There are many many metrics that are used by various analysts to describe and elucidate the play of those in football who throw the ball, run with the ball and catch the ball. There is also a dearth of metrics to describe the play of those who don’t.
For the offensive line (or anyone who is blocking on a play), how do you measure success? Is it a binary (+ for man you were blocking did not make tackle, - if he did) or are there degrees of success or failure on any given block? Additionally how are we to know what was the assignment for a given blocker on a given play?
Profootballfocus.com (PFF) has their 0-100 grading scale for all players but their methodology is opaque at best. I’ll use their scores here though.
SISdatahub.com has free data on offensive lineman performance (although it is cumbersome to port it into a spreadsheet for analysis). I will also use their data.
ESPN analytics has their own way of evaluating blocker performance. That will be discussed here, at least in the context of the entire offensive line. They did not share full league data for individual players and only show the top 10 blockers in run block win rate (RBWR) and pass block win rate (PBWR) by season.
Footballoutsiders.com does not do individual blocker analysis, but they do a very nice full OL analysis of run blocking, independent of runner, called adjusted line yards (ALY). This will also be used to evaluate the play of the Bronco OL in 2022.
I will also use the pressure rate allowed metric that is available at pro-football-reference.com.
To begin let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The Denver Bronco offensive line was the most injured that it has been in a long time. No OL player started every game for the first time since 1987. Dalton Risner had the most starts this year with 15. In 1987 Dave Studdard started 14 regular season games for the Broncos (because of the strike we only had 15 regular season games that year). Injuries played a role in poor communication along the OL. That contributed to the Broncos leading the league in sacks allowed (63) and having the second worst pressure rate allowed (27.3%). The Titans allowed 27.5 % while the Buccaneers allowed the least at 13.3 %. This measures on what percentage QB dropbacks there is pressure.
Of course not all pressures are the fault of the OL, just like not all sacks are the fault of the OL. I was originally intending to do a sack-blame analysis for all 63 sacks that the Broncos allowed in 2022, but the data available at SIS and PFF for free allowed me to skip that tedious film review and go straight to the analysis.
According to SIS, only 26 of the sacks allowed by the Denver Broncos were the fault of one or more offensive line players. Because of the way that they assign sack-blame, more than one offensive lineman can be blamed for the same sack. You can see this reflected in the value for the Giants and Lions in the table from my tweet. Both teams are above 100%, meaning that every sack against them was the fault of at least one offensive lineman.
This may come as a surprise, but not all sacks are the fault of the OL. Many sacks are blamed on the prima donnas who throw and catch the ball. OL sack blame data is from https://t.co/1lE9PfVHwv and team sack data is from https://t.co/krF3ZDUpIy. The Bronco OL was too bad pic.twitter.com/Po1kmdiJ0M— Joe Mahoney (@ndjomo76) February 15, 2023
It is informative to note that the Bronco OL was only at fault for roughly 40% of the sacks that we allowed this season. The other sacks are blamed on the QB, or RB and TEs who were blocking on the play. The Colts are an interesting case (particularly when you see their ESPN team PBWR score) in that they gave up the second most sacks on the season, but only 12 of them were blamed on their OL.
FWIW I used excel functions to manipulate this data in my spreadsheet that has every offensive line player in the league (scrubbed from the SIS website). However, if you sum the SIS sacks allowed value for every Bronco OL player you get 28, not 26. I’m not sure where the discrepancy lies. PFF blames the Bronco OL for 31 sacks. Neither value changes the fact that on somewhere between three fifths and one half of the sacks that the Broncos allowed in 2022, the OL was NOT at fault.
The Colts data is surprising because when the Broncos played the Colts it seemed like their rookie LT, who was making his first career start, allowed five or six sacks by himself that game, which was the zenith for the Bronco pass rush in 2022.
