clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Every AFC team’s situation at offensive tackle

New, comments

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of talk about the Seahawks offensive line for a long time, but recently that talk has focused only on the situation at right tackle. Which I’m sure Ethan Pocic and D.J. Fluker can be quite grateful for if they play anything like they did in 2017. Instead, people only want to think about the situation with Germain Ifedi and if he’s going to be the main reason that Seattle’s offense is unable to move the ball efficiently and consistently.

And all I can say is: Maybe he is that bad. Maybe. I don’t think that the Seahawks will be unable to overcome a bad right tackle — I can’t even think of many times that Seattle has had a good right tackle, and they’ve been quite successful during this century — and certainly nobody was bragging about Breno when they won the Super Bowl, but I understand why it’s a cause for concern.

The point I want to focus on instead is that it is a cause for concern for many teams. For most teams, actually. It doesn’t bother me to hear people say that the Seahawks have a need at right tackle, but it does annoy me when people imply that it would be so easy to do so. That because they passed over one or two other tackles in the draft recently that could have done better, that means that they’re missing the boat everywhere.

Almost every team is missing the boat on right (and left) offensive tackles. These days, there’s like one shoddy ferry, and it comes once every two weeks, and it always breaks down, and it costs $18 million to ride it ... and it goes to Shiddy Isles.

If you’ve been reading me for the long haul, then you probably know that I try to be a proponent of perspectives. We want to know not just how the team is doing, but how they’re doing relative to other teams. If you have no good receivers, that’s an issue, because there are a lot of good receivers. If you have no good tackles, you’re in the same shoddy ferry as maybe half the other teams. For that reason, I looked at every NFL team’s situation at tackle.

It was actually a little better than I thought it would be, but it’s still pretty bad, very expensive, and extremely hard to find. This took a long time, so let’s start with the AFC and go from there.

* denotes a player who has an extensive injury history, was significantly injured last year, or is currently injured

^ denotes a player making at least $9 million per year

Dolphins: Laremy Tunsil, Ja’Wuan James

Tunsil struggled in his first season at left tackle, with PFF ranking him near the middle for all qualified offensive tackles and doing better (but not great) at pass protection than run blocking. At this rate, Tunsil needs to take a significant step forward to stay at left tackle in the future. James was rumored to be on the trading block this offseason and he’s missed half of the season in each of the last two years. He’ll become a free agent after making nearly $10 million on the fifth-year option, making him the highest-paid right tackle in 2018.

Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider: “The Dolphins are happy with Laremy Tunsil at LT and Ja’Wuan James at RT. Fans are still unsure of both of those players. Tunsil struggled at times last year as he moved back to his college position at LT after his rookie season was at LG. He should be a Pro Bowl level talent, but through the early part of the preseason, it looks like he is still just slightly off. James is a perfectly solid right tackle, which is why fans are frustrated. They want something better, but there really is not a need to replace him. I think the basis for Dolphins fans is that there is always someone better at every position, so we have to go get that new guy. Both Tunsil and James will be fine, it’s just a grass is always greener type of thing.”

Grade: Passable

Bills: Dion Dawkins*, Jordan Mills

Dawkins was a rookie who had to step in for Cordy Glenn at left tackle last season and most reports say he was actually pretty good, which is a great sign for Buffalo because as you’ll see there just aren’t many cheap tackles who are also good. Dawkins slid all the way to the end of the second round but could be a huge find for the Bills, but he’s got to prove it with this “prove-it” year ahead; unfortunately, Dawkins is currently day-to-day with a hip injury — another recurring theme you’ll see in these posts.

“Mills has been a mediocre player throughout his career,” according to one BuffaloRumblings post, and while he was better than usual in 2017, “Fans want Mills to be replaced sooner rather than later...”

Grade: Half-good, half-bad

Jets: Kelvin Beachum*, Brandon Shell*

PFF recently ranked the Jets as having the second-worst offensive line situation in the NFL headed into 2018. The best part of that unit is Beachum, who has managed to start 31 of a possible 32 games over the last two seasons putting some injury woes behind him, though he only recently got out of a walking boot.

Says Gang Green Nation: “Beachum provided the Jets with credible if unspectacular play at the cornerstone position. PFF had him responsible for 4 sacks and 29 total disruptions, an above average total. His run blocking was a pretty big liability, though. Ultimately you can live with suspect run blocking from a left tackle as long as he is doing a quality job protecting the quarterback’s blind side. Beachum did just that in 2017.”

Shell, a fifth round pick in 2016, started 12 games last season before suffering a concussion. He is healthy enough to play now but there’s not much evidence yet that he’s very good.

