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Data-driven ranking of all starting NFL interior offensive linemen in 2023

Where do Ben Powers, Lloyd Cushenberry and Quinn Meinerz rank?

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

I reviewed all of the starting offensive tackles two weeks ago. This is the review for centers and guards. My threshold to be classified as a starter is 400 total snaps. There were 35 centers who played 400 or more offensive snaps in 2023 and 69 guards. There is little free data available on the play of offensive linemen, but SISdatahub.com is one of the few. PFF shows the overall grade for each player in front of their paywall, but the rest of the data that they have is behind their paywall (and I don’t have a subscription because their cost for “media” members is crazy expensive). I will show the PFF overall grades but the rest of the data is pulled from SIS. PFF also shows a little more data for the top three at each position.

Another way to tell who is a great guard or center is All-Pro selections. Pro Bowl selections are a joke. The two centers and four guards who were named AP All-Pro for 2023 were Jason Kelce (who just retired) and Frank Ragnow at center and Tyler Smith, Joe Thuney, Zack Martin and Chris Lindstrom at guard. In my opinion, Denver Broncos guard Quinn Meinerz should have been named All-Pro this season. The SIS data backs that up, but you will see that later.

Bronco OL starters year over year PFF

All three of the returning OL starters from 2023 improved year-over-year according to PFF. Oddly enough both Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey played worse according to PFF overall grade, although Powers drop was tiny.

Lineman PFF Grade 2023 PFF Grade 2022 2023 BB% 2022 BB%
Garrett Bolles 75.9 72.9 2.4% 2.7%
Ben Powers 61.5 62.9 2.2% 1.2%
Lloyd Cushenberry III 73.3 56.2 2.2% 3.6%
Quinn Meinerz 83.8 77.7 2.1% 1.3%
Mike McGlinchey 67.5 71.5 5.0% 2.3%

According to SIS, the Bronco OL was to blame for 26 of the 52 sacks that the team allowed. According to PFF, they were only responsible for 16 of the 52. I would trust SIS over PFF on this, but either way, Russell Wilson was to blame on roughly half of the sacks allowed by the team. I’m not sure how many can be blamed on tight ends of running backs.

According to SIS (which has TE pass blocking data), Nate Adkins and Greg Dulcich both allowed one sack this season. So depending on how many the our running backs allowed, Russ could have been responsible for 24 of the 52 sacks, but probably not since Stidham was sacked seven times meaning that Russ only took 45 sacks in fifteen starts.

As an aside, the best team in the league (Bills) had 30 more sacks on defense than they allowed and the worst team (Giants) allowed 51 more than they had. According to SIS the Bills OL only allowed 12 sacks all season. Two players allowed more than BY THEMSELVES, Mehki Becton and Ikem Ekwonu. The man who took over at RT for the 49ers, Colton McKivitz allowed 12 or as many as the entire Bills OL.

The correlation between sack difference (defensive sacks minus sacks allowed) and wins was 0.75. That is extremely strong in the world of sports. Only one team that allowed significantly more sacks they had had on defense finished the season with a winning record (Bengals). Although the Texans, Saints and Jaguars all just about broke even (all at -1).

Rank Team Sacks Sacks Allowed Difference Wins
1 Buffalo Bills 54 24 30 11
2 Kansas City Chiefs 57 28 29 11
3 Miami Dolphins 56 31 25 11
4 Baltimore Ravens 60 41 19 13
5 Green Bay Packers 45 30 15 9
6 San Francisco 49ers 48 34 14 12
7 Pittsburgh Steelers 47 36 11 10
8 Indianapolis Colts 51 41 10 9
9 Detroit Lions 41 31 10 12
10 Seattle Seahawks 47 38 9 9
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48 40 8 9
12 Los Angeles Rams 41 34 7 10
13 Dallas Cowboys 46 40 6 12
14 Las Vegas Raiders 46 40 6 8
15 Los Angeles Chargers 48 43 5 5
16 Cleveland Browns 49 45 4 11
17 Philadelphia Eagles 43 39 4 11
18 Atlanta Falcons 42 40 2 7
19 New Orleans Saints 34 35 -1 9
20 Houston Texans 46 47 -1 10
21 Jacksonville Jaguars 40 41 -1 9
22 Minnesota Vikings 43 47 -4 7
23 Cincinnati Bengals 44 50 -6 9
24 Arizona Cardinals 33 42 -9 4
25 Denver Broncos 42 52 -10 8
26 New England Patriots 36 48 -12 4
27 New York Jets 48 64 -16 7
28 Tennessee Titans 45 64 -19 6
29 Chicago Bears 30 50 -20 7
30 Washington Commanders 39 65 -26 4
31 Carolina Panthers 27 65 -38 2
32 New York Giants 34 85 -51 6

For what it’s worth, the Broncos finished at -10 for the season which ranked 25th.