Looking at the individual player grades from PFF we see that our best overall grade was earned by Quinn Meinerz.
|Player||2022 PFF Grade||2021 PFF Grade||2020 PFF Grade||2019 PFF Grade|
|Lloyd Cushenberry III||56.2||64.2||40.5||-|
According to PFF only Meinerz, Cameron Fleming and Garrett Bolles were above average as offensive lineman in 2022. Getting a score in the 60s is average or below average depending on the position and the year. Getting a score in the 40s (like Tom Compton) or the 30s (like Luke Wattenberg) is terri-bad.
According to SIS, Compton and Wattenberg were responsible for five sacks allowed in only 72 pass blocking snaps. PFF says they allowed 6 total. If we look at the PFF and SIS data for every Bronco OL player we find this table (note that SIS, PFF and PFR disagree on some numbers).
I’ve left in the PFF grade color coding - green is good, red is bad. This table above is sorted by total blown block rate (BBR). For some players, like Wattenberg, SIS and PFF agree on the sack total allowed (3). In general PFF is +1 or -1 relative to SIS. PFF claims that Risner only allowed 3 sacks, while SIS shows 4. PFF shows Bailey allowing 1, while SIS shows zero. SIS shows that Fleming allowed 6 sacks in 2022, while PFF blames him for 7.
If we use a rate stat - pass block snaps per sack (PFF) + PB hold, we find that our best pass blocker in 2022 was Lloyd Cushenberry who only had one for every 293 PB snaps. The stat says that a hold on a passing play is as bad as a sack allowed. Contrast LC3’s value here with Tom Compton’s who allowed a sack or pass block hold on one of every six PB snaps. I did not think it was possible to have a number that low. Even Ty Sambrailo in his rookie season was not that terrible.
Moving over to ESPN analytics, they actually rated the 2022 Bronco OL as quite good overall using their PBWR and RBWR metrics. The say the Broncos had the 4th best run blocking OL and the 9th best pas blocking OL. This contradicts what most other outlets say.
I'm not sure what OL ESPN folks were watching but the Bronco OL in 2022 was not 9th in pass blocking and 4th in run blocking. I call BS! https://t.co/RIIuTmhBus pic.twitter.com/lm3AGX2Z5m— Joe Mahoney (@ndjomo76) February 15, 2023
To “win” in a pass block the blocker must maintain his block for 2.5 seconds or more. To “win” in a run block, the blocker must keep the man he is blocking from adversely affecting the play. These overall rankings surprised me, because they indicate that the Bronco offensive line was good - top third or quartile of the league good - in 2022. That’s not what my eyes told me. The Broncos 38 blown run blocks was not too bad from an absolute value perspective, but the Eagles OL only had 28 and they had 544 rushing attempts to the Broncos 444 (not removing kneel-downs). FO shows that the Eagles OL was 6th in ALY.
ESPN shows the Patriots as having the worst run blocking OL in the league. FO shows them 19th in ALY. SIS shows that they had 41 blown run blocks on 425 rushing attempts. Grabbing and summing the blown run block data for every team’s OL and then evaluating it with team rushing attempts give us team blown run block rates.
|Rank||Team||Blown Runs Blocks||Attempts||Team Blow Run Block Rate|
Surprisingly (at least to me) the SIS says that the Bronco OL was above average in terms of blown run block rate (11th overall), but there was a large gap between the best run blocking OLs (in this) who were at 6 % or better and the rest of the league.
This is much easier to visualize when graphed (below)
From an individual performer perspective, the only Bronco OL player who shows up in the top 10 at ESPN for any position group was Dalton Risner, who was tied for 10th best RBWR at 74% among guards. We should also note that the two teams that played in the Super Bowl had at least one player on all six ESPN OL position group top 10 rankings with the exception of the Chiefs (RBWR for OTs).
