Twelve of the fourteen SEC schools return at least three starting linemen from last year’s squad, so experience is the order of the day. Though if you look at returning starts, four schools are under 60 returning starts. However, most of the most well-known names are gone, and just about everyone is rebuilding some part of their depth chart. So there’s a dash of chaos for some unpredictability.
I rate offensive lines based on two stats: sacks allowed per 100 pass attempts and average rushing yards per carry. Now, these are still dependent on a non-linemen to help them out, but it does give us a pretty good idea of where the lines stood last year.
For more details, read here. The gist is that zero is league average, and 100 points is a standard deviation better than the league average. But I’ll include each team’s OLINE score and returning starts to give you an idea of how I came up with my rankings.
1. Alabama (139.84 OLINE; 67 returning starts)
An easy No. 1. The Tide were near the top last season, and they return three starters, two of whom are first team preseason All-SEC. They run block, they pass block, and they keep bringing in more talent.
2. Missouri (138.11; 63)
Mizzou returns all five starters but only 63 career starts. So going with youth last year paid off, and should be even better this year. None of those returning starters made any of the All-SEC teams, which is weird considering they allowed just 3.13 sacks/100 att, by far the best mark in the conference.
3. LSU (166.65; 60)
LSU fans are in full panic over the line as the team breaks in two new tackles, but the interior of the line is the best in the SEC. Their rating may be a bit propped up by the excellence of the runners they block for.
4. Auburn (45.56; 106)
Loads of experience return, plus legit star Braden Smith. But this unit was decidedly average last season, and slightly subpar in pass blocking. But they should make that improvement.
5. Tennessee (48.39, 111)
A near perfect copy of Auburn, minus that one legit star. But they had nearly exactly the same statistical profile, and they also return a huge number of starts.
6. Texas A&M (216.36; 48)
Last year’s OLINE champs were hit pretty hard by graduation. They are like LSU in that they have to replace their starting tackles, but their interior is not as stout as the Tigers’.
7. Ole Miss (-30.70; 73)
Really good at pass blocking, bad at run blocking. Part of that is the lack of a great back, so I’ll give them a bit of a pass on that. They went with youth last year, and it should flower this season to some degree.
8. Arkansas (-188.35; 70)
They can’t be as bad as they were last year, especially with a stud like Frank Ragnow at center. It’s hard to mentally accept a bad Hogs offensive line, but that’s what they were last year. I’m expecting it to be a one-year blip.
9. Kentucky (-45.30; 73)
An effective run blocking unit that got destroyed on the pass rush. Four starters return which should mark some improvement.
10. Florida (-172.89; 63)
The Gators have been taking their lumps with an extremely inexperienced line, but that should start to turn around. There’s some star power, particularly Martez Ivey, but this has been an absolutely inept unit for two seasons. Prove it.
11. Mississippi St. (188.80; 30)
One of the very best units in the SEC last year, the Bulldogs have been destroyed by the worst attrition in the conference. Just 30 starts return and 2 starters. It’s a near total rebuild, but they at least return their left tackle Martinas Rankin.
12. Georgia (-36.07; 45)
If the Dawgs fail to win a weak East this season, it will be because of their line. They signed a ton this spring and will likely through youth directly into the fire, a strategy that always works well.
13. Vanderbilt (-150.77; 41)
Barely any experience returns from a bad unit. There’s not a whole lot to build on here.
14. South Carolina (-318.72; 98)
The Gamecocks’ line was the worst in the SEC by several orders of magnitude. The good news is that they return four starters, so they should delight fans to an encore performance.
Offensive line play can be a pretty rough science when it comes to predicting success. Maybe next to quarterback, it's the hardest position to evaluate and recruit. Lower ranked OL shoot up draft rankings and depth charts routinely. If predicting individual performance is that difficult, imagine then trying to judge a group collectively. How do they fit in their positions? How do they communicate? How talented are they? Arkansas had a pretty strong reputation for the position... until last year when they fielded arguably the worst unit in the conference. Most people blamed that on the loss of their offensive line coach, who went to Georgia, whose fans will tell you they had the worst offensive line in the conference. Ahh offensive line... the target is always moving.
