by Noah Pires
August 20, 2018
With big-name guys like Sammy Watkins and Jerick Mckinnon moving cities in the offszn, it's easy to miss the lesser-known guys whose moves can help drastically improve a team. I'm mainly focusing on offensive lineman because I'd venture to say most (casual) people playing fantasy football don't know about half of these moves. Last year we saw what Andrew Whitworth helped bring to the Rams offense, so maybe one of these moves could have a similar impact. If you want to know all offseason additions, including draft picks, FA signings, and trades, check out the draft kit by clicking here, but if you're reading this, chances are you're a real one and already bought it. Anyways, lets hop into the trenches to find this years big-impact offensive lineman who could make an average offense elite, and in-turn produce a multitude of viable fantasy players that would otherwise be overlooked.
Cordy Glenn/Billy Price - Cincinnati Bengals
Early in the offszn, the Bengals finnessed the Bills, trading down from the 12th pick to acquire LT Cordy Glenn and the 21st pick. With that pick, the Bengals chose former Buckeye center Billy Price, who is a plus-athlete at the position. It was clear what Cincy had to address this offseason, and did just that with these 2 moves. In 2017, PFF ranked the Bengals as the NFL's 28th best o-line; in other words, they were hot garbage. With Glenn and Price, though, things are looking up for the Bengals.
Glenn was a top 10 tackle the last time he played and Price was an elite collegiate lineman. Obviously these two additions alone won't take the Bengals from a piss poor o-line to an elite one, but it doesn't have to. Last year, even with their motley crew of big boys, Gio Bernard still saw some success when given the opportunity. Over the last 5 weeks of the szn, he was on pace for 227-1078-6 (4.75 ypc) rushing line while adding 77-544-0 in the passing game (102 targets). Sure this is a small sample, but it shows the potential the RB1 in this offense could have. With Mixon entering his second season as the clear-cut #1 option in the backfield, he has the potential to EAT. Their 1.31 yards before first contact (ranked 23rd in NFL) should improve, giving further value to Joe Mixon. He has the talent, youth, and opportunity to break into the RB1 conversation, especially with the much-improved line.
Along with the running game, I think the passing game gets a major boost. Glenn actually graded out as a much better pass-blocker than run blocker, and as we all know, the Left Tackle is one of the most important positions on the field. With Glenn protecting Dalton's blind-side, he will have more confidence (and time) to progress through his reads and connect with his receivers. Dalton had a down year last szn, but so did the offense as a whole. They ran the fewest plays of any team in the NFL (57.9/game), but over the last 3 seasons rank 8th at 68.0 plays/game, including this down year. What does this tell me? They are due to bounce back, and with their improved o-line and multitude (shoutout Merriam-Webster) of (now healthy) weapons, I'm all in on Bengals players heading into the fantasy szn.
Andrew Norwell - Jacksonville Jaguars
In 2017, PFF ranked the Jags as the 15th best o-line, right in the middle of the pack. Not horrible, not great, Goldilocks would be proud. Entering this year, though, they brought on the former Panther Andrew Norwell, who graded out as PFF #1 pass blocking guard. NUMBA ONE. As for the run game, he ranked 26th, which obviously isn't as good, but he's replacing Patrick Omameh, who was PFF's 43rd ranked run-blocking guard, so it's an upgrade to the run game nonetheless. Also, Norwell being a better pass blocker than run blocker isn't much of a problem as the Jags tied for 2nd in yards before contact per attempt in 2017 with the Rams at 1.89 yards. Even if this number regresses a bit, I don't see it plummeting, especially with the addition of Norwell and left tackle Cam Robinson heading into his 2nd year. He now has some experience under his belt and can't get much worse as a blocker as he was the 72nd best tackle last szn (started 15 games).
Now, we all know Leonard Fournette is talented. Many argue he is inefficient due to his low YPC in 2017. Let me tell you one thing about fantasy football, in almost all cases, opportunity trumps efficiency (let's just strike Alvin Kamara from the record). Ideally, you want both, but if I'm choosing one, I'll take opportunity any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. You know another "inefficient" runningback? Melvin Gordon. You know where he's ranked the past 2 years? Top 7. Fournette played in 13 games and finished as an RB1. His pace was 330-1280-11 while adding 44-372-1 on 59 targets through the air. I don't care how inefficent people say Fournette is, with the improved line and the sheer opportunity he has in 2018, I'll take him as an elite RB1.
