They are the heart and soul of the offense.
Their lower body strength, hand placement, flexibility and balance make them immovable objects. Every play develops through the offensive line first and they initiate the point of attack.
Anchoring the big boys up front requires keeping the quarterback upright and opening up holes for ball carriers to run through. False starts and holding penalties aren’t an option. The unit does all the blue collar work in the trenches and there’s nothing like mauling defenders.
These 20 steak and potatoes eating protectors showed their worth last season and will be looking to capitalize on the momentum they generated as spring ball kicks into full gear.
20. Steve Avila, Center, TCU: The Texas native is as versatile as they come. Avila has excelled at center, guard and tackle throughout his career with the Horned Frogs. He also has two years worth of starting experience during that span, including every game in 2021. Not to mention Avila earned second-team, All-Big 12 honors. The six-foot-four, 334-pounder helped pave the way for the Horned Frogs to finish third in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game. Avila will play and excel wherever new coach Sonny Dykes plugs him in at up front. With the addition of All-AAC performer Alan Ali to TCU’s offensive line, expect Avila’s leadership to take over and make a smooth transition for the unit.
19. Zak Zinter, Guard, Michigan: The former four-star prospect has been the Wolverines’ starter since 2020. Zinter plays with some physicality, and always provides a good push up front for the running backs. The Massachusetts native held down the interior, and helped Michigan’s offense finish No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing yards last season. The Wolverines also generated a jaw-dropping, 39 rushing scores and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Zinter and the rest of the crew did a fabulous job protecting Cade McNamara. Michigan ranked first in the conference and fifth in the FBS in sacks allowed. The six-foot-six, 320-pound Zinter capped off a successful year with second-team, All-Big Ten honors.
18. T.J. Bass, Guard, Oregon: The former Juco has started the last 20 games for the Ducks, and led them in offensive snaps this past season. In just two years Bass has solidified he’s one of the best offensive linemen in the conference. Bass is also very versatile for an individual who stands six-foot-five, and weighs 318 pounds. He made his presence felt in the interior and along the edge. Bass finished the year with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. Oregon’s offense averaged 202.4 rushing yards per game, to go along with 36 touchdowns on the ground. The Ducks mauled defenders in the trenches. Bass alongside All-Pac-12 center Alex Forsyth is poised to damage in the league again this fall.
17. Marcus Minor, Tackle, Pittsburgh: The former four-star prospect is the most experienced offensive lineman for the reigning ACC Champs. Minor played four years at Maryland before he transferred to Pittsburgh after the 2020 season. During that span, the six-foot-four, 325-pounder started 17 games, including 13 at tackle and four at guard for the Terrapins. Minor was an immediate splash to Panthers’ offensive line, and started the entire 2021 campaign. Not to mention the Maryland native finished the season with third-team, All-ACC honors. Minor is a leader up front and has a ton of production, which will be needed after Pittsburgh lost its’ Offensive Coordinator to Nebraska.
16. John Michael Schmitz, Center, Minnesota: The Golden Gophers had an injury-plagued season on offense in 2021, but still managed to put up impressive rushing numbers. That’s because of players up front like Schmitz. The Illinois native has 23 career starts at center, including all 13 games last season. He also finished the year with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. Despite all of the injuries, Minnesota’s offense was still No. 3 in the league in rushing yards per game and ranked fifth in sacks allowed. The rest of the unit feeds off of Schmitz’ energy and he always sets the tone up front. Look for P.J. Fleck to establish a physical ground game again in 2022 behind the veteran center.
15. Dawand Jones, Tackle, Ohio State: The Indianapolis native has freakish size, standing six-foot-eight, and weighing 360 pounds. Jones started 13 games for the Buckeyes last season, and earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors. Ohio State’s offense finished second in the Big Ten in sacks allowed, thanks to the protection C.J. Stroud received up front. Despite Jones’ success last year, Ohio State fans can’t forget the three false start penalties he caused in the loss at Michigan. Still, there’s no denying the former three-star prospect has a very high ceiling. Jones, along with the return of All-Big Ten performer Paris Johnson gives the Buckeyes a pair of punishers up front in 2022.
14. Grant Gibson, Center, NC State: The former four-star prospect was originally recruited as a defensive tackle. However, Gibson has blossomed into one of the best and most experienced offensive linemen in the ACC. The Charlotte native has started a jaw-dropping, 35-straight games and was a team captain for the past two seasons. Gibson also finished the year with third-team, All-ACC honors. Quarterback Devin Leary broke Phillip Rivers’ single-season, school record for passing touchdowns in 2021, but that wouldn’t have happened without the protection from Gibson. He means that much to the unit. The six-foot-one, 310-pounder will be a force to be reckoned with again this fall.
