By Jim Saranteas. With the 2017 season, free agent signing period about to begin, it’s time to rank last season’s top offensive lines. Highly overlooked, the five players that make up a team’s offensive line could well be the most important players on a team. Just ask players like Drew Brees or LeSean McCoy, players who depend on their offensive lines to keep them upright, open up valuable running lanes, or simply give them time to make a play, and they’ll exclaim to you it’s their offensive linemen.
In ranking the offensive lines, TheFantasyGreek.com considered seven factors and indicators. These included scoring and offensive production, both rushing and passing, and considered how well the offensive lines protected their quarterback. As to the former, the number of points scored and the number of yards produced are a team’s offensive bottom line. As to the latter, protecting the quarterback is king in a league whose passing game has overshadowed the running game and in a league whose road to the championship is paved with the league’s top guns.
Where some teams landed in the rankings will surprise some.
The Top 10
The first number in brackets indicates how far back the team was in score compared to the team ahead of it and the second number in brackets indicates how far back the team was in score compared to the number one overall team.
1. Saints (7-9)
The Saints offensive line hauled in the top score among the league’s 32 teams. While some would cry foul about the ranking given the Saints 7-9 finish, the Saints offense was number one or two in passing, number two in overall scoring, and scored the sixth most rushing touchdowns in the league. The Saints were even top five in their protection of quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints rushing attack ranked in the middle of all teams which is impressive when you consider that the Saints passed the football 42 times per game (second most) to rushing the football 25 times per game (nineteenth most). So, why did the Saints No. 2 offense not make the playoffs? Their defense was the second worst in the league giving up 28.4 points per game.
2. Patriots (14-2) 
The Patriots boasted the top overall offensive line through the playoffs, but missed the top grade for the regular season here by three points. The unit finished seventh or better in every category considered and tied the Saints for overall protection of their quarterbacks, three different ones that started this season, ending with Tom Brady. Plus, the unit anchored the offense with the greatest Super Bowl comeback in NFL history. Enough said.
3. Falcons (11-5)  
The Flacons were decidedly, by four and a half points, the number one scoring offense in 2016 and was top three in every offensive category but one, rush yards (fifth ranked). The Falcons overall score was dragged down because Matt Ryan was running for his life in 2016 having been sacked or hit 142 times, seventh most in the league. The offensive lines play seemed to improve in the playoffs so the unit should still be in line for a top finish in 2017.
4. Raiders (12-4)  
2016 saw the Raiders turn the corner from league laughing stock to league championship contender. The Raiders offense was ranked sixth, seventh, or eighth in all categories but one category, passing yards, where it finished thirteenth overall. Despite the fluke injury to Derek Carr, the Raiders offensive line was instrumental in the success of the Raiders offense because they were No. 1 in protecting their quarterback allowing the least number of quarterback smacks. This went a long way to the Raiders offensive line not just finishing top ten, but top five.
5. Cowboys (13-3)  
The Cowboys continue to maintain one of the best offensive lines in the league helping pave the way for epic rookie seasons for both running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. The passing game was the offenses “weakness,” ranked twenty-third in passing yards and fourteenth in passing touchdowns. But, the unit remained top five in their protection of Dak Prescott. Overall, the Cowboys were ranked fifth in scoring.
6. Steelers (11-5)  
The Steelers offensive line may have had its best season protecting Ben Roethlisberger ranked second overall in quarterback sacks and hits. The Steelers offense was a passing offense ranked top five in major passing categories while more middle of the road rushing due to running back Le’Veon Bell’s phenomenal season where he hauled in 616 yards receiving to 1,268 yards rushing. Ranked eleventh in scoring, the Steelers main difficulty was putting points on the board when it counted on the road.
7. Redskins (8-7-1)  
For a second consecutive season, the Redskins offensive line did a great job protecting Kirk Cousins, finishing tenth overall this season. The offense was top five in passing but struggled to punch many passes into the end-zone, choosing to rush them in instead. The Redskins struggled to rush the football which likely affected their ultimate record finish. With improvement on the defensive side of the ball and an even stronger running game, the Redskins could be a contender next season.
8. Packers (10-6)  
It’s no secret Aaron Rodgers put the Packers offense on his shoulders and carried the team deep into the playoffs in 2016. Rodgers led the league in regular season pass touchdowns which buoyed an offense saddled with a rushing offense ranked number twenty in yards and scores. Still, the offensive line did well despite being peppered with injuries throughout the season, while trying to open holes for their turnstile running backs.
9. Titans (9-7)  
For a second consecutive season, the Titans finished among the top five teams protecting their quarterback. With both a passing game and running game that came alive during the 2016 season, some might say the Titans not the Texans were the best team in the AFC South. Had the Titans defense done better than their sixteenth ranking for points allowed, this would likely have been the case. Expect the Titans to invest heavily in improving their defense this offseason.
10. Cardinals (7-8-1)  
A disappoint in 2016 after quite the run in 2015, the Cardinals offensive line was helped by an offense which finished sixth in scoring including third among all teams in rushing touchdowns. This didn’t mask the fact quarterback Carson Palmer was under siege as he was sacked and hit third most in the league. If the Cardinals could have done better, they would finished much better in the rankings and made the playoffs. The Cardinals will look to make improvement to their offensive line this offseason.
The ‘Best of the Rest’
Most of the teams that follow in this section will look to improve their offensive line this offseason. Whether it’s because they wish to improve their running game or better protect their quarterback, some aspect of each team’s offense was lacking. The Colts struggled mostly running the ball and protecting Andrew Luck. The Chiefs protected Alex Smith well but struggled overall in scoring very much middle of the road in both passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns.
11. Colts (8-8)  
12. Chargers (5-11)  
13. Bills (7-9) (6] 
14. Panthers (6-10)  
15. Bengals (6-9-1)  
16. Chiefs (12-4)  
17. Dolphins (10-6)  
18. Eagles (7-9)  
19. Seahawks (10-5-1)  
20. Bears (3-13)  
21. Ravens (8-8)  
22. Lions (9-7)  
23. Buccaneers (9-7)  
The ‘Bottom 10’
The remaining teams were deficient in almost every aspect of their offensive production and were among the worst protecting their quarterback save for the Jaguars, Jets, and Texans who were more towards the middle. Even the Texans, who some might say were hurt most by the below average play at the quarterback position by Brock Osweiler, couldn’t compensate through their running game which while ranked eighth overall in yardage was twenty-ninth overall in scoring.
The Giants, while finishing 11-5, did so because of their defense finished number two in points allowed. Expect the Giants and the other teams mentioned to improve their offensive line play in 2017.
The Browns and Rams offensive lines were just plain bad for several reasons. Both units are deserving of a complete overhaul this offseason with their defenses.
24. Forty-Niners (2-14)  
25. Giants (11-5)  
26. Jaguars (3-13)  
27. Broncos (9-7)  
28. Jets (5-11)  
29. Texans (9-7)  
30. Vikings (8-8)  
31. Browns (1-15)  
32. Rams (4-12)