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Preseason Top 5 NFL (Team) Run Blocking Grades, Teams Poised To Dominate On The Ground In 2021

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) run-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 run blocking grade in this analysis. Then we will have an additional analysis that covers the total team pass-blocking grade.

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.

When evaluating position groups during an every play analysis, coaches, players, and those who understand the inner workings of an offensive or defensive position group, it is a consensus in football that one player's lousy technique can adversely affect the position group and team as a whole.

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 Dominate On The Ground In 2021

(1st). San Francisco 49ers Run Blocking (Overall Grade 7.17)

The 49ers have made it clear in recent years based on how they have approached building their offensive line that running the football will be their top priority. The 49ers retained Trent Williams, who boasts an elite blocking grade according to the Football Scout 365 player grades. Williams is the clear alpha in the 49ers OL room. In addition, the 49ers went out and signed free agent C Alex Mack who has been fantastic as both a run and a pass blocker for the Falcons in recent years. LG Laken Tomlinson and RT Mike McGlinchey are excellent run blockers, with McGlinchey rated as an elite-level run blocker.

According to our grades, the 49ers have two highest-graded run blockers bookending their elite level OL heading into 2021. The one weak spot on paper is at RG, where we project the potential for a rookie (Aaron Banks) to start. Having a vet like Mack at C should help the young G get acclimated quickly.

The 49er's intentions are clear; they will run the football. They drafted two more RB's and a dynamic QB in Trey Lance, adding a run game dimension to the 49er's QB room. The 49ers ran the 2nd highest rate of 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 TE) in 2020. Their usage of a FB (kyle Juszczyk) and a TE (George Kittle) and their RB by committee approach should remain the norm in 2021 as Kyle Shanahan will look to make life easier on his young rookie QB (assuming Lance is the starter).

*(1st). Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Blocking (Overall Grade 7.17)

The Bucs are a year better upfront, and in 2020, they had one of the best rookie offensive linemen in Tristan Wirfs at RT, who received top ten level grades as a rookie. Wirfs grade as a run blocker was well above average and could approach an elite level after only one season based on his current trajectory.

The Bucs run game averaged 6.0 yards per rush to Wirfs side in 2020. Both C Ryan Jensen and LT Donovan Smith graded similarly to Wirfs at the above-average level, with Ali Marpet grading out the highest with a near-elite level score of 9. When the Bucs ran to the area of Marpet and Jensen to the left (B Gap), they averaged 4.8 yards per rush attempt in 2020. The Bucs offense will be loaded in 2021, and fans should expect to see their run game take the next step.

Look out for this to be a breakout season for RB Ronald Jones. Even with Fournette and Gio Bernard crowding the backfield, and the plethora of WR's to throw the ball to, Jones is a player who has become more of an explosive power back in recent years. His average of 3.7 yards after contact in 2020 ranked 3rd among RB's with at least 50 rush attempts.

(2nd). Cleveland Browns Run Blocking (Overall Grade 7.14)

A season ago, the Browns ran the football at one of the most efficient levels. According to NextGen Stats, The Browns faced an 8 Man box at the league's 9th highest rate, yet Nick Chubb accumulated the 2nd highest total yards over the expected average with actual yards per attempt of 5.6 (2nd in the NFL). Nick Chubb also ranked 5th in the NFL in explosive play rate, with 15% of his rush attempts going for 15 Yards or more. The 2020 Browns OL remained intact this offseason and one of the key reasons they project to be a legit Super Bowl contender in 2021.

The Browns OL consists of 4 players rated as tier one in run blocking grade according to Football Scout 365, with G Wyatt Teller receiving an elite level A+ grade. The lowest graded player in the run game is now 2nd-year player Jedrick Wills Jr who received a developmental grade in 2020. Wills has the upside to ascend higher in 2021. Another data point to consider is that when the Browns ran to the left side where Wills is located, they still averaged more than 6 yards per attempt. This tells us that Wills has time to develop as a player with an elite-level backfield, a back like Nick Chubb, and a coach who draws up plays to protect his players in the run and pass game. The sum of the whole in Cleveland is a true contender in 2021.

(3rd). Los Angeles Rams Run Blocking (Overall Grade 6.29)

The Rams offense is predicated on the success of its run game. Like the Browns, the Rams are a team that uses the run to set up their play-action pass game. In recent years the usage of outside zone would set up the longer developing downfield pass plays for Jared Goff. Teams have caught on to the McVay approach, so the best way to neutralize those who know what is coming is to bolster your run game with the best possible run blockers.

The Rams have a top run-blocking OL heading into 2021, and they also have a less scheme-dependent QB in Matthew Stafford, who will not need to live on the edge of the defense with rollouts and long-developing plays as often as Jared Goff. With Stafford, McVay can incorporate more from the standard drop-back pass game, which adds pressure to defense and increases the OL efficiency in both pass blocking and run blocking.

