A few days ago, I posted an article talking about how the Colts struggled last season versus bigger offensive lines. This led me to question, what exactly goes into the making of a good offensive line? In order to answer it, I spent way too much time collecting data that would help shine some light on the subject.
Is it weight?
“Offensive linemen need to be fat” seems like an archaic statement, especially in today’s NFL where linemen are more athletic than ever. However, due to basic laws of physics, if an offensive linemen is heavier, he will be harder to move around. Taking this into account I compiled the average weight of the 5 members of the offensive line of each NFL team, and then compared it to perhaps the two biggest stats to determine how well an offensive line performed: Adjusted Sack Allowed Rate and Rushing Offense rank.
In case you are curious, the Colts OLAW is 313.8, 2 pounds below the average for NFL teams.
The results shows that there is some degree of correlation between OLAW and how well an offensive line performs, as bigger teams tend to do better at pounding the rock and keeping their quarterback clean, but the correlation is not big enough to draw meaningful conclusions from it. With the question still unanswered, we go a different route.
Is it the amount of capital invested in the position?
This reasoning is quite simple, and one we Colts fans know all too well after watching the team finally truly invest in building a proper offensive line (sadly, too late now). I determined the amount of capital invested in the position by assigning a numerical value from 1 to 10 for each starter of the offensive line. Take the Colts: Castonzo, Kelly, and Nelson get a 10, as they all were first round picks. Glowinski gets a 1 as he was acquired through waivers, while Braden Smith gets an 8 after being drafted in the second round. The numerical values were of course subjective to my opinion, and there are some flaws to it, but I used the same standards for the 32 NFL teams, so the results can be trusted. (ICR stands for Invested Capital Rank, where #1 is the franchise that invested the most resources in building the offensive line.)
Again, in case you are curious, the Colts ranked 9th in invested capital.
Here is where we see the biggest levels of correlation for my research (0.22 for Sack % and 0.30 for Rush off.) which means that as teams invested more in their offensive lines, they usually did better at protecting the quarterback and rushing the ball. This was of course expected, as teams are generally really good at scouting offensive linemen and their skill set can be easily transferred from team to team. The case that baffled me the most was the Tennessee Titans, as they had by far the most capital into the offensive line, using two first rounders and making Saffold the highest paid guard in the league, but still they ranked 32nd in Adj. Sack Allowed.
Is it athleticism?
Finally, I turned my attention to athleticism. Nowadays, athleticism can be easily measured using RAS. As explained by its creator “Relative Athletic Scores take player measurements and put them on an easy to understand 0 to 10 scale compared to their position group. A final score is then produced which is also on a 0 to 10 score to show overall athleticism for a draft prospect.” What I did here was average the 5 starters RAS and then compared it with Rush Offense Rank and Adj. Sack Allowed % rank.
The Colts have the most athletic offensive line in the NFL with a 9.57 average RAS.
By using RAS to compare, we can see that while more athletic lines do better in pass-protection, there is no such correlation with the running game. Overall athleticism seems to be much more important than weight, but still not as important as the capital invested in the position.
In conclusion, there is no true indicator as to what exactly makes a good offensive line, but is probably a combination between the three factors mentioned above, although not in equal proportions. Investing capital in the offensive line is much more important than just getting big guys, but weight still has its importance when building the offensive line. Athleticism lies somewhere in the middle, where it is not as relevant as the amount of capital the team invested but it is still considerably more important than weight.
Author’s note: I had an amazing time compiling the data for this article, and it was a much needed distraction during this tough times. If there is a subject you would like for me to take a deep look at, feel free to mention it in the comment section.