1. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers would rank No. 2 pretty much by default thanks to an impressive running game that posted nearly 5 yards a carry last season, but they were also able to hold opposing defenses to just 28 sacks in 2006. Left tackle Marcus McNeill was the gem of last year's draft class and does a great job of protecting the blindside of quarterback Philip Rivers from what is arguably the most crucial position on the line. San Diego also has a good blend of youth and experience with seasoned right guard Mike Goff holding down a starting spot in his 10th season in the league. This is a unit that can come right at opponents and create running lanes with drive blocking, or use finesse in pass blocking to give Rivers time to locate open receivers. Overall, they rely on athleticism more than bulk and pure power.
2. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts don't have the best individuals at any one offensive line position, but they work together well, make few mistakes and are probably the best-coached unit in the league. Howard Mudd has them prepared well for every game and each player knows what the man next to him is doing. The Colts allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL last season (15) and managed to gain a respectable 4.0 yards per carry. They have an excellent left tackle in Tarik Glenn and four or five other smart, athletic linemen who are interchangeable and can play multiple positions. Everyone knows what the other players along the line are supposed to be doing, making it much easier to cover up mistakes.
3. Denver Broncos
With one of the smallest lines in the league, the Broncos rely on quickness and agility to get the job done, registering 4.4 yards per carry and giving up just 31 sacks in 2006. They don't have a single returning starter on the line who weighs over 300 pounds, and former backup Chris Kuper (302 pounds) is the only projected starter who breaks that threshold. Denver's unit plays with an attitude and can cause opposing defensive lines to become a little timid, because they have a reputation for blocking around the knees. This causes defensive linemen to hold back a little to make sure they protect their legs. The Broncos also have one of the oldest offensive line units with only two players with less than 10 years of experience (Kuper and Adam Meadows are eight-year veterans).
4. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles gained 4.8 yards per carry while holding opponents to just 28 sacks on the year. They are massive as a unit and have a wealth of experience at tackle with William Thomas on the left side and Jon Runyan on the right. Neither would be considered an elite athlete for the position, but both are more than adequate. What they lack in athleticism they make up for with reach (arm length) and technique. Guards Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews are massive, powerful blockers, while center Jamaal Jackson appears to have a bright future. With the vertical passing game quarterback Donovan McNabb likes to employ, the line needs to give him time to let his receivers run their deep routes, and it does just that.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have a combination of experience and youth with right tackle Willie Anderson entering his 12th season and the other four players following his lead. They have a quality left tackle in Levi Jones, who is more of a finesse-type blocker than a smashmouth drive blocker, and massive guards Bobby Williams and Andrew Whitworth, both of whom are in the 340-pound range. The center position is adequately handled by third-year man Eric Ghiaciuc, though he is still learning the nuances of the position at the NFL level. Cincinnati was in the middle of the pack last year with 36 sacks allowed and just 3.7 yards per carry,
and having pretty much stayed put with the same group, it will be difficult to show much improvement.
6. New England Patriots
Like the Colts, the Patriots have no stars but rather five quality linemen. They rely more on athleticism and intelligence than size and raw strength. Veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia does a great job of molding a unit together that works in unison and avoids making mistakes. With an average of less than five years of experience across the board, they should do nothing but improve over the next few years after giving up just 29 sacks and rushing for almost 4 yards per carry last season. They lack the size and bulk to get much push, especially in and around the red zone, but can do a quality job of occupying opponents long enough to give running backs a seam to run through.
7. Washington Redskins
The Redskins have one of the best tackle combinations in the league in Jon Jansen on the right side and Chris Samuels on the left. They are big parts of a unit that was one of only three in the NFL to give up fewer than 20 sacks (19) in 2006. At the same time, they were able to gain over 4.5 yards per carry and pile up the fourth-best overall rushing total (2,216 yards) in the league.
With the highly respected Joe Bugel coaching the line, the players are starting to live up to expectations. They are not the heaviest line in the league, but they are athletic and do a great job of eliminating mistakes that can cause turnovers and losses. Center Casey Rabach has become the glue that holds the unit together and is just coming into his prime in his sixth season. Guard Randy Thomas is also in his prime.
8. New Orleans Saints
The Saints had the best passing offense in the NFL at better than 281 yards per game, thanks in large part to the fact that they gave up just 23 sacks in 2006. However, they are well below average in the rushing department at just 3.7 yards per carry. Left tackle Jammal Brown is becoming a quality tackle entering his third year, and fifth-year right tackle Jon Stinchcomb gives the Saints a very good pair of bookends. Guards Jahri Evans and Jamar Nesbit and center Jeff Faine are more than adequate but hardly Pro Bowl-caliber, though as a group they do a respectable job of combining strength and athleticism to protect quarterback Drew Brees, who is not the most mobile quarterback in the league. They could stand to add some more power up front to give them stronger run blocking.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have one of the most physical offensive lines in the league. They are stout and powerful in the middle with center Brad Meester and guards Vince Manuwai and Chris Naeole anchoring things. Left tackle Khalif Barnes and right tackle Tony Pashos do a very good job of protecting the edges against the speed rushers. With the league's third-best rushing offense (5.0 yards per carry), the Jaguars also managed to give up just 30 sacks. They are definitely better blockers when able to drive off the line and get some push at the point of attack in the running game. Line coach Andy Heck has done a very good job of utilizing the strength and power of his interior to attack opposing defenses, though the Jaguars struggle when defenses are able to stretch running plays laterally.
10. Chicago Bears
The Bears are a good mixture of size and athleticism, youth and seasoned veterans. They have a good set of bookend tackles with left tackle John Tait being a fluid, easy mover and right tackle Fred Miller bringing a lot of experience and skills to the table. They did a good job of protecting quarterback Rex Grossman from outside pressure coming off the edges, and along with guards Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza and center Olin Kreutz, they held opposing defenses to just 23 sacks in 2006. The coaching staff would like to improve on the 3.8 yards per carry they gained last season, and that will likely have to happen from the middle of the line because neither tackle is a great drive-blocker. Kreutz, Brown and Garza are aggressive blockers with quick feet, but they lack the raw power to create big running lanes.