Last week, Pro Football Focus kicked off their 2017 unit preview series by ranking all 32 starting offensive lines in the NFL. Here is an explanation of how they went about determining those rankings:
"We are taking a purely grades-based approach. We came up with a multi-year grade based off snap counts and performance and then summed those up across all five positions, right tackle, right guard, center, left guard and left tackle. Unknown quantities - like rookies or new starters - were assigned a slightly below-average number."
This system spit out an 11th place ranking for the Washington Redskins' offensive line. Eleventh place is nothing to snub your nose at, but, in my opinion, that placement just doesn't do the Redskins' starting five justice. I'm not just here to share my opinions though, I'm here to prove them.
Here are ten reasons why the Redskins should have one of the very best offensive lines in 2017 and beyond.
1. Continuity is Key
We'll begin by examining something that PFF's calculations admittedly did not include: Continuity.
11. Washington Redskins
"Continuity doesn't really play a role in theses rankings, but if it did the Redskins would get a bump. They bring back the same starting five from a season ago and a line that had four of the same five starters in 2015. Understanding what the man next to you is going to do isn't necessarily something we can capture in a grading system, but it certainly is important to an offensive line's effectiveness."
Believe it or not, but continuity matters, especially for offensive lines. Luckily for the Redskins continuity is something that their line has in spades.
To quantify this, I started by using depth charts from seven different sites to project all 160 starting O-lineman in the league. I also chose to include offensive line coaches into this equation, as I consider them to be an underrated component to the success of these units.
The next step was to determine the years that each of those players were a primary starter (defined as starting in 8 or more games in a season) for their current teams. Line coaches were simply considered a primary starter if they held that title at any point in a given season.
From there I calculated the average number of years that the players and coaches on each line were primary starters for their current teams and how many of them were returning starters (out of 6). If a player missed the majority of last season due to injury or is projected to do so this year, they are counted as half a returning starter.
Finally, I came up with a continuity score for each line by totaling the number of years as a primary starter that the players and coaches spent together on their current teams. There was no double counting used with this metric. Now that we got that out of the way, let's see where the Skins stand.
|Redskins Offensive Line Continuity Values & Rankings|
|Avg. Team Years||Returning Starters||Continuity Score
I'd say a top five ranking in all three categories means that Washington's line is doing pretty well in the continuity department. The only lines that ranked higher in any of these metrics belonged to the Steelers, Raiders, Eagles, Patriots and Bengals. The Steelers and Redskins are the only teams on which the OL coach and all five starting lineman have been primary starters for more than one season on their current teams.
2. Homegrown Talent
The Redskins have cultivated this continuity on their line not by slapping together a group of high-price free agents all at once, but by building the right way, through the draft.
Four of the Redskins five starters on the line were drafted by the team. Just four other teams (Bills, Chiefs, Patriots and Ravens) can make that claim, and only the Bengals and Colts have drafted all five members of their starting line.
Even when you factor rookie free agents (UDFAs) into the equation, only the Patriots, Steelers and Ravens are added to the list of teams with more homegrown starting offensive lineman than the Redskins. If you don't think this matters then consider that all five of those teams have winning records over the last five years, and averaged 9.3 wins last year.
3. High-Pedigree Hogs
The Skins' front office has made a concerted effort to draft and develop young, talented offensive lineman. And that's not conjecture, because money talks, and the Redskins have invested a great deal of draft capital in their line. Even lone free agent starter, Shawn Lauvao, was drafted with an above average pick for his position.
The team's actions in their acquisition of players, shows that they value lineman with a pedigree. In fact, the average draft pick number used to select the Skins' linemen was 49, the highest average in the NFL. The only averages that come close belong to the Browns (52.6) and Bengals (58.4). But that's not all, here's a few more numbers to help illustrate the type of pedigree that is found on the Redskins' line.
Washington, New York and Buffalo are the only teams in the NFL whose five starting lineman were each selected with a third-round pick or higher. The Redskins and Cowboys are the only teams that will start two lineman selected in the first ten picks of the draft. The Redskins sit alone as the only club with two top-five picks starting on their line (Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff).
Washington has also committed more cap space to their offensive line than all but five teams in 2017. They are currently on the books for top 12 spending on offensive linemen for each of the next four years. Few teams have invested in their lines the way the Redskins have, and it shows.
4. It's a Big Man's Game
As Scot McCloughan once said, football is a big man's game. That is no truer of any place on the field than in the trenches.
|Redskins Offensive Line Size Values & Rankings|
As you can see, the average height of Washington's linemen isn't all that impressive, but for what they lack in height they make up for in weight and overall mass.
Only the Raiders, Rams, Giants and Bills have a heavier line; and only those Bills and Raiders lines have a higher average body mass index (BMI).
The huge size of the Burgundy and Gold's O-line is a perfect match for their running game, which emphasizes power and primarily uses a gap-blocking scheme. Per PFF, the Redskins ranked third in yards before contact average on gap-scheme runs last season.
