2023 OL Free Agency Rankings
The top 38 OL broken down by position and categorized into tiers with analysis on each player
Free agency officially kicks off at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday March 15th, while the legal tampering period begins the Monday before at 12 p.m. ET on March 13th, which is when information on deals will start leaking out. This is not a deep free agency class for the offensive line, but I still wanted to sort through the pool of players and provide a comprehensive ranking system that people can use as an index to track value for teams signing OL.
There are only a handful of viable, quality starters in the market, which likely means they will be receiving overvalued contracts given the rising salary cap and dramatic supply shortage at the position, particularly at tackle. The simple fact is that there are very few human beings with the necessary blend of size, athletic ability, play strength and an overall skill-set to play offensive line at the NFL level, so the ones that have experience doing it at even a mediocre level will be coveted, let alone the select few that hit the open market and are solid or above average. Even players that don’t have experience but have a couple of important traits to build off will have suitors. My goal is to provide a few lines on the top options in this year’s free agent class with some context on their backgrounds and what they offer teams.
You will also notice terminology like “Player X could be the third best starter on your unit,” or “If your OL unit is very good Player X could be your fifth best starter.” This is a framework to help conceptualize player value along the offensive line that I think adds clarity.
Ideally, ‘solid’ starters in free agency are signed to be the fourth best starters on an OL unit. If the unit is top-tier, they can be your fifth best starter (ex. Isaac Seumalo/Andrew Wylie in 2022 for the Eagles/Chiefs). If your unit is average or below average, they can be your third best starter. They will rank higher if your OL is marginal or poor. You can also have an entire starting five of solid starters, which would collectively result in an above average unit. This is a classic example of how a unit can be ‘greater than the sum of their parts.’ While this is an idealistic way to view team-building on the OL, it is very difficult to achieve.
Ultimately, teams should tailor their approach to their respective team, offense, coaching staff and individual players on the OL unit by adding the best possible fits. In this class, there is a relatively small group of solid, ‘fourth best’ starters that can become your third best starters on a middle of the pack unit or the fifth best starters on a very good or elite unit. The bulk of the class are adequate or below average starters that are best signed as a team’s ‘fifth best’ starter but we will inevitably see many of them thrust up the hierarchy out of necessity.
Some can also be signed to compete in camp with the aim of adding depth at a specific position that already has starters in place who are dealing with durability or longevity questions.
These rankings are based on my personal film study over the course of the player’s career with an emphasis on their most recent season.
Offensive tackle rankings
Name - Age Week 1 of the 2023 season
Tier 1 - Above average starter
Orlando Brown Jr. - 26
Brown is a good run-blocker and solid pass-protector with 75 career starts split between both tackle spots with two perennially well-run, successful organizations (Ravens/Chiefs). Teams will pay a premium for that at left tackle, even if Brown’s pass-protection skills received a boost by working with Andy Reid, Andy Heck and Patrick Mahomes. Brown is durable, young and knows how to play to his strengths. Expect him to receive the most lucrative deal among all OL in this year’s free agent class.
Tier 2 - Solid/average starter
Jawaan Taylor - 25
Taylor is coming off of the best year of his career in Jacksonville after a fresh start under line coach Phil Rauscher. Taylor has always been durable (66 career starters with zero missed games) but finally shored up some technique issues in pass-protection to put him firmly in the middle-of-the-pack range of starters at right tackle. At just 25-years old with ideal size (6’5” 315 lbs. with 35+ inch arms) and good play strength, there is a reasonable case to be made that his best football is still ahead of him.
Yosh Nijman - 27 (RFA)
Nijman is the lone restricted free agent on this list and would require an early round draft pick to acquire depending on how he is tendered by the Packers. Nijman is a former undrafted free agent entering his fifth season with 21 career starts split between left and right tackle. Nijman has ideal size, good length and impressive movement skills to reach his landmarks in pass-protection. His use of hands, patience and ability to stay square in his pass sets has gradually improved over time. Nijman is more comfortable as a left rather than right tackle, which is where he would be more effective. If he was able to stay on the left side without bouncing back and forth, there is a pathway for him to continue developing from a solid starter into a plus starter over time.