Grade: Fine, but on the brink of disaster

Patriots: Trent Brown*, Marcus Cannon*

The only team in the AFC East to draft a tackle this year was New England with Isaiah Wynn*, who tore his Achilles recently and will miss the season. The Patriots signed Brown in the offseason after three years with the 49ers, where he seemed to play okay but not okay enough to stop the team from drafting Mike McGlinchey ninth overall and trade Brown to New England. Brown, a former seventh rounder, now moves from the right side to the left side, where his job will be to protect Tom Brady. Brown also missed six games last season with a shoulder injury. Cannon, 30, missed nine games last year with an ankle injury. By most accounts, both of these tackles are “okay at best” and surely one of them was meant to lose a job to Wynn, but the Pats must go with these bookends for the 41-year-old QB.

Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit: “The Patriots are pretty lukewarm with their three-deep at tackle. Former 49ers tackle Trent Brown is expected to start at left tackle, while Marcus Cannon is an All Pro at right tackle and LaAdrian Waddle will be the swing tackle. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia could pull two guys out of the stands and make them competent linemen, so I’m expecting the Patriots tackles to rank in the 7-15 range at the end of the year.”

Grade: Bad tackles, good system

Ravens: Ronnie Stanley*, Orlando Brown (r)

From Kyle Barber at BaltimoreBeatdown: “The Ravens are one left tackle injury from panic mode. Ronnie Stanley suffered a ‘mild strain’ against the Colts on Monday and now fans are scared Stanley won’t be starting Week 1. On the right side, Orlando Brown Jr. looks great and James Hurst is a weak back-up the team is trying to make a starter. If healthy, the Ravens are solid, but as I said, one injury to Stanley and this offense will fall apart.”

So the Ravens could be well off with Stanley and Brown, we just need to see if the first guy stays healthy and if the second guy is as good in the regular season as he has been in practice.

Grade: Half-good, half-rookie, part injured, no depth

Bengals: Cordy Glenn*^, Bobby Hart

Cincy traded for Glenn, who has played in 17 games over the last two seasons. He’s also coming off of the worst year of his career — was it because of the ankle or because he’s losing a step? Glenn might be one of the best acquisitions for any team this offseason, I fully acknowledge that, but it would also be okay to withhold praise until seeing how he produces for a little while. Hart is so far listed as the starting right tackle after having started 21 games over the last three seasons for the New York GIants; the Giants are known to have had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL over that period of time, and they still waived Hart. And the saddest part for Cincinnati isn’t if Hart wins the job, it’s if he wins the job over Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, their first and second round picks in 2015.

Rebecca Toback of Cincy Jungle: “The Bengals’ tackle situation is a bit of a mess. They traded for Cordy Glenn this offseason to play left tackle, which should hopefully be good but the right tackle spot is completely uncertain and Bobby Hart is currently slated to start there, which is a very scary situation. Backing up the tackle spots are failed 2015 first and second rounders Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. No one can really be trusted at right tackle right now. Fingers are crossed at least Glenn stays healthy.”

Grade: Half-good, half-scary

Browns: Joel Bitonio^, Chris Hubbard

Cleveland’s starting tackles are a player who has only ever played guard in the NFL and a career backup coming off of his first season with notable playing time. And the weird thing about that is that the Browns could have one of the better tackle situations in the league. I like Bitonio a lot and Hubbard seems a player with potential, but this could go south very quickly. Backups Shon Coleman and Greg Robinson further prove the dire status of NFL tackles, even ones with draft pedigree.

Grade: Inexperienced

Steelers: Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert*

Gilbert has missed 12 games over the last two seasons, four for suspension reasons. Villanueva made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and by all accounts seems a good left tackle, but probably one who gets overrated a bit because there just aren’t very many good left tackles; PFF credited him with five sacks allowed over his first six games last year. He’s not dominant, but he’s good, and that gives Pittsburgh one of the better tackle situations in the league. They spent a third rounder on Chukwuma Okarafor*, who suffered a shoulder injury last week.

Grade: Good

Texans: Julie’n Davenport, Seantrel Henderson*

You want “bad”? You may have found it. And these are the guys responsible for protecting DeShaun Watson. Imagine what an upgrade Duane Brown would be to his old team. Davenport was a fourth round pick a year ago and most would suggest the upcoming stage is too big for him. Maybe he’ll prove those doubters wrong, like where PFF ranks Houston with the 32nd-best line in football. Henderson is in a competition with rookie third round pick Martinas Rankin. Henderson was a full-time starter for the Bills as a rookie in 2014, but has played in eight games (one start) over the last two years. That being said, there’s been a lot of talk that the offensive line is way outperforming expectations based on the preseason:

Still...that’s 34 snaps, in the preseason. I’m not against Houston doing well this year, but much more evidence is necessary.

