I can spare you the accompanying blather about how important offensive lines are for a football team. Unless you stumbled upon this list by some quirk of the search engine, you have a pretty good idea about the essential, thankless task performed by the five hulking beasts in front of the quarterback.
For this list, SB Nation's NFL bloggers lent a hand, providing some insight into their team's offensive line. The rankings are purely my own, so direct comments, hateful emails and misguided tweets at me.
Aaron Rodgers is one of those quarterbacks that makes his line look way better, particularly in the case of Marshall Newhouse who should improve in his third year. If he does not, they have Derek Sherrod, a first-round pick in 2011, waiting in the wings. The interior line is second to none. Jeff Saturday was a smart way to replace Scott Wells, even at his advanced age.
From Pats Pulpit:
The consistency starts with coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has been with the Patriots for 28 years, and is undoubtedly one of the best offensive line coaches the game has ever seen. If Logan Mankins is healthy and Brian Waters returns as expected, the Patriots interior offensive line, when including center Dan Connolly (or possibly Dan Koppen) is one of the strongest football has to offer. The bottom line: the Patriots recent run of success has been directly correlated to the offensive line's ability to keep Tom Brady upright.
Andre Smith ate up all of our fat jokes from the 2009 draft, using them to become a solid right tackle. Andrew Whitworth is one of the more underrated left tackles in the league, allowing just 20 total pressures last year according to Pro Football Focus. The addition of guard Kevin Zeitler shores up the unit's biggest weakness from the year before.
No Carl Nicks, no problem. The Saints managed to find the cap space to add Ben Grubbs to a tough middle line. One reason they can afford to pay Drew Brees $40 million this year is because he allows them to skate by with a left tackle like Jermon Bushrod.
From Arrowhead Pride:
The Chiefs had arguably the biggest position upgrade in the NFL this season when they went Barry Richardson to Eric Winston at right tackle. That was clearly the Chiefs weak spot and they shored it up in a big way. Combined with Branden Albert, who is solid but not great, they're one of the better offensive tackle tandems in the NFL.
This is one you probably did not expect to be this high on the list, but it might be the best run blocking group in the league. Cam Newton was only sacked 35 times, and that should drop as he gets more experience. Rookie Amini Silatolu fixes the guard spot.
Left tackle Duane Brown and center Chris Meyers anchor this group. Had it not been for the loss of both Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel, the entire right side of the line, Houston would probably be on top of this list. Antoine Caldwell has looked fine in limited play. The big question mark is the battle between Rashad Butler and Derek Newton to replace Winston.
From Baltimore Beatdown:
The Baltimore Ravens offensive line will roll out in 2012 a veteran group, but the depth behind them is filled with untested rookies. Across the o-line you have veterans Bryant McKinnie (LT), Bobbie Williams (LG), Matt Birk (C), Marshal Yanda (RG) and Michael Oher (RT). Oher is actually the "baby" among the starters, entering his fourth NFL season. If the rookies need to be pressed into play, that's when questions about the o-line's abilities will be start.
Losing Jason Peters was a huge blow. Grabbing Demetrius Bell helps to fill his shoes, but Bell comes with injury concerns of his own. Evan Mathis looked elite last year, his first in Philly. Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins make for solid, young foundation in the middle.
10. Tennessee Titans
The Titans have a very good offensive line, except for one weakness. Music City Miracles sums it up:
Eugene Amano sucks. That is all.
11. Buffalo Bills
From Buffalo Rumblings:
The Bills have not been as athletically gifted at tackle in recent seasons -- preferring sheer size over athleticism -- but they hope they now have both traits in rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn. In Glenn and right tackle Erik Pears, Buffalo has two massive edge pass protectors that are aided by Chan Gailey's timing-based passing attack, which gets the ball out of Ryan Fitzpatrick's hands quickly. The Bills are likely to rank among the league's best offensive lines again in 2012 in terms of sacks allowed, a category that they paced a year ago.
