Evaluating which running back is going to breakout is an annually daunting task. An important consideration to keep in mind is that when you select a back, you are not just investing in him, but rather the offense as a whole. There’s more to fantasy excellence than simply talent. The right back will likely play a key role in a good offense, and have a quality line opening the creases for him. Unfortunately, there aren’t many offensive tackle highlight reels out there. Thus, we have to rely on data provided by third party sources to discern which O-lines are the most likely to help their team run the ball effectively. So without further ado, here are my AFC offensive line previews.

AFC East

afc east.jpg
(Phin Phanatic)

New England Patriots

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Nate Solder
LG – Joe Thuney
C – David Andrews
RG – Shaq Mason
RT – Marcus Cannon

Changes from 2016 – None

To the surprise of no one, the defending champs boast an above-average offensive line, ranking tenth in 2016 by Pro Football Focus and ninth by Football Outsiders. With no changes, the Pats should have a successful rushing attack in 2017. Now, with LeGarrette Blount out of town, the real question is who will be the apple of Bellichick’s eye this season?

Buffalo Bills

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Cordy Glenn
LG – Richie Incognito
C – Eric Wood
RG – John Miller
RT – Dion Dawkins

Changes from 2016 – Dawkins

The weakest link for this unit in 2016 was the play of right tackle Jordan Mills. The Bills were sick and tired of his mediocrity and selected Dion Dawkins in the second round out of Temple. Dawkins should be a big boost in run blocking, and will hopefully promote this line from slightly above average to elite. There’s no reason why LeSean McCoy should escape the first round of your draft.

Miami Dolphins

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Laremy Tunsil
LG – Anthony Steen
C – Mike Pouncey
RG – Jermon Bushrod
RT – Ja’Wuan James

Changes from 2016 – Steen, Tunsil (from LG)

With the departure of quality LT Brandon Albert, the Fins are compensating by moving over 2016 first rounder Laremy Tunsil from LG to the blind side. It’s a gamble that might cause problems early in the year. Taking over at guard is former backup Anthony Steen, who will most likely struggle. On the plus side, Mike Pouncey should be back for Week 1 after going down for almost the entire 2016 season. There is a good amount of uncertainty for this unit. If everything goes well, they should be fine. But if the red flags turn out to be issues, this line could hinder the upside of 2017 darling Jay Ajayi.

New York Jets

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Ben Ijalana
LG – James Carpenter
C – Wesley Johnson
RG – Brian Winters
RT – Kelvin Beachum

Changes from 2016 – Ijalana, Johnson, Beachum

Unlike the rest of their team, the Jets actually have a young, talented, offensive line… just kidding. Aside from James Carpenter, this line features below-average-at-best players (Baab?). They were poor last year, and have gotten even worse this season. There is a hot debate this year on whether to take Matt Forte or Bilal Powell. My take? Neither.

AFC North
afc north.jpg

Baltimore Ravens

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Ronnie Stanley
LG – Alex Lewis
C – John Urschel
RG – Marshal Yanda
RT – James Hurst

Changes from 2016 – Urschel, Hurst

This unit has been fairly solid over the past couple of seasons. Last year, they ranked ninth by PFF. The changes here are a big hit, though, as both Center Jeremy Zuttah and Right Tackle Ricky Wagner are out of the picture. With Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon (after a four game suspension), and newly-signed Danny Woodhead, this backfield will probably struggle to provide consistent production in 2017.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Alejandro Villanueva
LG – Ramon Foster
C – Maurkice Pouncey
RG – David DeCastro
RT – Marcus Gilbert

Changes from 2016 – None

When you think of the Steelers’ run game, you think of the brilliance and dominance of Le’Veon Bell. But make no mistake, this is an elite offensive line that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Every player is a quality starter, which allows Bell to take his sweet time finding a hole to exploit.

Cleveland Browns

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Joe Thomas
LG – Joel Bitonio
C – JC Tretter
RG – Kevin Zeitler
RT – Shon Coleman

Changes from 2016 – Tretter, Zeitler, Coleman

Usually the inclusion of the Browns in any article is more of a chore than it is anything else. But in this case, the Browns are actually an intriguing bunch. Simply put, the first four names on that list are all run-blocking studs. Right Tackle Shon Coleman was a third round rookie in 2016 who didn’t play much last season. If, and it’s a big if, the Browns can get even slightly below average quarterback play, Isaiah Crowell appears to be the main beneficiary of an elite unit ranked second in the league heading into 2017 by PFF.

Cincinnati Bengals

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Cedric Ogbuehi
LG – Clint Boling
C – Russell Bodine
RG – Andre Smith
RT – Jake Fisher

Changes from 2016 – Ogbuehi (from RT), Smith, Fisher

Perhaps no team sustained bigger losses this offseason than the Bengals. LT Andrew Whitworth signed with the Rams and RG Kevin Zietler signed with the aforementioned Browns. The strategy appears to be replace these Pro Bowlers with a couple of draft busts and an aging veteran. Ogbuehi and Fisher were drafted in the first and second round of the 2015 draft, respectively, and have not lived up to their hype at all. Andre Smith used to be a quality right tackle for the Bengals, but was released in 2016 and signed by the Vikings. The Bengals are now bringing Smith back, but want him to switch to guard: a position he has never played. Joe Mixon is a spicy name being thrown around in fantasy circles, but he won’t have the same kind of holes in Cincinnati that he benefitted from in Oklahoma.

