We are getting closer and closer to real football again, which means that it is time to start the player rankings conversations. Today we examine the top five overall (team) pass-blocking grades using our new individual player grade system that we developed in recent months.
How the Grade System Works
The Football Scout 365 process and philosophy are predicated on the connection between advanced metrics and on-field play. The numbers can sometimes tell a different story than the film, and that is where our situational analysis plays a pivotal role in interpreting individual and team performance.
Positional Group Grades
In recent weeks, we have graded and ranked the top individual players by tier groups. Today's analysis covers the offensive line as a whole. By using the individual player grades, we can get an average grade by position group. The average grade will indicate the teams that possess the highest graded players at each position. Because we believe that certain position groups are only as good as the sum of the whole, we will grade out the top offensive lines by total pass blocking grade in this analysis.
What I look for On Film when evaluating The OL.
For the most part, you scout all of the offensive line positions similarly with a few variations. Everything begins and ends with how a player moves, observing the prospect's first few steps when in pass pro, their athleticism and ability to get to an area to block in the run game, hand usage, and strength.
Some prospects are raw but athletic and need polish, vs. some who are very technical but lack strength or athleticism. As a pass blocker, how well does the lineman use his hands? Does he stick and move like a boxer with good footwork (punch defender). How does he handle a bull rush or players who use a wide array of hand combos to disengage? Where are his eyes? Is the prospect flat-footed at times or consistently on his toes?
Can the prospect get a good push or move a defender? Can he leverage the defender with his size? Does he play with a good bend (bends at the knee, not at the waist)? When moving the defender, does he distribute his power from the legs up? Is the prospect's hand placement in the correct area (inside shoulders, thumbs are pointing up)? Does the player finish, and is he consistent in all of these critical areas?
The scheme fit matters; some guys are more comfortable in a zone-blocking scheme than, say a power, or gap scheme; some are good at both. Some are good with straight-up man blocking one on one; it varies with the run game as a general rule; Gap schemes are more effective if your offensive linemen are not physically as strong as the defensive linemen help deal with stunts and twists. Zone Schemes are great ways to feature a runner with great vision and punish fast-flowing linebackers.
What I look For When Evaluating OL Using Data
When evaluating an offensive lineman, the data that I look for includes sacks and pressures allowed by the individual player and blown assignment rate. All three of these metrics are negative contributions to the whole of the entire OL. Blown assignments lead to pressure and sacks. The NFL's best OL are those who show up the least on film or instant replays during a broadcast. If you are not being highlighted as an OL, you are likely doing your part to keep pressure off of the QB. The same philosophy can be used to determine what players are strong run blockers. If a player blows an assignment while run blocking whether the play results in a negative play or not, is considered a negative for that individual player and will be counted as a negative vs. the whole group as a part of our sum of the whole position grades.
Positional Grades Using a Philosophical Holism Approach
Using a philosophical holism (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) style to grading a position group will help us identify where the strengths and weaknesses reside at each position.
Some Average Grade Characteristics To Consider From Years Past
Teams with a 6 grade or higher are playoff-caliber teams, while those at 7 or above are considered Super Bowl Contenders. Using the same premise for each position group, we can identify championship-caliber on non-championship caliber position groups. *Subject to change
Teams Poised To Lead The NFL In Lowest Number Of Pressures Allowed, and Least Sacks Allowed in 2021.
(1st). Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade 8.00)
Boasting the NFL preseason's top offensive line on paper, the Browns already carry the NFL's second-ranked team run-blocking grade heading into 2021. In 2020, the Browns offensive line allowed a league-low 88 pressures, and of the 26 total sacks allowed, the OL attributed to only 50% of those total sacks on the grade sheet, with the rest landing at the feet of a missed assignment by a non-OL or Baker Mayfield.
Brown's OL Boasts High Grades In All Aspects
The Browns boast three of Football Scout 365's highest-graded pass blockers, J.C. Tretter, Joel Bitonio, and Jack Conklin who are all tier one, level two near-elite players. In addition, the Browns have one of the top young OT's in the NFL, Jedrick Wills Jr., who boasts a tier-one level three grade and is a player who could enter near-elite to elite level grades in 2021. Wyatt Teller is another solid pass blocker, he is Cleveland's lowest graded pass blocker according to our metrics, yet he is one of the league's best IOL.
Browns OL With Least Blown Assignments In 2020
Other variables to take into consideration, Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter, Wyatt Teller, and Jack Conklin accounted for a total of 27 total-blown assignments while in pass pro in 2020, while the rookie Jedrick Wills Jr. accumulated 16 on his own. Among players with at least 500 pass pro snaps, 5 or fewer blown assignments is high level.
(2nd). Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade 7.80)
The Cardinals are a team that has many pieces falling into place, including its offensive line. The Cardinals carry the NFL's 2nd best pass blocking grade as a whole. In 2020, the Cardinals surrendered 29 total sacks. Of those 29 sacks, the OL was accountable for only 10 of those sacks. The Cards OL also ranked 4th in the NFL in pressure allowed with 116 vs. the team total of 166.
D.J. Humphries Projects Into The Elite Level Tier One, Others May Follow Him
Arizona has one of the NFL's elite-level tackles (D.J. Humphries)
according to Football Scout 365 metrics. Humphries is paired with LG Justin Pugh and their newest addition from the Raiders at Center Rodney Hudson, one of the top IOL players in the league. All five starters have a 7 grade or better across the board heading into the 2021 NFL season.
