Notable Additions: G. Jalen Mayfield (3rd Round Pick)
Notable Losses: C. Alex Mack (Free Agency), G. James Carpenter (released)
Projected Starters: LT. Jake Matthews LG. Jalen Mayfield C. Matt Hennessy RG. Chris Lindstrom RT. Kaleb McGary
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades – Matthews (75.5), Mayfield (N/A), Hennessy (47), Lindstrom (77.1), McGary (64.3)
The Falcons O-line had an up and down year in 2020. It was mostly down when it came to run blocking as the Falcons were 31st in YPC (3.7), 27th in YPG (95.8), and 29th in YBC (2). Those number also reflect relying mostly on a Todd Gurley who is no longer good due to knee trouble at RB, but this group certainly was not moving people out of the way. Lindstrom was the best of the group last year and thrived individually as a run blocker while also playing well in pass pro. Mack may be old, but he can still hold up in the run game as well and did a solid job though his age started to show in pass pro as he just cannot move the way he used to. Carpenter was the team’s worst starter in this group struggling in both phases which is probably why he was unable to find a home this offseason. Overall, Matthews was the second-best player in this unit and by far the best in pass pro. Matthews has been a one-dimensional pass pro specialist his whole career, so his performance came as no surprise. McGary had his struggles, but in totality he played a lot better in his second season and may prove to be a solid starter one day. The Falcons were one of the top passing offenses in the league but that had more to do with Ryan, Julio, and Ridley than this group’s collective pass pro performance. They were 21st in pressure rate (24.4%) and allowed the 11th most sacks (41).
Three of the five starters from last season are returning for the Falcons including their best two players Hennessy and Matthews. The Falcons will need Matthews to continue to be one of the leagues better pass protectors with Ryan a year older and a year slower. Lindstorm really impressed in his second year and could be on his way to becoming a pro-bowl caliber player in year three if he continues to improve. McGary is the final returning starter, and he too is entering year three, and it is a pivotal one for him. Is he a backup, low-level starter, or can he be an impact player? The Falcons are hoping he can take it up another level this year and maximize using two first round picks on the O-line in 2019. Hennessy will be taking over at C for the departed Mack and though Mack was not what he once was, Hennessy will be a significant downgrade if he does not play better than he did in the limited snaps he got last season. He was just a rookie a year ago so there is room to grow and hopefully be at least a serviceable player this year. Mayfield was Atlanta’s third round pick in this year’s draft, and he will be forced into action early as he is the projected week one starter. That is a tall task for a third rounder, but the Falcons will need him to grow up quick. I expect Lindstrom to be even better but the best-case scenario for the Falcons is a middle of the road O-line unless McGary really breaks out and even that could be a stretch with two potential stragglers at LG and C.
Notable Additions: G. Pat Elfflein (Free Agency), T. Cameron Erving (Free Agency)
Notable Losses: T. Russell Okung (Released), G. Chris Reed (Free Agency)
Projected Starters: LT. Cameron Erving LG. Pat Elflein C. Matt Paradis RG. John Miller RT. Taylor Moton
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades – Erving (58), Elflein (41.9), Paradis (63.4), Miller (61.2), Morton (81.6)
The Panthers O-line in 2020 was Moton and a bunch of guys. Moton has been good since he took over as a starter in his second year but in year four, he was closer to great. He played at a high level as a run blocker and in pass pro only allowing 19 pressures and three sacks. When he was not hurt, Okung was also playing at a high level as he was team’s best pass protector. Unfortunately, Carolina struggled at LT whenever he did not play. Trent Scott, Greg Little, Michael Schofield, and Dennis Daley all took snaps at LT in 2020 and none of them impressed. Paradis has not been the same player since leaving Denver, but he has been a solid starter for the Panthers the past two seasons. The guard spots are where the Panthers were weakest as Reed was a low-end starter that was serviceable in pass pro but struggled in the run game and Miller was ranked near the bottom of starting guards and struggled. The Panthers as a group were solid in pass pro only allowing the 17th most sacks (36) and finishing 10th in pressure rate (19.9%). However, they were exposed without Christian McCaffrey to bail them out in the running gaem as they finished as the 21st best rush attack (106.5) and 26th in YBC (2.1).
The Panthers O-line will probably be worse in 2021. Moton is legit at RT and well worth the four-year $71 million contract extension he signed this offseason, it may even be a bargain. There are question marks everywhere else. Their left side of the line could be the worse in the league. Erving has had plenty of opportunities to prove himself and has yet to have a noteworthy season and Elflein is a proven turnstile at LG who did not help Darnold in NY and he cannot be happy to see that Elflein has followed him to Carolina. Miller has had somewhat of a roller coaster career as he has had a few decent seasons and some bad ones. What player will show up in 2021? Paradis is no longer playing at the high level he did in Denver and with him going on 32 further decline could be on the horizon. There just is not anything besides Moton to be excited about with this group so they’re only hope is that he plays great, and they somehow get serviceable play at three of the other four spots.
