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Best and worst offensive linemen at stopping pressure 2013-2018

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How many Denver Broncos showed up on this list, for good or bad? We investigate the data here.

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A QB pressure is defined as either a sack, a QB hit or a QB hurry. A QB hit is when you legally hit the QB after he has thrown the ball. A QB Hurry is when you force the QB to throw the ball sooner than he wants to or force him to move off of his spot without actually touching him. The folks at profootballfocus.com keep track of these things as do the folks at Stats Inc (as far as I can tell). They track them not only for defensive players who generate QB pressures, but also for offensive linemen who allow the pressures.

While I spent a fair amount of time writing about the sacks we allowed last season, a QB hit or a QB hurry can be almost as bad as a sack despite no loss of yardage. So for this piece I decided to look at the best and the worst at various positions in the league (two tackles, two guards and one center) by year at allowing pressure on their QB. This was done by looking at the total number of pressures allowed and dividing by the total number of pass blocking snaps. The resulting number is shown as a percentage with a lower value being better since this is the percentage of pass blocking snaps on which an offensive lineman is found to have allowed pressure on the QB. I only looked at players with a minimum of 500 offensive snaps (ostensibly starters).

First the Worst

Year OT G C G OT
2018 Julie'n Davenport Ted Larson Travis Swanson Byron Bell Sam Tevi
2017 Breno Giacomini Shawn Lauvao Spencer Pulley Allen Barbre John Wetzel
2016 George Fant Earl Watford Cam Erving Joe Haeg Donald Stephenson
2015 Ereck Flowers Orlando Franklin Trevor Robinson John Fusco James Hurst
2014 Ja'Wuan James Dallas Thomas Jonotthan Harrison Charlie Johnson Tom Compton

There are four names of interest to Broncos fans, although only two gave their “magnum oafus” while with the Broncos (Allen Barbre and Donald Stephenson). For OT’s the range was 9.0-12.2%; for OG’s 7.3-9.8%; and for centers 5.3-7.7%. To learn the values for specific players on this list you will have to purchase a PFF subscription.

If you go look at each of these linemen individually they fall into one of three categories: journeyman who were forced into starting roles that they were not able to handle; old/injured proven starters at the end of their careers who didn’t have it any more; and rookies who in some cases got much better and in others never did.

Dallas Thomas started 16 games for Miami in 2015 and then only started one more game in his NFL career. Charlie Johnson started 14 games for the Vikings in 2014. That was his last season in the NFL. Tom Compton starter 9 games for Washington in 2014 then has not been the primary starter for any team until 2018 when he started 14 games for the Vikings. Orlando Franklin was playing through injuries in 2015 and only played 10 games (starting all 10) - more on him later. He was on the downside of his career and would only play one more season. Donald Stephenson had never started more than 7 games in his career when the Broncos were forced to start him 12 games in 2016. Stephenson would only start in four more games in his NFL career and would be out of the league after 2017. Allen Barbre’s last year in the NFL was 2017, the same thing for Breno Giacomini.

Jonotthan Harrison started 10 games as a rookie for the Colts in 2014. While he has been in the league since then, he has started only 22 more games in the four years since. George Fant was a rookie for the Seahawks in 2016. Seattle, like Denver, has been trying to go cheap on the offensive line for the past five years or so. Fant was an undrafted college free agent who ended up starting 10 games for the Seahawks that year. In 2018 Fant did not have enough offensive snaps to qualify, but he has dramatically improved his pass blocking to the point having one of the lowest pressure rates allowed in the league in 2018 for an OT. To see the raw data you will need to get a subscription to PFF. Joe Haeg was another rookie who was forced to start 14 games on a very thin Colts offensive line in 2016. He was almost as bad in 15 starts for them in 2017. He was ostensibly replaced in 2018 - only starting 6 games due largely to the fact that he never got better as a pass blocker. He allowed pressure rates in 2017 and 2018 comparable to 2016. Ereck Flowers was a rookie first round draft pick for the Giants in 2015. His pass blocking ability never developed. He was cut/waived by the Giants in 2018 despite being the 9th player taken in the 2015 draft.

