The most important and most overlooked members of any football team are the guys in the trenches, the offensive line. These unsung heroes usually make the difference between a win and a loss, and their play is always crucial to the success of their team, no matter how good the surrounding cast is.
Some teams have great offensive lines, others dismal ones. So, here are the rankings for the offensive lines of every NFL team, from 32 all the way down to one.
All Stats regarding the NFL offensive lines courtesy of the NFL.
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Of all the teams on this list, St. Louis was by far the easiest one to rank. They allowed the most sacks in the NFL at 55 and were tied in hits on their QB at 114, an average of over seven a game. I don't care if you have Brett Favre back there, if you're getting hit that much, you're bound to get some type of injury.
If Sam Bradford is to remain healthy and have a successful third NFL season, it will, without a doubt, start with the big guys up front. Until they can show that they can consistently protect their QB, the Rams are bound to be the worst ranked O-Line in the league.
Kevin Kolb missed a large chunk of the season due to injury last year, and it's pretty clear why. The Cardinals offensive line was abysmal. They gave up 54 sacks, only one better than the Rams, in addition to eight QB hits.
The one bright spot was the running game. Arizona's line blocked much better on runs than passes, allowing them to average a solid 4.2 yards per rush, which put them in the top half of the league. They'll have to improve a lot in the off-season for this team to be able to have a quarterback to sling the ball to stud wideout Larry Fitzgerald and his new protege, Michael Floyd.
The Colts offensive line actually wasn't horrible last season, considering how poorly the team played. They only allowed 35 sacks and averaged 4.2 yards per rush, both very respectable numbers. So, why are they ranked so low in this list?
It's simple. They lost their long-time anchor and leader in Jeff Saturday to Green Bay, and they have numerous players coming off of injuries and a lack of depth. They have talent, but they'll have to prove it on the field before they can shoot up this list.
The Raiders offensive line had a good season last year, but they're currently undergoing some major changes, and it is unclear how they're going to shape up. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp loves to run the football, so the Raiders line is going to be the key to the team's success this year.
Darren McFadden is the best player on the team, and he was constantly hampered by injury last year and missed most of the season. It's not totally the offensive line's fault, but they must ensure that he can get out into the open field and not take clean hits in the backfield. The Raiders have talent, and if they can prove how good they are, they'll certainly be fine come the season.
The Bears have allowed more sacks over the past two seasons than any other team in the NFL. No wonder why Jay Cutler seems to always either have or be recovering from a concussion. So what did they do in the 2012 NFL draft? Not draft a single offensive lineman.
The Bears will be using the same five starters as last season, so seemingly, there isn't too much room for improvement. And with a QB who's head is as fragile as Cutler's, wouldn't you think the organization would be a little more concerned with protecting their franchise quarterback?
For a team that wins so consistently, especially at home, the falcons really lack quality at the offensive line. They surrendered 84 hits on QB Matt Ryan last season and were able to barely average 4.0 yards per carry. They'll have to play better if this team wants to take it to the next level in 2012.
On the bright side, GM Thomas Dmitroff realized the situation at hand, unlike a certain organization from Chicago, and spent his first three picks on offensive lineman to try and get better at protecting Matt Ryan. This is a quarterback league after all.
The Seattle Seahawks offensive line was horrifically bad last season, giving up 50 sacks and a whopping 114 hits to the QB. It's hard to win when your quarterback is afraid for his life every time he drops back to throw. They averaged only 4.0 yards per rush and will need to get those numbers up to win.
The departure of Robert Gallery to the Patriots certainly doesn't help their cause. However, many of their players dealt with injuries last season, and if they can get healthy, they could potentially put forth a good, consistent effort this upcoming season.
With the release of Marcus McNeill due to injury, and the retirement of Kris Dielman, the Chargers certainly have an uphill battle ahead of them this upcoming season. They are going to have to start two new guys at left guard and left tackle, and if they don't perform, it could be a disaster.
I think Jared Gaither will ultimately end up being a good starter at left tackle, and Nick Hardwick is very good as well. However, Jeromey Clary is a pretty awful starter for the Chargers, and he has a lot to prove coming into this season.
I may be placing the Redskins a bit higher than others, but I think that they are a capable group that is returning four starters. They allowed 108 hits to the QB last season, but with the elusiveness of the incoming RG3, those numbers will decrease significantly.
The Redskins had to deal with a significant amount of injuries last season, and if everyone can come back healthy this year, they'll be solid. Trent Williams will have to really step up for this team at the left tackle position, especially since he's protecting a rookie's blind side.
