AnalysisOpinion

NFC North Rankings: Offensive Line

Four middle-of-the-pack units are ranked.

This is the fourth article in a series that will break down where the Minnesota Vikings rank at each position within the NFC North and ultimately decide which NFC North roster is the most talented.

The result of a football game is often hinged on the result of the battle within the battle in the trenches. This is not a secret to even the most casual of NFL fans.

However, the NFC North includes a couple of teams that have found success in recent seasons despite mediocre and even bad offensive line play. Most notably, the Minnesota Vikings won the division in both 2015 and 2017 with sub par offensive line performance. Green Bay, meanwhile, has been bailed out by quarterback Aaron Rodgers for most of his career as a starter, though has assembled a respectable unit recently that is more than adequate when healthy.

A similar story can be told for at least three of the four clubs in the NFC North. Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit have recently invested loads of free agent dollars and several draft picks to emphasize improvement along the offensive line. The Packers, meanwhile, continue to employ their strategy of developing home-grown players and now just need them to stay healthy.

With the 2018 season on the horizon, where do these four middle-of-the-pack offensive line groups (relative to the rest of the NFL) stack up amongst each other?

Before we get into the rankings, a reminder of the updated NFC North roster rankings through the wide receiver and tight end positions.

  1. Green Bay — 13
  2. Minnesota — 11
  3. Detroit — 9
  4. Chicago — 7

1. Detroit (4 points)

The Lions dealt with several injuries to starters in 2017 and it showed, especially in the ground game. However, with each of their key starters returning and rookie first-rounder Frank Ragnow joining the mix, the Lions boast the top offensive line unit heading into the 2018 season.

Taylor Decker continues to develop as a promising blind side protector for Matthew Stafford. Meanwhile, 2017 free agent additions TJ Lang and Rick Wagner did not disappoint in their first seasons in blue and silver. Graham Glasglow rounds out the projected starting unit and has the versatility to play all three interior positions.

Depth remains a slight concern for this Lions unit. However, there will be few issues for Detroit’s offense in 2018 if the starting unit can stay healthy.

2. Chicago (3 points)

Nos. 2-4 in the NFC North offensive line rankings are virtually interchangeable. However, the Bears earn No. 2 thanks to their decision to draft interior offensive lineman James Daniels early in the second round. Daniels may not start Week 1, but he provides an excellent depth piece to support a solid starting unit.

Kyle Long is expected to resume his high level of play at right guard after missing half of 2018 due to injury. Charles Leno had a shaky start to his career but turned in a respectable season in 2017, allowing only seven pressures in his final seven games (via Pro Football Focus).

From there, the forecast is a bit cloudy for Chicago’s offensive line. Cody Whitehair produced wonderfully as a rookie in 2016, but was hit with a brutal case of the sophomore slumps in 2017. Eric Kush (left guard) and Bobby Massie (right tackle) are both serviceable, though replaceable, starters and it’s possible Daniels challenges Kush for a starting job by the beginning of the season.

3. Green Bay (2 points)

It’s really difficult to place the Packers last at offensive line when perhaps the best left tackle not just in the division, but in all of football, dons green and gold on Sundays. David Bakhtiari is back and that alone awards Green Bay at least a No. 3 ranking.

Lane Taylor and Corey Linsley are expected to keep the starting left guard and starting center spots, respectively. Linsley was the only Packer lineman to play in every game last season, but struggled to maintain consistency. Green Bay would like a rebound season from its center in 2018.

On the right side of the line, things are a bit murky. An inexperienced Justin McCray is expected to assume starting right guard duties after spending three four seasons primarily as a backup with Tennessee and Green Bay. Meanwhile, the right tackle position is stabilized (or not so stabilized) by the repaired torn ACL of Bryan Bulaga. While each McCray and Bulaga are projected starters, they will have to prove they are capable of holding down their respective positions by Week 1.

Depth is also a concern for the Packers. Immediate backup players such as Lucas Patrick and Kofi Amichia only have practice squad experience while tackle Jason Spriggs has not met expectations in his career.

4. Minnesota (1 point)

The Vikings’ unit isn’t as bad as a No. 4 ranking may indicate. However, several questions surround this group heading into the 2018 season.

Minnesota’s unit was difficult to evaluate in 2017. On one hand, it gave up fewer than 30 sacks and the aggregate rushing totals ranked near the top of the league. However, Case Keenum’s scrambling ability hid pass protection weaknesses and a high number of rush attempts reveals low efficiency in the run game.

Riley Reiff’s first season as a Viking was rock solid. It took him something like eight weeks to allow a sack last season and he proved serviceable in the run game. From there, those questions pop up about nearly every starting position. Will Nick Easton keep the left guard job? Will Pat Elflein be healthy enough to resume a promising start to his career at center? And what’s the deal with Mike Remmers’s position?

Rumors have suggested Remmers may slide inside to either left guard or right guard, which means Rashod Hill would likely be the projected starter at right tackle. The Vikings employed this arrangement in the playoffs last season and it was less than ideal, albeit against two swarming defenses.

Minnesota’s depth did improve this offseason, though there was really nowhere to go but up. Danny Isidora showed potential in game action as a rookie last year. Free agent signing Tom Compton has starting experience and guard/tackle versatility. Second-round pick Brian O’Neill appears to be a developmental project that could have a fun payoff in the long run, but expectations in 2018 are low.

But for now, there are too many questions to rank the Vikings’ unit above any of their NFC North rivals.

Updated Standings

  1. Green Bay — 15
  2. Detroit — 13
  3. Minnesota — 12
  4. Chicago — 10

Up Next: Defensive Line

Previous NFC North positional rankings:

Quarterback

Running Back

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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Drew Mahowald

Drew Mahowald is the No. 1 Jim Kleinsasser fan and No. 1 Little Caesars pizza enthusiast on planet Earth. That about sums it up.

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