Ranking the AFC West: Offensive Line
The AFC West has always been one of the most competitive divisions on a year-to-year basis since the AFL-NFL merger, and 2020 figures to continue the tradition.
Home of the reigning Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs, a pair of teams dripping with potential in the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders, and a team with one of the most well-rounded defensive units in the Los Angeles Chargers, the AFC West might push a pair of teams into the playoffs this year.
The Chiefs are the easy front runner for the AFC West crown seeing as they've won the division for five consecutive years and are returning 19-of-22 starters from a championship roster.
But the Broncos and Raiders have tried to mimic the blueprint the Chiefs laid out in 2019, bringing in a ton of explosive play-makers to try to keep up with one of the most dynamic offenses the league has ever seen. The Chargers still have a ways to go in order to light up the scoreboard, but the upgrades they've made to an already stellar defense could keep them competitive in these heated rivalries.
Every year, we at Mile High Huddle dive deep to break down the Broncos' division rivals. This time around, we're going to rank each team by position group in order to determine who has the best roster in the division.
This year we're going to rank each team by position group in order to determine who has the best roster in the division. These rankings will include not only the projected starters for each AFC West team, but also the depth of the unit as a whole.
In today's breakdown, we take a look at the offensive lines in the division.
4: Los Angeles Chargers
Despite adding Bryan Bulaga via free agency and Trai Turner via a trade, the Chargers offensive line has to be the worst in the division, if not the worst in all of football.
Bulaga and Turner are going to form a formidable duo on the right side, but the other three spots are completely up in the air.
Mike Pouncey is an elite player as a mauler in the running game, but his health is a major concern. Pouncey only appeared in five games at center in 2019 before suffering a season-ending neck injury. Although he has said he's ready for action, it's worth noting that he's only played in all 16 games four times in his nine-year career and only twice in the last seven.
Scott Quessenberry filled in admirably for Pouncey as a rookie in 2019, posting a 98.4 pass-blocking efficiency in his 11 starts.
Dan Feeney is an inconsistent left guard that really struggles in pass protection, allowing five sacks and 43 total pressures in 2019. He also has issues holding his blocks in the running game.
The real issue is the three-man battle at the left tackle position. Sam Tevi started most of last season at right tackle for the Chargers in 2019 and was a turnstile in pass protection, allowing eight sacks. The switch to left tackle may help him according to general manager Tom Telesco, who said he has "very good left tackle feet". That remains to be seen.
Trent Scott started the first seven games for an injured Russell Okung, but was a major liability in pass protection as well. Scott allowed a massive 48 pressures and had 10 penalties in his action on both sides of the line.
It sounds as if second-year pro Trey Pipkins may be the frontrunner for the job, but his four sacks allowed in five games isn't exactly promising either. With question marks from the center to left tackle, the Chargers are going to have a lot of trouble once again this season.
3: Kansas City Chiefs
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is the crowned jewel of the Chiefs offensive line and had an amazing season as a pass protector in front of Patrick Mahomes. One of the best right tackles in the game, Schwartz didn't allow a single sack in 2019 and only gave up 21 total pressures on the season.
Outside of him, the Chiefs offensive line is one marred with question marks.
Kelechi Osemele and Mike Remmers were brought in over the offseason to add competition to the guard positions, but neither one has had much success over the past couple of seasons.
Osemele was once considered one of the best left guards in the NFL, but has fallen off of a cliff since 2017. After a bizarre injury grievance with the New York Jets regarding a shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, Osemele missed almost all of the 2019 season after they released him after three games.
His 2018 season with the Raiders was one of his worst as a pro as well, and he also missed time late in the season with a knee injury. Can Osemele stay healthy and return to his 2017 form?
Remmers has bounced around the league for the majority of his career and is widely known for his terrible showing in Super Bowl 50 — a game in which Broncos pass rusher Von Miller 'posterized' the then-Panthers starting right tackle en route to a pair of strip-sacks and a multitude of pressures.
