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Every season an overlooked aspect of fantasy football is how the offensive line performs for each team. We’ve seen how a poor offensive line can completely derail an entire offense and the skill players on that team--just look at the Bengals and Giants from a season ago.

The offensive line can make average skill players look like fantasy studs and a poor line can turn former fantasy superstars into just average fantasy assets.

Each week I’ll take a look at a few offensive lines that are impacting fantasy football for the better and sometimes worse, and how they will impact certain skill players on each team going forward. This week, I’ll focus on two revamped units in the Bengals and Colts from their Week 1 matchup and how they will impact some of their top skill players going forward.

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Offensive Line to Watch - Cincinnati Bengals

One of the laughing stocks of the NFL in 2017, the Bengals invested some serious resources in the offseason to address their offensive line for the 2018 season. They traded with the Bills for Cordy Glenn, who was coming off an injury-plagued season in 2017. It’s safe to say Glenn looks to be fairly healthy in 2018 as he scored a 76.6 according to Pro Football Focus in pass protection in week 1 against the Colts. Glenn’s continued performance will be a huge determining factor about the long-term success of Andy Dalton and the downfield passing game in 2018. Not only was Glenn a factor in the passing game, but helped Joe Mixon in the running game by helping him spring his big run on 3rd and 1 as he was able to wall off his defender.

Not only did the Bengals address their left tackle, but they also added Bobby Hart formerly of the Giants at right tackle and drafted center Billy Price from Ohio State in the first round of the NFL draft. Let’s start with the issue that is Bobby Hart. Hart has been one of the worst starting offensive linemen over the last two seasons (grading at 44.8 in 2017 and just 37.4 in week 1 of 2018). These grades are out of 100 from PFF, where Hart is clearly failing the Bengals. Hart had numerous issues throughout the day including giving up an easy sack by being overwhelmed by an average pass rusher in Margus Hunt. Hart ends up on his can and Dalton eats the turf. Dalton feels the pain that Eli Manning felt over the previous three seasons as Hart is prone to giving up quick pressures. I would not be surprised if Jake Fisher takes over for Hart early on in 2018 if Hart continues to struggle.

Any rookie can have a steep learning curve as they enter the NFL, and that can be especially so for offensive linemen. Across the board, the athletes on defense are better than who these offensive linemen have faced in college. Billy Price definitely faced some of the best playing in the Big Ten, but the NFL is a whole new world. Price has the raw tools to get the job done at the NFL level, but needs to be consistent in his leverage and technique.

The first two plays of the game really demonstrate the highs and lows that come with a young offensive lineman. Starting off, Price does a great job in the run game in his combo block with guard Clint Boling. They wall off the defensive lineman and are able to create a nice crease for Joe Mixon to run through for a strong gain on first down. He has great leverage here and is able to use his punch to get some movement on the first level. Good work overall by the rookie.

With the good, comes the bad as well. On the very next play, Price loses his base and is nearly thrown into Andy Dalton’s lap by the Colts’ defensive lineman. Price must sink his hips and attempt to extend his arms to keep the defensive lineman from running through him on a path to the quarterback. This pressure leads to a tipped ball and interception which was an early potential game changer until Andrew Luck threw one right back to the Bengals.

This group certainly looked better as a whole in 2018 versus some of the major issues they faced in 2017. Besides the glaring issue at right tackle in Bobby Hart, this group should be a middle of the road unit.

 

Fantasy Impact

Trust: Joe Mixon

Mixon was quite active in week 1 with a combined 22 touches (17 rushes and five receptions). The improvement in the run block, specifically on the left side of the offensive line, should allow Mixon some consistent gains over the course of the season barring injury. The combination of Cordy Glenn and Clint Boling should be an above average unit which should make up for the shortcomings of whichever combination is on the right side. Fantasy owners should expect to Mixon to be a high-end RB2 or low-end RB1 in 2018.