New Orleans Saints
Notable Additions: N/A
Notable Losses: N/A
Projected Starters: LT. Terron Armstead LG. Andrus Peat C. Eric McCoy RG. Cesar Ruiz RT. Ryan Ramcyzk
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades – Armstead (86.3), Peat (61.2), McCoy (70.1), Ruiz (58.6), Ramcyzk (81.5)
The Saints have gotten great O-line play for years and 2020 was more of the same in large part due to them having the best tackle duo in the NFL. Armstead is a top three LT and Ramcyzk is the best RT in the NFL. Armstead has been able to thrive at LT thanks to superior athleticism and at 30 he might not be able to run the 4.7 he pulled off at the combine back in 2013 but it is a safe bet that he is still one of the top athletes at the position. Ramcyzk just keeps making all-pro teams as he has been first or second team three years in a row since 2018 in large part due to his dominance as a run blocker. McCoy is their third best player up front and though he was better in 2019 he still had a solid second season and will likely be a mainstay at C for years to come for the Saints. The only thing keeping the Saints from being mentioned with the Browns is there guard play. Ruiz was the team’s first round pick in 2020 and really struggled in pass pro. Peat was picked 13th overall back in 2015 and though he has never lived up to that selection, when healthy is a decent player. He has made the pro-bowl three years in a row and has not deserved one single selection. All the stats back up the Saints being an elite O-line. In the passing game they were fourth in pressure rate (17.5%) and were 11th in sacks (29). On the ground, the Saints were fifth in YBC (2.8), 10th in YPC (4.6), and sixth in YPG (141.6).
The Saints are on the short list of teams good enough to have the best O-line in the NFL in 2021 and at worst should finish as a top five unit. Expect the dynamic duo of Armstead and Ramcyzk to continue to dominant at both tackle spots. McCoy is still young and though he has already established himself as a quality C in his first two years, there is room to get even better. If the guard play can just improve a little bit, the Saints will be in the conversation for best O-line. Peat is what he is at this point and despite all the “accolades” he is a decent starter at best. Ruiz had a rough rookie year, but many good NFL players had a bad rookie season and there is no reason to think with a year of experience under his belt he will not be better this season. Brees may be retired, but with this O-line and Sean Payton still calling plays the Saints will still be a competitive team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Additions: N/A
Notable Losses: N/A
Projected Starters: LT. Donovan Smith LG. Ali Marpet C. Ryan Jensen RG. Alex Cappa RT. Tristan Wirfs
Last Year: 2020 PFF Grades – Smith (71.8), Marpet (86.7), Jensen (64.9), Cappa (69), Wirfs (81.8)
The Bucs won the Super Bowl last season and while Brady gets the boatload of the credit for ushering in the “Patriot Way” this O-line deserves a lot of credit as well. Tampa’s big boys were one of the top units in the league last season as they got good play from almost everybody and were one of the healthiest lines in the league. Marpet was the top dog of this group and was one of the biggest pro-bowl and all-pro snubs of 2020. He had the highest PFF grade of any guard that played over 70% of the season. He was a dominant force in the run game, and he allowed 0 sacks and only 10 pressures. Next up is Wirfs who had one of the best rookie seasons for a tackle in recent memory. Lineman do not really get considered for offensive rookie of the year but if they did, he could have given Herbert a run for his money. Wirfs was the fourth tackle selected in the 2020 draft but played the best of the all the rookies in year one. Smith put together a solid season at LT. He had some shaky games throughout the year but overall, he played well in both phases. Cappa had the best year of his young career and looks like he might be able to carve out a career as a solid starting guard. He needs to get better run blocking, but he held his own in pass pro and allowed no sacks all season. Jensen had a good year as well despite his low grade from PFF and was one of the better run blocking centers again in 2020. While it is true his pass pro took a hit this season as he gave up four sacks, a lot for a center, he was still a good run blocker for Tampa. The Bucs were an elite pass blocking unit finishing fifth in pressure rate (17.6%) and allowing the fourth fewest sacks (22). The one weakness with the Bucs was their run blocking. They were last in YBC (1.8), 29th in YPG (94.9), and 24th in YPC (4.1).
The Bucs return all five starters from one of the most productive units in the NFL and look to be even better in 2021. Wirfs had a fantastic rookie year and if he continues to improve, he could be on his way to challenging Ramcyzk for the top RT spot. Smith is not great and can get beat at times by the top guys but a team can do a lot worse than him as their starting LT. He is an above average starter that can hold his own in both phases. Marpet had the best season of his career and should be able to duplicate that level of play for at least another year or so as he is only 28. If he is as dominant in both phases again in 2021, he will probably get more recognition this season. Cappa is still a young developing player and could be even better in 2021 but if he just provides decent guard play again like last year Tampa will be fine. Jensen was a bright spot in the running game for Tampa a year ago, he just needs to regain his 2019 form in pass pro and he might be in the pro-bowl conversation at center. Expect the Bucs O-line to be great again in 2021 and expect another deep playoff run unless father time finally catches Tom Brady.