13. Ricky Stromberg, Center, Arkansas: The Oklahoma native is one of the most experienced offensive linemen in the SEC. Stromberg started 11 games in 2019, eight in 2020 and all 13 last season. The six-foot-four, 315-pounder is massive, and never lacking in the physicality department. Stromberg also earned second-team, AP All-SEC honors for his success on the gridiron. The Razorbacks finished first in the SEC and seventh in the FBS in rushing yards per game. The former three-star prospect helped open those holes for the ball carries to amass 26 touchdowns on the ground, and over five yards per carry. Stromberg will also be in charge of keeping star quarterback K.J. Jefferson upright.
12. Braeden Daniels, Tackle, Utah: He’s downright scrappy in the trenches and a natural at keeping blitzing defenders from penetrating the backfield. Daniels started all 14 games in 2019. He started every game last season for the Pac-12 Champs, including three at guard and 11 at tackle. The Texas native is a big brick wall in stature, standing six-foot-four and weighing 300 pounds, but he’s also flexible. Daniels’ versatility is what helped him earn second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. The Utes’ finished first in the league and fourth in the FBS in sacks allowed because of the elite protection from Daniels on the edge. Utah also led the conference in rushing and Daniels will anchor the unit again in 2022.
11. Chris Murray, Guard, Oklahoma: The former four-star prospect originally signed with UCLA, and played his first two seasons with the program. During that span, Murray started 24 games for the Bruins until he transferred to the Sooners in April of 2020. The California native made himself a household name in the Big 12 last season, and started all 13 games. Murray also finished with second-team, All-Big 12 honors. He’s a natural at opening up gaping holes for running backs to charge through. The Sooners were No. 4 in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game. Oklahoma also averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Murray is the unit’s most vital piece, and new Offensive Coordinator Jeff Lebby will rely on his talents.
10. Jaxson Kirkland, Tackle, Washington: The Oregon native has some pedigree in his family, considering he’s the son of a former Washington offensive guard. Kirkland is arguably one of the best offensive linemen in the Pac-12. He’s also one of the league’s most experienced players, with a jaw-dropping, 39 career starts. Not to mention Kirkland is a two-time, first-team, All-Pac-12 performer. The former three-star prospect was a team captain in 2020, and has played guard and tackle throughout his career. Kirkland is a load to deal with up front too, standing six-foot-seven and weighing 310 pounds. Washington’s new coaching staff will rely heavily on his experience, production and leadership this fall.
9. Cooper Beebe, Guard, Kansas State: The Kansas native has been a menace up front for the Wildcats’ offense the past two years. Beebe is very physical, with eight starts in 2020 and 13 last season. He also earned first-team, All-Big 12 honors for his efforts. The six-foot-four, 322-pounder opened up gaping holes for All-American Deuce Vaughn to run through. Not to mention Kansas State tied for second in the league with 29 rushing touchdowns. Beebe helped the unit provide solid protection up front, and the Wildcats ranked fifth in the Big 12 in sacks allowed. New Offensive Coordinator Collin Klein has implemented a scheme that’s going to give Beebe flexibility in the interior in 2022.
8. Jordan McFadden, Tackle, Clemson: The former three-star prospect is one of the ACC’s most experienced offensive linemen. McFadden started 12 games in 2020 and all 13 last season for the Tigers. Not to mention he has a jaw-dropping, 1,971 career snaps in 42 games. The South Carolina native also earned second-team, All-ACC honors last season. McFadden’s sole responsibility was keeping DJ Uiagalelei upright, and he delivered. Clemson finished second in the conference and 27th in the FBS in sacks allowed. The six-foot-two, 310-pounder takes pride in establishing the line of scrimmage and opposing edge rushers usually have a hard time penetrating McFadden’s force field.
7. DJ Scaife, Guard, Miami: The hometown kid has played tackle and guard throughout his career with the Hurricanes, which dates back to the 2018 season. Scaife has started a jaw-dropping, 43 games, making him the dean of offensive linemen in the Power Five. Not to mention Scaife earned second-team, All-ACC honors in 2021. The six-foot-three, 306-pounder will anchor the big boys up front for a final year this fall and he’s a vital piece for new coach Mario Cristobal to build the unit around. Scaife’s experience, leadership and consistency will be heavily relied on as Miami’s offense gets adjusted to Josh Gattis’ scheme, which helped him win the Frank Broyles Award at Michigan last season.
6. Peter Skoronski, Tackle, Northwestern: He was the first former five-star prospect to sign with Northwestern back in 2020, and passed up on Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State in the process. Since then Skoronski has lived up to his billing and been a starter for the past two seasons. Skoronski’s grandfather is a Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame offensive lineman, and his dad played on the defensive line for Yale, so the physicality is in his genes. He’s also a two-time, All-Big Ten performer, including a first-team selection last season. The Illinois native is arguably one of the best players at his position in the FBS, and helped running back Evan Hull eclipse a 1,000 yards in 2021.
