Whether an offensive line is good or not depends on a lot of factors. The scheme, the coaching, what type of quarterback you have; there are too many to list in a single article. One thing we can look at, however, is athletic ability and we can do so by using Relative Athletic Scores. In looking at the Detroit Lions starting offensive line in the build up to the draft, I noted how all but one starter rated below average for RAS. I mentioned how it wouldn't surprise me if the least athletic OL in the NFL were the Lions line, and it turned out I was right by at least one measure.
To Illustrate this, I looked up the Relative Athletic Scores for every offensive lineman who started the highest amount of games for each team in the NFL. Once I had that, I averaged those scores and that gave us the numbers you see in the Average RAS column below. For reference, I added the number of wins for each team, the total rank as well the breakdown between pass and run from Pro Football Focus.
|Team||Average RAS||Wins||PFF Rank||PFF Pass Rank||PFF Run Rank|
|New York Jets||7.46||10||26||22||25|
|Green Bay Packers||7.40||10||7||5||17|
|Kansas City Chiefs||6.87||11||22||30||14|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6.83||6||23||20||20|
|St. Louis Rams||6.35||7||28||25||27|
|New England Patriots||6.27||12||25||31||12|
|San Francisco 49ers||5.80||5||27||14||30|
|New York Giants||5.75||6||20||24||16|
|New Orleans Saints||5.01||7||3||9||2|
|San Diego Chargers||4.31||4||32||32||31|
What does a table like this show us? I mean, the three highest teams didn't even break .500. Yes, that's true, but we can also note that six out of the top 10 teams had double digit wins. Eight of the teams with double digit wins had above 6.00 on average, while all but one of the double digit win teams were above average. We can also point out that five of the six teams below average were losing teams, showing a fairly clear negative correlation with an unathletic offensive line (Using RAS as a guide to what that means).
We can also get a good idea of how that number correlates to success using different rankings. For the PFF rankings shown, for instance, we can see that the top 17 teams in run blocking rated above 5.00 for their OL average RAS. Meanwhile, three of the bottom four teams for PFF offensive lines had their average OL RAS below average. Even using traditional stats bear this out, as five of the six teams below 5.00 for their average OL RAS were bottom 10 in rushing for 2016. Only Pittsburgh was better than that, just as Pittsburgh was also the only winning team in that group. What about sacks allowed, that's another good indicator of offensive line talent, right? Five of the six teams below average in RAS, the same five as before with Pittsburgh outside it, rated in the bottom half of the league for sacks allowed.
So we can show a correlation between lack of athleticism and having a poor offensive line in terms of production using several different stats as a guide to what that means. How can a team like the Detroit Lions correct those deficiencies? In the case of Detroit, the problem was systemic since Martin Mayhew took over and it will be difficult to overcome. You can get by with an offensive lineman or two with a poor RAS. In some cases, a player with a low RAS is considered the best player on that line. The Cowboys for an example have four linemen above 5.00 and only one below. And he's way below. Travis Frederick is their lowest rated player by RAS, but he's one of their best in actual play. Would he look that good if the rest of the line weren't stacked to the gills with athleticism?
Contrast that Cowboys offensive line with the Lions. Only one starter from 2015 had an above average RAS and it was Michael Ola, signed later in the year off the street to play tackle after being scouted exclusively as a guard. Ola is, in fact, the smallest offensive tackle in the NFL. Yet he rated better than first-round picks Riley Reiff and Laken Tomlinson along with third-round picks Larry Warford and Travis Swanson.
The Detroit Lions finished 2015 with the least athletic offensive line in the NFL. That same offensive line was the crux of the team and easily their weakest unit that season. So how does the team get out from under that deficit and start finding a way to beef up their offensive line? We've looked at what kind of effect a less athletic offensive line can have, next time we'll take a look at some of the steps the team has already taken as well as some they can take in the future to get out of that hole.