The Syracuse Orange’s offensive line was battered going into 2017, with Aaron Roberts missing the entire season. Inexperience led the way and it showed early on for SU. However, they would improve as the season went on. It didn’t necessarily work out all the time, and it didn’t stop Eric Dungey from getting injured. But the run game did improve versus 2016. Now all of those players return, plus Roberts and Texas A&M transfer Koda Martin, making for Syracuse’s most experienced offensive line in about three decades. Now we wait to see if that translates to better results.
Along with our Syracuse position group previews each week, we’ll also take a look at the rest of the ACC’s respective situations. Which teams are in the best shape? And the worst? And how does Syracuse stack up comparatively? Today:
ACC Football 2018 Offensive Line Preview
Last year’s top performers
Clemson’s offensive line excelled in many ways, with three different players receiving first-team All-ACC honors last year (Tyrone Crowder, Mitch Hyatt and Justin Facinelli). Just the same, that group allowed 31 sacks, which was in the bottom third in the country. NC State, on the other hand, was one of the best teams in the country in terms of pass protection, allowing just 13 sacks — and Boston College allowed 15.
Individually, Pitt’s Brian O’Neill and Virginia Tech’s Wyatt Teller also had all-conference seasons and parlayed that info NFL Draft selections (by the Vikings and Bills, respectively). The strong team performances by NC State and BC were led by Tony Adams (Wolfpack) and Chris Lindstrom (Eagle). Wake Forest had several players get All-ACC mentions as well, led by Ryan Anderson.
Who will excel in 2018?
Coincidentally, a lot of those top players from last year do return. Hyatt and Facinelli both come back for Clemson, and Lindstrom leads a very strong and experienced line for Boston College, full of three seniors, one junior and a sophomore (center Ben Petrula, assuming senior Jon Baker doesn’t hop back into the starting role). The Demon Deacons also bring back all five starters, headlined by Anderson and fellow senior Phil Haynes.
Really, you’ll find most of the top lines and O-linemen in the Atlantic Division — which sounds like a bad omen for the Orange pass rush. NC State has a strong returning group, as does Louisville. The only team with an offensive line in the bottom half of the league (and even then, it’s bound to include a bunch of blue chip talent anyway). Georgia Tech’s a quality line, obviously, given the nature of that option-based system.
Top three units: 1. Boston College, 2. Clemson, 3. Wake Forest
We’ve mentioned BC quite a bit already, but they truly may have one of the best offensive lines in the country — hence why the run game is so good and why AJ Dillon was the preseason ACC offensive player of the year pick. Lindstrom grabs the headlines, but Aaron Monteiro is also solid.
For Clemson, Hyatt is the top offensive lineman in the league and among the best in the country. Even breaking in a couple new starters, having him anchor the left tackle position is enough to consider the Tigers a top group. Wake has four seniors and a junior on their line, and all have been starting for years — making them more experienced than any group in the ACC.
Bottom three units: 12. Duke, 13. Virginia, 14. North Carolina
Duke replaces three of five linemen from last year, which should pose challenging for a group that already gave up 29 sacks this past season. Zach Harmon at center helps, but losing both tackles seems like too difficult to overcome automatically.
At North Carolina, there’s minimal experience to go around and most of the previous starts belong to tackle Charlie Heck. After allowing 30 sacks last year as part of a 3-9 disaster, replacing some of those pieces could potentially help (or maybe not given the fact that two of them are sophomores). Virginia’s similarly inexperienced, but at least there are some more seniors there.
Top five offensive linemen:
- Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
- Parker Braun, Georgia Tech
- Chris Lindstrom, Boston College
- Justin Facinelli, Clemson
- Tyler Jones, NC State
Where does Syracuse rank?
About midway through the conference, though with some of its best and most capable depth as well (there are about seven players you’d be comfortable starting, which is saying a lot for the Orange in their time in the ACC). Cody Conway may be the lone all-conference caliber talent right now, but we also don’t know what we’ll get out of Roberts or Martin just yet. SU could finish higher than seventh or so. That starts with an improved run game.