Tier 3 - Below average starter
Kaleb McGary - 28
McGary is a plus run-blocker with limited quickness and range in pass-protection. His production took a jump in 2022 playing in a scheme that ranked 31st in pass attempts and second in play-action percentage, meaning he was offered substantial help as a pass-protector. To avoid McGary taking a step back, his new team will likely need to run a similar style of offense. He has missed just four games over his first four seasons, which was the determining factor in having him atop this tier.
Mike McGlinchey - 28
McGlinchey is in a similar mold as McGary, except he has more of an injury history to sort through. He was a plus run-blocker over his first two seasons in 2018 and 2019 but has since taken a step back in his play strength and power, struggling to absorb and generate the same amount of force that he did early in his career. Part of this can be attributed to a quadriceps tear suffered in 2021 and also playing at a lighter weight over his last few seasons. McGlinchey also played in a very OL-friendly scheme with the 49ers, carrying the risk of seeing his play dip in a more pass-oriented system. McGlinchey still has stretches of being a solid starter and can get back in that tier if he reclaims more of the play strength and power that was on display earlier in his career. At 28-years old, that is still a possibility.
Donovan Smith - 30
Smith has only missed six games over his eight year career, bringing outstanding size and physicality to the position with flashes of equally impressive power in the run and pass game. The issue is that Smith’s consistency and technique on the field are streaky, resulting in some glaring, clean losses that can cripple an offense. He minimized those during the 2020 and 2021 seasons in Tampa Bay, but took a step back in 2022. At this point, Smith likely offers teams an adequate starter with a few highlight-reel blocks sprinkled in over the course of a season.
Isaiah Wynn - 27
Wynn has battled injuries over the course of his five year career, missing a combined 41 starts during that span. During his first couple of seasons, he was a solid starter after being virtually hand-picked and groomed by former legendary Patriots line coach Dante Scarnecchia, but Wynn has been on a gradual decline since Scarnecchia’s retirement in 2020. Wynn’s play cratered in 2022 after struggling with a move to right tackle for the first time in his career. He is in desperate need of a fresh start elsewhere. Moving forward, Wynn should be a left tackle only and in the right situation could regain his status as a solid starter.
Taylor Lewan - 32
Lewan missed 29 games due to injury over his last three seasons (including two ACL tears) and was more of an average to slightly above average starter before that. It is also unclear if he is interested in continuing his playing career after being cut by the Titans this past February. Until it is clear that Lewan is completely bought into the idea of playing again, it is difficult putting him much higher than this.
Andrew Wylie - 29
Wylie is in the good graces of a lot of analysts on social media for his admirable performance down the stretch during Kansas City’s Super Bowl winning season. He was even a player I mentioned as being underrated earlier this season. Despite the positive light he has been cast in as of late, it is important to remember how often he was helped in pass-protection inside Andy Reid’s scheme. If Wylie were to sign elsewhere, chances are his play would take a dip with it being uncertain how long it would take for him to adjust or if he could regain his 2022 level of play. That said, Wylie is an efficient, tough and smart player that gets the most out of his skill-set and could fill in as a functional starter for most offenses. He also brings inside-out versatility having spent his first few years in the league filling in at each guard spot.
Trey Pipkins - 26
Pipkins is coming off the best season of his career and first as a full-time starter. He showed much improved use of hands and footwork in pass-protection that allowed him to stay balanced and utilize his massive frame to his advantage more often. There is no real track record to base his projection on moving forward, but at just 26-years old coming off a solid season, the arrow is pointed up. There is a decent chance that Pipkins could sustain a career as a functional starter moving forward. For the right price, he would be a good option to bring in to compete with someone for a right tackle job in training camp.
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