Fantasy football offensive line rankings for Week 1

KC Joyner
ESPN PLUS

Blocking has an enormous impact on fantasy player value. According to many years of my research, running backs score four to five times as many fantasy points on plays with good run blocking (generally defined as not allowing the defense to disrupt a rush attempt) as they do on plays with bad run blocking.

It also has significant impact on fantasy scoring in the passing game, as quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends post roughly 60 percent more points per play on dropbacks where the quarterback has a clean passing pocket versus plays when the quarterback is under some form of pass-rush pressure.

The fantasy football world has lagged behind when it comes to effectively measuring the impact blocking has on fantasy production, so last year I devised a blocking grading system that uses multiple advanced metrics to project season-long offensive line performance for all 32 teams, along with notes of how those grades could affect the fantasy value of players on those clubs (the 2018 season preview edition can be found here).

That type of information was very useful during fantasy drafts, but how can fantasy managers use it to help determine which players they should start or sit on a weekly basis?

To assist in this effort, I apply a similar methodology to measure the strength of the defensive front sevens of every team and give each defense an A-to-F grade in pass rushing, rush defense and consistency/stability, all of which result in an overall front-seven grade.



Those grades are then compared against the offensive blocking grades to find out the relative blocking strength of every weekly matchup.



The relative portion of this system is the main factor here, as it is designed to ignore the overall strength of an offense and instead give higher grades to teams with better matchups. For example, a team with an "A" overall blocking grade facing a "A" front seven will rate lower on the scale than a "B" blocking club facing a "C" defensive front seven.



The entire list of the relative blocking favorability grades is posted below, so let's now take a closer look at some of the teams that have the most and least favorable blocking matchups in Week 1.

Most favorable blocking matchups


New Orleans Saints (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The Saints were one of only two teams to register A-level grades in all three areas in the aforementioned season preview article. They return 86.4 percent of their offensive line snaps from last season and thus should be able to repeat their No. 1-in-the-league ranking in my good blocking productivity (GBP) metric that measures overall run blocking effectiveness (4.0). This should help Alvin Kamara contend for a 20-point game this week, but don't forget about the potential goal-line carries Mike Gillislee could register while taking over part of the Mark Ingram II role in this offense. That places Gillislee into flex-level consideration.



Los Angeles Rams (at Oakland Raiders)
The Rams bring back all five starters from an offensive line that placed third in the league last season in my good blocking rate (GBR) metric that measures how often an offense gives its ball carriers quality run blocking (49.1 percent). That gives Todd Gurley II elite production potential, but don't overlook the pass-blocking edge the Rams have against an Oakland defense that ranked 27th in pass-pressure rate (PPR) last season (26.3 percent) and recently traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. That should give Jared Goff ample time to see how much Brandin Cooks can improve this offense's vertical passing game and make both players quality start candidates this week.



Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
To paraphrase a popular meme, the Chargers have a lot of blocking issues (they ranked 22nd in the season preview article), but pass blocking isn't one of them. They placed first last season in quarterback contact rate (3.9 percent) and sack rate (3.0 percent) and should continue at or near those levels with the addition of center Mike Pouncey and return of 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp from injury. The Chiefs earned their front seven F-grade via a slew of abysmal metrics, including ranking 28th in PPR (25.7) and 29th in GBR (47.2). Consider Philip Rivers a borderline QB1 this week and either Mike Williams or Tyrell Williams very good sleeper options.



Green Bay Packers (vs. Chicago Bears)
The metrics indicate Green Bay should get back to leaning on the ground game, as they have a projected A-minus grade in run blocking and a D-minus projection in pass blocking. The schedule also points in that direction, as Chicago placed 26th in GBR allowed last season (45.1 percent) and projects to have a subpar rush defense this season. Jamaal Williams had a three-game streak with 20 or more points last season and has that kind of upside potential in this contest.


Least favorable blocking matchups

Miami Dolphins (vs. Tennessee Titans)
The Dolphins were the worst run-blocking team in the league last season, ranking last in GBR (35.2) and yards per carry before first defensive contact (YBCT, 1.7). The additions of Josh Sitton and Daniel Kilgore should help improve those numbers, but it isn't likely to happen in Week 1 against a Titans defense that brings back most of the defenders that helped it place first in GBYPA (5.9) and GBP (2.5) last season. This drops Kenyan Drake to somewhat risky flex status and moves Frank Gore and Kalen Ballage to bench duty this week.



Seattle Seahawks (at Denver Broncos)
Seattle's latest efforts to solve its blocking woes include changing its offensive line coach and switching to a man blocking system. Those may eventually result in an upgrade over the Seahawks' No. 30 ranking in GBR last year (37.2), but facing a Denver defense that ranked fourth in GBR (37.2) and GBYPA (7.0) and second in GBP (2.6) suggests that this week won't be the first step to improved metrics. This reduces Chris Carson to a risky flex option and should relegate Rashaad Penny to bench status.