Lane Johnson was the #1 PBWR for OTs. Joe Thuney, Landon Dickerson and Trey Smith all in the top 10 for guards in PBWR. Creed Humphrey and Jason Kelce are on both lists for centers. Jordan Mailata was the #2 rated RBWR OT. Dickerson (#1) and Thuney (#5) were in the top 10 for guards in RBWR. Having elite offensive lineman helps the offense score points - duh!. However, you can’t have an elite offensive line without investing in the right free agents or using draft capital on the right college linemen.
Lane Johnson was a very high first round pick for the Eagles. Joe Thuney was an expensive free agent signing for KC (who had a very team friendly cap hit for 2022 but will have a $22 million cap hit in 2023). Dickerson was a second round pick of the Eagles. Humphrey was a second round pick for the Chiefs.
The last really great free agent offensive lineman signing for the Broncos was so long ago that I can’t remember. The last elite offensive lineman that the Broncos drafted was Ryan Clady. Meinerz could still get there and some would argue that Matt Paradis was elite for a year or two.
Occasionally you can develop an OL guy who was a late round pick as is the case with Trey Smith and Jason Kelce (both 6th round picks) and Jordan Mailata (7th round). Paradis was a 6th round pick. However, that takes patience and the right coaches for your offensive line. The firing of Butch Barry almost immediately after Nathaniel Hackett was fired says that Barry was NOT the right man for that job.
Back to data though.
If we look at how each of the #1 ESPN rated OL guys did in terms of run blocking data from SIS:
Yosh Nijman had a blown run block rate of 2.7%. Landon Dickerson 1.8% and Tyler Linderbaum 1.1%. They had RBWR’s of 85, 80 and 77 % respectively which was the best T, G and C values in the league for 2022.
If we use the PBB (pass block blown) data from SIS for the whole league, we can construct a table that shows the team pass block success rate to see how that compares to what ESPN shows for pass block win rate.
This data matches up fairly well with the ESPN PBWR team data which ranked the Broncos 9th. Please note the difference in team OL success rate between the best (TAM) and the worst (WAS) was 2.0%. The best offensive line in the league was successful (didn’t have a blown pass block) 98% of the time on passing plays while the worst was successful 96% of the time. And you wonder why offensive linemen get annoyed at us, the fans, for lambasting them for that one failure in 50 drop-backs.
It should also be noted that absolute values from SIS PBB are much much higher than ESPN’s PBWR which has KC at #1 with a value of 75% and IND at #32 with a value of 49%. I guess it speaks to the difference between a “blown pass block” and a “pass block loss”. On a loss the blocker failed to block for 2.5 seconds. On a blown block the defender that you were supposed to block at a minimum got pressure on the QB. In other words, pass rush wins happen much more frequently than pressures because a defender can “win” without getting pressure, but he can’t get a pressure without getting a win.
This can be seen in the team pass rush win rate (PRWR) where the best team in the league was at 52% (PHI) and the worst was at 29% (NOR). The Bronco defense mirrored the Bronco offense in finishing 9th. Our 2022 defense generated pressure 44% of the time.
So let’s move on to Footballoutsiders.com who have, IMO, the best evaluation of team run blocking in the league.
The Bronco OL finished the season 20th in ALY (4.35). The Raiders were first at 4.93 while the Jets were last at 3.81. The Bronco OL was 14th in power rank (success rate on runs in short yardage and goal-line situations) and 19th on stuffed rank (avoiding runs that gain zero yards or lose yards).
While Sean Payton was praised for his offense’s ability to score points while he was the head coach in New Orleans, I was impressed by his ability to build a great run blocking offensive line. His lines were consistently in the top 10 in ALY with many years as first or second.
I'm really excited to see what Sean Payton can do with the Bronco OL. He built some great offensive lines in New Orleans. Using https://t.co/DPw3HAqmsz data, they were consistently in the top 5 in the league in run blocking and pass blocking. pic.twitter.com/vNMy3UhuZG— Joe Mahoney (@ndjomo76) February 10, 2023
Of course, having a Hall of Famer playing QB makes it easier to run the ball (Knowshon Moreno says hi), but even with PFM at QB, the Broncos OL never was that good at run blocking. The majority of the credit for the Saints’ run blocking success has to go the Sean Payton and his OL coaches.
