The Big Uglies. The Men Down in the Trenches.
Whatever you call them, NFL offensive linemen don't get a whole lot of respect in the world of fantasy football. However, your favorite superstars wouldn't have as much of a chance at putting up big numbers if it weren't for these giants who wage physical war on the gridiron. In fact, often the effectiveness of these behemoths is the difference between winning and losing your weekly matchups.
So, let's give a little love to the big boys and examine which offensive lines did the best job of giving their quarterbacks and running backs the best chance to compile yards, touchdowns and score oodles of points for your fantasy football squad.
Listed below are all 32 offensive lines ranked in order of which units allowed their quarterbacks the most time to throw the football before a defender entered the pocket last season. After that, you'll find all 32 offensive lines ranked in order of which units allowed their running backs to gain the most yards before contact. Also listed along each list is the fantasy finish of each team's highest-scoring quarterback/running back.
Notes (1-16): The top four offensive lines in this category also fielded four of the top eight fantasy scorers at the position. That includes the likes of Andrew Luck (QB4), Kirk Cousins (QB5), Dak Prescott (QB6) and Tyrod Taylor (QB8). Fantasy owners should notice that two of those signal-callers, Taylor and Prescott, are mobile athletes. The fact that this duo was allowed time to throw and could make plays with their legs when needed is no coincidence when it comes to their fantasy success. ... Overall, six of the top 10 quarterbacks based on points were behind offensive lines that were in the top half of the league in time allowed to throw. ... Jameis Winston could be a nice late-round bargain behind an effective line, not to mention the fact that he'll have Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard in the pass attack. ... The Browns and Bears offensive lines were among the best in this department, but their success will be lost as Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and Mike Glennon will be left undrafted in most 10- and 12-team fantasy leagues. ... The Chargers did well to allow Philip Rivers time to throw the football a season ago, and that was before the team used three picks on linemen (Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Sam Tevi) in the NFL draft. ... The Panthers added OG Taylor Moton, which is good news for Cam Newton and the team's offensive attack.
Notes (17-32): Eight of the 16 offensive lines ranked in the lower half of the league based on our research fielded quarterbacks who finished 20th or worse in fantasy points at the position last season. Furthermore, just four of the top 10 fantasy field generals (Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr) played behind lines that rated out among the lower 16 teams in the NFL. ... The Patriots graded out low among offensive lines, but the accurate and quick strikes of Tom Brady helped him to average more than 21 fantasy points a game. In this case, the data doesn't support the outcome. Brees and Stafford are known for their quick releases, so their fantasy production didn't suffer despite their offensive lines' low rank. New Orleans did draft OT Ryan Ramczyk in the first round, which will help. Center Max Unger just underwent foot surgery, but he's expected to be back in time for Week 1. ... Eli Manning was a disappointment for fantasy owners a season ago, and his line didn't help his cause. The addition of Brandon Marshall is a real positive, but Manning's blockers have to keep him upright. The G-Men drafted just one lineman (Adam Bisnowaty), but he didn't come off the board until the sixth round. ... The Bengals were dead last in terms of time allowed to throw, and that was before the team lost Andrew Whitworth (Rams) and Kevin Zeitler (Browns). The team didn't draft a lineman either, so look for the offense to spread things out to help Andy Dalton.
Notes (1-16): The top three offensive lines in this category also fielded three of the top six fantasy scorers at the position. That includes the likes of Ezekiel Elliot (RB2), LeSean McCoy (RB3), and Devonta Freeman (RB6). Owners should also notice that fantasy running backs who finished No. 2-6 based on points last season ran behind lines that ranked in our top five (including ties). ... Overall, eight of the top 10 runners based on points were behind offensive lines that were in the top half of the league in yards before contact. ... Carlos Hyde should do well behind a Niners line that was one of the best in the league in this department, but he needs to remain out of the trainer's room in order to reach his full statistical potential. ... Isaiah Crowell averaged a solid 2.8 yards after contact last season, and running behind a Browns line that was eighth in yards before contact (and has since added Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter) makes him a potential bargain among running backs. ... Ty Montgomery doesn't figure to be a featured runner in Green Bay, but he did average 3.2 yards after contact behind a good offensive line. Of course, the addition of three rookie backs including Jamaal Williams has hurt his value at least somewhat. ... The Cowboys lost Ronald Leary (Broncos) and Doug Free (retirement) this offseason, but this team still fields one of the strongest offensive lines in the entire league.
Notes (17-32): Eleven of the 15 offensive lines ranked in the lower half of the league based on our research fielded running backs who finished 20th or worse in fantasy points at the position last season. Furthermore, just two of the top 10 fantasy runners (LeGarrette Blount, Melvin Gordon) played behind lines that rated out among the lower 15 teams in the NFL. ... Gordon didn't get much help from his trench men based on our research, but he was still able to rank in the top 10 among fantasy backs due to his large touchdown total (12). He ranked third among backs in green-zone touches (inside the 5-yard line) with 21 a season ago. The Bolts also added three linemen (Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Sam Tevi) in the NFL draft... The Broncos line rated near the bottom of the NFL in yards before contact, which says a lot of C.J. Anderson. Before his injury, he was on pace to finish with almost 200 fantasy points. ... The Vikings offensive line tied for 24th in this department, but the additions of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in the offseason should improve the line for rookie Dalvin Cook and veteran Latavius Murray. ... Todd Gurley had a disastrous season, so it's no surprise to see the Rams tied for last in the NFL in yards before contact. The addition of veteran Andrew Whitworth in the offseason is a positive move, but Los Angeles will need to do more to improve its line if Gurley is going to reclaim his status as one of the better young runners in fantasy football.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!