It's hard to NOT rank them no. 1. Believe me, I tried. But Pierschbacher and Williams alone are enough to prop them up. I think a lot of Bama fans were unduly harsh on Cam Robinson, and there is some risk in ushering in a new LT in Williams. But Williams is mega-talented and shined at RT last season. Plus the slippery Hurts should help this group out.
They get back their left tackle, their center, and their right tackle, who is a star. They bring in Calvin Ashley, who is talented enough to snag one of the two Guard spots that should be open for competition during this summer. This is a really good unit that will be blocking for a really talented backfield that should make them look good.
K.J. Malone has become a bit of a whipping boy for the fanbase, but he wasn't as dreadful as many made him out to be. Clapp should be the best Center in the SEC. Teuhema is one of the most talented blockers in the league. Everyone's an upperclassman and has played a good bit. There's a lot to like about this unit. People fret about the tackles, but LSU will be fine. Those guys are talented.
This is a solid unit and to argue with Poseur for a minute, they do have a star, he just so happens to be a true freshman. Trey Smith will be a household name by season's end and an All-SEC pick next season.
Mizzou racked up 500 yards a game last year and even if they piled some on lesser opponents, you don't do that with a bad offensive line. I'm not as high on the unit as Poseur, but they are experienced.
6. Ole Miss
Ole Miss has a lot of issues but the Greg Little/Javon Patterson left side rival Bama for the best in the conference. The lack of rushing seems a byproduct of the Freeze offense at this point, though I bet we see a tick up in rushing this year with Shea Patterson running things.
7. Texas A&M
The Aggies rattled off a series of high draft picks for a while. Building the line was a strength of former coach Mike Sherman, but not so much Sumlin. So Sumlin went back and hired Sherman's old coach, Jim Turner. This unit could be top three or drop further without a great QB to help them out.
I am tepidly ranking them 8th. I do love Ragnow, and Froholdt and Brian Wallace have promise. But Arkansas really struggled to run the ball last year, despite having a few talented backs. I may have them over-ranked, but it's hard to make a case for the remaining groups.
They flat stunk last year, which had Eason running for his life and their running game on life support. Georgia somehow ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing... despite having Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Something is wrong with that picture. But they were transitioning to a new offense, new QB, etc. Sam Pittman has too great a track record for this unit to stay down for long. Could rise up to the top half of the conference.
This is a pretty good group for Kentucky and a lot of experience. Former top recruit Landon Young hasn't yet cracked the starting lineup, which suggests the guys ahead of him are pretty solid.
They are quite good at blocking themselves. If you thought LSU's offensive line was bad in 2016. Consider this, the LSU offense out gained Florida's by 80 yards a game.
12. Mississippi St.
I have confidence in Mullen to find a unit that works, but man do they lose a lot.
13. South Carolina
Good QBs can help bad OLs. Bentley has a lot of helping to do.
I have nothing to say about Vanderbilt.
This is one of those positions where, occasionally, experience can trump talent. Offensive lines gel over time, and upperclassmen often have a strength and technique advantage that can carry through. Old man strength is a thing.
Yeah, I'm getting tired of it, too. I don't know that there's a stud, future first-rounder in this group, although Jonah Williams might be that eventually. But the core of veterans are stout, and quite frankly, Alabama has too much talent everywhere. It has been a while since they've had a bunch of maulers here, though.
As much as anything, the offensive line has held the Gator offense back in recent years, but this is a group that's really come together. The one "new" starter is T.J. McCoy, and he managed to start four games last year as a freshman.
Four starters back, including maybe the best overall offensive lineman in the conference in Frank Ragnow. This group had some growing pains last season, but I'd be surprised if that happened again.
The Tigers are absolutely loaded inside at guard and center, but that will have to make up for some question marks at tackle. K.J. Malone was very inconsistent, and Toby Weathersby has been injury prone -- and depth behind them is thin.
This unit is getting a ton of preseason love, but they really struggled to consistently move the ball against good fronts last season. Similar to LSU in that there are a lot of players that fit more as guards that will have to play tackle.
