Pro Football Focus released their rankings for all 32 offensive lines in the NFL today, slotting the Titans group in fourth just behind the Eagles, Cowboys, and Steelers, and just ahead of the division rival Colts.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
Left Tackle: Taylor Lewan
Left Guard: Rodger Saffold
Center: Ben Jones
Right Guard: Nate Davis
Right Tackle: Jack Conklin
The Titans were a well balanced offensive line in 2018 and look to carry that success into the upcoming year. Taylor Lewan continues to be the anchor at left tackle, and the addition of guard Rodger Saffold should only improve this unit as he finished last season with the fifth-highest run-blocking grade at his position.
PFF is projecting third round pick Nate Davis as the starter at right guard for the purposes of this exercise, but as I’ve written about here before, I don’t believe that should be the expectation for the rookie as we head into training camp. I think it is more likely that we see Kevin Pamphile or Corey Levin in the opening day starting lineup.
This ranking may come as a shock to some Titans fans as complaints about the offensive line’s play were a common refrain for much of the 2018 season, but I think this ranking is reflective of two things:
- A massive amount of respect for Rodger Saffold’s addition.
- The fact that PFF disagreed with the notion that the Titans offensive line was a disaster in 2018.
The first point is obvious. Regardless of how highly you thought of Quinton Spain — and he certainly had a fan in me — the leap from Spain to Saffold at left guard is a big one. Where Spain was always better suited to the power-gap run scheme that Mike Mularkey favored, Saffold is a perfect fit for the zone based running game that the Titans shifted to last season. In fact, the former Ram might just be the best zone blocking guard in the NFL right now. Sticking him next to Taylor Lewan should make Tennessee’s left side the strongest in the league in 2019.
Furthermore, I think an argument could be made that removing Josh Kline is addition by subtraction. We really have no idea of what the Titans might get out of Pamphile, Levin, or Davis this season, but the unknown is likely better than — or at least equal to — the known bad performance that Kline had produced for the past two seasons.
The second point is far more debatable. PFF ranked the Titans offensive line ninth in the NFL last season despite a running game that didn’t really get moving until late in the season and a quarterback sack rate that was among the highest the league.
I explored some of gray area between the bad stats and the good PFF ranking for the Titans offensive line in depth earlier this offseason and came to the conclusion that the truth likely fell somewhere in the middle. I don’t believe Tennessee’s line performed like a top ten unit for most of last season, but I also don’t believe it’s fair to pin the entire weight of the high sack rate on them either. The Titans offensive line was probably somewhere around the middle of the pack overall last year in my opinion, but I think it’s fair to say they were a top ten unit over the back half of the season.
There are certainly some question marks on the Titans offensive line heading into 2019. Chief among them is who starts at right guard and what kind of play offensive line coach Keith Carter can coax out of them. However, Jack Conklin’s return from another knee injury and the question of whether he can regain his 2016-2017 form is lingering as well. Fortunately for Tennessee, Dennis Kelly’s presence raises the floor of what they might get out of their right tackle position to at least adequate, if not better.
I think PFF’s ranking is a little optimistic here, but it is absolutely within the realm of possibilities for the Titans offensive line if they can carry over the momentum they found at the end of 2018. With Derrick Henry finding his groove late last season and a significant weapons overhaul this offseason, Tennessee’s offense could take a major leap if they get top five level play from the line.