The table below shows how the Bronco OL has ranked during this same time period. The Saints have just been better at run blocking for the past 20 or so seasons than the Broncos have been.
|Year||Adjusted Line Yards||Power Rank||Suffed Rank||Adjusted sack rate|
The only year where the Broncos had a top 5 run blocking OL during Sean Payton’s time as the head coach in NO was 2008 and the Broncos haven’t had a top 10 run blocking OL (by ALY) since 2017 when they finished 9th.
Being able to run the ball well should make things much easier for Russell Wilson in 2023. His best seasons in Seattle were ones where the Seahawks had a strong running game.
I’m hopeful that Sean Payton and Zach Strief can craft a top 10 run game for 2023, but right now I don’t see many pieces of that OL currently under contract for the team. Ideally the Broncos need an upgrade at center. LC3 is always going to be below average as a run blocker. I’ve given up hope of him ever becoming an effective and consistent run blocker in the NFL. Glasgow is average and serviceable at center, but I’m fairly certain he will be a cap casualty. Wattaburger could be an option at center, but he needs to make huge improvements during this off-season to ever be an effective NFL player. I’m hoping that a year with a good strength and conditioning coach and and NFL nutritionist will allow him to take the Matt Paradis route to being nd above average NFL center.
If Bolles is back, we have an average to above average run blocker at LT (there are rumors he could be traded). The Broncos will most likely not resign Dalton Risner so there is a hole at LG. Bailey could possibly fill that. He played decently in his lone start at LG in game 17.
It’s possible that Quinn Bailey could develop into an effective starter at OG for the Broncos. At the least he seems like a good guy to bring back (ERFA) on the cheap as a swing guard/tackle in case we have another injury-plagued year on the OL like we had in 2022.
Quinn Meinerz looks to be the best Bronco OL draft pick since Ryan Clady. I still think he has the potential to be an All-Pro if his pass pro improves. His run blocking is, and has always been, superb. Looking at his SIS data he had 302 run block snaps and only three blown blocks in the run game. The only starter who was better at run blocking (by lowest RBB%) was Cameron Fleming. Fleming, who is a free agent, should definitely be re-signed to play RT for the Broncos in 2023.
After a litany of terrible FARTs (free agent right tackles), the Broncos finally found a good one. While Fleming was not Lane Johnson, he was at least above average in both run and pass blocking and that is more than we can say for most of the men who have started at RT for the Broncos since Ryan Harris did so during our Super Bowl winning season in 2015. You could argue that Jared Veldheer was a better FART for the Broncos during the 2018 season, but he was old and at the tail-end of his career. He started 12 games for the Broncos at RT in 2028 and then started exactly one more game during his NFL career. He retired during the 2020 season.
The Bolles-Bailey-?-Meinerz-Fleming OL could be very good at run blocking in 2023, but if that question mark is LC3 I think it will hurt the overall run blocking effectiveness of the unit because of how poor he is as a run blocker. His 10 blown run blocks on 208 run block snaps (4.8%) is one of the worst RBB rates in the league among players with more than 100 snaps. PFR shows that LC3 had 502 offensive snaps while SIS shows that he had 469. If we use the SIS numbers his 10 blown blocks in the run game (on 176 RB snaps) was the 3rd worst rate (5.7%) among all OL players with 100 or more RB snaps. Only Coleman Shelton (5.8%) and Cedric Ogbuehi (5.7%) were worse.
Of course if we look at guys with 10 or more run blocking snaps, Wattaburger and Comptime were both worse than LC3 in terms of their blown block rate.
Who do you want starting ar center for the Broncos in 2023?
This poll is closed
Lloyd Cushenberry III
Quinn Meinerz (he played some in college)
someone else not named