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B1G 2016 Spring Position Rankings: The Offensive Line

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Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most difficult positions to rank - at least for the layman - is Offensive Line. Part of this is because there are just so many variables that make the OL successful. Is it that they steamroll the way for a dynamic runner? Is it that they give impenetrable pass protection? Are they excellent at pulling into the open field and making way for gash plays? Of course, conversely, you might argue that some of the better offensive lines also have had the benefit of dynamic skill players to protect and work with. I mean, was Barry Sanders amazing because of his line or because he was Barry freaking Sanders?

That in mind, I felt like it was necessary to give a few caveats to one of the B1Ggest position out there. My rankings were difficult because 1) finding information on offensive linemen is a super non-easy job, despite the fact that it really might be the most important position on the field, and 2) because I don't have a solid, standardized system to rank these individuals. So instead, I am presenting this as sort of a rundown on how much talent you're returning, and kind of gauging your line based on production. Some of you might complain - Penn State returns almost all of its Offensive Line snaps from a year ago, but that line also gave up almost three sacks a game so that will affect rankings - but that's okay. This is just a rough estimation of where I think things will end up next year. Thanks to the help of ourlads.com for last year's depth charts, some internet sleuthing, and our own writing team, I have put together a projected starting OL for next year and ranked based on last year's performance and returning starters, among subjective things that go on in my brain. Good? Good.

1. Michigan Wolverines

Returning Starters: 4

Projected Starters:

Mason Cole, Jr. | Ben Braden, RS Sr. | Patrick Kugler, RS Jr. | Kyle Kalis, RS Jr. | Erik Mangunson, RS Jr.

Why they're here:

This group has four returning starters, only having to replace its center, and had two All-Conference selections in Kyle Kalis and Erik Mangunson. So yeah, the experience is there. Of course, that experience also has some decent passing and rushing stats behind it, only allowing 18 sacks last season and paving the way for a reasonable enough rushing offense. The Wolverines should boast the best offensive line in 2016 as of right now.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

Returning Starters: 2

Projected Starters:

Jamarco Jones, RS So. | Billy Price, RS Jr. | Pat Elflein, RS Sr. | Matthew Burrell, RS Fr. | Isaiah Prince, SO

Why they're here:

Okay, so I'm projecting a lot here, but Billy Price and Pat Elfein are two of the better linemen in the conference, with the latter having a good chance at major awards next year. Even though the Buckeyes will be starting quite a bit of new faces all over the place, I see no reason why this group cannot have better overall impact than 2015. Oh, and it helps that they will have the chance to be made to look good by JT Barrett and company.

3. Indiana Hoosiers

Returning Starters: 3

Projected Starters:

Brandon Knight, So | Jacob Bailey, RS Sr. | Wes Rogers, RS Sr. | Dan Feeney, RS Sr. | Dimitric Camiel RS Sr.

Why they're here:

One of the not-so-secret recipes for the Hoosier's continued offensive success is the offensive line. In fact, the Hoosiers had the most pass attempts per sack last year in the Big Ten. Going into next year, the key for the Hoosiers is glue-guy and eventual NFL starter, Dan Feeney. He's a legit talent, and while I may not be able to project where exactly he will play on the line, know that he'll be part of a group that keeps doing good things in 2016.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Returning Starters: 3

Projected Starters:

Austin Schmidt, Sr | Zach Heath, Sr. | Joe Spencer, Sr. | Nick Allegretti, RS So. | Christian DiLauro, Jr.

Why they're here:

Okay, so the Illini are not exactly known for this amazing rushing offense, but in pass protection, the line was very good last year. With three returning starters, this could give Coach Cubit a foundation to work out the kinks of his offense, and maybe even surprise a few people.

Thumpasaurus says...