Marcus Gilbert suffered the normal ups and downs of a rookie tackle, but overall the results were positive enough to think that he stays on the positive side of the ledger throughout his second season. Gilbert looks like the favorite to start at left tackle this year. Of course, the real story here is the addition of David DeCastro, a first-round pick with all the makings of an elite interior lineman. If Mike Adams can overcome pre-draft questions about his passion for the game, the Steelers will have a very good front five.
13. Cleveland Browns
For all the eye rolling Cleveland's front office can induce, they do have the makings for a very good offensive line. Let tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack are elite players. Rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz should upgrade that spot. The biggest question with this team is at guard, but Jason Pinkston and Shaun Lauvao are both young enough to still put things together. Depth is an issue when Rams' castoff John Greco is next in line at guard.
From Bucs Nation:
With the signing of Carl Nicks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers completed the most expensive offensive line in the NFL. The team has committed a massive $168 million in contracts to its five starters. Carl Nicks is the highest-paid interior lineman in the NFL, while the combination of Nicks, Zuttah, and Joseph represent the highest-paid interior line in the league. The Bucs hope to use all of that money to fund a massive ground attack, but they haven't been able to create a dominant power-running game so far.
15. Detroit Lions
The Lions' starting five does an extraordinary job of pass blocking. Of course, a talented quarterback helps make any unit look good. Rookie Riley Reiff improves run blocking on the right side, which is something the unit did not do well in 2011. At any point, this unit could explode like a bad tire on an otherwise fine automobile, given the age of some starters. With Reiff and Gosder Cherilus a backup, they have some insurance for the 35-year-old Jeff Backus. Replacing Dominic Raiola, 33, will be a priority for next season.
16. New York Giants
New York's Super Bowl win is even more amazing when you think about the fact that David Diehl was playing left tackle down the stretch, including the playoffs. Diehl likely moves to guard with William Beatty's return. Injuries have been a constant for the Giants' offensive line over the last two seasons, and dipping into their depth players certainly did not seem to undermine the team last season.
17. New York Jets
Somebody get Wayne Hunter out of there. According to Pro Football Focus, no tackle allowed more quarterback hits and only two allowed more sacks than Hunter. Now think about Hunter's counterpart on the left side, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, one of the best tackles in the game. New York boasts another topflight offensive lineman in center Nick Mangold.
18. Oakland Raiders
From Silver and Black Pride:
The only sure returning starter at his previous position on the Raiders offensive line is left tackle Jared Veldheer. The third year tackle is shaping up to be one of the best in the NFL. Stefen Wisniewski, who played left guard last season as a rookie, will make the shift to center. Stepping into the right guard spot will be free agent acquisition, Mike Brisiel. He comes over from the Texans and is also known for his solid work in the zone blocking scheme. Hoping to break into the starting lineup is Joseph Barksdale. He offers some nice competition with Khalif Barnes at right tackle spot.
From Niners Nation:
The biggest concern for the 49ers o-line the last two years has been the right side. RT Anthony Davis has shown improvement but has struggled with consistency, in part because he hasn't had a consistent right guard next to him. The 49ers moved 6'8 backup tackle Alex Boone to right guard this offseason and are hoping he can solidify the spot. There are concerns about his height impeding his work at guard, so 49ers fans will be keeping a close eye on him.
20. Dallas Cowboys
Doug Free belongs on the right side, so moving Tyron Smith to the left tackle will be a net gain for Dallas. The problem here is in the middle. Free agent guard Nate Livings is mediocre at best. Paired with center Phil Costa, you wonder how DeMarco Murray will fare this season.
They really need a healthy Eben Britton in 2012, after being forced to play Guy Whimper (yep, real name) last year. Brad Meester has been a starter here since his rookie season, 2000, and playing center since 2003. He turned 35 in March. How many more seasons can they get out of him?
