Three effective lines poised for more success in 2018

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This is an on-paper exercise.

It's no loose-leaf sheet lost in the wind, or a notecard left at the bottom of a discarded stack, but an examination of specifically organized groupings of professional football players. We're taking a look at rosters -- three, to be exact -- that produced quality film that significantly contributed to on-field success in 2017.

Since we're in 2018 and just two weeks from the start of the regular season, it's time to take a look back to last year to choose three offensive lines that performed well and should find continued success in the coming months, thanks to an offseason of improvement, both in increased familiarity and for some, new additions.

There are, of course, some lines that won't make this list, even if those running behind them posted impressive numbers (looking at you, Dallas). That's not to take away from their accomplishments -- we're just highlighting those who should be expected to keep the good results coming.

In no particular order, here are three lines that are poised for more achievement in 2018.

New Orleans Saints


Here's a group that exemplifies consistency, highlighted by the power of an instant-impact draft pick.

New Orleans pivoted from a legacy-laden line that featured established veterans Zach Strief and Jahri Evans on the right side, to a group that injected youth into its group and received equal production with change. Strief suffered a knee injury that limited him to just two games and eventually sent him to retirement, and Evans moved on from a career spent with New Orleans to a one-year experience with the Green Bay Packers. In their places arrived guard Larry Warford and tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Both met, if not exceeded expectations.

Warford, a third-round pick out of Kentucky, transformed from a lineman with natural ability to an effective blocker with one offseason of change. Working with former Pro Bowl interior lineman LeCharles Bentley, who saw Warford's tape and said "man, this guy has the juice," Warford changed his diet and grew from a second-team All-SEC selection to one of the league's better guards rather quickly. He found his reward in free agency, when the Saints lured him away from Detroit with a four-year contract.

"I said, if this kid's at this level now, worst-case scenario, he's going to be a solid guard," Bentley told me recently during an interview at his Chandler, Arizona, training facility. "But if we can fix those things, we've got something here.

"Sure enough, Larry comes in, he's been as focused and driven of an athlete that I've ever been around and sure enough, all those things we said we had to fix, he's worked on fixing those things. This past year, $35-40 million with the Saints and goes to the Pro Bowl."

The new pairing produced the premier result: Warford earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2017 as part of a right side of a line that helped New Orleans become the league's fifth-best rushing attack, averaging 129.4 yards per game on the ground with a two-man, do-everything backfield of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

The player next to Warford did an arguably even better job in 2017. Ramczyk, a first-round selection out of Wisconsin, stepped into a starting role in place of the injured Strief and didn't miss a beat. The result was an offensive line without a weakness, a rising star at guard in Warford and a reliably effective center in Unger. And it could get even better with a better Ramczyk, according to Saints offensive line coach Dan Roushar.

"I think fundamentally he's just improved an awful lot," Roushar said of Ramczyk in June, per the Times-Picayune.

And then, there's the left side. Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat returned to provide reliable performance -- with Armstead becoming the starting left tackle with Ramczyk needed more on the right side after Strief's injury -- and when grouped with the aforementioned right side and center Max Unger, created one of the league's best (and most overlooked) groups in the league. Drew Brees, Kamara, Ingram and Michael Thomas get the praise and spotlight, but it begins with the men up front. New Orleans' starting five proved it is one of the best, and is positioned for more in the years to come.

Jacksonville Jaguars


Much has been made of Jacksonville's stellar defense, but quietly, the Jaguars have assembled a pretty darn good offensive line, too.

Rookie running back Leonard Fournette took the majority of the ground-game praise (earned, of course) in 2017, rushing for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns on 268 attempts. His teammate and fellow rookie, tackle Cam Robinson, also had plenty to do with Fournette's relative success.

Alabama has been somewhat volatile when it comes to producing effective professional linemen. Former first-round selection Chance Warmack won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles, but it came as part of Warmack's new tour of duty with his second NFL team. Warmack largely underperformed according to his draft selection when with Tennessee, and serves as a reserve lineman with the Eagles.

This hasn't been the case with Robinson, who stepped into the starting left tackle upon arrival (and the departure of Luke Joeckel). Robinson grew into an effective run blocker and adequate pass protector, serving as the left tackle Jacksonville long needed to protect the often-skittish Blake Bortles. It created the most successful offense the Jaguars have seen since the days of David Garrard and Fred Taylor, which helped enough to get Jacksonville within one half of the Super Bowl.

Entering 2018, that group could be even better thanks to the addition of the market's premier guard in Andrew Norwell. Jacksonville's starting five of Robinson, Norwell, Brandon Linder, AJ Cann and Jermey Parnell suddenly looks like one of the league's more solid groups. Paired with a suffocating, relentless defense, the Jaguars have plenty of reason for optimism entering 2018 and perhaps beyond.

Minnesota Vikings


I wanted to place Tennessee in this position, but with a postseason knee injury keeping Jack Conklin sidelined, the Titans will have to wait for such recognition.

In the meantime, we'll look to a team that has undoubtedly earned this praise, even as it sorts out its starting five ahead of Week 1.

Right now, Minnesota's starting five (from left to right) is Riley Reiff, Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill. Not a bad group, especially when it's led by Elflein. The stellar youngster, who, despite being hobbled by an ankle injury since the start of camp, has been everything Minnesota could have wanted when it spent a third-round pick on him in 2017.

Much of Minnesota's offensive success, while centered on the play of the since-departed Case Keenum, had a lot to do with newfound stability in the front five. Gone are the days of worrying about Adrian Peterson slamming into a wall of defenders for an average of fewer than three yards per carry. In its place is a group that has protected whichever passer drops back behind it, and opened lanes for the new blood in the backfield.

Minnesota's true strength, though, lies in its depth, which has already been tested. Behind Hill at right tackle is rookie Brian O'Neill, and both guard positions have solid backups in the veteran Compton (now a starter) and second-year lineman Danny Isidora. Should the Vikings suffer an unfortunate injury -- they did with the loss of Nick Easton to neck surgery, which necessitated the insertion of Compton at left guard -- they have the luxury of a reliable veteran and promising youngster to replace them, which is key for a contender when the unexpected happens.

It's also important to bringing budding star running back Dalvin Cook back into the fold after his rookie season was cut short, and to welcoming Kirk Cousins into an offense that should surpass its production in what was a wildly successful 2017. Things are looking up, right through that transparent roof at U.S. Bank Stadium, with much thanks due to how GM Rick Spielman has built Minnesota's offensive line.

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