Published On: Sat, Jun 9th, 2018

Fantasy: 3 players set to benefit from improved offensive line play

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Get ready for your season with theScore’s 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Kit.

Upgrades to an offensive line can drastically alter a player’s fantasy outlook. Just ask Todd Gurley, who owes a big part of his 2017 bounce-back season to the improvements made to the Rams’ blockers.

Let’s take a look at a few players who will have an advantage this season thanks to the enhancements on their offensive lines.

Offensive Line Rankings
32-21 | 20-11 | 10-1

Leonard Fournette

When the Jaguars drafted Fournette fourth overall, they made their intentions to run the ball clear. Even with opposing defensive coordinators knowing runs were coming, the Jags were still able to rush for a league-high 2,262 yards. The play of underhyped linemen Brandon Linder and Jermey Parnell was a big reason for that, as was the 32.9 carries per game the team averaged, which also led the league.

There’s still a lot of room for growth in this rushing attack. Jacksonville ranked 13th in adjusted line yards, a Football Outsiders‘ stat used to gauge offensive line efficiency on running plays. More specifically, the team ranked 22nd in ALY between the tackles. Enter, Andrew Norwell.

Elite guards are finally getting their due on the free-agent market and Norwell was the prize of this year’s crop. The landing spot couldn’t have been better, as he’ll fill the Jags’ biggest need up front, while almost certainly addressing their efficiency issues on the interior of the line. Fourth-round rookie Will Richardson could also be an upgrade if he can win the right guard job from A.J. Cann.

Volume was Fournette’s best weapon as a rookie, helping him eclipse 1,000 yards and finish as the RB8 in fantasy despite seeing action in just 13 outings. Had he stayed healthy for all 16 games, Fournette would have been a top-four fantasy back. If Norwell makes Fournette more dangerous on inside runs, we’ll be talking about him as a top-five back after this season.

Philip Rivers

The Chargers made serious strides to preserve their franchise quarterback last season during his 14th NFL campaign, signing Russell Okung, and drafting Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney with Day 2 picks. While the impact of the rookies was limited, Okung reestablished himself as a quality left tackle and added a reliable force on Rivers’ blindside. His arrival helped the Chargers allow only 18 sacks the entire year, the fewest in the league.

The success of that free-agent addition likely gave them the confidence to dive back into the market this year for another big name in Mike Pouncey. The three-time Pro Bowl center battled through a hip injury in 2017, but by all accounts will be healthy for his first season in the middle of the Chargers’ offensive line.

Okung, Pouncey, and right tackle Joe Barksdale are all veterans who grade out higher as pass blockers. Okung and Pouncey finished in the top 15 at their respective positions when it came to pass protection last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Lamp missed his rookie year with a torn ACL, but PFF also graded him as the nation’s top pass-blocking lineman during his final season in college.

Rivers has an ability to get the ball out as fast as anyone in history, which helps him avoid unnecessary hits at age 36. If his offensive line can play up to its potential, Rivers should be thoroughly insulated. The season-ending injury to tight end Hunter Henry is disappointing, but the Chargers still boast an incredibly deep receiving corps, giving Rivers an excellent chance to be a fantasy QB1. With an ADP outside the top 12 QBs, Rivers is someone worth targeting as your starter.

Marlon Mack

We still don’t know exactly how the Colts’ backfield will shake out after the team drafted Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins in the fourth and fifth rounds of April’s draft, respectively. What we do know, is that the backfield as a whole will benefit from the team’s recent investments on the line.

Mack is believed to be the front-runner for starting duties, which will give him first crack at running behind Quenton Nelson, the sixth overall pick and one of the best guard prospects ever. Nelson and Anthony Castonzo will make a rock-solid pairing on the left side, capable of anchoring this line for years to come. Center Ryan Kelly could be part of that mix, but the former first-rounder will need to show more than he did during an injury-riddled 2017 campaign.

The team’s commitment to blocking didn’t end with the Nelson pick. It followed it up by selecting Braden Smith early in the second round. Smith will challenge Jack Mewhort and could help repair the right side of the line.

It wasn’t that long ago when the Colts’ offensive line was one of the weakest units on any team in the NFL. They now have the upside to make a significant leap in that area, which turns Mack into an intriguing fantasy option in the sixth or seventh round, with Hines’ real value only coming as a late-round flier.

Offensive Line Rankings
32-21 | 20-11 | 10-1

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