The 2021 Rams OL consist of LT Andrew Whitworth (Tier One B+ Run Grade), RT Rob Havenstein (Tier One B+ Run Grade), with LG David Edwards and RG Austin Corbett, both with grades just a hair below tier one in tier two (Average, B-). The big question mark is Brian Allen, who is the projected center. The departure of Austin Blythe, who signed a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaves the Rams with a void. Brian Allen, who started nine games in 2019, is the most likely candidate, though the fourth-year pro has missed significant amounts of playing time for most of the last two seasons because of a knee injury.

Overall, the Rams run game in 2020 was solid. Rookie RB Cam Akers is the fan favorite to take the lead role in the backfield in 2021. Akers is a powerful back who possesses speed and is unafraid to make contact. He is also capable of making you miss in space. The Rams are not in the same stratosphere as the Browns at RB (obvious). But if we assume Akers can reach the potential we expect from him (which is at minimum a Tier One Level 3 RB), the Rams offense can potentially climb closer to the elite level run game we witnessed in Cleveland a season ago. Even if the Rams backs play at an average to above-average rate, the sum of the whole on the OL can at a minimum perform at a playoff level rate. According to NextGen Stats, we should also consider that Cam Akers faced an eight-man box on 37% of his rush attempts in 2020. You cannot load the box like that vs. Matt Stafford. The strategy of loading the box and forcing Jared Goff to beat you is no longer feasible in LA.

(4th). New England Patriots Run Blocking (Overall Grade 6.27)

The Patriots are building a strong OL once again to bolster its run game and protect whoever is behind center in 2021. If we assume that Cam Newton is the starter, the Patriots will be running the football once again at a high rate. The addition of two high-priced TE's in free agency (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith) show that the Pats will be 12 personnel heavy in 2021. The Patriots have been an 11 personnel base offense since 2018 at or around 53% of the time while boasting a 2% 12 personnel rate in 2020, 13% in 2019, and 5% in 2018. Again, what does this mean? It means that they are looking to play in a phone booth similar to how you see the Ravens and 49ers handle their business with multiple TE's and FB's in the formation.

The OL player run-blocking grades consist of LT Isaiah Wynn, a road grader in the run game boasting a tier-one near-elite level grade in 2020, RG Shaq Mason, and LG Michael Onwenu both grade out as high-level near-elite level run blockers. Trent Brown is the newcomer at RT acquired via free agency. Brown is the lowest graded OL for the Pats, yet he is still an adequate run blocker with a grade of Tier Two C+ and a player who can get better because of surrounding OL talent. Center David Andrews is also a solid run blocker with a C+ grade.

The Patriot's backs faced a lot of 8 man boxes, according to NextGen Stats in 2020. Damien Harris led the way facing an eight-man front 39% of the time (3rd highest rate). Harris still managed to pick up a 5 yards per attempt average.

(5th). Baltimore Ravens Run Blocking (Overall Grade 6.00)

Even when you know what is coming, can you stop it? The Ravens OC Greg Roman caught a lot of criticism for lack of creativity in 2020. The validity of a lack of creativity argument hinges on a few angles with one that I am sure of, the WR's have lacked high-level consistency and have needed to add an actual number one WR to play on the outside since Lamar became the starter in 2018. And then there is the Lamar Jackson argument about a lack of accuracy, and in some instances, the argument is valid, but is it fair considering the style of player that Lamar is? For me, creativity is in the eye of the beholder. The true beauty of the Ravens offense lies within its run game. The combination of the inside, outside running using zone read, inside zone, or gap blocking and the athleticism of Lamar Jackson is where the true creative magic of the Ravens offense resides.

The OL for the Ravens battled through injury, and the loss of Marshall Yanda to retirement left a giant hole in the middle of the Ravens OL in 2020. The talent in the Ravens backfield is bolstered by Lamar Jackson, who demands the defense's attention and opens up opportunities for other backs in the read-option game. J.K. Dobbins came on strong late in the season as a rookie averaging 6.0 yards per rush attempt. But it would be Gus Edwards whose presence would dictate a defense's use of an eight-man box in 2020. According to NextGen Stats, Edwards faced an eight-man box on 34% of his rush attempts a season ago.

The Ravens OL run grades are relatively equal across the board heading into the 2021 season. LT Ronnie Stanley boasts the highest grade, with LG Bradley Bozeman, C Patrick Merkari, RG Kevin Zeitler, and RT Alejandro Villanueva grading out at a tier two C level average as run blockers. The strength of the run game might once again reside on the left side of the offense from the A gap to the D gap left; the Ravens averaged 7 yards per attempt with the TE's and WR's on the Ravens roster grading out as average to a nearly elite level in run-blocking grades.


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