Smashmouth - Offensive Lines Impacting Fantasy Football For Week 3

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Offensive line play in the NFL often seems like a mystery to some casual NFL fans, but can also been seen as a source of extra information for fantasy owners and hardcore NFL fans alike. Real and fantasy teams can be made or broken by an offensive line outperforming preseason expectations or not living up to the hype. Poor offensive line play not only leads to lack of production in the run game, but can throw a passing game completely out-of-whack as well, just look at teams like the Giants and Bengals so far in 2017. When an offensive line outperforms, like the Broncos for instance, an offense can flourish and turn average players, yes Trevor Siemian is very average, into fantasy darlings.

Every week fantasy owners will find a ranking of the top and bottom five offensive lines in the NFL after breaking down their film and also three additional offensive lines that will make an impact on fantasy teams for the better or worse.

Follow up on this information on which running backs might benefit the most from strong O-line play by checking out our running back waiver wire section.

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Offensive Lines to Watch - Week 3

Arizona Cardinals

Most will say that Carson Palmer is just plain done. That simply is not the case as of yet, but there’s a chance that the poor offensive line play in front of him knocks whatever arm talent he has left out of him. Jared Veldheer has been an issue at right tackle in the first two weeks of the season giving up quick pressures and sacks routinely, even against an average pass rush of the Colts. He’s currently graded a 37.1 by Pro Football Focus, which is one of the worst marks in the league. You can see below Veldheer gives up a quick inside pressure for a sack and then gets beat outside on a speed rush.

Not only does Veldheer have issues on the exterior, but the loss of DJ Humphries on the left side of the offensive line also looms large. Humphries replacement, John Wetzel, was also beat numerous times during their game against the Colts earning a PFF grade of just 42.9. On the interior, the team is really missing Mike Iupati at guard. The Cardinals recently signed Alex Boone off the street to fill in at left guard while Iupati nurses an injury and that experiment has not worked to say the least. Boone graded out as a 39.4 according to Pro Football Focus, which simply gets the designation of “poor” and has clearly lost a lot of his skill from his days as a 49er.

Fantasy Impact: The lack of consistency in front of Carson Palmer has limited Palmer’s ability to take advantage of the speed on the outside of players like JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown. Nelson did have a long TD reception in week 2, but the “mad bomber” style of play calling from head coach Bruce Arians will be severely limited against teams with top-tier pass rushers like the Seahawks and Rams. Expect Larry Fitzgerald who has been very quiet the first couple games of the season to see plenty of looks to make sure Carson Palmer stays upright.

Not only will the passing game be impacted as the pass rush becomes more and more fierce against the Cardinals later in the season, but the running game will also see much more difficult sledding going forward. Without a strong interior of the offensive line to generate push against a defensive front , the combination of Kerwynn Williams and Chris Johnson will have to deal with not only potentially defensive linemen in the backfield, but linebackers roaming free and meeting them in any potential holes opened by the offensive line. Downgrade all Cardinals running backs until David Johnson returns.

 

Seattle Seahawks

As bad as the Arizona Cardinals have played up front so far, the Seahawks are that much worse. Four out of the five offensive linemen are graded as “Poor” (under 49.99) according to Pro Football Focus with the offensive tackles being some of the worst culprits as the loss of left tackle George Fant is looming large to start the season. Rees Odhiambo and Germain Ifedi have been liabilities to say the least to start the season. Early on in the Seahawks matchup against the 49ers both tackles were firmly placed in Russell Wilson’s lap causing pressures and even a few sacks.

It’s not only in the passing game where these tackles are causing issues, but in the running game as well. Again, early on in week 2, the Seahawks attempt to run the ball to the left side and it’s just a mess. Odhiambo gets completely overmatched, loses his leverage, falls forward and the play ends up for no gain.

The lone bright spot is center Justin Britt, who has tried to be glue to hold it all together, but he cannot do it alone. Don’t be surprised if there is some shuffling with this group in the weeks to come. Fantasy owners do need to give credit to this line for being able to run out the clock with Chris Carson to finish their week 2 matchup against the 49ers. It appears that the Seahawks zone scheme fits Carson’s skill set well as he is able to make sharp cuts and head upfield versus the plodding nature of backs like Eddie Lacy that typically need to stay north and south and also need a small runway to get going.