Remmers has starting experience at all five positions on the line and figures to be in line to compete at one of the guard spots this year, specifically with incumbent Martinas Rankin.
Left tackle Eric Fisher is arguably the weakest link on the offensive line. He's not a great run blocker and gets a lot of help from Mahomes's ability to step up and escape pressure.
Although he posted a respectable 97.0 pass-blocking efficiency rating, Fisher gave up 25 pressures and allowed two sacks (playoffs included) even though he missed eight games due to injury.
Center Austin Reiter played very well as a pass blocker, especially in the postseason. His biggest weakness is his run blocking and he needed a lot of help last season. There's a lot of name recognition here, but outside of Schwartz, the talent is marginal at best.
2: Denver Broncos
Say what you will about the holding penalties plaguing left tackle Garett Bolles and I won't argue with you. It's been an issue for years, and one that he seemingly doesn't understand.
However, Bolles is also the best left tackle in the division as a pass protector per Pro Football Focus's grading system. Playing the most pass-rush snaps (608) of any left tackle in the division, he gave up the second-fewest sacks (four) and pressures (31) in 2019 and posted a 96.9 pass-blocking efficiency rating with pocket statue quarterbacks behind him, showing tremendous growth towards the latter half of the season with Drew Lock under center.
A quality run blocker and underrated pass protector, Bolles has received the short end of the stick from Broncos fans for good reason. He has to be better in the penalty category. Plain and simple.
Standing next to him at left guard is second-year pro Dalton Risner, a player with All-Pro potential. Although he didn't grade out well per PFF, Risner was arguably the best offensive lineman the Broncos fielded last season.
Good in a phone booth and mobile enough to get to the second level, Risner does well enough in the running game to get the job done. His bully mentality is tremendously fun to watch.
Denver injected a lot of help into their much-maligned offensive line, bringing in veteran free-agents Graham Glasgow and Demar Dotson to start at right guard and right tackle, respectively. They also invested a third-round selection to land former LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry to man the pivot.
Glasgow was coveted on the open market in March and arrives following a season in which he didn't give up a single sack and only allowed 25 total pressures. A massive upgrade within the scheme and talent-wise, Glasgow solidifies a very promising interior.
Dotson was an eight-year starter at right tackle for the Buccaneers prior to signing earlier this week. A quality pass protector with struggles in the running game, Dotson is an immediate upgrade over last year's fill-in starter Elijah Wilkinson, also posting a 96.9 pass-blocking efficiency rating in 2019.
Ironically, the one aspect of Dotson's game that is going to frustrate the Broncos is his tendency to draw penalties. A promising unit with depth, Denver's pass protection is going to look very good this year.
1: Oakland Raiders
Featuring the best center in football, a high-quality pair of guards, and one of the best right tackles in the game, the Raiders offensive line might be the best in the game once again this year.
Left guard Richie Incognito, center Rodney Hudson and right tackle Trent Brown only allowed 23 total pressures and two sacks combined in 2019. They are incredibly talented and difficult to beat in one-on-one battles.
The weakest link on the Raiders offensive line is at right guard, but only for injury concerns. Gabe Jackson is a tremendous run blocker, a high-quality pass blocker, but he's also a walking injury waiting to happen.
When on the field, Jackson and Hudson work tremendously well together in the passing game. They communicate well, passing off their respective assignments with ease. Jackson had a down year in 2019, but also was battling injuries.
Left tackle Kolton Miller is also a weak link, especially in the passing game. Allowing seven sacks and 37 pressures, Miller has a long way to go in his development. However, there are flashes of brilliance when he is on his game.
Together, this unit offers a very physical presence in the running game and the ability to protect QB Derek Carr with ease, despite Miller's struggles on the left side. The minimal interior pass pressure combined with Brown's ability to stonewall anybody coming off of the right side makes this the most efficient unit in the AFC West.