We are back for our final AFC West position group ranking article! Today, I’ll be examining how the interior offensive line groups within the division stack up. Let’s get rolling.
The Raiders are receiving a ton of offseason hype after the acquisitions of Davante Adams and Chandler Jones specifically. Media members will point to how the Raiders made the playoffs in extreme circumstances and pushed the eventual AFC champs to the brink in the wild-card round, and those acquisitions should push them over the top into the contender-level tier. However, just like the playoff run itself, the acquisitions are quite misleading.
To be clear, acquiring the best wide receiver in the league will help improve a mediocre offense that ranked 19th in offensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders last year. The problem with acquiring Adams is that they went straight for the ribeye and neglected to eat their vegetables because lack of skill player talent was not the problem with this offense. The main problem was that they couldn’t block anybody, and they didn’t do anything to fix that problem besides the drafting of Dylan Parham in the third round. This is made even worse by the two retirements of Richie Incognito and Denzelle Good.
So yes, the Raiders should be better on offense with Adams, but they looked at an offensive line that finished tied with the Chicago Bears for 24th in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency rating (PBE), and 25th in rushing DVOA and decided to run it back. Having a better offensive line would’ve significantly raised their floor as a team, and that matters a lot when talking about AFC West hierarchy.
Individually, I like Risner and Meinerz a lot. I think Risner is one of the better guards in the league, probably not in the upper echelon but high in the second tier. Meinerz has elite upside and flashed that potential as a rookie, but the learning curve from the former Wisconsin-Whitewater standout proved to be too much at times. If he can get a handle on that this year, he should take a big leap forward.
Cushenberry is the weak link here, and there’s an argument to be had that the Broncos would be better suited to move Meinerz to center and allow Glasgow or Muti to start at guard. The former LSU standout allowed 24 total pressures last year which was tied for 9th most among all centers who logged at least 500 snaps. He was also below average in terms of PFF grading for the position, right around the same level as Tyler Biadasz for the Cowboys and James for the Raiders.
The other complication here is that all of these players were brought in under the previous regime which heavily relied upon gap and power schemes in the run game, and new head coach Nathaniel Hackett has said he wants to shift to a more outside-zone heavy approach. Chargers fans were witnesses to how difficult it can be for personnel to adapt to a vastly different one.
The Chargers spent big money on Linsley last season and he has been a home run addition for them so far. On 726 pass-blocking snaps last season he didn’t allow any sacks and only allowed 10 total pressures. He had the second-best PBE of every center in the league, trailing only Arizona’s Rodney Hudson. Linsley also registered the fourth highest run-blocking grade at the position. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2021, and that should be the expected bar for the next couple of seasons as well.
Feiler, the Chargers’ other big 2021 offseason addition, stabilized the team’s left guard position and quietly had the best season of his career. In terms of pure value gained, he has an argument for the best offseason acquisition from last year’s group. He was PFF’s 11th highest graded guard and finished with the 17th best PBE at the position. Feiler is under contract for two more years and given his value to the team I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him get an extension after this season.
The X-Factor here is obviously Zion Johnson. If you’ve been following me throughout the offseason, you know how much of a fan I am of his. If he hits the ground running like I think he will, there’s a strong argument for them to be first on this list – and very high up on a league-wide list as well.
In terms of the depth pieces, I feel better about this group than I have in quite some time as a fan. They’re unproven to be sure but I really liked what I saw from Brenden Jaimes in the preseason last year and Jamaree Salyer was one of my favorite guard prospects in the draft.
Unfortunately, even though I am incredibly high on Johnson’s addition to the Chargers, I think you have to have the Chiefs at the first spot here. Creed Humphrey was one of the best center prospects in recent memory, and *shocker* he played like an absolute stud right away. He was PFF’s highest graded center and was just 0.1 points behind Linsley in PBE. He’s right up there with Linsley in the conversation for best center in the league, and might even have him beat due to the powerful and violent nature he brings to the run game.
If you consider the center position to essentially be a wash, then this debate has to come to the guard play and, to a lesser extent, the depth behind them. In terms of the guard play, Thuney edges out Feiler as one of the best and most durable guards in the league. He was the only guard in the league last year to have a PBE of 99 or higher. Smith isn’t an elite player by any means but there were stretches where he showed the potential to be a dominant player. Granted, he should take another leap in year two especially being another year removed from the previous health scare that forced him to fall in the draft.
This could be a different conversation at this time next year depending on how well Johnson plays as a rookie but until we see that, we have to keep the Chiefs at the top slot. However, this all could be a moot point if Thuney ends up playing left tackle all year while Orlando Brown Jr. holds out for a long-term deal.
*denotes a new addition to the room.