As for the passing game, Blake Bortles could see a boost. He's 2 years removed from a 35 TD szn, but has sneakily been a QB1 or on the verge of it the last 3 years (13th, 8th, 3rd). Last year, his weapons were below average to say the least. No real threat at tight end (Marcedes Lewis did turn up in London though) and they didn't utilize their best WR until late in the year (Keelan Cole for all you uninformed mf'ers). Now, with Big Body ASJ and Moncrief acting as Red Zone monsters, paired with speedsters in D.J. Chark and Dede Westbrook, topped off with Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole and an improved o-line, Bortles could have a resurgence. I'm not saying draft him as your QB1, but if you need someone who could serve as a backup, the B.O.A.T. could be your man especially with the help of Fort Knox in the trenches.
Mike Pouncey/Forrest Lamp - Los Angeles Chargers
I'm a Chargers fan, so I say this with all certainty, one of these two lineman will get hurt within 25 minutes of this being posted. In all seriousness, and putting bias aside, this may be one of the biggest sleepers as far as o-line improvement in the NFL. Why do I say this? Because one of their "new" additions isn't new at all, in fact, he was drafted in 2017. Heading into 218, he's replacing Kenny Wiggins, who ranked 46th amongst all guards last year. I'm no offensive lineman expert so I can't tell you that Forrest Lamp will 100% be twice the player Wiggins is, but his draft capital and measurables sure do paint the picture.
Also, he's a 300+ pound white guy from Western Kentucky named Forrest, so that alone should improve the line. Then again, the last time we saw a prospect from the south named Forrest, he hung up his cleats to serve his country, then took a shrimping boat deep into the ocean to pay tribute to his late friend Bubba. In all seriousness, Lamp should be atleast average, as in college, his PFF passing grade surpassed that of Jack Conklin, Ronnie Stanley, Laremy Tunsil, and Taylor Decker, who all ranked as "average" pass-blockers in the NFL in 2017.
Along with Lamp, the Chargers brought in Mike Pouncey formerly of the Dolphins. Pouncey is an obvious upgrade over Spencer Pulley, who ranked "poor" in both pass and run blocking last year. Last year, Pouncey did rank "poor" as a runblocker, so that's a wash, but as for pass-blocking, he graded out as the 13th best center. Other than his run blocking, his main concern, though, is his health, and now that he's on the Chargers, chalk him up to miss 6+ games.
Though the running game doesn't seem like it is much upgraded due to these new additions, they did sign Virgil Green, a willing blocker at the tight end position, so it shouldn't get any worse than it has been. Also, Melvin Gordon has been an elite fantasy option over the last 2 szns, even with the line not giving him too much space to create, seen by only providing 1.37 yards before first contact, 22nd in the NFL. As for the passing game, there should be major improvement in protecting Phil, giving him time to feed his weapons. I wouldn't be worried drafting Melvin Gordon, but I would debate between him and Fournette due to the Jag's improvements on their line and elite defense. As for Phil, he should be locked in as a low-end QB1 with WR1 Keenan and Tyrell Williams who has WR3 upside. Even Mike Williams can be seen as a beneficiary because of these improvements, as well as the loss of Hunter Henry. Henry, who tore his ACL earlier in the offszn, earned 9 targets inside the 10 in 2017 and 8 in his rookie campaign. Some of these vacated looks should go the 6'3 receiver's way, boosting his fantasy value. Also, this looks like a good sign for the second year WR out of Clemson.
Frank Ragnow - Detroit Lions
This may be the most improved offensive line in the NFL heading into 2018. From left to right, they have 5 solid starters, including their newest edition, Frank Ragnow, PFF's highest graded college center. Last year, they graded out as the 19th best offensive line, but heading into 2018, they jumped 11 spots to PFF's #8.
Left Tackle Taylor Decker played all of 2017 coming off of a shoulder injury, but has proven to be one of the better tackles in the NFL, grading out as the 2nd best rookie tackle in 2016, only behind all-pro Jack Conklin. He also ranked 23rd among 78 qualified tackles in his rookie year, and with a clean bill of health in 2018, should return to form. At Left Guard, the Lions have the newly drafted Frank Ragnow. In 2016 and 2017, Ragnow posted the two highest PFF grades for college centers over the past 4 years, so he is dominant to say the least. In his 4 years, he allowed zero sacks, ZERO, and it wasn't like he was playing peewee football. Arkansas faced the likes of LSU, Auburn, and Alabama, during Ragnow's time, and none got the best of him. He may look like he's playing out of position in 2018, but he actually played a little guard last szn for the Razorbacks and only allowed two hurries. So far, it looks like the left side of the line is like Allstate, they're in good hands.
As for the right side, at tackle they have Rick Wagner. Wagner somewhat disappointed in 2017, but has proven to be one of the better right tackles in the league, grading out as 18th best tackle in 2016. Next to him? T.J. Lang, PFF's 6th best pass blocking guard in 2017. In 2016 with the Packers, he allowed 0 sacks and only 10 QB pressures. He is an elite pass-blocking guard, but struggles more in the running game. With another year in the Lions' offense, he should return to form as one of the league's best at the guard position in the passing game. Lastly, the man in the middle, Graham Glasgow, who graded out as PFF's #8 center last year. With all the other talented pieces around him, he should be able to repeat his performance from 2017 as one of the better centers in the league.
