Pro Football Focus has been ranking the league's position groups throughout the offseason. A day after they did quarterbacks, PFF has now gone through the NFL's offensive line groups. Although PFF masquerades the subjective as the objective, they are the best source of measuring non-ball handlers until the NFL installs Sports VU cameras across every stadium, scheme is able to be taken in account, a median baseline is produced for each position at each possible play, and then all of it is mashed together to create some sort of metric like WAR. However, knowing the dinosaur-laden NFL, coaches cowering from numbers because FOOTBALL is played on the field, and the decline in football participation and team sports in general, this will probably never happen. But a boy can dream. For now, what PFF has is the best we got.
Projected starters: LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, C Nick Martin, RG Jeff Allen, RT Derek Newton
Roster depth: Tony Bergstrom, Chris Clark, Oday Aboushi
Key stat: Jeff Allen was the only NFL guard with more than 100 snaps last season with no sacks or hurries allowed.
The Texans’ offensive line has a lot of depth, but some of their starters haven’t played their best football recently. Duane Brown peaked in 2011 and 2012, and had his worst season since his rookie year in 2015. Derek Newton also took a step back after an excellent 2014 season. Although they lost their best interior lineman, Brandon Brooks (Eagles), they added Jeff Allen, Nick Martin (Notre Dame), and Tony Bergstrom, which could more than make up for it.
Woo, doggie. That's a lot to take in. First off, the projected starters and roster depth is correct. I did not know Jeff Allen didn't allow a sack or hurry last year. Other than that, I disagree with what they have to say.
The Texans' offensive line has depth, but that isn't what makes this group good. They have three above-average starters mushed with two young players. Yes, Brown has issues in the run game; that's nothing new. He still holds down the left side's protection. Yes, Newton struggled in the pass game, but he improved at that facet once they stuck with him at right tackle instead of messing with him at guard. Yes, Jeff Allen has issues at the second level (and I would rather pay the younger Brooks the $2 million extra per year to have kept him in Houston), but look, he didn't allow a hurry or a sack last year. Together those three are all very good players who Houston shouldn't have performance problems with. The depth is helpful if anyone goes down. But it doesn't make this unit.
The offensive line is going to depend on what the two young players, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Nick Martin, do. Su'a-Filo was pretty alright last year. He has gotten stronger since he came into the league, yet he still makes 4/5ths of a block and he usually does one small thing wrong that derails it. Throwing rather than grabbing the linebacker and keeping his hands outside instead of inside are examples of this. If Su'a-Filo can correct these small mistakes, he could actually become a real NFL player this year.
Nick Martin is going to take Ben Jones' place. If he Martin at least average, he will be as good as Jones was. I think he will be better than that. First off, he's a great pass blocker. He punches the chest and grabs. He mirrors really well, too. And he can hunker down on the bull-rush, the preferred pass rush move of interior pass rushers everywhere. 9/10 of them approve of it. Additionally, Martin is great at helping out and scanning for blitzers. In the run game, he's awesome in double teams and has the ability to reach the defensive tackle. Yet, like the rest of the Texans' offensive line, Martin has problems sticking on the second level. He leans, flails forward, and doesn't stick and drive. The talent is here, though. If he is at least the run blocker Jones was, Martin will be an improvement over the former.
If the two young guys can bring it, the Texans will have an offensive line composed of five good players, which is difficult to do with salary cap restrictions and the luck of the NFL Draft.
Lastly, the other thing sticking in my head is the fact that the only two players on the line that have ever played next to each other are Xavier Su'a-Filo and Duane Brown. The rest of the group is going to be spending the summer reading bedtime stories and learning how to get hip-to-hip and play with each other. There's something to be said about O-Line consistency and chemistry. It's important to trust that the guy next to you is making the right calls, if he will come off the ball at the right time, or if he can pass the stunt. It takes time and a ton of reps to develop this. The Texans won't have this immediately. They had it last year once their starting offensive line came together, and they blossomed from the Cincinnati game on. This year, they will have to start from the beginning and learn how to implement these two new starters.
All that being said, eleventh is a fair spot for this unit.