Super Bowl 55 highlighted just how important a good offensive line is when it comes to winning it all in the NFL. As we head into the 2021 NFL season, who are the best offensive lines in the league, and which units sit near the bottom of our rankings and could struggle when the action begins in September?
These rankings were produced based on a statistical analysis of the projected starting unit using data from Sports Info Solutions.
Offensive Line Rankings: 21-32
Which offensive line groups rank in the bottom 12 in 2021?
32) Pittsburgh Steelers
There is ample uncertainty surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line in 2021. A unit that has been among the best in the NFL in the past decade is in flux in 2021.
Chukwuma Okorafor was a solid option at right tackle but appears set to slide over to left tackle, where he will need time to settle. Kevin Dotson started just four games as a rookie in 2020 but could start at left guard in 2021. Zach Banner is penciled in at right tackle, having started just two games in his career. Kendrick Green could start as a rookie at center, replacing Maurkice Pouncey after his 10-year career.
The only known quantity on this line was right guard David DeCastro, but the Steelers released him on June 24. Suddenly, there is even more uncertainty on this line as all of the names that have made it a strong unit are now gone. The options to replace DeCastro at right guard are not going to be a major improvement. On the surface, this unit looks like a league-average group at best, and with an aging quarterback behind them, this could quickly turn into a complete disaster.
31) Carolina Panthers
When we look back at the 2021 NFL Draft in the coming years, the Carolina Panthers not addressing their offensive line could easily stand out as one of the more questionable decisions. While they retained Taylor Moton on the franchise tag at right tackle, Cameron Erving is set to start at left tackle. Erving’s 1.7% run stuff rate is among the bottom 10 for players who played more than 100 snaps in 2020.
An interior grouping of Matt Paradis, Pat Elflein, and John Miller does not give the line a huge boost. Paradis struggled in the run game with 14 blown blocks, tied for the third most. Meanwhile, Elflein’s blown block rate of 4% placed him as the seventh-worst interior offensive lineman in 2020.
30) Atlanta Falcons
Considering the talent in terms of draft capital on the Atlanta Falcons offensive line, the results so far have been poor. Kaleb McGary needs to improve, having tied for the seventh-worst in terms of blown blocks (34) at the tackle position. Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews both had solid seasons in 2020, but neither produced the elite returns you would expect from a first-round offensive lineman.
The biggest issue for the Falcons comes at their left guard and center pairing. The departure of Alex Mack and James Carpenter leaves Matt Hennessy potentially partnering with Matt Gono. Hennessy had a 4.5% blown block rate in pass protection, while Gono was over 7%, largely playing at right tackle. Josh Andrews could improve that left guard position if he can beat out the rest of the Falcons’ OL depth chart.
29) Houston Texans
The fact that the Houston Texans are even close to the bottom of this list with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle says a lot about how poorly they have built their offensive line. Tunsil is one of the best OTs in the league who anchors the left side nicely, along with Max Scharping at guard. However, to the right of them is a handful of players who appear to be major concerns.
The additions of Justin Britt and Marcus Cannon have the potential to improve this line considerably in 2021. However, neither played in 2020, so both could need time to adjust back to the speed of the NFL. Having two such players next to each other at center and right guard could present a weakness for teams to exploit.
Tytus Howard is expected to start at right tackle, and he had issues both in terms of blown blocks and penalties in 2020. If the Cannon-Britt combination is slow to acclimate back to the league, that right side of the line could be heavily pressured early in the season.
28) New York Giants
The New York Giants invested heavily in their offense in the past offseason, but their offensive line is a glaring concern. Andrew Thomas struggled in pass protection as a rookie, with his 6.5% blown block rate ranking second among offensive linemen to play at least 200 snaps. Having started 15 games as a rookie, there is certainly the potential for improvement, but that improvement needs to be massive and immediate.
At right tackle, Matt Peart played just 150 snaps as a rookie. If he starts, there could be growing pains on that side of the line. Nate Solder does not present a huge upgrade on his return, leading all offensive linemen in blown pass blocks (40) in 2019.
On the interior of the OL, Nick Gates and Zach Fulton are solid options at right guard and center. Both performed well in 2020 and should be a more than competent pairing. If Will Hernandez wins the left guard role and can stay healthy, that creates a solid interior group. The concern grows if Shane Lemieux wins the job — he struggled in both pass and run blocking as a rookie last season.
27) Cincinnati Bengals
The decision to select Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell could be debated for many years in Cincinnati. Current left tackle Jonah Williams struggled at times in his first year in the NFL, allowing 7 sacks and the third-highest run stuff rate among qualified offensive tackles. If Williams does not improve in his second season, a lot of eyebrows could be raised in Cincinnati’s fan base.
Xavier Su’a-Filo looks set to start at left guard, having played a total of just 600 snaps over the past two seasons. His 4.4% blown block rate in the run game was the fifth-worst among qualified interior offensive linemen. That combined with a 5% rate for Williams could make for a concerning left side of the line in the run game.
