Notable Additions: C. Justin Britt (Free Agency), T. Marcus Cannon (Trade)
Notable Losses: C. Nick Martin (Free Agency), G. Zach Fulton (Free Agency)
Projected Starters: LT. Laremy Tunsil LG. Max Scharping C. Justin Britt RG. Tytus Howard RT. Marcus Cannon
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades –Tunsil (75.4), Scharping (52.1), Britt (N/A), Howard (62.1), Cannon (N/A)
Last season, the Texans had problems everywhere. The O-line was one of their biggest issues. Tunsil was the best and only good player of this group overall, but even he struggled compared to past seasons as a run blocker. A bright spot for the Texans was that Tunsil is still one of the best pass blockers in the NFL. None of the other players in this group pass block nearly well enough to compensate for mediocre to bad run blocking. Nick Martin was good in pass pro but his play in the run game was the worst of his career. So bad in fact, the Texans felt more comfortable moving forward with a guy that has not played since October of 2019. Howard regressed after showing promise as a rookie and is on the verge of being a bust. And nobody that took a snap at either guard spot was effective. Fulton was the best of a bad bunch and played all 16 games, but he allowed 11 sacks, 39 pressures, and his sudden retirement in camp after signing with the Giants indicates he probably knew he did not have it anymore. LG was a turnstile of bad starting with Scharping not doing anything in the run game and things did not get much better when Senio Kelemete or Brent Qvale were called on to get snaps. The Texans tied for the second most sacks allowed (50) and were 23rd in pressure rate (26.1%). Only the Steelers rushed for fewer yards than the Texans last season. Despite a favorable 2.7 YBC average that would lead most to place this team’s rushing struggles at the feet of their terrible RBs, and they deserve plenty of blame, this group was not getting it done up front.
The Texans O-line is not going to be great in 2021 but there is room for optimism it will be a lot better than last season. Tunsil is still the best of the bunch at LT and Houston is hopeful he run blocks better, but his pass pro skills are top-notch. The Texans made a great move in the offseason trading for Cannon from the Patriots, and he figures to be the second-best player on the line and give the Texans a quality pair of tackles. He sat out last season due to Covid 19 and was coming off a down year in 2019 but even at the level he played at in 2019 he would be a big boost to this team. The arrival of Cannon most likely means Howard will play guard at some point. Cannon missed most of camp and preseason rehabbing so Howard could start the season at RT, but Cannon would have to have fallen off for the Texans to play McCray at RG and leave Howard at RT. Howard has been disappointing so far as a tackle so a move to guard might be the jolt his career needs as he enters a pivotal year three. Scharping is the worst starter on the unit and has struggled tremendously as a run blocker in his first two seasons. It is hard to know what to make of Britt. He suffered a season-ending injury during the 2019 season with the Seahawks and did not play at all in 2020. Even before he got hurt, he was not playing great only giving Seattle serviceable play so he most likely will not be a huge upgrade over Martin. The addition of Cannon is key to this group’s improvement. If for some reason he is not right, and Howard plays RT all season, expect this group to be near the bottom again.
