Evaluating offensive line needs for teams that use certain run schemes the most

By LOGAN KING

Sports Info Solutions (SIS) brings you the second annual edition of The SIS Football Rookie Handbook, with scouting reports and statistical breakdowns on over 280 college football players who are likely to be drafted or signed as rookie free agents in 2020 (a glossary for the below stats can be found here). New features for this year include unique and informative NFL team pages, research deep-dives by the SIS R&D team, and—for the first time ever—the NCAA version of their flagship football statistic, Total Points

With the 2020 NFL Draft right around the corner, this article focuses on potential draft targets for the 2019 league leaders in percentage of run plays from zone and man blocking schemes. 

Each team is examined in terms of its rushing scheme last season, projected rushing scheme for this season (based on coaching changes), and potential draft picks (based on scheme fit, roster needs, and draft position). More information on these prospects can be found in the SIS Football Rookie Handbook.

The table below displays the league leaders in percentage of run plays from both zone and gap schemes. 

2019 Rushing Scheme Leaderboards
Gap Run Zone Run
Rank Team Percent of Runs Rank Team Percent of Runs
1 Texans 62% 1 Bengals 76%
2 Dolphins 59% 2 Vikings 73%
3 Bills 57% 3 Titans 71%

Houston Texans

The Texans lead the league in percentage of gap scheme runs in 2019, finishing just inside the top half of the league in EPA per gap scheme run. The trade of DeAndre Hophins for David Johnson is indicative of Houston’s commitment to establishing the run game, moving forward. Though offensive play-calling responsibilities will be in OC Tim Kelly’s hands this upcoming season, the scheme isn’t expected to drastically change, as Kelly has worked with head coach Bill O’Brien since 2012 at Penn State. 

Given the return of each of the team’s offensive line starters from 2019, Houston is not hard-pressed to find an immediate starter on the offensive front in this year’s draft. Rather, the Texans can address their need at wide receiver in the early rounds. There are several prospects who project to fit into Houston’s gap blocking scheme which may be available in the later rounds:

  • Robert Hunt, Louisiana Lafayette; Projected Position: T
  • Kevin Dotson, Louisiana Lafayette; Projected Position: G
  • Logan Stenberg, Kentucky; Projected Position: G

Miami Dolphins

While the Dolphins called the second most run gap scheme run plays in 2019, next season will likely be a different story, as Chan Gailey is now the offensive coordinator. Gailey’s history with the New York Jets points to a zone running scheme, as his 2015 and 2016 Jets squads ranked 9th and 1st in percentage of zone run plays called. Though only one player in next season’s OL position group finished above 60th in total points per snap at their position in 2019 (Ereck Flowers, 7th), Miami has 12 picks in the 2020 Draft, meaning plenty of opportunities to improve along the line. 

With three picks in the first round and a total of six in top 70 picks, Miami has the ability to add several top talents to fit into Gailey’s zone scheme, such as the following:

  • Andrew Thomas, Georgia; Projected Position: T
  • Tristan Wirfs, Iowa; Projected Position: T
  • Netane Muti, Fresno State; Projected Position: G

Buffalo Bills

The Bills called the third highest percentage of runs from gap schemes in 2019. Buffalo retains their offensive play caller in Brian Daboll and also returns all five starting O-Linemen from last season. Only one of those starters finished outside of the top 26 in total points at their position (T-Cody Ford, 41st). With the ability to focus on other needs in the early rounds of the draft, potential options for Buffalo’s zone scheme include:

  • Robert Hunt, Louisiana Lafayette; Projected Position: T
  • Isaiah Wilson, Georgia; Projected Position: T
  • Tyre Phillips, Mississippi State; Projected Position: G

Cincinnati Bengals

In Zac Taylor’s first season leading the team, Cincinnati led the league in percentage of zone runs called. This offseason, the Bengals released guard, John Miller who was second on the team’s OL in terms of total points. Miller was replaced with Xavier Su’a-Filo who played only 307 offensive snaps for the Cowboys at guard, last season. The most dire need for this position group comes at left tackle, where snaps were split between John Jerry, Cordy Glenn, and Fred Johnson. 

With the first overall pick in hand, the Bengals hold immense leverage; potential options for their zone-heavy scheme include:

  • Andrew Thomas, Georgia; Projected Position: T
  • Jedrick Wills, Alabama; Projected Position: T
  • Matt Hennesy, Temple; Projected Position: C

Minnesota Vikings

Of the Viking’s run plays in 2019, 73% were zone scheme runs. Despite former OC Kevin Stefanski’s departure to Cleveland, the team should retain scheme consistency with Gary Kubiak taking the reins. Minnesota returns four starters from last season’s OL, after moving on from RG Josh Kline. 

After big losses to the defensive back and wide receiver position groups this offseason, the team will likely not address the offensive front early on in the draft. Potential options in for the Viking’s zone scheme include:

  • Netane Muti, Fresno State; Projected Position: G
  • Jonah Jackson, Ohio State; Projected Position: G
  • John Simpson, Clemson; Projected Position: G

Tennessee Titans

The Titans ranked third in percentage of zone scheme run plays and ranked 5th in EPA per play on those runs. Tennessee enters the 2020 season with the same offensive play caller and four (three of which finished in the top 14 at their position in total points in 2019) out of five primary starters on the OL from last year, losing Jack Conklin to Cleveland. Dennis Kelly, who earned 10 total points in limited snaps last season, is expected to fill in for Conklin. 

The Titans are limited to six picks in the draft, with their first one coming at number 29. With limited opportunities to add depth, some players which could fit into the Titans’ zone scheme include:

  • Josh Jones, Houston; Projected Position: T
  • Lucas Niang, TCU; Projected Position: T
  • Shane Lemieux, Oregon; Projected Position: G

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