This brings us to Ju’Wuan James. He was a rookie for the Dolphins in 2014. He allowed 58 total pressures which was the highest value in the NFL that year. The pressure rate he allowed was tied for worst in the league among starters that season. That’s bad, really bad. However, he got better, much better. In 2015 he improved his allowed pressure rate to 4.3%. The best OT in the league in 2015, Joe Thomas had a pressure rate allowed of 3.2% (more on that later). The average rate for all offensive tackles in 2015 was 6.6%. Here are James’ pressure rates allowed by year:

2014 - 9.0%

2015 - 4.3%

2016 - 7.0%

2017 - 3.9%

2018 - 5.3%

So you can see that he has been average to above average in three of his five years in the league and he was only terrible as a rookie. Now remember that he is going to be getting coaching from one of the best OL coaches in the league in 2019 (and hopefully long after that). That should be reason for optimism. Offensive tackles can improve. Good coaching helps. We need look no further than a recent Bronco draft bust, Ty Sambrailo.

In 2016 Ty allowed pressure on 14.3% of his pass blocking snaps (7 sacks allowed in limited snaps). That pressure rate of 14.3% would have been the second worst in the league for a tackle in 2016 with more than 100 offensive snaps. I was surprised to find another tackle who did worse than that in 2016. Joe Rietz of the Colts allowed pressures on 14.6% of his pass blocking snaps. Sambrailo was actually quite good at pass blocking in 2018, albeit in limited snaps. His pressure rate of 1.8% was the best for an OT with more than 200 offensive snaps. The best starting OT’s in 2018 both had rates of 2.9%.

I should also note that in doing this research I found that Billy Turner was absolutely awful in pass blocking for Denver in 2016, worse than Sambrailo. Turner only had 24 pass blocking snaps (and 40 offensive snaps total), but he managed to allow an astounding 13 pressures on those 24 snaps - 4 sacks, 4 hits, 5 hurries. I went back and watched and charted all 24 snaps using NFL rewind. Turner’s pressure rate of 54.2% is comically bad. In Turner’s defense, he did play much better in 2018 allowing pressure on only 5.1% of his pass blocking snaps.

The Best of the Best

Year OT G C G OT
2018 Tyron Smith Kevin Zeitler Rodney Hudson Joel Bitonio Ronnie Stanley
2017 David Bakhtiari Zach Martin Rodney Hudson Andrew Norwell Demar Dotson
2016 Andrew Whitworth Marshal Yanda Rodney Hudson Josh Sitton David Bakhtiari
2015 Joe Thomas Zach Martin Rodney Hudson Matt Slauson Terron Armstead
2014 Andrew Whitworth Orlando Franklin Will Montgomery Josh Sitton Branden Albert

The pressure rates allowed on this were between 1.6-3.3% for OT’s; 1.0-2.2% for OG’s and 0.5-1.6% for centers. Buy a subscription to PFF to see who had what value.

Seeing two Domers (Notre Dame grads) on this list makes me smile as an Irish fan. The Broncos 2014 offensive line was apparently pretty good, but pre-foot-injury Peyton Manning helped there. I was surprised to see both Franklin and Will Montgomery on this list. Montgomery only played one season in Denver - 2014. That was the season the ended with the embarrassing playoff loss to the Colts - the last straw for John Fox who was fired as HC shortly thereafter.

The one thing I noted is that most of the guys who showed up on the “good” list were high draft picks with a few exceptions. See if you can spot them.

Tyron Smith - 9th pick

Kevin Zeitler - 27th

Rodney Hudson - 55th

Joel Bitonio - 35th

Ronnie Stanley - 6th

David Bakhtiari - 109th

Zach Martin - 16th

Andrew Norwell - UDCFA

Demar Dotson - UDCFA

Andrew Whitworth - 55th

Marshal Yanda - 86th

Josh Sitton - 135th

Joe Thomas - 3rd

Matt Slauson - 193rd

Terron Armstead - 75th

Orlando Franklin - 46th

Will Montgomery - 234th

Branden Albert - 15th

Conclusions

We can see from this study that some offensive linemen can get better as pass blockers over the course of their careers. If I had the time I’d like to do a deeper dive on more of these guys besides James to see if others showed similar levels of improvement over their rookie performance and then maintained it. While Franklin was playing RT for the Broncos as a rookie in 2011, he allowed pressure on 7.8% of his PB snaps. In 2012 with a very different QB to block for and with a year of NFL experience under his belt, that dropped to 4.0%. We can debate how much of that was Manning and how much of that was Franklin, but you get the idea. Offensive linemen can develop. If there is enough interest I will do a deep dive on all of the offensive lineman that Mike Munchak coached with the Steelers to see if there is an overall pattern of improvement in pass blocking results. The Steelers line overall improved dramatically once Munchak took over.