AFC West

afc west.jpg

Denver Broncos

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Garrett Bolles
LG – Ronald Leary
C – Matt Paradis
RG – Max Garcia
RT – Menelik Watson

Changes from 2016 – Bolles, Leary, Watson

The interior of this group should be extremely strong. Paradis was PFF’s third ranked center in 2016, and Leary was acquired from the Cowboys after playing very well last season as well. The big question will be the tackles, as the Broncos will hope and pray that first round selection Garrett Bolles will be able to replace Russell Okung on the blindside. At right tackle, the team will also be hoping for Menelik Watson to show well during camp after he was acquired from Oakland. He would be a much needed upgrade over the 2016 right tackle train-wreck duo of Ty Sambrailo and Donald Stephenson, but has struggled to stay healthy over the course of his career.

Los Angeles Chargers 

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Russell Okung
LG – Matt Slauson
C – Spencer Pulley
RG – Forrest Lamp
RT – Joe Barksdale

Changes from 2016 – Okung, Slauson (from C), Pulley, Lamp

The Chargers have been consistently one of the worst blocking teams in the league over the past several seasons. In their latest attempt to salvage their line, the team has signed LT Russell Okung, drafted Forrest Lamp in the second round, and moved Matt Slauson from C to LG, a position he has played in the past. The key for this unit will be how all these pieces gel together. Expect a healthy amount of bumps along the road.

Kansas City Chiefs

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Eric Fisher
LG – Parker Ehinger
C – Mitch Morse
RG – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
RT – Mitchell Schwartz

Changes from 2016 – None

The Chiefs’s line is the definition of average, ranking 14th by PFF and 17th by Football Outsiders in 2016. There are no changes, except for the return of promising run blocker Parker Ehinger who tore his ACL early in 2016. Expect much of the same for this unit in 2017.

Oakland Raiders

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Donald Penn
LG – Kelechi Osemele
C – Rodney Hudson
RG – Gabe Jackson
RT – Marshall Newhouse

Changes from 2016 – Newhouse

Just like the Browns, the Raiders feature studs until the final name at right tackle. After losing Menelik Watson to the …. (quiz time)…. Denver Broncos, the team brought in Marshall Newhouse, who couldn’t even secure a starting gig on the Giants. Austin Howard might be able to win the job, but he has proven to be a disappointment since being acquired from the Jets in 2014. Aside from the right tackle woes, this line should remain one of the league’s best. Beast Mode likey.

AFC South

(Steel City Underground)

Houston Texans

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Duane Brown
LG – Xavier Su’a-Filo
C – Nick Martin
RG – Jeff Allen
RT – Chris Clark

Changes from 2016 – Martin

The Texans feature a crop of below average linemen that don’t have much of a ceiling. Duane Brown is a solid left tackle, but the rest of the line struggled last year. Second year center Nick Martin, who was hurt all of last year, is expected to take over for Greg Mancz. Center wasn’t the issue, though. The guard and right tackle play will continue to struggle, capping the upside of Lamar Miller.

Indianapolis Colts

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Anthony Castonzo
LG – Jack Mewhort
C – Ryan Kelly
RG – Joe Haeg
RT – Le’Raven Clark

Changes from 2016 – Haeg (from RG), Clark

The Colts feature a revolving door approach to their line, especially on the right side. Whoever actually ends up starting on this side, they will almost certainly be an average or below average performer. The left side, however, is actually pretty decent, captained by Anthony Castonzo. That being said, this unit as a whole is still a below average squad, and hasn’t made any significant changes from last season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected Starters for 2017

LT – Branden Albert
LG – Patrick Omameh
C – Brandon Linder
RG – AJ Cann
RT – Jermey Parnell

Changes from 2016 – Albert

The weakest link for this unit in 2016 was Kelvin Beachum at left tackle. The Jaguars addressed this deficiency by trading for veteran Branden Albert in the offseason. After a lengthy holdout, Albert has decided to suck it up and play for a measly $8.9 million in 2017. In addition, the team drafted Cam Robinson early in the second round, who should either beat out Albert for the blindside or kick inside to guard. This line should rank about average with the potential to be a little better if everything works out as it should. Leonard Fournette should be treated as a high-end RB1.

Tennessee Titans

Projected Starters for 2017

LT- Taylor Lewan
LG – Quinton Spain
C – Ben Jones
RG – Josh Kline
RT – Jack Conklin

Changes from 2016 – None

Ranked 25th by PFF before 2016, there didn’t appear to be much to be excited about for this group going into the season. Just like the weather, sometimes the experts get it wrong. The Titans ended up atop of the PFF offensive line rankings, due to the fact that they had zero weak links across the board. Led by their young stud tackles – Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan, the Titans should have a dominant unit for years to come. Now, the question remains, when will Derrick Henry take over for Demarco Murray and become the absolute beast we all know he should be.

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