Riley Reiff brings veteran experience at right tackle, while Trey Hopkins was a mid-tier center in 2020. Rookie Jackson Carman could start at right guard, giving the Bengals a relative unknown at the position. If he struggles, it could impact the play of Reiff and Hopkins beside him.
26) Minnesota Vikings
One of the toughest offensive lines to judge heading into the 2021 NFL season is the Minnesota Vikings. The returning four of Brian O’Neill, Dakota Dozier, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland all ranked in the middle of the NFL at their respective positions in 2020. Of the four, Bradbury struggled the most with 39 blown blocks, including a league-leading 22 blown pass blocks.
The addition of Christian Darrisaw adds talent, but he may need time to settle. The range of outcomes for a rookie offensive lineman is vast. He could settle straight in as we saw Mekhi Becton and Tristan Wirfs do, or he could see similar struggles to Andrew Thomas. If Darrisaw does play well, this unit could finish the season around the league average. Yet, if he struggles, Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook could be in for a tough year.
25) Las Vegas Raiders
The decisions the Las Vegas Raiders made with their offensive line this offseason were head-scratching. Shipping off Rodney Hudson leaves them with Andre James starting (who did not play a single offensive snap in 2020). They also traded away Trent Brown, which made more sense when they drafted Alex Leatherwood in the first round, but it adds more inexperience to this group.
The other three positions will likely be manned by Kolton Miller, Denzelle Good, and Richie Incognito. Good struggled at times in pass protection last year, but the midseason shift from tackle to guard will not have been a simple process. He will be joined at guard by the returning Incognito, who has been a solid presence throughout his career. However, his age is a concern, having missed 18 games in the past two seasons.
Kolton Miller is realistically a league-average left tackle. Unfortunately, that is a huge factor preventing this Raiders’ offensive line from being considered among the best in the NFL heading into 2021. With two unknowns and three “solid but unspectacular” players, it is hard to see how this line finishes much above league average at best this season.
24) New York Jets
The left side of the New York Jets offensive line can be among the best pairings in the entire league. If Alijah Vera-Tucker can fit in seamlessly next to the impressive Mekhi Becton, we could see the Jets much higher in offensive line rankings next season. Becton was a dominant force in the run game as a rookie, with just 2 blown blocks in 272 run-game snaps, and should see further improvement in his pass blocking in 2021.
The concerns with this line are from the center across to right tackle. George Fant was good in the run game but was responsible for 15 blown pass blocks last season. In contrast, Connor McGovern and Greg Van Roten performed well in pass blocking but struggled at times in the run game. While the left side of the line has potential, the right side is more limited.
23) Jacksonville Jaguars
When it comes to the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line, it is a contrasting story of the interior compared to the tackles. At center, Brandon Linder is one of the best interior linemen in the league. In 500 snaps in 2020, he allowed just 1 blown block and committed a single penalty. He is ably supported by the combination of A.J. Cann and Andrew Norwell. Combined, they had just 28 blown blocks in over 1,500 snaps.
Unfortunately, it is a markedly different situation for the offensive tackles. Cam Robinson received the franchise tag this offseason, but he struggled at times. He had 31 blown blocks in passing snaps and a further 10 blown blocks in the run game. He was also credited with 5 penalties and allowing 11 sacks. Opposite him, Jawaan Taylor was called for 6 penalties and allowed 14 sacks on 41 blown pass blocks.
22) Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins offensive line is very much a story of potential. Austin Jackson started 12 games as a rookie, with Solomon Kindley starting 13. Both had their struggles in their first year in the NFL, but there were signs that they can develop into a solid combination on the left side of the line.
On the right side of the line, Robert Hunt started 11 games at tackle, with Jesse Davis spending the majority of his time at guard. Both are expected to start, but we could see Hunt move inside, and Davis return to a starting role at tackle. Hunt was also a rookie in 2020 and posted a blown block rate of just 1.9% across passing and rushing snaps.
The arrival of Matt Skura sees a player looking to redeem himself after a tough season in Baltimore. Skura is tied for the most experience with Davis at four years and could tie together a line that will be looking to develop in 2021. It would not be surprising to see this group sitting much higher in our rankings of the best NFL offensive lines following the 2021 season.
21) Chicago Bears
As a group, the Chicago Bears performed reasonably well in 2020, but there are some fluctuations they will have to deal with. The departures of Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr. will see the Bears open the season with a brand new pairing at tackle. Germain Ifedi produced a solid performance splitting time between guard and tackle last season, with just 2 sacks and zero run stuffs allowed. He will be paired with Teven Jenkins, who is expected to need some time to settle in at left tackle.
They will return the combination of Alex Bars and James Daniels at guard and Cody Whitehair at center on the interior. All three performed well on the field, with a blown block rate below 2%, but Daniels and Bars started just 13 games combined last season. They will be under pressure as a trio, especially if Jenkins struggles as a rookie at left tackle.