Settling the Score: Dolphins vs. Bengals Offensive Lines

Roughly a month ago, the folks over at “Good Morning Football” put forward a relatively straightforward question: Would you rather have Joe Burrow and AJ Green or Tua Tagovailoa and Devante Parker on your team right now?

I considered taking a swing at the question and debating in favor of the Dolphins, but the more I looked into it the harder it was to convince myself that I’d really rather have Tua and Parker.

And believe me, I tried.

I’m excited to see what those two can do, but the right now part of the prompt made me lean towards Burrow and Green. The latter has a much more impressive body of work than Parker currently does, and Burrow is the unquestioned starter of the Bengals for week one. Tua doesn’t have that benefit with the Dolphins.

Now, if you asked me who I’d rather have to build around for the future, I’d take the Dolphins duo given Green’s age and Parker’s trajectory after his 1,202 yards, 9 touchdown campaign last season. I also have more faith in Tua’s college career, injuries aside, than I do Burrow’s 2019 season, impressive as it was.

GMFB’s debate aside, there’s a much more important question to ask surrounding these two franchises: Which offensive line group would you rather have to protect the presumed future of your franchise?

Which team stands a better chance of keeping their young signal-caller upright as he attempts to become the franchise quarterback that fans have been clamoring for?

The answer, in my educated opinion, at least, is the Dolphins (hint: I wouldn’t be writing an article about it if it wasn’t).

Miami doesn’t yet have anything close to a proven unit to spearhead the offensive effort in the trenches, but luckily for the sake of this debate, the Bengals aren’t any better off. Their bodies up front are mostly just that — bodies.

2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams will be returning from what was a lost rookie season thanks to a torn labrum during OTA’s. He obviously doesn’t have any film or stats to reflect his rookie year but coming out of Alabama, Williams was hailed as an extremely solid prospect and should be a building block at left tackle for the Bengals moving forward.

Beyond Jonah Williams is where the question marks for the Bengals begin.

Moving from left to right, their line most likely will consist of Williams, Michael Jordan (not the one you’re thinking of), Trey Hopkins, Xavier Su’a-Filo, and Bobby Hart.

Recognize any names? Until today I know I wouldn’t have.

PFF described the guard situation “as one of the worst situations in the league” back on July 6th between Billy Price, Jordan, and Su’a-Filo. The latter is coming off of a good season with the Cowboys as a backup left guard, but played only 307 snaps on the way to earning a 60.1 grade from PFF. That was his highest grade since 2016. Jordan and Price each came in with abysmal PFF grades in the 40’s last season, but one of the two will likely have to start this season and end up being a weak link along the line. This group — as with many of the Bengals O-line members — has enough athleticism and size to go around, but the production hasn’t shown up.

At center the Bengals aren’t in bad shape with Trey Hopkins fresh off of a contract extension from December during a season where he finished ranked 24th among all centers. While not a glowing assessment, Hopkins shouldn’t pull the unit down like at least one of the guard positions might. The question marks pick back up at right tackle, where Bobby Hart figures to be the week one starter. During the last two seasons, he’s ranked in the bottom ten as a run blocker and while his pass blocking improved last season, he’s still a below-average option in that regard as well after coming in 109th out of 151 players in pass sets. The Bengals have a few young options who have held their own in camp-like rookie Hakeem Adeniji and 23-year-old Fred Johnson, but the starting jobs aren’t theirs just yet.

Analytics and grades aside, the point is that Joe Burrow should learn to appreciate a clean pocket because they might be scarce this season.

As far as the Dolphins O-line goes, they’re a new group being thrown together with much to prove. The good news is that for the purposes of this space they just have to be better than the Bengals, which for my money is likely during this 2020 season.

The unit has seen some intrigue thus far in camp, with rookies making a positive splash and attempting to insert themselves into the starting lineup while some veterans (*cough cough Julien Davenport) have disappointed. Moving left to right, my best guess is that the week one starting offensive line will feature Austin Jackson, Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras, Solomon Kindley, and Jesse Davis (with Robert Hunt and Michael Deiter as the primary outside and inside backups, respectively). Compared to last season this unit has much more talent to go around — though not at the expense of youth, which is fantastic — and is absolutely massive overall, according to every reporter who’s had eyes on training camp practices.

Left tackle is the most uncertain spot for the Fins, as the primary competitors for the position are not proven NFL commodities. Julien Davenport struggled mightily — it was hard to watch at times — last season and Austin Jackson is an enticing physical prospect but is young even for a rookie and had an up-and-down final season at USC after selflessly donating bone marrow to his ailing sister before the season’s start. If the Dolphins are right about Jackson the same way they were right about Laremy Tunsil’s prospects as an NFL left tackle, he should be able to hold his own as the season wears on. If he can’t develop in time and the Dolphins have to roll with Davenport or someone else, the left tackle position could be troublesome.

The good news for the Dolphins is that the remaining four spots on the line, along with the interior especially, seem to be filled with capable players. Ereck Flowers may have been something of a bust for the Giants at the tackle position, but last season with the Redskins he was able to use his physical tools and excel as an offensive guard. A hulking presence on the inside, Flowers stands 6’6” and weighs 343 pounds. In 2019 he finished with a PFF grade of 64.1 and is long, strong, and difficult to move. At the center position Ted Karras — or “Steady Teddy,” as our very own Kevin Dern has referred to him — should be a stabilizing force in the middle, coming in with a 64.5 PFF grade last season. He moves surprisingly well and is also difficult to push off the ball.

Rookie Solomon Kindley from Georgia is making a surprise push for the left guard spot thanks to his efforts in camp so far. Knocked for his build coming out of college, Kindley has a keg-like figure that quite honestly helps him at times. He’s tough to push around, and while he may not be a prototypical athlete, he’s an absolute road-grader in the run game and showed up to camp with a surprisingly pro-ready game minus the lack of quickness.

For a much more sophisticated but equally encouraging look at those three along with the interior, take a look at Kevin’s article from a few days back.

Lastly, we’ve got the right tackle position. Here, the Dolphins have a good problem on their hands: Deciding to start either the seasoned vet in Jesse Davis or the promising, physically imposing rookie in Robert Hunt. Hunt has made strides during camp but has had to adjust more to the level of competition than a former SEC player like Kindley after coming from Louisiana-Lafayette. The tackle spot may end up being Hunt’s eventually, but my best guess is that Davis starts the season there and holds onto it until the rookie looks ready. Davis has been a steady performer for the Dolphins recently, a rare familiar face along the O-line, and is a perfectly capable option even as Tua’s blind-side blocker as soon as the rookie quarterback starts to see the field. He’s not flashy or especially athletic, but has great size like the rest of the unit and can also slide inside as an option at right guard should Robert Hunt claim the right tackle spot sooner than anticipated.

The concern for the Dolphins this season isn’t whether or not the individuals along the line are talented enough to protect the QB, it’s whether or not they can gel as a unit. Communication is key all along the offensive line, and should a group of five linemen come together as a cohesive unit, Tua and Fitzpatrick will rest easy at night.

At least, they’ll likely rest easier than Joe Burrow.