When it comes to the NFL free agency, most fantasy football players take notice when a starting quarterback like Kirk Cousins changes teams or a wide receiver like Allen Robinson is on the move. That’s great for most fantasy players, but you want to better than most. To do that, you’ll need to find out which other moves will move the needle and take your fantasy team over the top in 2018. One of the best ways is finding out which offensive lines will be the most-improved through offseason moves.
There have already been some significant transactions made. The trading of Cordy Glenn from the Bills to the Bengals, Andrew Norwell signing with the Jaguars, Nate Solder’s move to the Giants and Weston Richburg signing with the 49ers. Not to mention the retirement of Joe Thomas from the Browns. Let’s break down the impact some of these players will have in their new landing spot and how it can provide some fantasy goodness for some of the “skill” players for each team.
Left Tackle Cordy Glenn traded to the Bengals
2017 was undoubtedly not Cordy Glenn’s best season as a professional. He graded out at just a 68.1 according to Pro Football Focus. He also only played in parts of five games for the Bills. However, before the foot and ankle issues that plagued Glenn the past two seasons, he was an extremely productive left tackle. Glenn only had one “above average” (above 70.0 and below 80.0) grade according to PFF in his first five seasons. The rest of his seasons were above an 80.0.
Glenn will move into a starting spot at left tackle when he is back on the field to an offensive line group in desperate need of talent. Tackles Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi were two of the worst tackles in the NFL last season grading out at a 46.2 and 41.0 respectively. It wasn’t just the Bengals tackles that struggled in 2017, but the entire offensive line, save for guard Clint Boling. Boling finished as the 24th ranked guard on the season. The team as a whole gave up 40 sacks in 2017, ranking 20th in Sack Rate at 7.3% according to Football Outsiders. They were also collectively terrible in short yardage situations, ranking 24th in Power Success (percentage of 2-or-fewer yards-to-go situations that were converted to either a touchdown or first down) according to FO. If Glenn can stay on the field he should be a massive help to this group.
Fantasy Impact – Stock Up: Joe Mixon
To say Joe Mixon had an inconsistent rookie season would be quite kind. He had as many games with single-digit carries as games of double-digit carries (8), and was never truly given the reigns to the Bengals backfield. Now with a potentially imposing left side of the offensive line to run behind in Glenn and Clint Boling, Mixon should be able to be a top 20 running back in 2018 in all formats. Expect his total touches to increase from the 208 as a rookie to at least a total of 250 as the Bengals should be able to commit to the running game after improving their efficiency metrics in on the ground.
Stock Up: Andy Dalton
Cincinnati was 20th in the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate in 2017 at 7.3% and gave up 40 sacks, which was their second year in a row doing so. If Glenn can stay on the field, Dalton should be able to stay upright. Fantasy owners could see Dalton and the Bengals offense rebound and put him right back near QB1 range in 2018.
Stock Down: LeSean McCoy
It’s pretty safe to say that LeSean McCoy has been the lifeblood of the Bills offense over the past three seasons since joining the team in 2015. Even though McCoy graded out at an 84.4 according to PFF, this past season was not his most efficient. Things started to fall off on runs to the left side of the offensive line, where Glenn was missing, as Buffalo ranked 30th and 31st in Adjusted Line Yards according to FO on runs to the left end and left tackle spots. Rookie Dion Dawkins filled in admirably for Glenn this past season, but the loss of both Glenn in this trade and center Eric Wood to retirement might be a massive blow to “Shady’s” 2018 output. He should be near the back end of RB1 territory in both formats.
Andrew Norwell signs with the Jacksonville Jaguars 5 years/ $65million
Norwell joins an improving offensive line as investments in rookie Cam Robinson and the re-signing of center Brandon Linder proved to be significant first steps in solidifying the unit. Norwell finished as the number three rated offensive guard according to PFF in 2017 only behind Zack Martin and David DeCastro; two perennial All-Pro candidates. In a free agent class that was devoid of offensive line talent, Norwell was the prized pick among a few suitors including the Giants and 49ers. But the rich got richer by adding the talented Norwell to a young and hungry Jags team.
Jacksonville had already improved mightily in both the run and passing game as a unit in 2017. They moved from the 27th ranked team in Adjusted Line Yards. Which is essentially a metric that weights how well offensive lines produce positive running plays, to 13th. Adding Norwell to sure up the middle of their offensive line next to Linder (the number four center in 2017 according to PFF) for the next few seasons will continue to go a long way in making sure ground and pound is part of the Jaguars DNA.
Fantasy Impact – Stock Up: Leonard Fournette
This one is pretty obvious. If you add one of the best guards in the game to an offensive line, the running back should benefit. Fournette was impressive in his rookie season rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring nine rushing TDs. His biggest issue was his health, as he missed two games due to foot and ankle injuries (the other was for disciplinary reasons). The Jags should put him in bubble wrap until the start of 2018. This would ensure that Fournette will be healthy to start the season. With the improvements to the middle of the offensive line, fantasy owners should expect nothing less than a high-end RB1 season regardless of format.
Nate Solder signs a 4 year/$62 million contract with the Giants
The Giants have had major offensive line issues the past few seasons. Even though their sack rate was top 10 in the NFL in 2017, Eli Manning was running for his life. Enter Solder who is a veteran left tackle to help protect Manning’s and a potential rookie quarterback’s blind side for the foreseeable future.
Solder was a better run blocker than pass protector in 2017 (graded out 83.2 as a run blocker vs. 69.8 pass) according to Pro Football Focus, but compared Ereck Flowers he’s a superstar. Flowers has struggled mightily since his rookie season never grading out at higher than a 51.5. A move-right tackle should help improve his output. Solder will at least be a stabilizing force for the Giants, who have not had a stable and reliable starter at left tackle since Will Beatty.
As a run blocking unit the Giants improved later in the season as D.J. Fluker and John Greco were added as starters. Expect the Giants to continue to try and run the ball with authority to lessen the load on Eli Manning in 2018.
Fantasy Impact – Stock Up: Eli Manning
2017 was a house of horrors for Manning. He started the season off by losing Odell Beckham Jr. to a broken ankle and then went through a stretch of being benched for Geno Smith. 2018 should be better for Manning who has seen his YPA and touchdown total decrease in three straight seasons. This could very well be his last chance to play with Odell Beckham Jr. (and his 1,300 yards and ten touchdowns per season) in Giant blue. So adding the stability of a left tackle like Solder sure put Manning’s mind more at ease, so expect the Giants to take some more downfield shots with Beckham and matchup nightmare Evan Engram. 4,000 yards and 25 plus touchdowns are not out of the realm of possibilities for Manning which would put him squarely in the low-end QB1 territory for 2018.
For any other offensive line questions or questions about the upcoming 2018 fantasy season, find me on Twitter @TheRealHalupka