Betting that four returning starters will generate its own improvement here.
7. South Carolina
Four upperclassmen back. Not a great unit last year, but see No. 6.
Low-key, the Wildcats became a really good rushing offense down the stretch, and I think that continues in 2017.
All five starters are back, and that's a big reason for optimism for Mizzou to make some strides on offense this season.
A group that was expected to be good in 2016 really struggled, but at a minimum, they have to be better at run-blocking this year.
11. Ole Miss
Four starters are back, but this is a group that really just couldn't physically hang with any defensive line with a pulse. Greg Little has to boost the talent level some.
12. Texas A&M
Need to find another Matthews sibling.
13. Mississippi St.
One of the things that puts some cold water on the hot talk around the Bulldog offense.
Ralph Webb is a damn miracle worker.
As a true-blue LSU fan, it's difficult to put Alabama towards the top of the rankings so many times. But it's even more difficult to overlook the sheer amount of talent this team has - and the offensive line is no exception. They've got a lot of veterans here, with young superstars in the making just waiting to take their place.
Auburn's unit is stout to say the very least. They feature three returners, with one of them being their star right tackle. While not necessarily a super flashy group last year, they should definitely rise to the occasion this season.
Like Ole Miss, the Tigers O-line is partially set and partially a question mark as they introduce a pair of new tackles. I don't see this as a major issue, though, and see this unit coming together quite nicely. Unlike some of the others, I expect to see steady improvement from KJ Malone this year.
The Gators will either show they are entirely worthy of this ranking or fall to almost dead last on the list depending on what side they show this season. But I'm obviously going to go with the former for now. Martez Ivey will be the most solid guy on the line this year for Florida.
The Vols will have four returners this year, and should improve even more this year with that added experience. I see some potential up-and-coming young talent here as well with Dan's favorite — Trey Smith.
The Razorbacks have an absolute stud in Frank Ragnow, and are primed for a great season this year, despite not doing much in the 2016 season.
Missouri does not lose a single starter this season, so that gives them a huge edge on the experience side of things. As previously mentioned, the offense camp up with roughly 500 yards per game last year, which is nothing to turn your nose up at. Expect that to continue in an upward trend this season.
8. Ole Miss
Four starters return for this team in 2017. This is a bit of a tricky one, as the left side is solid with Greg Little and Javon Patterson, but the rest is shaky. They'll need to work on run blocking to see major improvement.
9. South Carolina
The Gamecocks feature four returners this season, and will hope to see some growth from last year's less-than-spectacular performance.
This is a quietly solid unit with experience on their side, as four starters return this year. Nothing special to look forward to, though.
Expectations for the Bulldogs' unit were set sky-high last year, and they flopped hard. If anything, their line is holding them back on offense at this point.
12. Mississippi St.
This is an area the Bulldogs have excelled with in the past, but they only have two returners this season. That pretty much puts them in a state of total rebuilding for the meantime.
13. Texas A&M
The interior here could be more impressive, and they lose a lot in terms of experience. The Aggies will badly need someone to step up on the O-line this year.
Bottom of the list once more for all the right reasons.
We do not agree. Like, at all. There are six teams in which we had a spread of at least five places in the high/low vote, reaching the extreme edge on Florida, where Billy ranked them second, and Paul correctly ranked them eleventh.
As you can see, I use a method heavily informed by production. Paul uses one that leans primarily on talent. You would think, given our different techniques, we would have the two most disparate ballots. But no, Paul and I largely agree, never deviating more than 3 votes from each other, and that only twice.
The fly in the ointment here is Billy. Of those extreme votes, Billy was the high or low vote in five of the six cases. Crissy tended to side with Billy, though she wasn’t as far out on the poles. It makes sense that we’d have a wide variance on the toughest position group, but the weird thing is that the two more holistic voters closely agreed, while the stats and talent approaches disagreed from that mean, but in the same ways.
Anyway, the net result is the usual: Bama is the best, Vanderbilt is the worst.
8. Ole Miss
10. Texas A&M
12. South Carolina
13. Mississippi State