There is a reason why as many as three guards might go in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. It is a position that lacks the talent that we have seen in the past.
In many ways, the erosion of the guard position can be summed up in the growing idea that the best and most talented players along this unit play on the outside.
With that said, we have seen a bunch of young players added to the pool of talent at guard, which means that it could be on the upswing right now. Teams are taking an added importance and investing a lot more in this position as the entire offensive dynamic in the NFL has changed over the last few seasons.
Guard is also an extremely difficult position to gauge. While we can take a look at sack percentage and quarterback pressures when it comes to tackle, the same is much more cloudy when talking about the interior of the line.
This article is going to rank the top 10 guards in the NFL. I will utilize advanced statistics when drawing a conclusion about which guards are the best.
Please don't look at name recognition alone when reading this article. Instead, read the slides and draw your own conclusion.
The Houston Texans gave up a tremendous amount of sacks when T.J. Yates was dropping back, a rate of over 10 percent. This had more to do with the inexperience of the rookie quarterback than the play of the offensive line.
After all, this number dropped in half when either Matt Schaub or Matt Leinart were in the game.
Mike Brisiel has to be one of the most underrated players in the entire NFL. While playing on an unheralded unit, he was still overshadowed by others along the Texans offensive line.
However, the former undrafted free agent played extremely well in 2011 after becoming their full-time starter. Houston averaged 4.6 yards rushing behind Brisiel and he gave up the least amount of sacks on the team.
Expect him to continue this progression in 2012.
A lot of people would question why I have Ben Grubbs so low on this list. In fact, he isn't even the highest-rated Baltimore Raven.
There are a few different reasons for this.
Grubbs missed six games in 2011, which caused him to drop on this list. You can expect him to be much higher if he is able to play an entire season like he did from 2008-2010.
The Ravens did average nearly five yards per rush behind Grubbs, once again proving that he is one of the better run-blocking guards in the NFL.
I almost didn't include Justin Blalock on this list because the statistics just aren't there to warrant him being rated among the best guards in the league. Then I realized that he was tasked to help out Sam Baker for six games out of the season, something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
In short, Baker is an atrocious tackle, which made Blalock's job a lot more difficult.
The Atlanta Falcons were able to average nearly four yards per rush between the hashes. While this isn't a great statistic by any standards, you have to take into account that help had to come to the left side a great deal of the time.
Despite all the factors working against Blalock, he did only give up a pressure rate of 1.4 percent, which was among the best in the league.
There is little doubt in my mind that Brian Waters is going to find himself in Canton one day. This is a guard that has excelled at a top level for the better part of the last decade, continuing to anchor some of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Last season was no different.
His quarterback pressure rate was an astonishing 0.62 percent in 2011, ranking among the best in the league. More than that, Waters was steady in run-blocking and proved to be a tremendous veteran presence along the interior of the Patriots offensive line.
Jahri Evans was a real disappointment for the New Orleans Saints last season. His pressure rate was over two percent, ranking him near the bottom of the league in that category.
With that said, he is the best run-blocking guard in the entire NFL and was one of the primary reasons the Saints were surprisingly good in that category.
They averaged over 5.5 yards per attempt behind Evans, which is an astonishing statistic by itself. More than that, the guard consistently got out in front of Darren Sproles on screens, which led to a lot of big plays.
I cannot have Evans rated any higher because of his struggles in pass protection.
Logan Mankins has been one of the best pass-protecting guards in the NFL over the course of his career. This is a player that has become dominant in the trenches and a go-to guy of sorts for the Patriots.
His adjusted sack percentage was under one in 2011, among the best in the entire league.
More than that, Mankins was rarely called for a penalty and did a decent job in run-blocking.
The Patriots averaged 4.5 yards last season when they ran behind the former first-round pick.
The former third-round pick out of Iowa owned a pressure rate of 0.56 percent and was one of the best run-blocking guards in the league.
The Ravens averaged well over five yards per rush behind Yanda, proving exactly who they relied on the most in the running game.
Prior to the start of the 2011 season I had indicated that Josh Sitton was a dark horse to be named to the Pro Bowl. While this didn't happen, he was extremely effective in nearly every aspect of the game.
Sitton was called for the least amount of penalties along the Packers offensive line, he allowed pressure on just 0.72 percent of his snaps and was one of the best run-blockers in the entire NFL.
The Packers averaged about 4.8 yards per attempt behind Sitton, compared to just 3.7 everywhere else on the field. This is a true testament to his importance to the team.
Simply put, Mike Iupati is one of the most underrated players in the entire NFL. A case could have been made that the first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft should have made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.
The San Francisco 49ers averaged 5.4 yards when they ran behind Iupati in 2010 and 4.8 yards last season.
He is extremely solid in pass protection, possesses dominating power between the hashes and has cut down in penalties a great deal recently.
Moving forward, there is no reason to believe that Iupati wont top this list in another year or two.
The New Orleans Saints averaged nearly five yards per rush between the hashes in 2011. The major reason for this was the play of their guards, although now one of them—Carl Nicks—has left the team as a free agent.
Drew Brees had an adjusted sack rate of just 3.8 percent in 2011, which is an amazing tribute to the protection that his offensive line offered.
Carl Nicks is among the best in pulling to either side in order to open up lanes for the running back. He also does a great job at the point of contact, which enabled the Saints' running backs to find holes between the hashes.
Nicks' move to Tampa Bay will have a dramatic impact on the Saints ability to run the ball.