Eugene Monroe started to look the part in his third season. That's not all he looked like, according to Big Cat Country:
Eugene Monroe looks like an action figure ... He-Man ... maybe a bit like Man-At-Arms
22. Denver Broncos
Denver needed to upgrade its offensive line, and they did that by signing Peyton Manning. Going from Jeff Saturday to J.D. Walton as his center should be an adjustment for Manning. Playing for a pass-first offense should benefit Ryan Clady after a down season last year.
23. Miami Dolphins
From The Phinsider:
The difference between last year's line and this year's line should be night and day. The left side should be improved with a healthy Jake Long, but it's the right side that killed the team last year. This year, the Dolphins have decided to actually play a right tackle, having let Marc "Turnstile" Colombo return to Dallas to retire. Now, with Jonathan Martin in the spot and the shift to a zone blocking scheme, the Dolphins' line should take a step forward in 2012
24. Seattle Seahawks
From Field Gulls:
The Seahawks offensive line took a while to gel last season ... The team returns anchor Russell Okung and veteran Max Unger at center. At guard, it will be an interesting battle between Paul McQuistan, Deuce Lutui, John Moffitt for the two spots, and also possibly in the picture will be the Seahawks' first round pick from 2011, James Carpenter, if he can return to form in time after tearing up his knee mid-season last year. At right tackle, Breno Giacomini is the presumptive starter but will be backed up by veterans in Frank Omiyale and Alex Barron, assuming they both make the roster.
Not only did the Vikings do the right thing and select USC tackle Matt Kalil, they even managed to convince the Browns to switch spots in the process. Kalil will probably experience in the normal ups and downs of a rookie tackle, but he improves the pass protection from day one. The loss of Steve Hutchinson will be felt in the running game.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Paul Boudreau had a knack for hiding weaknesses and coaching up late-round picks and undrafted players, but he left for St. Louis. Left tackle Sam Baker is the weak link and the only first-round pick among the starters. Peter Konz, a second-round pick out of Wisconsin, will start the season at guard, but should take over at his natural position, center, the year after this one.
From Hogs Haven:
This line can be top 15 if A LOT of 'ifs' happen: If Trent Williams stays off the Mary Jane, if Jammal Brown is MUCH healthier, if Kory Lichtensteiger has recovered from his knee injury. The backups actually played well last year in their absence, so not all is lost.
From Bolts From The Blue:
The left tackle was released, the left guard retired after some serious concussion issues, right guard has never played in all 16 games in three seasons. In San Diego, the offensive line is filled with a lot of ifs and has lost a lot of talent. There's potential for them to be good, but not great. There's just as much potential for them to be awful.
29. Chicago Bears
That Jay Culter can still walk after last season is a minor miracle, with the deadly combination of Mike Martz' silly insistence on getting his passers killed and a leaky offensive line. The Bears have hopes pinned on a full season of health from Gabe Carimi in his second year. J'Marcus Webb has been one of the league's worst left tackles, allowing 24 sacks over the last two seasons.
Levi Brown allowed 11 sacks last year; Levi Brown is Arizona's highest paid offensive lineman. Lyle Sendlein, the center, is probably the best player of the bunch. The Cardinals need rookie Bobbie Massie to give them a better option than they currently have on the right side.
31. St. Louis Rams
The Rams helped Sam Bradford by signing free agent center Scott Wells to take over for Jason Brown, who had mostly been a lump of wet paper towels in the middle of the line. Harvey Dahl is a good fit on Wells' right side. Tackles are the biggest issue here. More short drops and quick passes and better coaching will help hide the limitations of left tackle Rodger Saffold. The second pick in the 2009 draft, right tackle Jason Smith has mostly been a reminder of why the league needed a new rookie wage scale.
Asked to perform a thankless task last season, rookie Anthony Castonzo did yeoman's work. Injuries set back his season, but he showed real progress toward the end. Winston Justice has Andrew Luck's other side. He is one of three free agents likely to start this year.