Bust: John Ross

While it was great to see John Ross catch a short, red zone touchdown this past week, what fantasy owners drafted Ross for are explosive plays using his world-class speed. These have the chance to be few and far between in 2018 with the pass blocking deficiencies on the right side of the offensive line. In week 1, Dalton’s average Intended Air Yards according to NFL advanced stats were just six yards per attempt. That was tied for the sixth lowest number of any quarterback in week 1. Ross will need to get involved in the shorter passing game in order for fantasy owners to see consistent WR3 value out of him this season. He should be on all benches going forward until he sees more short area targets.

 

Offensive Line to Watch - Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are another team that is looking to a revamped offensive line to help not only keep Andrew Luck upright, but establish a power running game under new head coach Frank Reich. Quenton Nelson was drafted at number 6 overall in this year’s NFL draft to help solidify the interior of the Colts offensive line. Along with the signing of veteran guard, Matt Slauson, the Colts went into the season thinking their duo could hold up for the long haul. There will be growing pains with any rookie as we saw with Billy Price and that definitely occurred with Nelson in week 1. Nelson did have to face off against Geno Atkins, one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, so struggles should be expected. He finished with a 62.9 grade according to PFF, by no means an All-Pro, but solid for his first career start. The impressive part about Nelson is that he has very good feet to recover in pass protection if he is about to be beaten to the inside or outside. Even if Atkins was beating him with a bull rush, Nelson is able to regather his feet underneath him and sink his hips to recover and not allow a quick pressure.

Long-time left tackle Anthony Costanzo missed week 1 which could have changed part of the gameplan for the Colts. Andrew Luck took very few deep shots as Joe Haeg stepped in at left tackle. Luck averaged only 2.52 seconds from snap to throw, which was the 7th fastest in the NFL. Contrast that from 2016, Luck held the ball the 4th longest at 2.88 seconds from snap to throw, taking numerous shots down the field with nearly nine-yards average air yards per throw. Even though the Colts have changed their mindset so far in regards to downfield passing, there are plenty of ways to create plays in the passing game. Notice the play action fake gives the offensive line the ability to be more aggressive at the snap, ensuring that there is no pressure in Andrew Luck’s face. Luck had time to read the field and deliver an accurate ball for a first down.

The Colts attempted to take some pressure off of Luck by attempting to establish a running game, but they were not very effective. Rookie running back Jordan Wilkins could only muster 40 yards on 14 carries in week 1, but did find pockets of success. The Colts were fairly effective using trap and wham schemes during the game. They should continue to use these type of blocking schemes in the clips below to avoid the one on one matchups that can plague a line that isn’t performing well. The angles and leverage points created allow for overly aggressive defenses like the Bengals to make mistakes by running themselves out of position versus the need for the Colts offensive line to move bodies.

 

Fantasy Impact

Cause for Concern: TY Hilton

While the new scheme implemented by Frank Reich should certainly keep Andrew Luck upright, TY Hilton may not see as many deep targets as years previous, limiting his weekly upside. It’s only week 1, but Hilton saw only 8.9 Air Yards on Average per Target versus 13.3 in 2016. That put him in the same company of players like Cooper Kupp and Larry Fitzgerald. When Costanzo returns, the hope is that number increases back to at least 12 air yards per target so Hilton can take advantage of his great speed. Hilton should still be considered a high-end WR2, but he may not have top-8 upside as many people had hoped.

Trust: Andrew Luck

This may seem obvious, but any time your quarterback can remain upright for longer periods of time throughout a game, the better. Luck may not be the wild bomber like he’s been in previous seasons, but a more efficient Andrew Luck can only be a good thing for fantasy owners. He should be more consistent on a weekly basis and less prone to being overwhelmed when his offensive line struggles due to the implementation of the short passing game. Expect Luck to continue to deliver QB1 numbers throughout the season.

 

Top Five Offensive Lines

1) Philadelphia Eagles
2) New Orleans Saints
3) Los Angeles Rams
4) Pittsburgh Steelers
5) Washington Redskins

 

Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) Buffalo Bills
31) Houston Texans
30) Seattle Seahawks
29) Arizona Cardinals
28) Carolina Panthers

 
For any questions about offensive line play in the NFL, feel free to contact me @TheRealHalupka on Twitter.

 

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