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Ranking the AFC North: Offensive Line

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All four AFC North teams have strong offensive lines. So which ranks at the top? We take a look.

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No position in the AFC North is more difficult to rank than the offensive line. All four teams have solid lines and according to Pro Football Focus, all four lines ended 2014 in the top eight. I expect all four to be in the top 10 again in 2015 and as close as the lines are, the rankings here are a bit arbitrary. Someone has to be first and someone has to be last, but in reality, all four teams have a line that ranks in the top 5-10 and no team is at a disadvantage when it comes to their line – the rankings here are about splitting straws.

1) Ravens

Projected Depth Chart (per espn.com): LT- Eugene Monroe, LG- Kelechi Osemele, C- Jeremy Zuttah, RG- Marshal Yanda, RT- Rick Wagner

2014 Ranking: Pass Blocking Ranking: 7th, Run Blocking Ranking: 4th, Penalties Ranking: 14th fewest

To me, the Ravens 2014 line was one of the biggest surprises. Joe Flacco was sacked just 19 times (2nd) and Justin Forsett had a career year with 1,266 yards and 5.4 YPC. My hesitancy with ranking the Ravens first in the division is the loss of Gary Kubiak. Kubiak has made a career of making offensive lines look impressive with his zone blocking scheme and with him moving on to Denver, I wonder if the Ravens can repeat their 2014 performance. However, the Ravens bring back the same group, so I am giving them (and Marc Trestman) the benefit of the doubt.

2) Browns

Projected Depth Chart (per espn.com): LT- Joe Thomas, LG- Joes Bitonio, C- Alex Mack, RG- John Greco, RT -Mitchell Schwartz

2014 Ranking: Pass Blocking Ranking: 2nd, Run Blocking Ranking: 7th, Penalties Ranking: 16th fewest

The Browns offensive line started the 2014 season as one of the most impressive groups, but the loss of All Pro center Alex Mack caused the line (and their stats) to drop off pretty significantly. With Mack back (and presumably healthy), the Browns should feature one of the best lines in the league again in 2015.

3) Bengals

Projected Depth Chart (per espn.com): LT- Andrew Whitworth, LG- Clint Boling, C- Russell Bodine, RG- Kevin Zeitler, RT- Andre Smith

2014 Ranking: Pass Blocking Ranking: 6th, Run Blocking Ranking: 6th, Penalties Ranking: 6th fewest

Despite starting a rookie center and the mid-season loss of Andre Smith, the Bengals offensive line had a very impressive year, surrendering just 23 sacks (3rd) and overseeing the 6th ranked rushing attack. However, as someone who watched every snap, I can say that at times, the pass blocking was done with smoke and mirrors to account for the loss of Smith – quick releases, leaving a back in, and more along those lines. With Smith back and a more potent running attack, the Bengals could very well have the top line in the North this season.

4) Steelers

Projected Depth Chart (per espn.com): LT- Kelvin Beachum, LG- Ramon Foster, C- Maurkice Pouncey, RG- Davie DeCastro, RT- Marcus Gilbert

2014 Ranking: Pass Blocking Ranking: 3rd, Run Blocking Ranking: 11th, Penalties Ranking: 17th fewest

When you think of the Steelers, you think of defense and good offensive line play, but in recent years, the Steelers offensive line had become a weakness. In 2014, the Steelers line was much better than in years past and oversaw a breakout year for Le’Veon Bell. However, the Steelers line ranked right in the middle of the NFL for sacks surrendered (16th) and rushing yards (16th). The Steelers find themselves ranked last in the division due to the 33 sacks surrendered in 2014, ranking last in the division and their running attack (yards and YPC) ranked only one spot above the Browns – and the Browns were missing their Pro Bowl center. Regardless, the Steelers, like the rest of the teams in this division, have an impressive offensive line and will be returning their entire line to likely create a top 10 unit.

Insight from the AFC North SB Nation Writers:

Chris Pokorny (@DawgsByNature), Dawgs By Nature As solid as one could get in football. This unit was off to an outstanding start last year before Alex Mack broke his leg. Now, with first-rounder Cam Erving in the mix, the team upgrades the right side of the line from average to above average.
Matthew Stevens (@MatthewS_balt), Baltimore Beatdown (@BMoreBeatdown) The Ravens have one of the best offensive lines in football. No question that they go first in the division. After that, the rest of the AFC North is a bit of a blur.

The Steelers have quietly been getting rid of their negative reputation as we've seen Big Ben get more time and get hit a lot less over recent years. The Bengals have a solid all around offensive line with a few stars of their own. The Browns are getting better all around while having mainstays like Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. If pressured, I'd put the Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Browns

Jeff Hartman (@BnGBlitz), Behind the Steel Curtain (@btsteelcurtain) A long-time weakness has become a strength as the entire line returns for the 2015 season. With the help of Mike Munchak as their position coach combined with All-Pro talent at center makes this group one of the best in the AFC.