Everybody in Philadelphia loves and completely agrees with Pro Football Focus about offensive line play, right? Especially Lane Johnson, right?! No? Well, neither do I, but it’s not to say that I always disagree with them either. This is a case where I’ll proudly stand with PFF analyst and The Bachelor contestant Mike Renner by applauding his take.
Renner was tasked with ranking all thirty-two offensive lines in the NFL for the upcoming and seemingly forever-away 2018 NFL Season. Before we get to the top dog, there are a couple things to touch on. Remember that the Eagles are one of only five teams returning their whole line next season. Also remember that there are smart minds out there that believe Lane Johnson was the best tackle in the league in 2017. With that in mind, let’s get to how the NFC East stacked up in these projections.
25. NEW YORK GIANTS
The Nate Solder addition upgrades the left tackle spot from Ereck Flowers, but that’s not saying much. Intellectually poor media personalities like Colin Cowherd believe Solder to be in the “elite” stratosphere, but that’s never been true. Solder was a middle-of-the-pack starter last year and Flowers is still starting on the other side so expect plenty of quick throws from Eli Manning. Will Hernandez adds a much needed physical presence but still needs to live up to the hype as a rookie. Judging from the fight he’s had with Damon “Snacks” Harrison already, he’s at the very least going to be fun to watch.
Will Hernandez the athlete is evident all over his film pic.twitter.com/zjnBlV1a78— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) April 21, 2018
Center Jon Halapio and right guard Patrick Omameh will work in conjunction to act as a theme park entrance. Overall, depth is a serious issue on a line that’s starting three traffic cones and a rookie. 25th seems about right for this unit, if not a little high. The Giants play the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1. So, that should be fun. Good luck, Saquon.
This unit ranked 30th in Adjusted Games Lost by Football Outsiders, meaning they were hurt real, real bad in 2017. Assuming they stay healthy, Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff are top tier players at their position, right tackle Morgan Moses is solid enough, while the rest is a mixed bag.
In week 14 of last season, Trent Williams put on a show vs. the Chargers in pass-protection, shutting down Bosa, Ingram, and McCain. This was also the last game of his season before being shut down with a knee injury. #Silverback: pic.twitter.com/SW5FHenflG— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) June 23, 2018
Just getting everybody back healthy is enough to boost this line into the mid-tier range. Still, I’d probably place them behind the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, but now we’re just splitting hairs. Either way, if Trent Williams goes down again, abandon all hope.
The Cowboys line struggled to recapture their dominance of 2016 after having to replace 1,800 snaps and with Tyron Smith dealing with multiple injuries. Back injuries are tough for big men, and fulfilling this lofty ranking likely depends on Smith’s sustained health. Rookie Connor Williams likely starts at left guard. If he’s at least serviceable, the trio of him, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin could be put up against anybody.
Tyron Smith. #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/lc2alkg0kk— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) December 1, 2017
La’el Collins had a rocky start to the season and overall finished poorly, but there were flashes of him becoming a solid right tackle. Development is not linear, so his season is worth tracking. Just like with the Redskins, their performance as a whole is determined by Smith staying healthy. The difference between the two of them is the middle of the Cowboys line has two Pro Bowlers to keep things from being too much of a mess… maybe.
Here’s where the real debate begins and it comes with another caveat. Jason Peters is assumed healthy in Renner’s rankings, as he notes.
“There is a little projection here as we’re assuming [Peters] will return to form… If he does though, the Eagles bring back the league’s best tackle tandem along with a top-five center in Jason Kelce and top-10 guard in Brandon Brooks.”
There’s no question that Peters and Johnson are the best duo in the league and if everyone is healthy, this is the most complete line of known quantities. The Eagles won’t struggle through a guard-by-committee approach at left guard as Stefen Wisniewski has taken that job outright. Reconfigurations are often painful at first and this means more consistency, which typically a positive for offensive lines.
If Peters does go down for any length of time (knock on wood) Halapoulivaati Vaitai would have to answer the call again. Vaitai is a polarizing player among Eagles fans, but for as much flak some give him (including me), he’s a young, capable spot starter in a pinch. Even if they Eagles have to scheme around him, the ability to step in right away and be serviceable has value in a league starving for pass protectors.
Kelce plays with such great pad level, leverage, and a strong base. Recovers nicely here to sustain Brown’s counter and secure a passing lane pic.twitter.com/d3Fa2PG0D4— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) February 6, 2018
The only team outside of the NFC East that’s in serious contention would be the Atlanta Falcons, who Renner ranked third. The addition of Brandon Fusco at guard makes a very good unit a potentially special one.
This is a long way to go to say, yes, I believe Renner is close enough with his rankings of the rest of the NFC East and spot on by putting the Eagles at the top. I’ll even give him credit for not letting Lane Johnson’s recent criticism of PFF play a role in these rankings. Better chemistry and elite talent will power the Eagles offense throughout the season and the pancake stacks can’t come soon enough.