The Vikings offensive line underwhelmed last year to say the least. However, they return three starters, picked up Geoff Schwartz to fill in at RG and drafted future pro bowler Matt Kalil. With these two additions, I expect center John Sullivan to lead them to a respectable season.
I think Sullivan is the key to the Vikings o-line. If he plays well, everyone else will follow suit. He's been somewhat inconsistent over the course of his career, but I think he finally puts it all together this season.
All I have to say is that with the Broncos investing 90 million dollars into QB Peyton Manning, their offensive line better do everything they possibly can to protect him. Manning is coming off missing the first season of his career, and no one knows how he'll respond once he's hit hard and clean by a blitzing linebacker.
If all goes according to plan, the Broncos hope not to ever really have to find out. They're young and strong up front, and since they are returning four starters, it's likely they'll be even better than last year. They better be, for Manning's sake.
Miami has perhaps the best left tackle in the game in Jake Long. And Mike Pouncey is an excellent center who will hopefully step up as a leader this season. Their play will be critical as they'll likely have a rookie starting quarterback and the oft-injured and very fragile Reggie Bush to protect.
The wild card is the RG position. Artis Hicks will likely start at the position, and his play will be critical to whether Miami is able to succeed in the new zone-blocking scheme under new head coach Joe Philbin. Tune in to Hard Knocks on HBO to see how it unfolds.
I wanted to place the Jets higher on this list, because they do have a lot of talent in D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. However, Wayne Hunter is just awful at the RT position, and they only were able to average 3.8 yards per rush, the second worst in the entire league.
If Hunter is able to play at least at an average level, the Jets line will be alright. Hopefully they can get their rushing game going. If not, then they're in for another mediocre season, no matter how much Tim Tebow prays.
One great thing the Lions have going for them is that they have all five starters returning this year. That's almost always a positive, as chemistry is vital for any offensive line to be successful. The Lions have an old line though, with three starters 30 and over.
Age is always a concern, so it's hard to put the Lions higher on this list. The Lions pass more than anyone else, so they'll mostly have to pass block, which luckily is one of their strengths. They gave up 78 QB hits last season, but considering how much they throw, it's an acceptable number.
The Jags will return four starters next season and are expecting Eben Britton to return from injury and start at RT. Britton's return should help to anchor this offensive line and help take them to the next level in 2012.
Let's face it, Blaine Gabbert can use all the help he can get, so the play of the offensive line will be absolutely crucial. The Jaguars also need to open holes for MJD and need to keep him healthy for them to have any success.
The line of the San Francisco 49ers has an average weight of 322 pounds, owing to their style of power football. They rush more than anyone else and win games through controlling the clock and not turning the ball over. That formula almost took them to a Super Bowl last season, and it'll work again in 2012.
The 49ers have a good group of players who have developed solid chemistry. They are a scrappy group who rely more on power and strength than skill, but when you go 13-3 in the regular season, whatever works, well, works.
The Super Bowl Champion New York Giants come in right in the middle of the pack at 16th. While only allowing 28 sacks last season, placing them safely in the top 10 in the league, New York's rushing attack was absolute anemic at only 3.5 yards per rush. That's flat out pathetic, Lombardi trophy or not.
On the positive side, William Beatty has emerged as a very good player at left tackle and should continue to protect Eli Manning's blind side effectively. Veterans David Diehl and Chris Snee also should help to anchor a line that will be strong if they can remain injury free.
Tyron Smith and Doug Free will bookend this offensive line at the tackle positions, and if they can keep up their stellar play, the rest of the lineman only have to be average. The Cowboys did give up 50 sacks last season, which is way too high, and they'll have to curb that number this season.
If Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings can play well at the guard positions, we'll be looking at potentially a top five NFL offensive line. But at this point, there are still too many question marks to rank them any higher than 15.
In Joe Thomas, the Browns have at worst the No. 2 lineman in the NFL. The rest of the offensive line is good as well, and they really excel in run blocking. While they only averaged 3.7 yards per rush last season, that doesn't tell the whole story.
With Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden set to become starters, this line has a lot of pressure on their backs. Richardson has the potential to be an all-pro type player, and if Weeden gets the protection he needs, he can be a good NFL quarterback.
Assuming Drew Brees is their quarterback in 2012, the Saints offensive line will be charged with protecting a very valuable asset at QB. Jermon Bushrod is average at best on Brees's blind side, which could be cause for concern if his productivity dips at all.
New Orleans mostly pass blocks, which is good because they pass extremely well, but they also possess a terrific running attack with Darren Sproles. If they can run block a little better this upcoming season, they're a tremendously dangerous team.
