So far in the “Ranking the Rooms: AFC North” series here at Steelers Depot, I’ve covered the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends in the last two weeks.
Now, it’s time to get to arguably the second-most important position in today’s game behind the quarterback: the offensive line.
Without a really good offensive line and decent depth, it’s hard to succeed in today’s game as pass protection is very important to offensive success.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard to argue against the job Kevin Colbert has done in putting together this unit for Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Mike Munchak in recent years.
Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has emerged as one of the better blind side tackles in all of football, becoming a quick study at the position after transitioning to offense from defense when he signed with the Steelers.
The former West Point grad and Army Ranger is also a very good run blocker, often pulling to his right on power runs to open lanes for Le’Veon Bell. He’s easily one of the more athletic tackles in the league, too.
Left guard Ramon Foster is the steady veteran presence and definitely brings an edge to this unit, while center Maurkice Pouncey is still one of the best centers in all of football.
Right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert form a dominant right side of the line, allowing the Steelers to pretty much run the ball at will off the right side.
Combined, this unit makes $33,541,166, or roughly $6.78 million a piece. That’s a hefty price tag, but one that is absolutely necessary in today’s style of play.
Backups Chris Hubbard, Jerald Hawkins, B.J. Finney, Brian Mihalik and Jake Rodgers should give the Steelers plenty of solid depth once again.
Keep an eye on undrafted free agent Ethan Cooper as well.
2. Cleveland Browns
Veteran left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the best linemen in all of football, returns for another year to lock down the left side for the Browns, but it’s what Cleveland did in free agency this spring that moves this unit way up the board.
In free agency, Cleveland inked standout guard Kevin Zeitler way from the Bengals, while also adding center J.C. Tretter away from the Packers, giving the Browns two plug-and-play starters in free agency.
Zeitler and Tretter join Thomas and emerging guard Joel Bitonio — who got a nice contract extension this spring — on the offensive line.
The only real hole on this line as of now is right tackle, but second-year pro Shon Coleman should be able to win the job over Spencer Drango, while veterans John Greico, Cameron Irving, Gabe Ikard and Marcus Martin should provide more than enough depth for Cleveland up front.
3. Baltimore Ravens
It’s hard to replace guys like Kelechi Osemele and Ricky Wagner in back-to-back seasons, but the Ravens are certainly going to try.
Osemele departed for the Raiders last spring, while Wagner left for the Lions this spring, depleting the Ravens’ offensive line in key spots.
Although standout veteran Marshal Yanda and second-year tackle Ronnie Stanley return, the Ravens also have to find a replacement for veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, who was cut during free agency.
The battle for center will revolve around second-year pro Matt Skura, rookie Brandon Kublanow and veteran Ryan Jensen.
At guard, Baltimore will trot out Yanda once again at either left or right guard, while third-year pro John Urschel is the presumptive favorite at the other guard position.
Stanley should be able to hold down the left side of the line for the next ten years as he’s locked into that spot, while right tackle should be Alex Lewis or rookie Jermaine Eluemunor.
Behind the starting group, guys like De’Ondre Wesley, Nico Siragusa and Jarrod Pughsley will battle for backup spots.
Overall, it’s not pretty for the Ravens.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Arguably the worst offensive line in football last year, the Cincinnati Bengals might be even worse this season after losing veteran stalwarts Andrew Whitworth and Zeitler in the off-season.
The Bengals drafted tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher a few years ago, so that duo will be relied upon heavily this season to fill some holes, but there’s very little talent up front right now for the Bengals.
Fisher will likely battle with veterans Eric Winston and Andre Smith for the right tackle position, while Ogbuehi is expected to take over the left tackle job moving forward.
Second-year guard Christian Westerman should be able to step in for Zeitler, but there’s no telling just how he’ll perform in his first season as a starter, should he win the job.
Clint Boling is a lock for the left guard job and might be the only stabilizing force in this group.
At center, Russell Bodine, possibly the worst center in all of football is back, as is backup T.J. Johnson.
After having one of the worst units in football last season, it’s very surprising the Bengals let a guy like Whitworth walk out the door, let alone Zeitler as well. That being said though, the Bengals drafted OL heavy in recent years preparing for this exodus, so let’s see if it pays off.
Last Year’s Rankings