We lose Teddy Karras, who was our best OL, but replace him at RG with RS-SO Nick Allegretti, who has tremendous upside. The only question mark is at LG, where senior Zack Heath should start, but he didn't start last year even when LG was a weak link. He's replacing Chris Boles, who hadn't seen the field in 4 years due to injuries. He should have been able to win that job last year.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

Returning Starters: 3

Projected Starters:

Cole Croston, Sr. | Boone Myers, Jr. | James Daniels, So. | Sean Welsh, Jr. | Ike Boetger, Jr.

Why they're here:

Iowa was a mixed bag last year along the line, but with three returning starters, a solid track record making OL who go to the NFL, and what were relatively okay stats in the run game, I'll slide them to 5. They were sneaky awful at pass protection, so that needs to get shored up quick, and it does not help that they lost Austin Blythe, but there is enough potential to put them above everyone else on this list.

StewMonkey3 says...

The OTs weren't terrible great, but all 3 that played were RS Freshman, and should get better.

6. Wisconsin Badgers

Returning Starters: 3

Projected Starters:

Jacob Maxwell, RS So. | Micha Kapoi, RS So. | Dan Voltz, Sr. | Michael Deiter, So. | Beau Benzschawel, So.

Why they're here:

Wisconsin is a fascinating situation. We all know that this is as much a factory of linemen as any school in the nation, but they were not exactly great last year. Boasting both a mediocre run game, and quite a few sacks - even taking how many times they dropped back into consideration - you can see why it would be easy to write them off. Nonetheless, of all the teams left, I'd still take them with their three starters over a few with four or more.

Thomas Speth says...

Wisconsin's line will be improved next year. Only lose left tackle Tyler Marz and they'll have another year under OL guru Joe Rudolph. Should be much better at run blocking at the very least, which was decidedly un-Wisconsin like last year.

7. Michigan State Spartans

Returning Starters: 2

Projected Starters:

Miguel Machado, RS Sr. | Ben McGowen, RS Sr. | Brian Allen, Jr. | Brandon Clemmons, RS RS Sr. | Kodi Kieler, RS Sr.

Why they're here:

Michigan State has left a lot to be desired along the OL as of late, but the numbers could have been so much worse. With only two actual starters back, it's hard for me to say they should be much higher, right? Of course, Brian Allen helps the cause quite a bit. I am nervous that I'm overstating the past results a little bit, but in general, Michigan State did not allow too many sacks. The run game was mediocre, but maybe experience for some of the other guys will help.

Andrew Kraszewski says...

MSU has to replace 3 standouts in Donavon Clark, Jack Allen, and probable first-rounder Jack Conklin. Kodi Kieler will apparently stay at right tackle, so they'll be solid there if he's healthy, and Brian Allen will likely slide over to center. There's decent experience among the backups, but some combo of Ben McGowan, Brandon Clemons (assuming he gets a 6th year) and Miguel Machado will need to form a starting-caliber pair of guards. And left tackle is a complete question mark at this point, as Conklin's heir apparent, Dennis Finley, went down with a midseason leg injury.

Overall, MSU's OL was plagued by chemistry-disrupting injuries last season and underperformed in light of preseason expectations. Nonetheless, expect this group and the offense at large to take bit of time finding their footing given the turnover they're dealing with.

8. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Returning Starters: 2

Projected Starters:

Nick Gates, RS So. | Dylan Utter, Sr. | Paul Thurston, Sr. | Jerald Foster, RS So. | David Knevel, Jr

Why they're here:

Again, at some level, this is sort of a reflection on last year's production plus only two actual starters back. Most of these guys saw time in one way or another, and since I am not really adding in the potential of RS Fr. and/or Fr. I guess this is about as good as you can expect? The key to this ranking is that there is an incredible amount of untapped potential in this group of linemen. The run game numbers plus the pass protection numbers are impressive, and while some of that is probably Tommy Armstrong, Jr. running for his life, I like this group.