Fantasy Impact:  The running game may have found traction in week 2 against the 49ers, but it will face a stiff test in Week 3 as the Seahawks travel east to take on Tennessee. If the Seattle zone scheme works against the Titans on the road then fantasy owners can start to believe in at least the run blocking aptitude of this offensive line.

The major area affected by the lack of offensive line skill is going to be the passing game. Throughout the game, Russell Wilson was being used in designed roll-outs to cover up the ineptitude of his pass protectors up front. Seattle does utilize boot-action quite often, but it was glaringly obvious this was being done to keep Wilson out of harm’s way. Moving Wilson on bootlegs and sprint out passes takes away some of what Wilson does best, extend the play from the pocket to produce large chunk plays. On these roll-out passes Wilson is essentially looking at half the field in whichever direction he is rolling to. Receivers and tight ends will be at various levels of the field usually from 5-15 yards and it’s up to Wilson to pull the trigger to the open option. From the pocket, Wilson would be able to extend plays in order to take longer shots downfield as the defense either wears down during the play or route combinations take longer to develop. Players like Doug Baldwin should benefit from the short passing game, especially in PPR leagues, but speedsters like Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson may have capped upsides without the amount of deep targets available. Even though Wilson was drafted as a QB1 in the majority of fantasy leagues, now would be a good time to add him to your bench and stream a quarterback with a better matchup until his pass protection improves.

 

Cleveland Browns

The talk of the offseason in Cleveland and fantasy circles was how much better the Cleveland Browns offensive line was going to be and how Isaiah Crowell had the potential to be finish as a possible RB1 this season. So far this season things have not worked out well for Crowell as he’s totaled just 70 yards on 27 carries in the first two weeks. However, everything shouldn’t fall on the offensive line for Crowell’s underperformance. Four out of the five members of the Browns offensive line are currently graded out a 70 (average) or above according to PFF, with of course Joe Thomas leading the way at an 89.0. Here are a few examples of the O-line paving the way for Crowell. The first is a beautifully blocked power play and the second demonstrates how Crowell just simply misses an easy cut back for a 10+ yard gain after the offensive line collapses the entire right side of the Ravens defense.

While there are some hits for this offensive line, there are also misses. This toss play is executed quite poorly, allowing penetration and settling for a short gain.

Fantasy Impact: Owners should be patient with Isaiah Crowell. This week’s matchup against the Colts should be the start to some fantasy goodness for Crowell against a defense that hasn’t dominated the trenches to start the season. There should be running room for him, if he can find it, and could be a buy-low opportunity if the Crowell owner is fed up at his lack of production through the first two games. The Browns should be using the power schemes that Crowell found success with in week 2, like on the run above, to get Crowell into the second level where he can cause some damage. The Browns should also be in a more positive game script than their previous two games leading to a higher workload for Crowell.

The passing game for the Browns appears to be a mess with Corey Coleman breaking his hand yet again. Kenny Britt is a near non-factor after his strong campaign from 2016. However all is not lost. Rookie tight end, David Njoku, made a nice twisting catch for a touchdown and Rashard Higgins was able to stretch the Baltimore Ravens vertically, something the Bengals could not do in week 1. The offensive line held up relatively well, even though they gave up three sacks against the Ravens. Both DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan had time to set and stretch the ball down the field on a consistent basis. The issue comes down to Kizer making the correct decisions and hitting his own receivers instead of ones with different colored jerseys. The Browns have a long way to go as an offense due to the lack of playmakers on the outside with the loss of Corey Coleman, but their offensive line should be a guiding force for both their run and pass game going forward.

 

Top Five Offensive Lines

1) Oakland Raiders
2) Dallas Cowboys
3) Denver Broncos
4) Tennessee Titans
5) Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) New York Giants
31) Cincinnati Bengals
30) Seattle Seahawks
29) Houston Texans
28) Arizona Cardinals

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @TheRealHalupka for any redraft or dynasty questions.

 

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