We shift our focus to the Offensive Line in our review of ESPN.com Scouts, Inc. ranking of every NFL team by position. It has certainly been a mixed bag so far and while I head into the 2007 with some questions about our O-Line, ESPN's so-called experts feel a tad bit different. Let's take a look --
1. San Diego Chargers --
The Chargers would rank No. 2 pretty much by default thanks to an impressive running game that posted nearly 5 yards a carry last season, but they were also able to hold opposing defenses to just 28 sacks in 2006. Left tackle Marcus McNeill was the gem of last year's draft class and does a great job of protecting the blindside of quarterback Philip Rivers from what is arguably the most crucial position on the line. San Diego also has a good blend of youth and experience with seasoned right guard Mike Goff holding down a starting spot in his 10th season in the league. This is a unit that can come right at opponents and create running lanes with drive blocking, or use finesse in pass blocking to give Rivers time to locate open receivers. Overall, they rely on athleticism more than bulk and pure power.
My Take -- The love-fest with the Chargers continues, though it is hard to really argue with all the respect the Bolts are getting. Obviously, having a guy like LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield makes everyone on that line better, but whether it was Drew Brees or Philip Rivers, the Chargers O-Line has made getting to the quarterback a daunting task indeed. You know you are getting it right when you draft a Left Tackkle late in Round 1 of the 2006 draft and he steps right in and starts on a team that goes 14-2. The Chargers O-Line might be short on name recognition but there is no doubting their ability and the results speak for themselves.
3. Denver Broncos --
With one of the smallest lines in the league, the Broncos rely on quickness and agility to get the job done, registering 4.4 yards per carry and giving up just 31 sacks in 2006. They don't have a single returning starter on the line who weighs over 300 pounds, and former backup Chris Kuper (302 pounds) is the only projected starter who breaks that threshold. Denver's unit plays with an attitude and can cause opposing defensive lines to become a little timid, because they have a reputation for blocking around the knees. This causes defensive linemen to hold back a little to make sure they protect their legs. The Broncos also have one of the oldest offensive line units with only two players with less than 10 years of experience (Kuper and Adam Meadows are eight-year veterans).
My Take -- We'll start with the obvious mistake in their blurb about the Broncos. Substitute Ben Hamilton's name in the last sentence talking about the age of the Broncos starters, though Hamilton is heading into his 7th season. The point is understood, however, and the Broncos O-Line is on the cusp of a major overhaul. While stalwarts Tom Nalen, Matt Lepsis and Hamilton figure to once again anchor the group there are signs of a youth movement on the horizon. Chris Kuper and Erik Pears figure to get long looks with the starting group and I am excited about the prospects for both. Pears proved last season that he could play filling in at Left Tackle for Lepsis. He will likely move over to the right side, taking the spot once occupied by the departed George Foster. Kuper, a physical speciman, will get the first opportunity to replace Cooper Carlisle, and while Kupe needs to work a bit on technique there is no doubting his ability. While this ranking might be a bit far-fetched at this point it could be a valid assessment come Novemeber and December.
24. Kansas City Chiefs --
The Chiefs are going to have two new tackles in 2007: left tackle Damion McIntosh, who left the Miami Dolphins to sign with K.C., and possibly Chris Terry, who hopes to win the right tackle job vacated by the departed Kyle Turley. Neither McIntosh or Terry is considered an elite athlete and both will have to get used to playing with the rest of the line. At center, Casey Wiegmann has 11 years of experience to draw on and right guard John Welbourn is favored to return after starting four of nine games in 2006. Left guard Brian Waters has been steady in his previous seven years and appears to be solid. This is not a large unit and it needs to show more athleticism to be in the top half of the league. Last season it gave up 41 sacks while gaining 4.1 yards per carry.
My Take -- For nearly a decaded the Kansas City Chiefs had one of the best O-Lines in all of football. Will Shields and Willie Roaf were perennial Pro Bowlers. That began to crumble last season with the retirement of Roaf, and continued in force this off-season as Shields also called it quits. As a result the Chiefs head into 2007 with alot of questions. While Larry Johnson can make up some of the gap with his legs the Chiefs quarterbacks don't figure to have the same luxory. Though the blurb mentions replacing Kyle Turley the Chiefs actually re-signed him yesterday meaning he'll be back in the fold. It shouldn't matter for a team that will need to work hard to win 6 games.
32. Oakland Raiders --
The Raiders gave up 72 sacks last season, far and away the most in the league, thanks to a line that looked disorganized and was poorly coached. Left tackle Robert Gallery took a lot of the blame, but there is more than enough to go around for his fellow linemen. Giving up so many sacks put the offense in too many holes and never allowed the running game to get on track. All things considered, the Raiders' 3.9 yards per carry last season was not horrible, but is nothing to brag about, either. There has been talk about moving Gallery to right tackle and left guard Barry Sims out to his old spot at left tackle, but no matter what the Raiders do, they need to settle on a starting unit as early as possible to allow the players to get used to each other and their new positions.
My Take -- 72 SACKS??? Are you kidding me? Robert Gallery is starting to remind alot of us of Tony Mandarich, though feel free to fill in with teh draft bust of your choice. There isn't much more to say about the worst group in world and what will keep the Raiders from really making waves in '07 is the incompetance of the group.
A definite divide continues to develop between the Broncos/Chargers at the top and the Chiefs/Raiders at the bottom --
San Diego Chargers -- 32( 6.4)
Denver Broncos -- 51(10.2)
Kansas City Chiefs -- 89(17.8)
Oakland Raiders -- 122(24.4)
That finsihes up the offensive side of the ball, with the Broncos sitting near the Top-10. Tomorrow, we start the defense with a look at Scouts, Inc breakdown of the Defensive Line.