Grade: I said it at the top...bad

Colts: Anthony Castonzo^, Austin Howard

Castonzo and rookie Quenton Nelson could form the best left side of a line in the league. That’s pretty fair. The right side is still up in the air however, as head coach Frank Reich has not named a starter yet. They picked Braden Smith — a guard at Auburn — 37th overall and he started the most recent preseason game at right tackle. They might also go with Denzelle Good, recently returned from injury.

The left side of the line is good, and the right side is up in the air, which we see isn’t at all uncommon. The most probable outcome is that there are obvious struggles and inefficiencies at right tackle.

Grade: Half-good, half-bad

Jaguars: Cam Robinson, Jermey Parnell*

Parnell missed most of August with a knee injury, returning on Monday. A lot of Seahawks fans are upset that the team didn’t draft Robinson last year because he flashed some quality play at left tackle, but he also did plenty enough things to make you wonder if he can stay at that position for long. PFF gave him a worse grade than Germain Ifedi, and it wasn’t close. They spent a fourth round pick on Will Richardson*, who has recently returned from a shoulder injury.

Grade: Serviceable with potential to go either way

Titans: Taylor Lewan^, Jack Conklin* (PUP)

This could be the best tackle duo in the NFL, but Conklin is still working his way back from a torn ACL in last year’s playoffs. For the time being they’ll go with Dennis Kelly, who has started 12 games over the last four years. Then we’ll see how Conklin looks following his rehab; Conklin could return in the coming weeks.

Lewan recently became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, costing Tennessee $16 million per season on his new contract.

Grade: Half-good, half-injured — potential to be ranked #1

Broncos: Garett Bolles, Jared Veldheer

We’ve got to give Bolles the benefit of the doubt as a first round rookie in 2017, but he was also a 25-year-old rookie. He looked like a below average left tackle in general but especially seemed to struggle in pass protection. Veldheer moved to right tackle for the first time in his career with the Cardinals last season and struggled early but seemed to get the hang of it as the season wore on. This is a high-ceiling/low-floor situation in Denver.

Grade: This is a high-ceiling/low-floor situation in Denver

Chiefs: Eric Fisher^, Mitchell Schwartz

They gave contracts totaling $81 million to have Fisher and Schwartz as their bookends for Patrick Mahomes, and most would tell you that the right tackle is better than the left tackle.

This is what it costs to have a mediocre left tackle and a very good player on the right side: About $20 million (11.5% of the total cap space) for 2018.

Grade: Expensively efficient

Chargers: Russell Okung^, Joe Barksdale*

Okung is a pretty good tackle and his cost is $15 million in 2018 and $16 million in 2019. “But at right tackle,” says Richard Wade from Bolts From The Blue, “they’re running out the likes of Joe Barksdale and Sam Tevi, so let’s just say, “things could be better.””

Grade: Half-good, half-bad

Raiders: Kolton Miller (r), Donald Penn^

Oakland’s tackle situation is a rookie starting on the left side and Penn returning from injury and moving to the right side for the first time in his career (see: Veldheer). Miller’s training camp/preseason seems to show both promise and faults, as you’d expect from a rookie. They also drafted Brandon Parker in the third round but he’s been sidelined, so he won’t contribute right away. So has Breno Giacomini. And Tom Cable is here. This is the tackle situation for the Raiders, so how would you rate that?

Grade: Half-rookie, half-old guy on the move

Rankings:

1. Titans

2. Steelers

3. Chiefs

4. Ravens

5. Colts

6. Jaguars

7. Dolphins

8. Chargers

9. Broncos

10. Bills

11. Browns

12. Bengals

13. Raiders

14. Patriots

15. Jets

16. Texans

There are things I want to note here, like how the Titans used two high first round picks to secure their tackles (higher than the Seahawks have chosen in a draft since 2012), and then paid one of them more than any other offensive lineman in football to ensure that they’d keep Conklin at right tackle and not just to move him over eventually. And that the Chiefs used the number two pick on their left tackle and spent big free agent dollars on their right tackle. Baltimore also used a high draft pick on a left tackle, as did Miami. Meanwhile, Houston has spent almost no resources at the position, which was even more evident when they opted to not pay Duane Brown.

But I’ll get more into that later on after I review the NFC.

HERE ARE THE NFC RANKINGS