The beneficiaries of the improved line? Pretty much everyone. Last year, Matthew Stafford was sacked 47 times, only trailing Jacoby Brissett for most in the league, This is one of the categories where being in the top 2 isn't a good thing. As for the running game, they ranked 2nd to last in average yards before contact at .81. If anything, the Lions were consistent. With these new additions, Stafford will have more time to throw and not have to worry about 350 pound mammoths running full speed at his chest. As for the backfield, rookie Kerryon Johnson should see more success than Lions' runningbacks of years past as the yards before contact statistic should improve. Overall, I'm buying Lions players at their current prices (Stafford QB11, Marvin Jones WR24, Golden Tate WR22, Kerryon Johnson RB29), especially since they all finished significantly better than where they are being drafted heading into 2018 (Stafford QB7 in 2017, Marvin Jones WR10 in 2017, Tate WR11 2017), all with their pathetic o-line play in 2017.
Josh Sitton, Daniel Kilgore - Miami Dolphins
PFF ranked Miami as the 29th best line in 2017, but bumped them to 20th after some offseason additions heading into this year. Josh Sitton comes in replacing a myriad of players who filled the left guard position last szn. Just read this quote written in a PFF article about offensive lines heading into 2018. "The guard position in Miami has seemingly been cursed for some time now. Last year, the revolving door of Jesse Davis, Jermon Bushrod, Ted Larsen and Anthony Steen combined to give up 69 pressures (the average guard duo allows 62). There’s reason to think that number could drop drastically now though with the addition of Josh Sitton who’s allowed only 60 pressures over the last five seasons, combined." The addition of Sitton alone could drastically improve the blocking in Miami, as he ranked as PFF's 9th best run-blocking guard, 7th best pass-blocking guard, and 7th overall guard performance. As for Kilgore, he isn't great, but replaces the aforementioned Mike Pouncey, who actually graded out worse than Kilgore, so it's somewhat of an improvement.
Along with these 2 new additions, the Dolphins have 2 former first round picks, Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James. Tunsil, who is a well-known scuba diving aficionado,
is heading into his third szn, and only his 2nd as a full time left tackle. He played fairly poorly in 2017, so he can't get much worse. Coming out of college, he was the highest ranked guard in his class, so although he has moved to one of the harder positions in football, he certainly has the potential to become at least average at his new spot on the line, especially with a year of experience under his belt. As for Ja'Wuan James, he only played in 8 games in 2017, but throughout his career has been more than serviceable at right tackle. In 2015, he was PFF's 12th best pass-blocking tackle, and although saw some decline in 2016, he graded out as average in the passing game. James was also a top 20 tackle in terms of run-blocking in his last full season, allowing runningbacks to average 5.03 YPC while running behind him. Miami is bound to improve their blocking in the run game, as they ranked DEAD LAST in the NFL in 2017 in yards before first contact at just .59.
With these new additions, more experience at their positions, and a clean bill of health, Miami should be seen as a much improved line heading into 2018. As far as fantasy impact, it's hard to say, not because I don't know if the line will improve, but because Adam Gase HATES people who play fantasy football. He has Frank Gore atop the depth chart, a co-starter with Kenyan Drake. If Drake was the clear-cut starter, I'd consider him being a near top 15 RB, but the idea of him splitting carries with a 47 year old invincible slug doesn't bode well for his potential volume. As for the passing game, reports are coming out that DeVante Parker might lose his job on the outside to 5'9 186 pound Albert Wilson (and now reports are out that he is dealing with a broken finger). This team is just a mess. If I were to bet on anyone, it would be Kenny Stills, who has been fairly consistent with his role in Miami, and should now see a ton of opportunity with Jarvis Landry's departure. Ryan Tannehill, who also finished as a top-15 QB from 2013-2015 (15th, 10th, 11th) before playing 13 games in 2016 and missing all of 2017, should be a serviceable streaming option with low-end QB1 ceiling due to his mobility, sneakily decent passing options (Mike Gesicki, Stills, Parker, Wilson, Ammendola), and potential (maybe inevitable) negative gamescript.
I'm no offensive line expert, so you can take my analysis with a grain of salt. The purpose of this article is to bring to your attention the importance of the battles in the trenches and how it can greatly impact a player's fantasy value. As stated earlier, we saw what Andrew Whitworth did in helping the Rams become the best offense in 2017, creating valuable fantasy assets out of players that were overlooked heading into 2017 (Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Jared Goff, and even Todd Gurley), so I'm just trying to bring to light some other moves which to the general public, are likely unknown.
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