Centers

Lloyd Cushenberry improved year over year according to both PFF and SIS, but he was still an average center. Of course, he has been below average for most of his NFL career. One area where he was significantly better in 2023 than any other year of his career was sacks. Both PFF and SIS agree that he only allowed one sack this season. He allowed six as a rookie and four in second season. Both of the All-Pro centers for 2023 did not allow a single sack, but that was not uncommon. Seven of the 35 starting centers did not allow a sack and another seven only allowed one. In fact according to SIS, of the 847 sacks allowed by offensive lines in 2023, only 79 were allowed by centers and only two centers allowed more than four. There were 1410 sacks taken in the 2023 regular season.

Using SIS points LC3 was also in the middle of the pack with 26 points, but there were a bunch of starting centers in the 19-30 range and only a few outside of that.

LC3’s improvement in the final year of his rookie contract should allow him to garner a nice free agent contract this off-season, but I doubt that the Broncos bring him back as the center due to both financial constraints and the fact that there are two players on the roster who are still on their rookie deals who could take over as the center in 2024 - Luke Wattenberg and Alex Forsythe.

According to PFF the three best centers in the league in 2023 were Frank Ragnow (88.8), Connor Williams (86.5) and Drew Dalman (82.3). Kelce was close with an overall grade of 80.7 for the season.

Guards

First, we should note that the Connor McGovern at #1 for guards is not the player who used to play for the Broncos, but the OTHER Connor McGovern who played college ball at Penn St. and not Missouri. The former Bronco played center for the Jets this past season, but did not have enough offensive snaps to qualify as a starter (351).

By SIS points Menierz was 18th and Powers was 40th. Neither Bronco current starting OG was vary good at preventing sacks with Meinerz allowing three and Powers allowing seven which was tied for the second worst among starting guards. Only Justin Pugh allowed more (11). Oddly enough, in terms of sacks allowed, both former Bronco starting guards, Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow allowed fewer sacks (zero and one). Risner was one of five starting guards who did not allow a sack this season.

In terms of blown block rate (BBR), both Meinerz and Powers were average. All Pro voters most really like low blown block rates as Zack Martin and Tyler Smith had the best among full-time starters; Robert Hunt only played 518 snaps. Lindstrom was average in terms of BBR as was Thuney. Thuney must have just gotten All-Pro because of name recognition and the fact that the plays for the Chiefs. He was not great this year according to SIS and PFF. Oddly enough, Zack Martin was also not great this year according to PFF. Martin had an overall grade of 69.8. Thuney had an overall grade of 74.6. According to PFF, the three best guards in the NFL in 2023 were Chris Lindstrom (87.6), Kevin Dotson (84.4) and Quinn Meinerz (83.7). If I recall correctly, Meinerz’ run blocking grade of 88.7 was the best among OGs in the NFL in 2023. While I normally don’t trust PFF rankings, this is a case where the ranking backs up what my eyes saw watching QM play almost every snap this season. He was elite and deserved All-Pro recognition.

All Pro selections usually lag by one year, so maybe QM gets the nod in 2024 if he has another great season. 2024 will be the final year of his rookie deal and many players have career years during that season in the hopes of landing a big free agent contract.

Powers overall grade from PFF was the worst he has had since 2020 which was his first full season of significant snaps in the NFL. He got an overall grade of 59.4 that season. His career best season was 2021 according to PFF. He got an overall grade of 66.3 that season. At least according to PFF, he has never been better than average or above average, which calls into question why he got such a big free agent contract from the Broncos.

There is no doubt that Powers was/is and upgrade over Dalton Risner (whose play for the Vikings was better in 2023 than he ever showed when he was with the Broncos), but the size of that upgrade was much smaller than most of us who pay attention to the OL had hoped. Risner was given an overall grade of 57.1 for the season despite allowing zero sacks and only getting called for two holding penalties. His eight blown run blocks on only 248 run snaps was poor (3.2%). His BRB rate was one of the worst in the league among starting guards. For comparison, Zack Martin was at 0.7%, Powers at 2.3% and Meinerz at 2.7%.

Meinerz only got stuffed twice in the run game. A stuff is where the defender drives you back into the backfield and into the runner. Martin did not get stuffed at all in 2023. He was one of five guards who did not get stuffed in the run game (min 200 run snaps). The others were Jon Feliciano, former Davidson Wildcat Zion Johnson, Jamaree Salyer and Iosua Opeta.

Poll

After seeing the data do you agree that Quinn Meinerz should have been selected at least second team All-Pro for 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    Yes
    (167 votes)
  • 14%
    No
    (28 votes)
195 votes total Vote Now