The Addition of Rodney Hudson
The upgrade at the center position from Mason Cole to Rodney Hudson is night and day. Hudson is a near-elite level center that will provide a seasoned set of eyes that will help the young Kyler Murray identify potential pressure areas.
Blown Assignments Caused By Multiple Variables in 2020
The other variable to consider is that the two tackle spots in 2020 accounted for the highest total of blown assignments with both Kelvin Beachum and D.J. Humphries accounting for 36 of the 71 total-blown assignments according to data provided SIS. The Cardinals did a great job masking these issues, and there is another data point to consider, Kyler Murray using his legs to protect his OL. In 2020, the Cardinals allowed 29 total sacks; only ten were attributed to the OL, which is a huge surprise considering the more significant number of blown assignments.
Kyler Murray's Time To Throw, Time To Take Off, And How He Was Accountable For The Majority Of His Teams Sacks In 2020
Murray ranked in the middle of the league in 2020 with an average time to throw 2.58 sec and was rated third in the NFL in average time to run, which is a number that calculates a player's ability to keep a pass play alive before taking off. This indicates that on pass plays, the OL and especially the tackles on the edge of the offense had to work longer to sustain their blocks, resulting in a higher rate of missed assignments. Murray, on his own, would account for 14 of the 29 total sacks, which occurred when he would work to keep a play alive rather than finding an open target or getting rid of the football. The remaining five sacks occurred on missed assignments from additional players added in pass pro, TE, FB, RB's, etc.
(3rd). Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade 7.57)
The talent on the Colt's OL is on pace to be the best in the NFL. Of the 21 total sacks allowed in 2020, the Colt's OL would account for 12. The Colts OL surrendered the league's 6th lowest total pressures with 125 in 2020.
Colts OL Boasting High-Level Individual Player Grades
From right to left, it is hard to find a glaring weakness on this Colt's OL. They Added free agent LT Eric Fisher who will pair with star LG Quenton Nelson. The Colts do not have a starter with a grade lower than 7.
Weak Link Is Not A "Weak Link" In Indy
Whenever you can say that your potential weak link on your offensive line is RG Mark Glowinski who accounted for 20 of Colt's 54 blown assignments in pass pro, well that's a first-world problem. Carson Wentz will be playing behind the best OL he has had since arriving in the NFL and arguably the best OL overall in 2021.
(4th). Green Bay Packers (Overall Grade 7.40)
The Packers OL in 2020 was arguably the best in pass protection. The OL surrendered a league-best (lowest) 9 of the teams 21 total sacks. The Packers also tied with the Browns in pressures allowed by its OL with 88.
Elite LT David Bakhtiari suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice in late December of 2020. Here we are in 2021, and Bakhtiari is still considered an elite-level OT who will bolster the left side of the Packer's offense. The Packers OL also has a rising star at LG in Elgton Jenkins, graded as a tier-one level three player heading into 2021, but can reach near-elite or elite by the season's end.
Packers Will Likely Start A Rookie At Center
The Packer's weakness upfront is rookie center Josh Myers from Ohio State. Myers graded out as our 5th best IOL in the 2021 NFL Draft, a player with many potential qualities and significant playing experience in the Big Ten appears poised to be a week one starter for the Packers in 2021.
The Impact of a Rookie Center
So let's discuss the impact of having a rookie center on your OL. This is not to discredit Josh Myers in any way, but he is a rookie, and the impact that this will have on the Packers, especially without Aaron Rodgers, could be detrimental to the sum of the whole. The center position is critical in the NFL because the center is responsible for calling out protections and identifying where pressure might occur. You can mask some of these problems if you have Aaron Rodgers, but without Aaron, the Packer's OL might not live up to expectations in 2021.
LT David Bakhtiari ACL Recovery Timeline
The sum of the whole will be drastically in peril without David Bakhtiari, especially without Aaron Rodgers. Bakhtiari is only five months into his recovery from an injury that can take upwards of 12 months or longer to recover. In a recent press conference, the Packers head coach Matt Lefleur mentioned that Bakhtiari is ahead of schedule but offered no timetable for a return. Without the star LT early in 2021, the Packers might have to roll with Elgdon Jenkins kicked out at LT while inserting another rookie in Jon Runyon Jr. from Michigan at LG.
(5th). Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade 7.20)
"How bout them, Cowboys"? Jerry world let us down in 2020 with a dud of a season, primarily due to the loss of star QB Dak Prescott, but not entirely. The Cowboys had many injuries at key spots, including their OL, which became a patchwork shadow of what it once was. Of the 44 total sacks allowed by the team as a whole, the OL would be accountable for 39 of those. If the Cowboys remain healthy, they have one of the NFL's top five best pass blocking units.
The Cowboys will run it back with LT Tyron Smith, a Tier One Level three graded OT; he will be lined up next to LG Connor Williams, a tier two-player with a lot of upside. On the other side, the Cowboys will trot out an elite level player overall in Zach Martin, who boasts a tier-one, level three pass-blocking grade. To the right of Martin, we have RT La'el Collins, who is a wild card at best to return at full health after Missing all of 2020 with a hip issue that resulted in surgery.
La'el Collins Health
When healthy, Collins would have likely graded out as a tier-one player, and that is where we have him as of today (tier one, level three) until we hear otherwise about his health.
Center Position A Major Question
The glaring weakness on the OL for the Cowboys outside of the unknown with Collins is at the center position where 2020 rookie Tyler Biadasz would step in for the retired Travis Frederick. His shoes would prove too large to fill for Tyler Biadasz as a rookie. His improvement at the center will be one of the big areas to watch for early in 2021. Biadasz was graded as a tier two, level three developmental player in 2020.