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Offensive Line Rankings Impacting Fantasy Football (Week 4)

Here we are entering Week 4 already! It feels like yesterday that I was preparing myself for my draft, and now we are around a quarter of the way through the season. Hopefully, your roster is taking shape, and you've been able to avoid some of the injuries that have hit the league.

Offensive line play is often overlooked by fans and fantasy owners, but it's one of the most important factors for an offense to move. A strong line gives running backs more time for a gap to appear, and quarterbacks can let plays develop before throwing the ball downfield.

If it's so important for an offense, why is it so often overlooked? Simply, the ability of a line changes drastically from week to week. The defenders that they are faced with, the game flow, and of course the availability of players. Using PFF's player grading tool, each week I will identify an offensive line that has been trending up, and one trending down and more importantly, how that will affect your fantasy roster over the next few weeks. If you want to look at the raw data and my applied method, feel free to message me on Twitter @RichKingFF - I'm happy to share!

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Offensive Line to Watch - Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions were easily one of the worst offensive lines last season, but this season they seem to have been able to band together and become one of the better-ranked units. On the face of it, it doesn't seem quite right- the Lions historically have had one of the worst offensive lines. No large-scale changes, and now are one of the better units? Let's dig into that below.

Pass Blocking

This is where the Lions have excelled- they've been able to keep their quarterback upright. Matthew Stafford has been sacked just three times so far this season. The Lions certainly didn't start well, and actually gave up all three of those sacks in their opening game against the Arizona Cardinals. Since then, they've survived matchups against the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles without giving up a single sack.

Pictorially representing the PFF grading shows the effectiveness of the line:

The Detroit Lions don't have a great grade and taking their average across the line they rank 23rd in the league, making it a bottom-half unit. However, considering the struggles the line had last season it is a vast improvement.

This effectiveness has been shown with their quarterback Matthew Stafford having some impressive performances this season. Stafford struggled throughout last season to get the offense moving- but this season has passed for 831 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Run Blocking

Run blocking is where this unit has become one of the better ones in the league. The Lions had shown signs of their intention to run the ball more last season and hired Darrell Bevell in the offseason to lead their offense. The team has fully committed to running the ball, entrusting a group of players led by Kerryon Johnson.

Pictorially representing the PFF grading shows the effectiveness of the line:

The Lions unit is now one of the best in the league, with their center Frank Ragnow leading the league at the position. Right guard Graham Glasgow is equally impressive- ranking second at the position behind only the Philadelphia Eagles' Brandon Brooks.

The ability of the line, combined with the commitment to the running game, should allow this offense to continue to be one of the more effective in the league.


Fantasy Impact

Trust: Kerryon Johnson

Johnson is the clear number one running back in the offense. Johnson impressed enough this preseason that the coaching staff was happy to release stalwart Theo Riddick before releasing C.J. Anderson after just two games. There was speculation that the touches vacated by Anderson would be shared among Kerryon and Ty Johnson, but if the touch distribution in Week 3 can be trusted, the backfield looks to be Johnson's going forward.

Johnson is currently averaging just 2.6 yards per carry so far this season, but entrusting him behind an effective blocking unit means that he is sure to produce in the next few games.

Cause for Concern: T.J. Hockenson

Hockenson made an immediate impact in the NFL, catching six of nine targets for 131 yards and a touchdown. Since that breakout game, the rookie tight end has been only had seven targets, two receptions for eight yards. Given the struggle that the Lions had in the opening match keeping Stafford vertical, the Lions have clearly decided to keep Hockenson in to help solidify their edge.


Offensive Line to Avoid - Los Angeles Rams

What a difference a year can make. This time last year the Rams were one of the best units in the league, allowing their elite running back Todd Gurley to wreak havoc on the opposition. This season, Gurley doesn't look as explosive as he was and the offensive line looks to be struggling.

Pass Blocking

The Rams still have some effective parts on their offensive line but are missing the ability of Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan on the interior of their line. Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen have attempted to fill those boots, but are clearly struggling.

Through the first three games, the Rams have allowed quarterback Jared Goff to be sacked six times. Last season, that number was four at this stage of the season. Clearly, the Rams are still an effective offense. But unless they are able to get an improvement on the interior of their line, they are going to struggle to reach the highs of last season.

Run Blocking

The offense run by Sean McVay revolves around the ability to establish the run, mixing in play-action passes. And again, the Rams are missing strength at the left guard position.

Center Brian Allen is far more effective with run blocking, which will be a large reason as to why the offensive line struggles haven't truly been highlighted. However, those struggles have been seen with the ability of the running backs to truly dominate in fantasy lineups.


Fantasy Impact

Trust: Todd Gurley/ Malcolm Brown

While the Rams unit is one of the worst in the league, according to PFF grades this season, there is hope for the running backs on the team. The Rams offense still has some improvement to make at the left guard position, but they are able to be effective.

Gurley's durability is a concern, but he is still an elite talent on an effective offense that will score points. If Brown is still available in your league, then he is worth picking up. Brown looks to be the handcuff to own for the Rams. Furthermore, he has flex appeal in certain matchups.

Cause for Concern: Brandin Cooks

I could have chosen the tight end position for the team generally, but they are only likely owned in deeper leagues. So, I selected the receiver who makes his hay getting downfield.

With the struggles that the Rams line has had so far this season to protect their quarterback, it's unlikely Cooks will be able to get the separation required to make the type of impact to your fantasy roster expected out of a WR2.


Top Five Offensive Lines

1) Dallas Cowboys
2) Baltimore Ravens
3) Philadelphia Eagles
4) New Orleans Saints
5) Detroit Lions


Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) Miami Dolphins
31) Los Angeles Rams
30) Jacksonville Jaguars
29) New York Jets
28) Atlanta Falcons

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