Notable Additions: T. Eric Fisher (Free Agent)
Notable Losses: T. Anthony Castonzo (Retired)
Projected Starters: LT. Eric Fisher LG. Quenton Nelson C. Ryan Kelly RG. Mark Glowinski RT. Braden Smith
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades – Fisher (80), Nelson (86.2), Kelly (69), Glowinski (67.3), Smith (80.1)
The Colts were one of the best O-lines in the NFL again in 2020 but they set such a high standard in 2019 there was a slight decline. Inconsistent play in the interior was the biggest culprit to the Colts minor slide last year. While this is one of the few teams that lack a truly bad starter up front, Glowinski has been the weakest of the bunch in two consecutive seasons. He improved a good deal in pass pro from 2019 but overall, he appears to have settled in as a low-level starter after looking like he could be more in 2018. Kelly had established himself as one of the better centers in the NFL but in 2002 he was more inconsistent than usual. He had some great games and some poor ones. Overall, he was not as good run or pass blocking throughout the year as he had been in past years. There was not much to complain about with the other three. Costanzo could not run block anymore, which may have contributed to his decision to retire, but he was still very effective in pass pro. Braden Smith is one of the best RTs in the NFL and played like it as he remains one of the game's better run blockers. Quenton Nelson is the best O-lineman in the NFL and has made first-team all-pro and the pro-bowl in each of his first three seasons. The Colts were an elite pass pro team registering the third-best pressure rate (17%) and tying for the second-fewest sacks allowed (21). Considering they had one of the oldest, slowest, least athletic QBs in the league in Phillip Rivers, that is highly impressive. Colts were middle of the road in YBC (2.5) and 11th in rushing YPG (124.8) as there was some slippage as a run-blocking unit, but the fresh legs of Jonathan Taylor helped spearhead one of the NFL’s better ground games down the stretch.
There could be some early season woes as the newly acquired Fisher recovers from an Achilles injury, but he is slated to return after week 6 and be the starting LT. The former first overall pick was in the midst of another good season for the Chiefs before getting hurt and if he can quickly regain form, he could be an upgrade over Castonzo. However, while he is out the Colts will most likely start Julie’n Davenport and try their best to work around him. He has started a few games throughout his career, but at best, he is a backup swing tackle that a team should not be relying on long-term. The rest of the line returns from last year and looks to pick up where they left off. Nelson was expected to miss time with a foot injury suffered in camp, but he recovered quicker than expected and hopefully, there are no lingering issues that affect his play because he is a joy to watch. The Colts are hoping Glowinski has another 2018 season in him. However, with all the other talent the Colts have, they just need him to remain solid and do his part. Smith earned a nice contract extension this offseason and should continue his strong play at RT. Kelly needs to be more consistent in 2021 but the talent he has shown in past years is still there and he is still young enough (28) to have plenty left in the tank. The total numbers at the end of the season may be a little skewed due to Fisher’s absence and him getting reacclimated, but do not be surprised if this unit is playing like a top-five O-line down the stretch if everyone is healthy.
Notable Additions: T. Walker Little (2nd Round Pick)
Notable Losses: none
Projected Starters: LT. Cam Robinson LG. Andrew Norwell C. Brandon Linder RG. AJ Cann RT. Jawaan Taylor
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades – Robinson (61.7), Norwell (67.9), Linder (80), Cann (69), Taylor (56.5)
The Jags front was characterized by good interior pass pro, poor pass pro by the tackles, and all-around mediocre to bad run blocking from everyone not named Linder. Let’s start with Linder since he was the Jags best guy upfront and has been for years. He was one of the best centers in the NFL again especially thriving in pass pro as he only allowed one sack and four total pressures. His oversight from the AFC pro-bowl roster in favor of Pouncey, who was so bad he retired, and Kelly who was good but had a down year speaks to how bad O-line pro-bowl voting is. Norwell is the Jags second-best guy up front, and he had a good year in pass pro but it was a rough year for him as a run blocker. Cann had a decent year overall and provided solid pass pro. The major issues for Jacksonville came at both tackle spots. On one hand, 2020 was probably the best season of Robinson’s career. On the other, His two other seasons he stayed healthy were so bad that it is not saying much. He still allowed way too much pressure for a credible LT giving up 40 total pressures. Taylor showed some promise in his rookie season, but his play fell off in 2020 as he allowed 58 pressures. Thanks to the interior guys the Jags had the 12th best pressure rate (20.6%), but the tackles were the primary cause behind their seventh worse allowed sack total (44). The Jags were also 28th in rushing YPG (94.9) and near the bottom of the league in YBC (2.2).
