While they don’t accrue fantasy points themselves, offensive linemen employ a drastic impact on the fantasy value of skill position players. For the small group who may be confused, skill players are the wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, and quarterbacks that you, as a fantasy owner, draft in hopes of them carrying you to a fantasy title.
A quality offensive line results in those oh-so-critical lanes for your fantasy running back to run through, lanes so big you can drive a broken down Papa John’s delivery car with 15 Peyton Manning fans pushing it.
Quality line play doesn't affect just running backs either. It also keeps the pass rush nixed for 5,8, sometimes 10 seconds, which can often make the difference between your fantasy quarterback finding an open man on a late comeback route or taking a sack.
By contrast, a misguided, under performing offensive line can result in below average play from the quarterback and other skill position players no matter how talented they are. We saw that take full effect last season with the New York Giants, where tackle Will Beatty struggled and several injuries caused players to shift to unfamiliar positions along the offensive line.
These unfortunate occurrences resulted in a league-leading 27 interceptions from quarterback Eli Manning. Injuries to receivers Hakeem Nicks and later on Victor Cruz played a role in their woes as well, but the real struggle started up front.
Now of course, the blame can’t be placed solely on the offensive line if a running back or quarterback struggles, sometimes it’s the talent in the backfield that’s lacking. A good example of that being Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2013 despite having one of the better offensive lines in front of him. Giovani Bernard is now the top guy in Cincy for that reason. Take a look at one of the top offensive lines from 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philadelphia Eagles 2013 recap
No. 1 running back: LeSean McCoy (314 attempts, 1,607 yards, 5.1 attempts, 9 touchdowns).
Offensive line: Guard Evan Mathis (2013 pro bowler), tackle Jason Peters (former pro bowler 2007-2011), Jason Kelce (productive year, signed new deal) and Lane Johnson (budding rookie who struggled at times but picked up steam down the stretch).
Here are some highlights that show just how dominant Mathis and Peters could be at times. This will hopefully give you an idea of the impact an offensive line can have.
How they affected running back LeSean McCoy
Obviously pretty well. McCoy benefited from an outstanding offensive line that played a key role in paving the way for his first rushing title last season. While McCoy can place some of the credit on himself, especially since he often demonstrated a knack for creating his own lanes through Barry Sanders-like jukes, the consistency of the offensive line was what ultimately allowed the running back to average a league-best 100 yards per game. The Eagles were one of the few offensive lines in the entire NFL that didn't lose a single player to injury in 2013.
How they affected the quarterback
While the pass protection numbers indicate some improvement is needed in 2014, Nick Foles was as dominant as any great quarterback in the league last season due to solid pass protection. He posted a NFL record 119.2 quarterback rating, made his first pro bowl, and tossed 27 touchdowns to go along with he’s-never-doing-that-again 2 interceptions. He’s also 40/1 odds for the MVP this season, according to the Star-Ledger. So like Lloyd Christmas once said ‘you’re telling me there’s a chance.’
The one place the Eagles offensive did struggle in last year was sacks. They gave up 48 total, which was third worst in the league behind Cleveland and Miami. Former starter Michael Vick was a casualty of 15 of those, while Nick Foles accounted for 28. Being the young player that he is, Foles frequently held onto the ball for too long between throws, which resulted in many of those sacks, so the blame can’t be placed solely on the offensive line there.
What happened when it wasn’t working in Philadelphia
Keep in mind, there was a time when the Philly offensive line stank it up, and it wasn't that long ago.
In 2012, the Eagles were dealt several severe blows to their offensive line. They lost Peters for the entire 2012 season after he ruptured his achilles tendon.
McCoy wasn't nearly as dominant in that season in Peter’s absence, as he rushed for only 840 yards though still managed 4.2 yards per carry. While McCoy got hurt down the stretch of that season and his 207 attempts from 2012 pales in comparison to his league-leading 314 attempts in 2013, but it’s worth noting the difference a healthy offensive line made in 2013 compared to a two seasons ago.
The Eagles will likely fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes in 2014, but probably wind up closer to their 2013 output. They won’t be as dominant as they were in 2013, as they will not have tackle Lane Johnson for the first 5 games due to a PED suspension. Backup Dennis Kelly will likely take over the reins, and one has to wonder if it will affect Shady’s play in 2014. Philly drafted Kelly in the fifth round in 2012 out of Purdue. It will be his first season starting at tackle
Coach Chip Kelly selected Johnson based on his athletic ability, which is crucial for linemen in a blur of an offense that stresses getting to the second level as quick as possible. Aside from Johnson, the Eagles return all their starters from last season and one guy shouldn't bring the whole unit down too much.