The most significant piece of recent offensive line news came on Monday when we learned that Los Angeles Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater would miss the rest of the season with a biceps injury. Slater’s absence will torpedo L.A.’s place in our Week 4 OL rankings, but the Bolts aren’t the only team dealing with health questions along the front five. Here’s how NFL offensive lines are shaping up after three weeks of action.
NFL OL Rankings Rundown | Week 4
Let’s go around the league and delve into the most notable offensive line situations in the NFL. We’ll start in New York, where the Jets’ OL is falling apart just as their second-year quarterback makes his way back.
Jets’ offensive line injuries obscure Zach Wilson’s return
The Jets entered training camp with what looked to be an above-average offensive line that featured a mix of veteran experience and ascending talent. But through three games, injuries at offensive tackle have changed the outlook for New York’s OL and cast a shadow over Zach Wilson’s impending return.
At the beginning of camp, George Fant lined up at left tackle with Mekhi Becton on the right side. After Becton suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-August, the Jets signed 37-year-old free agent Duane Brown to a two-year, $20 million deal. Brown plays his natural left tackle spot and Fant shifts to the right. Problem solved!
Well, not quite. Brown went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury before Week 1, so New York yo-yo’d Fant back to the blindside and installed fourth-round rookie Max Mitchell at right tackle.
That alignment held up until midway through the Jets’ Week 3 loss to the Bengals, when Fant departed with a lingering knee issue. On Tuesday, Gang Green sent Fant to IR, leaving Conor McDermott as their starting left tackle until Brown – who will be sidelined through at least Week 4 – can return.
McDermott struggled with Bengals edge rusher Trey Hendrickson on Sunday and gave up at least one sack, but that’s to be expected of a backup who typically plays fewer than 200 snaps per season. The rest of New York’s line didn’t cover themselves in glory, either, as Flacco went down four times while the rushing attack managed just a 35% success rate.
If Wilson returns from his knee injury to face the Steelers, he’ll do so behind a pair of offensive tackles that have combined to start nine NFL games. The former No. 2 overall pick consistently held onto the ball too long in his rookie campaign, so he’ll need to improve his rhythm and timing as he works with two inexperienced blockers.
49ers lose Trent Williams, Packers gain David Bakhtiari
The 49ers have already moved on to backup options at quarterback and running back after Trey Lance and Elijah Mitchell went down with injuries, and now they’re losing the best offensive lineman in football. All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Broncos in Week 3, and he’s expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks.
San Francisco is starting one rookie (Spencer Burford) at right guard and a de facto rookie (Aaron Banks) at left guard, while journeyman center Jake Brendel had only played 200 career snaps before this season. They’ve held up surprisingly well through three games, but it will be worth watching how much the downgrade from Williams to 2020 fifth-round pick Colton McKivitz will affect Jimmy Garoppolo’s time in the pocket.
While the 49ers are subtracting, the Packers are adding. David Bakhtiari (who, when healthy, is Williams’ primary competition for the “best NFL left tackle” moniker) returned on Sunday following three knee surgeries and a 20-month recovery. He played 35 snaps while rotating with Yosh Nijman.
Head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters after the game that he was pleased with Bakhtiari’s performance, but he wasn’t forthcoming on whether Green Bay will continue the rotation at left tackle. Either way, the return of Bakhtiari marks a major milestone, both for a player who’s been through trying circumstances and for an offensive line that needs its cornerstone.
Cracks beginning to show in the Bills’ OL
Injuries are decimating the Bills’ secondary, but they’re also hitting the offensive line. Buffalo had decent depth up front heading into the season, but it’s already starting to be tested. All eight of the Bills’ active offensive linemen saw significant action against the Dolphins on Sunday. That’s typically not something you want to happen unless you’re in a blowout.
At center, Greg Van Roten was already filling in for Mitch Morse. Another Greg (practice squad elevation Greg Mancz) stepped in after Van Roten went down with an undisclosed injury. Meanwhile, right tackle Spencer Brown left the game with heat illness after playing in the stifling Miami humidity, leaving David Quessenberry to take over.
Right guard Ryan Bates suffered a concussion and was replaced by Tommy Doyle, who proceeded to tear his ACL. With Doyle now on IR, the Bills signed Justin Murray — a 12- game starter for the Cardinals in 2019 — to the active roster on Tuesday.
Now, most of these issues will be short-term. Brown should be fine for Week 4, and Bates could conceivably exit the concussion protocol before next week. The Bills haven’t given a return timetable for Morse, but the fact that they didn’t place him on IR means he’s unlikely to be facing an extended absence.
Still, the offensive line was the one area you could squint and point to as a potential weakness for the All-World Bills roster before the season even got underway. Buffalo had the depth to get by on Sunday (barely), but more severe injury issues could cause real problems up front.
Assessing Daniel Faalele’s debut for the Ravens
Eight players weighing in at 360 pounds or more have appeared in at least one game this season (I’ll put the full list at the bottom of the page for you trivia buffs). Ravens rookie Daniel Faalele — the largest of that group at 6-foot-9, 380 pounds — made his NFL debut on Sunday as an injury replacement for left tackle Patrick Mekari.
Faalele, a fourth-round pick in April, had practiced at left tackle with the Ravens but never played the position at Minnesota. Given that caveat, let’s start with the bad news. Faalale gave up a sack to Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. on each of his first two series, and there were a few plays where he failed to seal the edge in the run game.
But as the game wore on, Faalele clearly became more comfortable. He obviously has a lot of power, which he used to stonewall pass rushers on a number of occasions. And he showed good mobility in moving to the second level in the run game. Aside from his sheer size, Faalele wasn’t all that noticeable in the second half, and that’s a good thing!
It’s unclear if Faalele will have to start in Week 4 when the Ravens face Von Miller and the rest of the Bills’ stout defensive front. Mekari’s low-ankle sprain puts his status up in the air, and while Baltimore would love to get Ronnie Stanley back, he didn’t even travel to New England for Sunday’s game.
Faalele is technically the Ravens’ fourth-string left tackle behind Stanley, Ja’Wuan James, and Mekari, but he showed potential in his first pro game. The stats may not look great, but the confidence Faalele displayed in the second half gave us a taste of what his future performance could look like.
NFL OL Rankings | Tiers 1-4
Now that we’ve taken a deeper look at some of the more notable offensive line groups around the NFL, let’s lay out how they rank based on tiers.
OL Rankings: Tier 1
Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions
OL Rankings: Tier 2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Commanders, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals
OL Rankings: Tier 3
Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts
OL Rankings: Tier 4
Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Las Vegas Raiders, Chicago Bears, New York Giants, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans
(Trivia answer: Patriots OT Trent Brown, Eagles OT Jordan Mailata, Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr., Giants OT Evan Neal, Panthers DT Marquan McCall, Falcons DT Anthony Rush, and Cowboys DT Quinton Bohanna.)