Since the Jags brought back the same five, do not expect much to change in 2021 upfront for this team. Cam Robinson is not that good. However, four years of mediocre to poor play was not enough to convince Jacksonville, so they put the franchise tag on him and will pay him $13.7 million this season. Taylor had a so-so rookie year and a bad second year so year three is a big year for him. If neither of them improves expect the Jags to see what they have with Walker before the season ends. There is no reason to worry about the interior in pass pro, but they need to do a little more in the running game. When Norwell is at his best, he is making an impact in both phases of the game. However, if he plays like he did last year, he is just a decent starter with a one-dimensional game. Cann needs to continue to be a serviceable starter, especially with the Jags needing to deploy extra resources to help their tackles. Linder has been the one constant for the Jags as they have been in what seems like a never-ending rebuild aside from one magical conference title game run back in 2017. They enter a new era with Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawerence and this group will be a key factor in determining how well or poorly year one of the new regime goes.
Notable Additions: N/A
Notable Losses: T. Dennis Kelly
Projected Starters: LT. Taylor Lewan LG. Rodger Saffold C. Ben Jones RG. Nate Davis RT. Ty Sambrailo
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades – Lewan (61.8), Saffold (70.2), Jones (78.6), Davis (69.7), Sambrailo (65.6)
When a team finishes second in rushing YPG (168.1) and has an RB go for over 2,000 yards rushing it is easy to give a lot of credit to the O-line. But it would be a mistake in this case as Derrick Henry simply is an alien and would have probably found a way to have some success even behind the Steelers line. The Titans O-line did have a good season run blocking, but they were not some all-time great run-blocking line that propelled Henry, Henry propelled them. Despite Henry’s all-time great season and the Titans winning 11 games, not a single Titan O-lineman made an all-pro team or the pro-bowl. Ben Jones did have a pro-bowl caliber season and was the best of this group in 2020. He started all 16 games and was one of the best centers in the NFL in large part due to his strong run blocking. His interior mates Davis and Saffold also contributed with solid seasons in the run game, but both struggled in pass pro. The tackle position is where things went wrong for the Titans upfront last year. They lost Conklin in free agency and their first-round pick Isaiah Wilson may go down as one of the biggest busts in NFL history. Add in that Lewan got hurt and only played in five games and it is easy to see why the Titans O-line play got worse from 2019. With Wilson not working out Kelly took over as the starting RT for Conklin and he did an ok job for a career backup who spent his first season as a full-time starter in year nine, but Conklin was heavily missed. Sambrailo got the call at LT once Lewan was lost. He did a solid job filling in as he held up well as a run blocker, but he blocked like you would expect a backup to block in pass pro. Sambrailo eventually got hurt as well and Quessenberry took over at LT and as expected the backups back up did not play well. The Titans finished 19th in pressure rate (23.2%) and only allowed a sixth-best 25 sacks but that had more to do with the Titans offense which was run and play-action heavy to help their pass pro challenged line.
The key for the Titans O-line in 2021 will be Lewan staying healthy and returning to form. When healthy he is a big athletic talented tackle who is 6’7 and moves very well. He can impact the game in both phases, but he is the one guy on the Titans O-line that can be counted on in pass pro and the Titans missed that for the majority of 2020. Sambrailo got to start a little last season, but he enters this year as the projected week one guy and if he can just be serviceable and do his part in the running game the Titans will take it. If Lewan is not the same Jones will be the best guy this season again. He has had a consistently good career registering no bad seasons since entering the league in 2012 but he is 32 so the decline will come at some point. The Titans are hoping for at least one more good season to try and maximize their window with Henry. Saffold is the best of the guards and at 33 his best days appear to be behind him, but he is still a solid starter that can run block. Davis is entering year three and the Titans could use another jump in level of play from him. After a rough rookie season in 2019, he got better and was a decent player last year who made his mark in the run game, but they need him to develop into a legitimate high-level starter because the rest of the line is getting up there in age as the other four starters are all over 29. With Henry at RB and the addition of Julio Jones, this O-line does not need to be spectacular they just need to be good and they should be.