Wide receivers were not the only offensive position to receive heavy investment in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday. The beefy boys and hog-mollies also garnered a lot of attention as nine offensive linemen were selected in the opening round.
While there are plenty of moving parts across an offensive line, I still wanted to touch on where each of these players fits in with their new NFL teams and the areas where they can make an impact, potentially aiding a few fantasy stars along the way.
Carolina Panthers – Ikem Ekwonu, LT (No. 6 Overall)
The Carolina offensive line did not help their offensive issues last year as they ranked 29th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (50%) and 26th in Run Block Win Rate (68%). At Pro Football Focus, they ranked 28th in pass blocking grade while ranking 25th in run blocking grade.
After adding both Bradley Bozeman at center and Austin Corbett at right guard via free agency, left tackle was still a major need for the offense. Cameron Erving was only signed for this season. On the field, Erving allowed a 9.5% pressure rate, which ranked 89th among 95 tackles last season to have 100 or more pass blocking snaps.
On 500 pass blocking snaps in 2021, Ekwonu allowed three sacks and 13 pressures.
While it is hard to feel optimistic about Sam Darnold, this revamped offensive line can make an immediate impact in the run game, as Christian McCaffrey has averaged 4.2 yards per carry over the past two seasons when on the field.
New York Giants – Evan Neal, OT (No. 7)
The board fell in favor for the Giants to land one of the top tackles in the draft as they added Neal right after Ekwonu was selected.
Entering the draft, the Giants options at right tackle were Matt Peart, Matt Gono, and Korey Cunningham.
Gono missed all of the 2021 season and has just four career starts.
Peart has played intermittently with the Giants, making six starts over his first two seasons and playing 22% and 43% of the snaps.
Cunningham only played 59 pass blocking snaps in 2021 but allowed a gaudy 11.9% pressure rate.
Neal will immediately step in at right tackle after allowing just two sacks and 15 pressures on 650 pass blocking snaps in 2021 at Alabama.
Neal is an immediate starting addition to a line that ranked 28th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (54%) and 30th in pass blocking grade as a team per Pro Football Focus.
The Giants have worked to re-tool this entire unit outside of Andrew Thomas, who played well in his second season. In addition to Neal, the team has added Mark Glowinski, Max Garcia, and John Feliciano as veteran starters on the interior of their young tackles.
Saquon Barkley has rushed for just 3.5 yards per carry when on the field the past two seasons. This past season, Barkley averaged 0.98 yards prior to contact per carry, 41st among 50 backs with 100 or more carries.
Seattle Seahawks – Charles Cross, OT (No. 9)
Cross immediately fills a cavernous void across the front line for the Seahawks.
They were 30th as a team in pressure rate allowed (37.7%) in 2021 while their two starting tackles from 2021 — Duane Brown and Brandon Shell — both are still free agents.
The team selected Stone Forsythe in the sixth round in 2021, but he logged just 14 snaps as a rookie while right tackle Jack Curhan ranked 87th among 95 tackles in pressure rate allowed in 2021 (9.2%).
Cross was excellent in 2021, allowing two sacks and 16 pressures over 719 snaps in pass protection.
Houston Texans – Kenyon Green, OL (No. 15)
Like the rest of their roster, the Houston offensive line is lacking nearly across the board. The Texans ranked 27th in the league in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (54%) and 32nd in Run Block Win Rate (65%) while ranking 24th in pass blocking grade and 32nd in run blocking grade per Pro Football Focus.
With just Laremy Tunsil as a league-wide starting-caliber player on the front at left tackle, Houston added Kenyon Green, who has experience playing right tackle and guard.
In 2021, Green logged 408 snaps at left guard, 142 at right tackle, 106 at right guard, and 81 at left tackle, allowing just one sack on 404 pass blocking snaps with 10 pressures.
Los Angeles Chargers – Zion Johnson, OL (No. 17)
The Charges did an excellent job a year ago re-building their offensive middle to left after adding all of Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, and Rashawn Slater, but still had major holes left on the right side of that offensive front.
The team was pressed into relying on Storm Norton at right tackle with Bryan Bulaga appearing in just one game. Norton allowed an 8.8% pressure rate, ranking 83rd among tackles, while his nine sacks allowed were tied for the third-most at the position. Norton is only signed for the 2022 season.
Last year’s starting right guard Michael Schofield still remains unsigned. The team selected guard Brendan Jaimes in the fifth round last year as interior depth, but Jaimes only managed five snaps as a rookie.
