Smashmouth - Offensive Lines Impacting Fantasy Football For Week 10

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The rash of injuries that seems to have ruined the 2017 fantasy season seems to have come to an end... oh yeah, Deshaun Watson was injured on Thursday and will miss the remainder of the 2017 season. While injuries are a part of the game, this season more than any in recent memory has seen devastating injuries to players that are near the top of their position. If your fantasy team has been immune to these rash of injuries, consider yourself lucky, as you are probably in a good position for a playoff spot.

We bring up injuries frequently in articles about the offensive line because it is the line's job to protect players. Obviously, if the line is protecting players, it is less likely that skill position players will get hurt. As for injuries on the offensive line itself, the Redskins, who have a middle of the road offensive line anyway, were without two of their starting lineman on Sunday (Spencer Long and Shawn Lauvao) against the Seahawks. They still came away with a 17-14 win thanks to their defense. Luke Joeckel (Seahawks), Joe Staley (49ers), Larry Warford (Saints), Justin Pugh (Giants), and Ryan Kahlil (Panthers) were all inactive as well, with Anthony Castonzo (Colts) and Trai Turner (Panthers) as key linemen that did play.

Looking at that list of injuries, we see Warford missing time, and that is a key injury for what Football Outsiders sees as one of the league's best lines in New Orleans. Reports have Warford missing "several" weeks with his injury, propelling Senio Kelemete into the lineup, so it is important to look at the impact of that move. We will also take a look at the league's most shocking offense (Rams) and see what the line has done to help fuel the NFC West leaders.

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Offensive Line to Watch - New Orleans Saints

The top offensive line for the rush (and third for the pass) according to Football Outsiders is the New Orleans Saints. Mark Ingram is eighth in the NFL with 541 rushing yards, right at his career average of 4.4 yards per carry, and rookie Alvin Kamara has broken out by averaging six yards per carry out of the backfield. A lot of that is because of their big free agent acquisition Warford, who is dealing with an abdominal injury, and the team will look for Kelemete to fill the void. Kelemete played center while Max Unger was out earlier this season and the fifth-year pro will look to provide a stabilizing effect on the Saints' offensive line.

While Kamara's highlight-reel touchdown in the second quarter against the Buccaneers on Sunday was mostly attributed to the poor tackling by Tampa Bay, it must also be noted that the Saints had two lineman, Unger and Kelemete, 25 yards downfield to hold their blocks. Josh LeRibeus held the edge to allow Kamara to get out of the backfield to begin with, but Unger and Kelemete's athleticism kept the play alive and got Kamara in the end zone. While this is just one example, a play like this shows the difference that an athletic offense line makes, as a speedy back like Kamara will look to get to the outside to be a game breaker.

The nice thing about the Saints offensive line is that they are top-12 in the NFL in plays run to any direction, the only line in football to stake a claim to that fact. In pass protection, the Saints have allowed the fewest sacks in the league (eight) and their adjusted sack rate of 3.5% is the second-best in the league. The team has made a concerted effort to rebuild their line through trades (Unger for Jimmy Graham) and free agency (Warford), but they also kept Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, and Zach Streif, making one of the better lines in football. Armstead is also dealing with a chest injury, but when Warford and Armstead are at full strength, look for the Saints to make a deeper impact in the running game.

 

Fantasy Impact

Stock Up: Alvin Kamara 

Kamara is coming off of the best game of his young career, but it is possible that he keeps up the strong statistics. While he only had 16 touches on Sunday, he scored twice and averaged 9.5 yards per touch, a testament to the fact that the Saints have more than five yards per touch on plays to either the left end or right end. The team will continue to get Kamara in space and as they do, the line will be asked to make space for him. As long as the line gives room for Kamara to make big plays in space, he will continue to play like a RB1.

Stock Down: Mark Ingram

While it may be a bit cynical, the Saints' weakest plays are those up the middle (4.97 yards per touch) or to the right tackle (4.34), which could mean that Ingram does not play like a RB1 for the remainder of the season. Ingram still got a majority of the carries on Sunday, but Kamara was only one touch behind him against the Bucs. This is the first time sine October 1 that Ingram was under 20 touches and he was held out of the end zone for the first time since the 1st as well. Ingram has also fumbled three times in his last four games and, if Kamara can capitalize on plays to the outside, Ingram may continue to see his touches drop.

 

Offensive Line to Watch - Los Angeles Rams

Maybe it is a bit lazy to take my top two offensive lines and cover them this week, but there has to be some explanation for the Rams averaging 37 points per game over the last three games. The Rams offensive line ranks fifth for run blocking and second for pass blocking according to Football Outsiders and is much improved from their 29th ranking in each ranking in 2016. Los Angeles has made a difference on plays up the middle, averaging 4.85 yards, and, while a lot that could be attributed to a back like Todd Gurley, John Sullivan has provided a stabilizing force on the interior after being signed from the Redskins in the offseason.  The team also drafted Robert Havenstein out of Wisconsin in 2015, and he has set in as the right tackle this season, and Matt LaFleur's offense is looking better this season.

From the beginning of the game, you can see the Rams manhandle the Giants upfront, as Todd Gurley gashed the Giants on the Rams first play from scrimmage behind the left side of the offensive line. The play was a power run behind a pulling Jamon Brown who neutralized All-Pro defensive lineman Damon Harrison in the backfield. Beyond that, Rodger Saffold and Andrew Whitworth sealed the edge for Gurley to break free for a 36-yard rush.

The main improvement for the Rams is that the team's offensive sack rate has dropped from 8.1% in 2016 to just 3.4% this season, as Jared Goff has been sacked only 10 times in eight games. This is huge for a second-year quarterback and put him in the position to throw for 311 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday. There also has to be something to say about the fact that all five of the starting lineman for the Rams have played every game this season, giving Goff consistency up front.

 

Fantasy Impact

Stock Up: Jared Goff

As stated earlier, the Rams had the fourth-worst offensive line last season and Goff struggled to find any rhythm in the passing game. Now that there is a better line, Goff has the time to make plays and has responded with top-10 statistics in passing yards (2030) and touchdowns (13). The additions of Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins have helped Goff as well this season and he is becoming a fringe must-start QB in deeper leagues.

Stock Down: Todd Gurley

It is nearly sinful to say one of the league's best players will regress, but when looking at offensive line statistics, there are signs that show Gurley may tail off as the season goes along. The line ranks 30th in the league in power run blocking and is stuffed on runs 23% of the time, 24th in the league, not good signs for a powerful back like Gurley. While the team does lead the league in second-level blocking, the team does need to block for Gurley a bit better at the point of attack. Gurley does have three touchdowns in his last two games (and has been over 100 yards rushing in three of five games), but he has also been held under four yards per carry twice in the last five games. Running backs that get hit too much lead to trouble and it might be a good time to sell high on Gurley.

 

Top Five Offensive Lines

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Los Angeles Rams
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Dallas Cowboys
5. Baltimore Ravens

 

Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32. Cincinnati Bengals
31. Detroit Lions
30. Carolina Panthers
29. New York Jets
28. Arizona Cardinals

For any questions about offensive line play in the NFL, feel free to contact me @thezman2010 on Twitter.

 

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