9. Maryland Terrapins

Returning Starters: 3

Projected Starters:

Michael Dunn, RS Sr. | Sean Christie, RS So. | Brendan Moore, RS So. | Will McClain, RS Fr. | Damian Prince, RS So

Why they're here:

If there is one thing that the Terps have been slowly stockpiling, it's talent along the offensive line. With three returning starters, there is at least a glimmer of hope that there is some cohesion and talent on its way to College Park. Of course, the converse of that is that this team needs to shore up the leaks and protect whoever it is that starts at QB, but at least there is some experience and real development potential. I would not be surprised to see Maryland higher on an end-of-season list.

10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Returning Starters: 4

Projected Starters:

J.J. Denman, RS Sr. | Dorian Miller, RS Jr. | Derrick Nelson, RS Sr. | Chris Muller, RS Sr. | Jacquis Webb, RS So.

Why they're here:

Rutgers returns about as much talent as one team can, but this is going to be a recurring theme for me in the next five teams. Just because you return a lot of starters does not mean you will be good. Rutgers only got off about 13.5 passes between sacks last year. Thats megabad. One sack per 13.5 attempts. I mean, it's better than Penn State, but we're going to talk about that later. The saving grace is that this was a mostly effectual rushing group.

11. Northwestern Wildcats

Returning Starters: 5

Projected Starters:

Blake Hance, RS So | Connor Mahoney, Sr. | Ian Park, Sr. } Shane Mertz, RS RS Sr. | Eric Olson, Sr

Why they're here:

Remember all of those things I literally just said about Rutgers? Well, the same applies here. Just because you return five starters does not mean you are going to be good. The Wildcats allowed one sack per 12.1 pass attempts, and unlike our friends from New Jersey, they had a much less effective rushing game. In some universes, this would be one of - if not the - worst offensive line in the conference, but there is something to be said for experience I guess.

MNWildcat says...

OUR O-LINE SUCKS MY GOD IT'S SO BAD

12. Penn State Nittany Lions

Returning Starters: 5

Projected Starters:

Paris Palmer Sr. | Steven Gonzalez, RS Fr. | Wendy Laurent, RS Sr. | Brian Gaia, RS Sr. | Andrew Nelson, RS Jr.

Why they're here:

Penn State was awful along the line in 2015, and so lo and behold! They bring everyone back. Remember that stat I threw out about how many sacks allowed per passing attempt? Well, for every 10.4 passing attempts, this line allowed a sack. I realize that Christian Hackenberg gets a lot of flack, but we're talking David Carr at Houston levels of getting destroyed. Penn State is only not last because I do believe they were good along the run game, and with five starters coming back, there is no way they can be this bad again, is there?

Aaron Yorke says...

Penn State is bringing all starters back from last year's offensive line unit, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. The good news is that younger players like Steven Gonzalez (guard) and Sterling Jenkins (tackle) are maturing and could be ready to help out in case of injuries or poor play.

13. Purdue Boilermakers

Returning Starters: 3

Projected Starters:

Cameron Cermin, Sr. | Jason King, RS Sr. | Kirk Barron, RS So | Jordan Roos, RS Sr. | Martesse Patterson, RS So.

Why they're here:

Purdue might actually not be all that bad along the line. After all, at least in the pass game, they were better than quite a few teams in sacks allowed, and they threw the ball a lot. Of course, the flipside to that is the run game was often non-existent and with only three returning starters as opposed to Northwestern and Penn State's five, it's hard to say if they'll be any better than those two teams.

14. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Returning Starters: 2

Projected Starters:

Jonah Pirsig, RS Sr. | Jared Weyler, RS So. | Tyler Moore, So. | Connor Mayes, Jr. | Chad Fahnin, RS Jr.

Why they're here:

The Golden Gophers probably will not finish 2016 as the worst OL unit, but I cannot really see a lot of ways they'll be that much better. The stats were firmly in the middle, and that was before they lost three starters. Since this is such a fuzzy set of qualifications - and someone has to be last - I decided the lack of a lot of experience plus no votes of confidence by fans, results in a 14... sorry all. Them's the breaks.