Zion Johnson has not played any snaps on the right side of the line over his three years at Boston College, logging 1,496 snaps at left guard and 786 at right tackle, but there is plenty of flexibility here if Johnson and the team is more comfortable with him playing left guard with Feiler also carrying experience on the right side over his career.
On the field in college, Johnson was sensational, allowing just three sacks over 1,074 career snaps in pass protection with a 3.4% pressure rate allowed.
New Orleans Saints – Trevor Penning, OT (No. 19)
The Saints were bludgeoned across the offensive line in 2021. The most frequent offensive line combination they used during the season played just 167 total snaps (15.9%), which was the lowest rate in the league for a team’s most frequently used unit in 2021.
Cesar Ruiz was the only lineman to log 1,000 snaps on the season, while Andrus Peat (six games played), Terron Armstead (eight games played), Ryan Ramczyk (10 games played), and Erik McCoy (12 games played) all missed significant time during the season.
All of that played a role in the Saints coming out 20th in pass blocking grade per Pro Football Focus and 24th in run blocking grade. In the running game, New Orleans backs averaged just 0.80 yards prior to contract per carry, 31st in the NFL. Alvin Kamara was 43rd out of 50 backs with 100 or more carries in that department, averaging 0.95 yards before contact per carry.
Just having better fortune in terms of health on the line can be a major boost for this unit, but with Armstead moving on via free agency, there was a huge vacancy at left tackle.
Penning is a smaller-school prospect coming out of Northern Iowa, but he closed 2021 grading out as the highest tackle in FCS per Pro Football Focus a year ago, allowing just one sack on 435 snaps in pass protection with a 2.5% pressure rate.
Dallas Cowboys – Tyler Smith, OL (No. 24)
Once the strength of their offense, the Cowboys entered the draft with question marks up front outside of All-Pros Zack Martin and Tyron Smith.
Terence Steele and Conner McGovern were penciled in to be pressed into starting jobs after losing guard Connor Williams (949 snaps) in free agency while releasing right tackle La’El Collins (672 snaps) this offseason.
Steele allowed the highest pressure rate (6.3%) per pass blocking snap on the team in 2021 while Connor McGovern allowed the most sacks (four) on the offensive line. McGovern graded 46th among qualifying guards in 2021 per Pro Football Focus while Steele was the 58th graded tackle.
Neither McGovern nor Steele are signed beyond this season, although Steele will be a restricted free agent.
Tyler Smith played all but two career collegiate snaps at left tackle, but early word is that he could expected to take his first snaps in the NFL at guard. While playing tackle at Tulsa, Smith allowed just two sacks and 18 pressures over 896 career snaps in pass protection. While standing strong in prevention of those rate stats, Smith was tied for a collegiate-high 16 penalties among tackles in 2021.
Baltimore Ravens – Tyler Linderbaum, C (No. 25)
Injuries and production up front over the season contributed to the late-season collapse for the Ravens offense in 2021. The Ravens used 11 different offensive line combinations for double-digit snaps last season, but their most used offensive line combination was on the field for just 33.7% of their offensive plays. As a byproduct, Lamar Jackson was sacked on a career-high 9.0% of his dropbacks.
The team lost center Bradley Bozeman in free agency, who was one of the players that was able to stay on the field and effectively play a year ago. Bozeman logged 1,125 snaps, which was third on the team. On those snaps, he allowed just a 3.1% pressure rate and was the 11th graded center per Pro Football Focus a year ago.
Baltimore reportedly was interested in bringing back Ryan Jensen, but he returned to Tampa Bay, leaving a hole in the middle of their line.
No player received a higher grade across all offensive line positions in 2021 per Pro Football Focus than Linderbaum. He allowed just one sack and seven pressures across 457 snaps in pass protection, while he was not penalized on any of his 908 snaps. For his entire three-year career at Iowa, Linderbaum was penalized just twice while allowing just two sacks over 2,317 snaps and 1,201 plays in pass protection.
New England Patriots – Cole Strange, OG (No. 29)
There was one final offensive lineman selected in the first round, with the Patriots aggressively selecting Cole Stange out of Tennessee Chattanooga.
This follows the domino of trading starting guard Shaq Mason, who was traded to Tampa Bay for a fifth-round pick. Mason was the fourth-highest graded guard in 2021 per Pro Football Focus and still had two years left on his contract.
While Strange was a reach by all accounts and not even a top-50 player on Ryan McCrystal’s big board, his resume at small school was at least objectively productive.
Strange allowed just one sack and 13 pressures across 582 career pass blocking snaps during his collegiate career. Strange also is one of the best measurable athletes at his position per relative athleticism score.