outside of Heyer, there isn't a lot of depth here, but rookie Chad Rinehart could become a versatile backup as he acclimates to this level. This line really struggled in its playoff loss in Seattle but now will be switching to an offensive scheme much like the one the Seahawks play under Jim Zorn. Teaching old dogs new tricks isn't always a smooth transition, and there could be bumps in the road for the Redskins.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
This is a unit that came under heavy scrutiny in 2007. Some of the problems were brought on by Ben Roethlisberger's penchant for holding the football an especially long time in an effort to make a play downfield, but the line certainly was not without its share of the blame. And with Alan Faneca now in New York, there isn't a Pro Bowl caliber player in this group. Still, Pittsburgh did add more firepower in the offseason, which could force more defenses to play coverage, which in turn would make the line's job easier in protection. The weakest link of the group last year, C Sean Mahan, probably will be replaced by the bigger and more physical Justin Hartwig, who is a better fit for this team. This is a king-sized offensive line, and it has the ability to move the line of scrimmage in its favor (the Steelers averaged 135 yards per game on the ground last season). There will be changes from last year, and the coaching staff is in its second season and accordingly can better assess what it has, but this certainly is not a group that is on par with the Steelers' O-lines of old. It isn't all that far fetched to say Pittsburgh has a legitimate concern with each and every spot on its offensive line. Even its best lineman, LT Marvel Smith, is coming off back problems. But it also would not be a major shock if this unit played much better in 2008, with the whole being worth more than the sum of the individual parts.
25. Baltimore Ravens
With Jonathan Ogden out of the picture, Baltimore's offensive tackle situation is rather cloudy. Adam Terry is 6-8, 330 pounds and can play on either side, but he isn't the mauler the Ravens want for the right side or the elite athlete they want for the left. Second-year player Jared Gaither is a left tackle-caliber athlete and an impressive specimen, but he is very light on experience and remains a work in progress. Marshal Yanda played well at right tackle in his rookie season but is better suited inside at guard. Someone out of this group will have to step up, particularly on the left side. While the Ravens' tackle position is foggy right now, the interior is very strong. Ben Grubbs and Jason Brown are exactly what coaches look for inside, and both soon could contend for Pro Bowl honors. Brown also can play center and might end up there full time this year. Yanda could factor in at guard, and while the athletic Chris Chester shows promise at center, he could be the odd man out. Rookie Oniel Cousins also could factor in at guard, or more likely at right tackle, but his transition to the NFL will not be an easy one. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wants to implement more three wide receiver packages, which will put more stress on the Ravens' set of offensive tackles. Pass protection was a major concern a year ago; however this is a young line that should progress as the season goes along.
26. Seattle Seahawks
This group is not what it once was, but Seattle hired a new line coach, Mike Solari, and signed an established left guard, Mike Wahle, to play next to Walter Jones. Seattle is hoping Wahle and Jones can combine to form a left side similar to the one they once had with Jones and Steve Hutchinson, but that seems far fetched considering Jones' age and Wahle's recent struggles. Wahle is a very good athlete, though, and it is way too early to write him off. Jones remains a force at left tackle and is a future Hall of Famer, but he isn't the utter dominator he once was, which can be attributed mostly to his chronic shoulder issues. C Chris Spencer also is coming off shoulder surgery, and while he is a talented young player, this injury is as concerning as his ability to consistently make the correct line calls. RT Sean Locklear regressed a bit last season but had an impressive 2006 campaign. Rob Sims should factor in at right guard and looks to be an improving, physical player. The 6-6, 315-pound Ray Willis can be a guard/right tackle swingman and the sixth lineman on game day. This is a group that must get more physical and finish with more regularity. It didn't do a particularly good job in pass protection and really struggled in the run game in 2007. It is hard to imagine these players not improving in 2008, but it is surprising the Seahawks didn't draft an offensive lineman in April. That could come back to haunt them down the line.
27. Chicago Bears
The Bears' blockers took a step backward from 2006 -- their Super Bowl season -- to 2007. The Bears averaged 3.1 yards a carry -- 3.1 -- and that was down nearly a yard from 2006. Needless to say, that was completely unacceptable, as were the 43 sacks allowed. Yes, there were injuries, and the quarterback, wide receiver and running back play were far from stellar, but it all starts up front. Clearly, the Bears recognized this, since they selected Chris Williams in the first round to hold down the left tackle spot for the foreseeable future. Assuming Williams works out -- and there are some questions about his toughness -- the Bears will be better because veteran John Tait clearly is better off on the right side. The Bears want to play old-school, smashmouth football, and while Williams might not be a good fit, he is an immediate athletic upgrade at the most important spot on the line. Surprisingly, C Olin Kreutz also took a step backward last year. Kreutz has been among the best and toughest pivots in the game and needs to return to form. Chicago needs the Kreutz of old and its overall guard play is pretty ordinary, but RG Roberto Garza is a steady performer. This group four players with the potential to be very solid and could be noticeably improved, but it could just as easily perform at a poor level similar to the one at which it performed in 2007.
28. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers' line will have a new look to it in 2008, as second-year OT Joe Staley is switching from the right side -- where he performed admirably -- to the left -- where he can best help the team with his impressive skill set. Future Hall of Fame G Larry Allen appears to be retiring, and his power will be missed. There are some talented players here, though, and San Francisco has made a concerted effort to bring in young line talent with its high draft choices. A combination of Jonas Jennings, David Baas, Eric Heitmann, Adam Snyder and rookie Chilo Rachal will fill the other four starting line spots. Several of these players have position flexibility, and Rachal, a guard at USC, is going to give it a go at right tackle. If that move pays off, San Francisco should be set at tackle for years to come. While this sounds reasonably promising, it cannot be forgotten that the Niners allowed 55 sacks last year and new offensive coordinator Mike Martz is not one to keep extra blockers in for added protection. The run blocking wasn't much better. Jennings and Baas have battled injuries for a large portion of their time in San Francisco, and continuity has been a major problem overall.
29. Oakland Raiders
This isn't the most talented line around and it really lacks star power, but it adapted extremely well to its zone blocking scheme in 2007 and consistently opened holes for the running backs. Line coach Tom Cable deserves kudos for his effort with sub-standard talent. It was a different story in pass protection, though, and this group often was physically outmanned while trying to keep its quarterback upright. This doesn't bode well for JaMarcus Russell, who is a huge target in the pocket and not the most fleet of foot. Russell also needs work on his pocket presence and feel for the pass rush. The Raiders did add Kwame Harris to start at left tackle. While Harris has not yet lived up to being a first-round pick, a change of scenery might do him a world of good. He often makes the game look easy but too often fails to come through. His inconsistencies are maddening. Speaking of underachieving tackles, Robert Gallery clearly fits that description, but he actually is an above-average guard and finally found his niche. Shockingly, the Raiders did not address their offensive line in the draft, and depth is a legitimate concern. While this group showed progress last year, it also wouldn't be surprising if the wheels fell off in 2008.
30. Detroit Lions
Coach Rod Marinelli wants the Lions' offense to be a smashmouth group that can pound a defense into submission. This is why Mike Martz is no longer the offensive coordinator and why Gosder Cherilus was the Lions' first-round selection. Under new coordinator Jim Colletto, the Lions will move toward a zone blocking scheme. Cherilus is 6-7, 315 pounds, has very long arms and has massive hands. He is best on the right side and should start immediately. Jeff Backus is an ordinary starting left tackle, but his effort and technique are impressive, and he gets everything he can out of his average talents. Backus and Cherilus could make up a solid set of tackles, but Backus needs to play better this season. C Dominic Raiola is the best player on the line, and few fans know just how effective he is. The guards are a concern, though. While Raiola is a good player, there isn't any star power on the line, and the depth and position versatility are questionable. The guards are bigger, heavy-footed linemen who don't fit the mold of the new scheme. This group has a lot to prove -- don't lose sight of the fact that it allowed a whopping 54 sacks last year.
31. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have selected an offensive lineman high in the draft two years in a row. Last year, it was Justin Blalock, who had an up-and-down rookie campaign at left guard and simply didn't move bodies in the run game like the Falcons expected. He is very intelligent and could play right tackle as well, but he should stick to guard. This year Atlanta traded back into Round 1 to select Sam Baker to grow up with QB Matt Ryan and be Ryan's blind side protector. Baker played very well at USC, but he lacks ideal size and power and was a bit of reach at No. 21 overall. But after Atlanta's offensive tackles were decimated by injuries last season, he obviously was needed. RT Todd Weiner, RG Kynan Forney and C Todd McClure will round out the rest of the starting line. This isn't an exceptional threesome by any means, and Baker and Blalock surely will experience growing pains as they continue to adapt to the speed and power of the NFL. Weiner is coming off a serious knee injury, and Forney played below his standards in 2007. McClure is tough and rugged, but he isn't a difference-maker in the middle. He clearly needs better play around him. Much like everything for the Falcons, it is going to take time before their offensive line realistically can compete at a high level. And now, the line has to adjust to yet another scheme change. The Falcons want to utilize big back Michael Turner to pound defenses with a power rushing attack, and that isn't going to be easy with the present group of players in charge of paving the way. Ryan also is going to get hit often. Hopefully it won't leave David Carr-like mental scars on the third overall selection.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
Many commended the Chiefs for their selection of Branden Albert with the first-round pick they received in the Jared Allen deal. This isn't meant to condemn that selection one bit, since Albert will fit in somewhere on this line and should help out once he returns from a training camp foot injury, but it is amazing that Kansas City didn't bring in more young O-line talent besides Albert in this past draft. Instead, the Chiefs made luxury selections to back up their present offensive stars. The thing to remember is those offensive stars can't realize their potential if the big boys up front are not doing their jobs, and asking an inexperienced quarterback to develop into a legitimate starter without adequate blocking is foolish. This is an offensive line that is going to really struggle to do its job in 2008. There just isn't much talent here, and at this point, the aging Brian Waters is the only lineman who can be considered an above-average football player at this level. If Albert can make it at left tackle, Damion McIntosh should be adequate at right tackle. He doesn't belong on the left side, where he played last year. Optimistically, that adds up to three acceptable starters, but obviously, more are needed.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
For every big day a QB or RB has, an O-line was busy making it possible. So who has the best line in the league? Scouts Inc. ranks them Nos. 1 through 32.