The Steelers are anchored at Center by stud lineman Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey is one of the best in the game and should continue his stellar play. The line must play well, as Ben Roethlisberger is fragile and seems to almost always be dealing with an injury.
I really liked their pick of David DeCastro in the first round of the draft, as he really will fit right into the Steelers system. They also picked up Ohio State's Mike Adams, who should provide some flexibility and depth.
You might not know it, but the Bills were one of the best pass blocking teams last season, yielding a league low 23 sacks along with a low 69 QB hits. Ryan Fitzpatrick should have all the protection he needs again this season as the Bills have only gotten stronger up front.
Drafting Cordy Glenn should give them a solid starter at left tackle and at worst provides them with depth. And the return of veteran center Eric Wood will only help this team in 2012.
The Ravens line had a good year last season, and will look to improve going into 2012. They have two tackles, in Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie, who, if injury free and playing to their full potential, could be an elite tackle tandem.
If they continue to open holes for the rushing machine that is Ray Rice, this team will continue to have success. And if they protect Joe Flacco the way they did last year, they should once again make a Super Bowl run.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the best guards in the game in Carl Nicks. LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin should find success running behind him this year. If the rest of the line can step up, this could be a sleeper team this upcoming season.
The Bucs only gave up 32 sacks in 2011, putting them in the top 10 in the league. They should expect to return to the top 10 once again this year and could potentially be elite.
Had it not been for Jason Peters torn Achilles tendon in a freak off-season accident, this would be a top flight offensive line. However, with the loss of Peters, who I think is one of the best lineman in football, they fall to the eighth spot.
I don't think any offensive line is as important to protecting their QB as the Eagles are to Mike Vick. The entire team's success hinges on the health of their star quarterback, so Peters' replacement in Demetress Bell needs to step up and play well for the team to flourish.
The Titans sport a pair of the best tackles in the NFL in Michael Roos and David Stewart. They gave up the second least amount of sacks in the league at only 24 last year, so they are clearly elite when it comes to pass blocking.
However, on the running side of the ball, Chris Johnson struggled to find lanes at times last season, specifically when going up the middle. If Tennessee can tighten up their run blocking, they'll easily be a top five o-line.
The Texans line was excellent in 2011 and was perhaps the best run blocking team in the league, consistently clearing holes for Ben Tate and star RB Arian Foster, who seemed to carve up defenses up the middle week in and week out.
However, the right side of the line is gone, and that certainly leaves a big question mark for the Texans. But if they receive strong play from replacements Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, they'll be just fine.
The Panthers were statistically the best rushing team in the league, putting up an astonishing 5.4 yards per carry in 2011. This is in large part due to the strength of their front five who excelled in run blocking all season long. Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart all averaged over five YPC, which is simply amazing.
With Jeff Otah seemingly 100% healthy, I can't really pick out a weakness in this offensive line. They should continue to thrive and have another great season.
Much like Carolina, this offensive line doesn't really have any perceived weaknesses heading into the upcoming season. They lost their two guards, but they should be fine with Travelle Wharton and Kevin Zeitler to replace them.
Cincinnati only allowed 25 sacks last year, and they'll probably put up a similar number this year. Andre Smith is beginning to emerge as an excellent blocking right tackle. If he can continue to improve, he could be a pro-bowler this year.
The Chiefs are going to be running the ball as much as anyone this upcoming season, and their line should hold up just fine under the pressure. They return four starters, and new starter, Rodney Hudson, should play very well for Kansas City this year.
If they can improve on anything, it's their pass blocking. They gave up 34 sacks, which is about average, and they'll need to keep Matt Cassel healthy this year, as it's been proven that Tyler Palko isn't an adequate substitute QB.
The Patriots have long had one of the best offensive lines in the league, and that shouldn't change going into this season. Dan Connolly will be strong as ever up front and will lead the attack for the Pats. Matt Light has retired, but Nate Solder should be an adequate replacement at LT.
One thing that worries me is that Logan Mankins tore his ACL at the end of last season and is currently penciled in for the start of the season. If he can't go or has a setback, Robert Gallery will have to come in and step up for the Patriots.
We've finally arrived at the number one offensive line in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are returning four starters, with the lone addition being longtime Colt Jeff Saturday. Saturday is a proven leader and should anchor the line for the Super Bowl favorites in 2012.
The one area they can improve on is run blocking, since the Packers weren't exactly a great team on the ground last year, but with Aaron Rodgers at QB, who needs to run?
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