Ranking the NFC North Offensive Lines for 2020

Will Ragatz

To wrap up my rankings of each offensive position group in the NFC North, it's time to take a look at the big guys up front. The outstanding quarterbacks and playmaking weapons in this division rely on their offensive linemen to create holes and provide time for plays to develop. 

From an overall perspective, offensive lines aren't exactly a strong suit of the NFC North. That's especially true considering the division lost three good linemen this offseason (Bryan Bulaga and Graham Glasgow headed to the AFC in free agency, and Kyle Long retired). There's a clear No. 1 in these rankings, but the other three all have plenty of question marks. 

Previous NFC North position rankings:

1. Green Bay Packers

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Projected Starters:

  • LT: David Bakhtiari
  • LG: Elgton Jenkins
  • C: Corey Linsley
  • RG: Billy Turner
  • RT: Rick Wagner

Depth: Lane Taylor, Lucas Patrick, John Leglue, Alex Light

The best offensive line in the division clearly resides in Green Bay even after the departure of a longtime starter. Bulaga signed a three-year deal with the Chargers in March following a decade with the Packers, and they'll miss him. New right tackle Rick Wagner – who came over from Detroit in free agency – is the obvious weak link on this front five.

Luckily for the Packers, the other four are pretty dang good. David Bakhtiari remains arguably the best pass-protecting left tackle in football and is a shoo-in as the top offensive lineman in the division. His consistency over the last five-plus years is a big reason why Aaron Rodgers has been able to continue playing at such a high level.

The interior of the Packers' offensive line is also quite strong. Elgton Jenkins exceeded all expectations during his rookie season after being taken in the second round last year, and he already looks like a rising star at left guard. Corey Linsley is one of the better centers in the league. Billy Turner is solid at right guard, though he could be pushed by Lane Taylor in training camp.

The left side of this line is stronger than the right side, but there's no question that the overall unit ranks No. 1 in the division.

2. Detroit Lions

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Projected Starters:

  • LT: Taylor Decker
  • LG: Joe Dahl
  • C: Frank Ragnow
  • RG: Jonah Jackson
  • RT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Depth: Tyrell Crosby, Kenny Wiggins, Russell Bodine, Logan Stenberg

The Lions are breaking in a new right side of their O-line in 2020, with Halapoulivaati Vaitai taking over for Wagner at right tackle and rookie Jonah Jackson the favorite to replace Glasgow at right guard. Taken together, those two moves probably represent a slight downgrade, but the Lions' line is still a fairly easy choice for the No. 2 spot in these rankings.

Left tackle Taylor Decker is a firmly above-average option at the most important position on the line; the 2016 first-round pick is second only to Bakhtiari among NFC North LTs. Joe Dahl got his first chance to start last season and was fairly good at left guard. The best player on this line is probably Frank Ragnow, a 2018 first-rounder who finished with the second-best PFF run-blocking grade of any NFL center last year.

It'll be interesting to see who wins the starting job at right guard in Detroit. Jackson, a third-round pick out of Ohio State, is the favorite, but veteran Kenny Wiggins has the advantage of NFL experience during a truncated offseason. The Lions spent a lot of money to sign Vaitai this offseason, despite the fact that he only started 20 games for the Eagles over the past four years (with mixed results). The man known as "Big V" had a strong 2019 season and will likely be an upgrade over Wagner on the right side. 

There's also some strong depth on the line for the Lions.

3. Chicago Bears

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Projected Starters:

  • LT: Charles Leno Jr.
  • LG: James Daniels
  • C: Cody Whitehair
  • RG: Germain Ifedi
  • RT: Bobby Massie

Depth: Alex Bars, Rashaad Coward, Jason Spriggs, Corey Levin

Long's retirement in January didn't come as much of a surprise considering all of the injury issues he dealt with over the last four years. Even though he hadn't been healthy for a full season since 2015, the Bears will miss him.

Chicago's offensive line took a major step back in 2019, but it's still a solid unit. There are no blatant weak links, which is what puts the Bears at No. 3 ahead of the Vikings. Tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie both had down years last season and will be looking to return to their usual above-average form. Both veterans have the track records to suggest they'll be able to bounce back in 2020.

The interior of the Bears' O-line is interesting. At the start of last season, Chicago moved second-year guard James Daniels to center, with Cody Whitehair sliding from center to left guard. Then, in November, the Bears changed their mind and flipped the two back to their original spots. That's likely where they'll stay this season. Daniels had a strong season despite the confusion and is trending upwards as he enters his third year. Whitehair is a good center who underperformed in 2019 and would presumably benefit from some positional stability.

Long's replacement at right guard will probably be free agent pickup and former Seahawks tackle Germain Ifedi, though Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars could also compete for that job. It was somewhat surprising to see the Bears wait until the seventh round to draft an offensive lineman this year.

4. Minnesota Vikings

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Projected Starters:

  • LT: Riley Reiff
  • LG: Pat Elflein
  • C: Garrett Bradbury
  • RG: Dru Samia
  • RT: Brian O'Neill

Depth: Ezra Cleveland, Rashod Hill, Dakota Dozier, Brett Jones

Much like every other season in recent memory, the Vikings head into 2020 with their offensive line as a weakness. 

The good news is that right tackle Brian O'Neill is a rising star following two promising seasons. His combination of athleticism and pass protection ability could make him a longtime stud for this offensive line. O'Neill looks like a serious candidate to end the Vikings' drought without a Pro Bowl offensive lineman since Matt Kalil in 2012, and that could happen as soon as this season.

The bad news? There are question marks pretty much everywhere else. Left tackle Riley Reiff is a solid veteran who hasn't quite lived up to his contract. The Vikings drafted Ezra Cleveland in the second round to eventually replace Reiff, but given the circumstances of this offseason, Cleveland probably won't be ready to start right away.

The interior of the Vikings' O-line is a mess. 2019 first-round pick Garrett Bradbury struggled mightily with pass protection at center during his rookie year. The Vikings are still very high on Bradbury and his potential, but a major leap in his second season isn't a sure thing. Both guard spots are even bigger concerns after the surprising release of Josh Kline this offseason. Pat Elflein hasn't been good at either center or left guard thus far in his career, but he may keep the LG job due to a lack of better options. 2019 fourth-rounder Dru Samia – who played all of 31 snaps last year – will compete with Dakota Dozier at right guard.

If Bradbury reaches his potential and Samia is good, this could be a better offensive line than expected. But for now, I can't justify ranking the Vikings above any of the other teams in the division.

2020 Preseason All-NFC North Offensive Line: First Team

  • LT: David Bakhtiari (GB)
  • LG: Elgton Jenkins (GB)
  • C: Frank Ragnow (DET)
  • RG: James Daniels (CHI)
  • RT: Brian O'Neill (MIN)

Second Team

  • LT: Taylor Decker (DET)
  • LG: Cody Whitehair (CHI)
  • C: Corey Linsley (GB)
  • RG: Billy Turner (GB)
  • RT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai (DET)

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