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Smashmouth: Offensive Lines Impacting Fantasy Football (Week 3)

After two weeks of the regular season, we can start to figure out which teams are contenders and which ones are pretenders, doomed to pick in the top of the 2019 NFL Draft. There is a common theme with the underperformers so far: poor offensive line play. The Giants, Cardinals, Seahawks all have been awful up front, which has impacted their skill players in a negative way. Odell Beckham and David Johnson both were disappointments after their lines were dominated this past week.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, players like Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger are benefiting from better than average offensive line play resulting in monster starts to their respective seasons. The question will be if they can continue their success going forward as the season takes its toll and injuries start to pile up.

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 look at two units at the opposite ends of one of the most surprising results from Week 2, the Bucs and Eagles. Is Fitzmagic really Houdini or is there more to meets the eye in Tamps Bay? Also, what can fantasy owners expect when Carson Wentz returns for the Eagles in Week 3 against the Colts? Those answers and more below.

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Offensive Line to Watch - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the more surprising starts to the NFL season has come from Tampa Bay. Ryan Fitzpatrick, not Jameis Winston, has led the Bucs to one of the most surprising 2-0 starts in recent memory. Beating the Saints in New Orleans and the defending Super Bowl champions at home is no small feat, so are the Bucs just riding a hot start by Fitzpatrick or is there something else happening in Tampa Bay?

The offensive line in Tampa Bay was certainly not the most impressive group in 2017, but addition of Ryan Jensen at Center from the Ravens has solidified this group. Jensen is more of a mauler than finesse pass blocker, but he compliments guards Ali Marpet (LG) and Caleb Beneoch (RG) well. These three in the middle have performed well in the running game, even if their PFF grades and overall rushing statistics do not jump out to the everyday fantasy player.

The Bucs were up most of the game trying to salt away the clock in the fourth quarter, resulting in a fairly poor YPC average for Peyton Barber. However, these next two clips demonstrate just how when the Bucs need to run early in the game, they got the job done up front against a really good Philadelphia front. Both the clips below show that the Bucs can get the job done up front man on man against a tough defensive front in Philadelphia. They show early in the game that they can get a hat on a hat in the zone running game, and are even able to get to the second level in one of the clips below.

While the running game hasn’t been the most productive to start the season, the passing game led by Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a revelation. There was no doubt that the Bucs have some awesome passing targets in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and OJ Howard, but the fact that the offensive line has held up as well is allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to distribute to open receivers.

According to PFF, every starting lineman on the Bucs besides Ryan Jensen (44.7 pass blocking grade) is currently graded at a 72.9 passing grade or higher. Both tackles, Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith, are grading over 75.7 and it shows. The Eagles could not generate pressure easily with rushing just their four down linemen over this past week. You’ll see in this clip below an example of a 2nd and 9 scenario in which the Eagles try to get some heat on Fitzpatrick rushing four, but the offensive line gives him enough time to find an open Chris Godwin.


Fantasy Impact

Trust: Ryan Fitzpatrick/Jameis Winston

If this line can pass protect as well later into the season as they have so far, any quarterback for the Bucs will have success. Fitzpatrick is able to see the full field without pressure in his face and make good decisions leading to fantasy points. Fitz or Jameis certainly have the weapons to keep the chains moving and potentially lead to more massive fantasy days. I would expect whichever quarterback is at the helm for the Bucs to be a QB1 the rest of the way if the offensive line stays healthy.

Trust: Mike Evans

Evans still is not the most efficient receiver in the NFL, but he’s been getting the job done to start 2018. Grading out as PFF’s number 2 wide receiver among qualified players (91.9 grade), Evans should continue to see the volume necessary for big fantasy days. Instead of a borderline top 10 wide receiver, Evans should be treated as a top 5 fantasy receiver barring any injuries.

Hold: Peyton Barber

Yes, the YPC average isn’t there right now, but you should see some better production from Peyton Barber in the near future. This line has the potential to be quite good in the middle with the combination of Jensen, Marpet, and Beneoch. If the tackles can improve against weaker competition, Barber should start to see some better fantasy days ahead. He should be on benches for the time being, but has the chance to be an every week Flex or better option.


Offensive Line to Watch - Philadelphia Eagles

Still one of the best units in the NFL, the Eagles group is strong across the entire offensive line. Currently, the right side of the offensive line comprised of Lane Johnson (Right Tackle) and Brandon Brooks (Right Guard) are both top-6 at the position respectively. Center Jason Kelce is currently the number 3 graded Center according to Pro Football Focus, and has been the anchor for this offensive line for the past few seasons. Kelce in particular is one of the most athletic Centers in the NFL and positively impacts both the passing and running game. Check out this clip of an outside run to the right in which Kelce and Brandon Brooks are able to pull with ease to get downfield. Not only do both players get downfield, but they both are able to cut block and take out oncoming defenders. Having an athlete at Center that can get pull and get downfield is such an asset versus many teams that cannot employ blocking schemes to take advantage of athletes in the middle of the offensive line.

Another great example where the athleticism of the Eagles’ offensive line really shines is in their screen game. They consistently are able to not only protect the passer to enable the throw, but also get out in front the back catching the ball. In the clip you will see Kelce and Brooks again getting out in front of their back for a nice gain.

One area of potential concern is the health of Jason Peters at Left Tackle. Peters left the game early with a groin issue. Luckily for the Eagles, they have some strong depth at the position in Vaitai, who played during the end of the 2017 season. Vaitai is a top 30 tackle according to Pro Football Focus even without being a full time starter so far this season. Even without the All-Pro Peters, Vaitai made a positive impact for the Eagles in the running and passing game. He is on the backside of this zone run and gets some great movement allowing the back to cut backside for a nice gain on 2nd down.

The Eagles offensive line with or without Peters will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.


Fantasy Impact

Hold: Jay Ajayi

Last season the Eagles converted in the red zone via the pass at one of the highest rates of any team in recent history. That has seemed to change so far in 2018. Ajayi’s usage might not be of Todd Gurley so far this season, but his work in the red zone needs to be mentioned. His three touchdowns in 2018 are certainly an improvement over the one in 2017. This all may change with Carson Wentz returning to the helm in Week 3, but Ajayi should be Flex worthy in all lineups until his situation changes.

Trust: Nelson Agholor

So far this season Agholor has been gobbling up targets from Nick Foles with 22 targets in his first two games this season. The offensive line should be able to hold up well enough so Agholor can function in and out of the slot. He has improved immensely from his first two seasons and has found his niche in Philly. As long as Jeffery remains out, Agholor is a solid WR2 in PPR leagues and a WR3/Flex in standard leagues.


Top Five Offensive Lines

1) New Orleans Saints
2) Philadelphia Eagles
3) Los Angeles Rams
4) Jacksonville Jaguars
5) Atlanta Falcons


Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) Buffalo Bills
31) Seattle Seahawks
30) Arizona Cardinals
29) New York Giants
28) Houston Texans

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

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