Not so offensive lines

The rapid decline of the Super Champion Los Angeles Rams has taken fantasy football managers by surprise. After their bye week, the Rams suffered their fifth loss at Tampa Bay Sunday to fall to 3-5. Wasn’t it just nine months ago that this team was on the top of the world after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in Inglewood?

The fall of the Rams has precipitated the fall from grace of the entire backfield, with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. reduced to fantasy irrelevancy. Akers, drafted in the fourth round in most drafts, made his first appearance in Sunday’s game since Week 5 and produced 0.3 fantasy points. He has only one double-digit game in six outings.

The running backs aren’t the only Rams players impacted. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was averaging only 11.9 fantasy points per game heading into the Sunday’s game and got 10.5. Allen Robinson, a popular mid-round draft pick, is averaging 8. Cooper Kupp is the lone player who has risen above the chaos as an elite fantasy receiver.

If you want to know what/s wrong with the Rams, you need look no further than the beleaguered offensive line.  They have battled a significant number of injuries. With the seemingly endless rotational changes up front, Stafford is the third-most sacked quarterback in the NFL with 28. Justin Fields has been sacked 31 times and Joe Burrow 30.  

With the difficulties in pass protection plus ranking 31st in rushing offense, the Rams have looked like a shell of their old selves. The offensive line is the heartbeat of an offense. If your line is good, your offense is good. A good line opens up holes for running backs and gives the quarterback the time he needs to find open receivers downfield.

As bad as the Rams have been, they aren’t the worst, ranking 29th, in offensive line efficiency. The Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins are the bottom three. Undoubtedly, the weak lines have had the most impact on the effectiveness of running backs on all of these team, especially No. 1 overall fantasy draft pick Jonathan Taylor.

Fantasy managers who drafted Taylor got 27.5 fantasy points in the opening game. Since then, Taylor has only averaged 8.8 PPG in the five games he played. I traded for Taylor in one of my leagues last week, hoping to buy low. However, he was on the sidelines Sunday with an ankle injury, watching the Colts humiliated 26-3 by the New England Patriots.

After Matt Ryan ran for his life for seven games, he was benched for Sam Ehlinger, who fared no better in losses to the Commanders and the Patriots. Poor Sam was sacked nine times in Foxboro on Sunday. A day after that debacle, the Colts fired head coach Frank Reich. The firing followed on the heels of the firing of offensive coordinator Marcus Brady.    

In Chicago, the emergence of Fields as one of the top running quarterbacks in the league has mitigated some of the harm done by the Bears weak offensive line. Fields ran for 178 yards on 15 carries in Sunday’s loss to Miami and scored 42.7 FP. But Fields is still getting pressured on 50% of his drop backs. That’s the most in the NFL among quarterbacks.

David Montgomery, drafted in the fourth round in many drafts, has disappointed his managers with only three double-digit fantasy games this season. He is averaging less than 10 PPG. Khalil Herbert, one of the most powerful runners in the game, has fared somewhat better but managed only 23 yards in seven carries against Miami on Sunday.

Miami, betting that Tua Tagovailoa is their franchise quarterback for the next decade or more, gave Tyreek Hill a record contract and sent a bunch of draft picks to Kansas City. Hill and Jaylen Waddle have produced for fantasy managers, but Tagovailoa has suffered a couple of highly publicized concussions behind the Dolphins weak line.

The Dolphins had also signed Chase Edmonds to a two-year contract, believing he would be the lead running back. But a week ago, they traded the ineffective Edmonds to Denver. Raheem Mostert, a superior runner, has produced three single-digit clunkers in his last four games. Jeff Wilson, acquired at the trade deadline, performed well on Sunday.  

If you’re stuck with a back behind these four offensive lines, good luck. If you can trade someone like Taylor, Montgomery, or Mostert and get something good in return, you should do it. But who should you be trading for? Let’s look at the five best offensive lines in the NFL and see who might be worth acquiring before your fantasy trade deadline.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

The Eagles’ offensive line is the gold standard in professional football. Philadelphia has built a dominating unit over the years through the draft, combining high-value assets early in the draft with project players the team has developed into some of the best in the NFL. Is it any wonder that Philadelphia is the only undefeated team in the NFL?  

The best way to buy into this offensive line is to acquire Miles Sanders. Sanders doesn’t catch very many passes, so he’s more valuable in a standard league than a PPR league. I traded recently for Sanders, offering his manager Nick Chubb, who also doesn’t catch passes. In addition to Sanders, I am getting Michael Pittman in this deal.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

While the Dolphins only gave lip service to protecting their franchise quarterback, the Chiefs put their money where their mouth was following a Super Bowl LV loss. They spent free agency dollars on left guard Joe Thuney, traded draft picks to acquire left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., then selected center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith in the 2021 draft.

Figuring out how to cash in on this great OL is tricky. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was expected to be the lead back on perhaps the most potent offense in the league, but he’s now in a committee with Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon. The latter, the only one to score double-digit points Sunday night, was targeted eight times and caught six from the Chiefs backfield.  

DETROIT LIONS

Rarely does a team without an elite quarterback hover near the top of all the offensive efficiency rankings. But the Lions have done just that. Investments with first-round picks at both tackle positions (LT Taylor Decker and RT Penei Sewell) and at center (Frank Ragnow) has paid off. The offensive line continues to open up huge rushing lanes for Lions backs.

D’Andre Swift was drafted as an RB1 and performed at that level until he was injured in the third week. He returned in Week 8 but still played second fiddle to Jamaal Williams. I’m kicking myself for trading away Williams after picking him up from the waiver wire several weeks ago. If you can trade Ezekiel Elliott or James Conner for him, do so.

CLEVELAND BROWNS 

It’s no surprise the Browns are on this list. They’ve had a top-five offensive line for years. Once again, investment in the unit alongside one of the best offensive line coaches in the game equals continued success, even with injuries at center and right tackle. The Browns have excellent guards in Wyatt Teller and Joe Bitonio, anchor this solid unit.

Nick Chubb is averaging more than 20 FP points per game behind this offensive line. If you play in a standard league, this guy is worth a king’s ransom. Even in a PPR league, he’s extremely valuable and you’re not going to get him without paying a high price. I chose to trade him away for Sanders and Pittman, and we’ll see how that turns out.   

DALLAS COWBOYS

Dallas has overcome the loss of Tyron Smith, as rookie left tackle Tyler Smith has proven to be an excellent run blocker. Right tackle Terence Steele has also played very well. Center Tyler Biadasz has demonstrated the ability to move defenders off the ball in the run game. And then there’s right guard Zack Martin, who is the best player at that position. 

We saw what Tony Pollard could do in Week 8, with Ezekiel Elliott out. Pollard rushed for 131 yards on 14 carries, scoring three touchdowns. However, Elliott is expected to return this week, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones still calls Elliott the lead back. My advice would be to make a low-ball trade offer for Pollard, hoping the Cowboys come to their senses.     

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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