5. Olusegun Oluwatimi, Center, Michigan: The Wolverines landed one of the best players from the transfer portal last December. Oluwatimi was one of three finalists for the Rimington Trophy, and earned second-team, All-ACC honors at Virginia in 2021. The six-foot-three, 310-pounder started 32-straight games for the Cavaliers, which dates back to 2019. With his experience, leadership and production, Oluwatimi shouldn’t have no problems adjusting to the Big Ten’s physicality. The Maryland native brings instant credibility to Michigan’s offensive line, which was the Big Ten’s best unit last season. There’s nothing like having an immovable object initiate the point of attack, and Oluwatimi is the truth.
4. Emil Ekiyor Jr., Guard, Alabama: The Indianapolis native raised several eyebrows when he announced his return to the Crimson Tide for a fifth season. Ekiyor has also trimmed down his six-foot-three frame to 307 pounds heading into spring ball. The former four-star prospect has 29 career starts, making him one of the most experienced offensive linemen in the SEC. Not to mention Ekiyor is often times double-teamed. Alabama shockingly finished 75th in the FBS in rushing yards and 106th in sacks allowed last season. However, in order for the Crimson Tide to repeat as SEC champs this fall, and improve in those categories, they’ll have to revamp the offensive line around Ekiyor.
3. Connor Galvin, Tackle, Baylor: The former four-star prospect is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year, and rightfully so. Galvin has been one of the most productive offensive linemen in the league, with four seasons worth of starting experience. He’s also a smart student-athlete, who made the Honor Roll three times. Galvin’s play on the field has been just as impressive, and he earned first-team, All-Big 12 honors in 2021. The six-foot-seven, 310-pounder’s superior protection on the edge helped Baylor finish second in the conference, and 14th in the FBS in sacks allowed. Not to mention the Bears’ offense averaged 219.3 rushing yards per game, which ranked first in the Big 12.
2. Andrew Vorhees, Tackle, USC: He’s another offensive lineman who could’ve went the NFL route, but decided to return to school for a sixth season. There’s no denying Vorhees’ versatility, because he excels at guard and tackle. The six-foot-six, 320-pounder is the Trojans’ highest-rated, and most experienced offensive lineman. Not to mention he has a jaw-dropping, 37 career starts. Vorhees also earned third-team, AP All-America honors for his dominance on the gridiron. After all, Vorhees is a natural at protecting the quarterback’s blind side, and has great balance for an individual his size. Now the California native is under the direction of offensive guru Lincoln Riley, so expect Vorhees’ skills to amplify.
1. Caleb Chandler, Guard, Louisville: He turned down the NFL to the return to the Cardinals for a final season. Chandler will arguably be the best offensive lineman in the ACC this fall. The Georgia native has all of the experience and production a coach could ask for. Chandler allowed no sacks, and just three quarterback pressures over Louisville’s final eight games. The former three-star prospect finished the year with first-team, All-ACC honors. Chandler helped the Cardinals’ offense average 209.8 rushing yards per game. Not to mention Louisville scored 29 touchdowns on the ground, averaged 5.4 yards per rush and ranked first in the ACC in sacks allowed.
Paris Johnson, Tackle, Ohio State: He started every game at guard last season for the Buckeyes and finished his campaign with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. Johnson will likely move back to tackle this fall.
Alan Ali, Tackle, TCU: The former three-star prospect earned second-team, All-AAC honors at SMU last season. Ali brings instant credibility to the Horned Frogs and will be playing alongside All-Big 12 center Steve Avila this fall.
Patrick Paul, Tackle, Houston: The hometown kid is a walking mountain, standing six-foot-seven and weighing 315 pounds. Paul did a great job protecting Clayton Tune’s blind side, and Houston’s offense put up video game numbers.
Ryan Hayes, Tackle, Michigan: The Michigan native has 18 starts under his belt with the Wolverines. Hayes also earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors last season and helped Michigan’s offense finish first in the league in sacks allowed.
Jacob Gall, Center, Baylor: The Cincinnati native is a former two-star prospect, who originally signed with Buffalo out of high school. However, Gall transferred to Baylor last year and finished with second-team, All-Big 12 honors.
Bryce Foster, Guard, Texas A&M: The former five-star prospect made an immediate splash with the Aggies as a true freshman last season. Foster started all 12 games and was named to the All-SEC Freshman team for his efforts.
Alex Forsyth, Center, Oregon: Although he missed four games due to injury last season, he’s still a two-time, All-Pac-12 performer. Forsyth alongside T.J. Bass this fall will maul defenders across the field for the Ducks.
Gabe Houy, Guard, Pittsburgh: The hometown kid has three years worth of starting experience with the Panthers. Houy is very versatile and has played guard and tackle throughout his career. He also earned with third-team, All-ACC honors.