One of the most important position groups in football is the offensive line despite the lack of credit they receive from the media. Although sometimes not talked about as often as other positions due to the emergence of fantasy football and their lack of standard box score statistics, these players’ value should not be diminished.
Perhaps the most important facet of offensive line play in the modern era is the ability to pass block, allowing the quarterback to progress through his reads and deliver the football to his target. A common way to study the level of pass protection an offensive line is providing is through pressure percentage, the rate that the offensive line allows their quarterback to be pressured. According to PFF, the last six Super Bowl Champions have each ranked among the ten teams with the lowest pressure percentage allowed during their respective championship regular seasons.
Taking a look at the plot above, just twelve teams in the NFL ended the 2021 regular season with an allowed pressure percentage that was better than the league average. Unsurprisingly, just two of these teams finished the year below .500 – the 8-9 Cleveland Browns and the 3-14 Detroit Lions. The franchises who were better than the mean pressure percentage allowed combined for a record of 122-80-2, while the teams worse than this average had a cumulative record of 149-191. This is a distinction of nearly three victories, on average, across a 17-game season, a substantial difference.
For the teams who fall on the poorer side of this plot, they should look to bolster their offensive line, often done through the NFL Draft and free agency. Below are some of the top offensive line draft prospects and free agents available this offseason.
NFL Draft Prospects
The 33rd Team’s top offensive line prospect and top overall prospect, Evan Neal has all of the physical tools needed to be a great left tackle in the NFL. His outstanding size, a full inch taller and 37 pounds more than the average offensive lineman at the NFL Combine, helps him in pass protection. Throughout his forty games played at Alabama, he allowed fewer than one pressure per game, good for a career pressure percentage allowed of just 2.5%.
Right after Neal in The 33rd Team’s offensive line rankings is Ikem Ekwonu. Our fifth-ranked prospect, Ekwonu is an outstanding athlete and is expected to be one of the first offensive linemen off the board on April 28th. In his last season at NC State, he didn’t allow a single QB hit in his twelve games played.
In his last season at Mississippi State, Charles Cross allowed just two sacks to go along with his zero QB hits on non-sack plays. The top-ten prospect according to The 33rd Team also did not concede a pressure against Alabama, Texas A&M, or Auburn in 2021. Projected as a first-round pick, Cross will help the offensive line of whichever team selects him.
The 33rd Team’s top interior offensive lineman, Tyler Linderbaum has been incredible at limiting QB pressures allowed throughout his time at Iowa. The center gave up a pressure rate of under 1.7% in his college career with just two total sacks in 35 games. Linderbaum should hear his name called during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
NFL Free Agents
One of the most coveted free agents on the offensive line, Terron Armstead will be compensated for his top-notch play. However, New Orleans may not be able to pay him, so hitting the open market is a viable option for him. The three-time Pro Bowl player has the fourth-highest PFF pass-blocking grade since 2014 among players with at least 1,000 pass-blocking snaps. Armstead has allowed just five sacks in the past four seasons, and he will improve the offensive line of any team that signs him.
A piece in the Super Bowl LV run the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made, Ryan Jensen has been a productive center since becoming a full-time starter in the NFL. Allowing a pressure rate of just 2.8% since 2017, the 2021 Pro Bowl selection has shown his abilities while protecting Tom Brady the past two seasons. Many franchises will want to pry Jensen away from Tampa Bay to upgrade their center position.
The fifth-overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, standout guard Brandon Scherff has been a reliable and productive player in his seven seasons in Washington. Scherff hasn’t allowed more than three sacks in any of his seasons in the NFL, illustrating his consistency. He hasn’t allowed multiple knockdowns in a game since November 2017, where knockdowns are defined as sacks and QB hits. In his past four seasons, the guard has given up just five sacks and four hits, including surrendering zero sacks and one hit in 2021.
All information provided by TruMedia and PFF