In other words, the shoe fits and the Redskins wear it well. Perhaps, the Hogs 2.0 moniker that this unit has been given is well deserved.
5. Averaging the Athletes
Size is great and all for an offensive line, but if you're just trotting out five lumbering, slow-footed giants it won't get you very far on gameday. Athleticism doesn't matter as much for linemen as it does for other players, but there is still a great deal of value in having a plus group of athletes to protect your quarterback and to pave the way for your running backs.
Using Relative Athletic Score's composite athletic score (RAS), I found that the Redskins' line ranks 13th in the NFL in average athleticism. In my contention they would rank even higher if Spencer Long had been able to participate at the combine or at his pro day.
Per Mockdraftable, Long ranks at or above the 89th percentile in height, weight and hand size at the center position. He also has above average arm length for a pivot man. NFL Draft Scout reports that Long ran a 5.16 40-yard dash at some point, which would place him in the 71st percentile among centers. Also, Tracking Football.com lists Long as an above average athlete (90th percentile in the shot put and 62nd percentile overall among centers).
The line's above average athleticism score is powered by its two best players: Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff.
Williams RAS score of 9.46 is the ninth best among the 64 starting tackles in the league. It's the 32nd highest score by a tackle on record. It puts Williams at 18th among all 160 starting offensive linemen in the NFL.
Scherff's numbers are even more impressive. His RAS of 9.74 ranks fourth among all active starting guards and fifth among all starting interior lineman. It is the 15th best score by a guard on record. Scherff's RAS ranks tenth among all current starting linemen.
6. Ain't Nuthin' but a Pro Bowl Party
Speaking of Brandon Scherff, the second year Iowa product made his first Pro Bowl this past season, that coming after he made the All-Rookie team in 2015 and won the Outland Trophy (best college interior lineman) as a senior in 2014.
He joined Trent Williams, who was named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl, which makes 2016 the first year since the legendary 1991 season that the Skins have sent two offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl (Jim Lachey and Mark Schlereth). The Redskins are very fortunate to have Williams and Scherff, because starting multiple all-stars on your line is a luxury that not many teams enjoy.
In fact, just five other lines in the NFL are projected to start multiple Pro Bowlers next season (Cowboys, Raiders, Steelers, Eagles and Browns). Only 11 other lines look to start multiple players that have ever been named to the Pro Bowl in their entire careers.
Williams and Scherff certainly form a dynamic pair, but I think we all know who the top dog in this duo is.
7. Trent Williams: The Silverback or the GOAT?
Hey, remember way back when I told you that Trent Williams has made five straight Pro Bowls? Well, that's kind of a big deal. Here's the list of Washington Redskins that have been selected to the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons: Ken Houston (7), Sammy Baugh (5) and Chris Hanburger (5). All three of those men are enshrined in Canton as Hall of Famers.
Hanburger (9), Houston (7), Baugh (5) and Williams (5) are joined by Charley Taylor (8), Darrell Green (7) Gene Brito (5) Len Haus (5) and Chris Samuels (5) as the only players in franchise history with five or more Pro Bowls while on the team.
Trent Williams isn't just one of the greatest Redskins ever, he's one of the best players in the NFL today. We'll continue with our Pro Bowl theme by looking at all of the other players that have been selected to the last five all-start games: Tom Brady, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Joe Thomas, Marshal Yanda, Matthew Slater, Gerald McCoy and Patrick Peterson. That's quite a list to find yourself on.
Pro Bowls aren't your thing? Well it might interest you to know that last season Williams was Pro Football Focus' highest rated offensive lineman (92.8), sixth highest graded offensive player and tenth highest rated player overall. Are you a PFF denier? Then consider that the media scouts in Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 series graded Trent Williams higher than any other player in the NFL in 2016.
Simply put, Trent Williams is the best player on the Redskins and one of the best in the entire league; and it's only fitting that the top player on the Washington Redskins is the leader of what is now the most outstanding unit on the team and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
8. Third Year's a Charm for Coach Callahan
Not only do the Skins have one of the league's best O-lineman in Williams, they have one of the game's great line coaches to boot: Bill Callahan. One of the great things about Callahan is that his offenses and their lines seem to improve in every successive year he's with a team.
I looked at each of his previous four stops in the NFL (Eagles, Raiders, Jets and Cowboys) and found that his best season with teams comes in his third year on the club in question. It just so happens that 2017 will be Callahan's third season as the Redskins' offensive line coach.
Please note that the ASR and ALY metrics you will see in the table below stand for adjusted sack rate and adjusted line yards respectively. To read more about those offensive line efficiency stats follow this link to Football Outsiders' Glossary.
|Bill Callahan Team Yearly Passing Average Values & Rankings|
|Bill Callahan Team Yearly Rushing Average Values & Rankings|
I think the chart above does a pretty good job of proving this point. So far things have gone according to plan with the Redskins, as the team made major improvements in almost every one of these categories between 2015 and 2016, Callahan's first two years in Washington. If we use history as our guide, then we should expect an even better season out of Bill Callahan and the offensive line in 2017.
