Here's one member of Evan Silva's top O-line for 2012. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
I think it's fair to say that we've been pretty optimistic about the Packers' offensive line this off-season. Jeff Saturday was signed to replace the departed Scott Wells, and Marshall Newhouse looks to improve on his 2011 season when he takes over for Chad Clifton at left tackle. However, I don't know that any of us feel that Green Bay will field the best offensive line in the NFL this season.
The columnist for Rotoworld (featured on NBC Sports) is projecting the Packers' line to be the best in football this season. He used a combination of subjective judgments from watching each team and player and more objective measures featured in Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus to project each team's line for the upcoming season. In doing so, he likes the Packers' talent, depth, and scheme better than those qualities in any other team.
Silva expects a big jump from Newhouse:
Newhouse made 13 starts last season, and natural improvement is expected from a second-year starter who's yet to turn 24. Lang has developed into a rock-solid left guard, while Sitton and Bulaga form an All Pro-caliber right side. Saturday is 37 now, but centers tend to age well and he has. He's also an ideal scheme fit for Green Bay's zone-blocking system.
The Packers don't lack depth, either. (Derek) Sherrod was a 2011 first-round pick. (Evan) Dietrich-Smith is versatile and benefited from three spot starts last season. (Chris) Campbell is an athletic swing man. Rookie (Andrew) Datko may have been a top-32 pick if not for injuries.
Another comment that jumps out at me is how highly he views the rookie Datko. I made a case for drafting him a few weeks ago, identifying his upper-body injuries as a reason he could fall to the late rounds. Silva's assessment of him as a first-round talent is very encouraging for the depth on the line if injuries should strike again. I think it is also fair to say that the signing of Saturday was a big factor in this ranking.
Rounding out Silva's top five lines are the Patriots, Bengals, Chiefs, and Panthers. Meanwhile, the Bears' line ranks 29th in his analysis, ahead of only the Cardinals, Colts, and Rams. The Detroit Lions came in 18th due to age and injury concerns, while the Minnesota Vikings ranked 23rd because of poor pass protection.