9. Putting a Premium on Production
Everything you've read up till now has been in reference to why the Redskins have a great offensive line; but has this group actually produced like an elite unit to back that sentiment up?
This can be a tricky question to answer for O-lines, because many statistics that one might think to use to figure this out are highly intertwined with the play of skill position players. There are, however, a handful of metrics that do a better job than most when it comes to isolating the play of offensive lines.
I chose to use the following more offensive line-oriented measures to compare the 2016 Redskins' line to the other 31 units in the league: PFF's yards before contact per attempt, Player Profiler's analytically driven passing and rushing offensive line rating and Football Outsiders' pressure rate, adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate.
|2016 Redskins Offensive Line Passing Metrics & Rankings|
|ADJ Sack Rate||PP Pass O-Line||Pressure Rate|
|2016 Redskins Offensive Line Rushing Metrics & Rankings|
|ADJ Line Yards||PP Rush O-Line||Yds Before Cont/C|
Only six teams outranked the Skins in three or more of those metrics: Saints, Steelers, Titans, Cowboys, Raiders and Giants. Washington's average ranking across these categories (7.0) was only topped by the Saints (3.7) and Steelers (5.0) and only matched by the Titans (7.0).
Some lines are great at pass blocking and below average at run blocking (Oakland Raiders), some really only excel in the running game (Dallas Cowboys); very few lines rank among the best in both regards the way the Redskins did last season.
10. Lining up to Be a Bright Future
That level of production is even more impressive when you consider that five of the six most important people to this line (Callahan, Lauvao, Long, Scherff and Moses) were only in their second year as "primary starters" for the team, with the latter three in the second year of their careers in a starting role (142 combined snaps prior to 2015). The sky is truly the limit for this group if they can stick together, but will they?
The Big Three
For the most part, the answer appears to be yes, with the line's best three players under the team's control for at least the next three years (Morgan Moses for 5 years, Trent Williams for 4 years and Brandon Scherff for three years when you factor in the fifth-year option).
Bill Callahan's original deal with the Redskins was reported to be for three years (2015-2017); but based on his recent promotion to Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach and the affinity that his agent expressed that he has for coaching with Jay Gruden, who is now under contract for the next four seasons, it doesn't look like the 60-year-old Callahan will be moving on from Washington any time soon.
You Are the Weakest Link
The only real hurdle to keeping the band together is that both Spencer Long and Shawn Lauvao are slated to hit free agency next spring.
However, I think that most fans would agree that the benefit of moving on from Lauvao would likely outweigh any loss in continuity that would arise as a result of his departure, because he is easily the weakest link of this unit.
Of the team's five starting offensive lineman Lauvao is: the oldest (by 0.73 years), lightest (by 10 pounds), shortest (by 1.75 inches), lowest drafted (by 14 picks) and least productive (by 25.4 PFF grading points). He is also the only non-homegrown starter on the line (2014 free agent). Shawn Lauvao has basically become Korey Lichtensteiger 2.0.
Center of Attention
It's a different story for Spencer Long though. In his first year ever playing center at any level, Long finished 23rd in overall PFF grading and seventh in pass blocking at the position. And unlike Lauvao, Long is not small and old. He is still only 26 and is tied as the eighth tallest and the heaviest starting center in the NFL.
Long is due to hit the open market next year, but it shouldn't be too difficult for the Redskins to retain him, because contracts for centers simply aren't very expensive unless you're dealing with one of the elite players at the position.
The following proposed contract would only put the team on the hook for $9M, which would allow them to move on from Long after a season or two. It would also make Spencer Long one of the highest paid centers in the league, with a contract that would only rank behind the deals given to Travis Frederick, Alex Mack, Rodney Hudson, Eric Wood, Max Unger, Ryan Kalil and the Pouncey brothers.
|Proposed Spencer Long Contract Breakdown|
|Proposed Spencer Long Contract Totals & NFL Rankings|
|Total||AAV||Total GTD||True GTD||Bonus|
Finishing Where We Started
Washington already has more continuity with their starting offensive line than all but three teams, but I'd expect them to jump all the way up to the top of that list in a year or two if they can retain Spencer Long and if Bill Callahan sticks around as expected.
We are only entering the third full year with the core of this group and we've already seen them produce at an elite level. Just imagine what they are capable of and how they might look after gelling together for another year or two.
The Washington Redskins already have one of football's best offensive lines, and they should only get better; so, it looks as if the prophecy of the Hogs' second coming may actually be fulfilled.
*All statistics are courtesy of Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, ESPN, Football Guys, Football Outsiders, Mockdraftable, NFL.com, NFL Draft Scout, NJ.com, Player Profiler, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Ourlads, Over the Cap, Relative Athletic Scores, Roster Resource, Rotoworld, Sharp Football Stats and Tracking Football*