Power Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Pass Protectors

Bob CunninghamSenior Analyst IAugust 7, 2012

Power Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Pass Protectors

0 of 10

    In case you haven't noticed, passing the ball is a fairly popular option among NFL offenses. In fact, it's more popular now than it's ever been.

    Therefore, wouldn't it stand to reason that pass-protectors are more of a necessity now than they've ever been?

    Stop thinking. The answer is "Yes!"

    Jeeze.

    Anyway, with guys who can keep the quarterback upright being needed by every team around the league, now is a perfect time to take a look at the guys who do it best.

    Now, a pass-protector can be anyone—offensive linemen, running backs, tight ends, etc.—but you're only going to see offensive linemen on this list.

    Why? Simply put, they're obviously going to be better pass-protectors than any skill players. The best blocking running back still doesn't hold a candle to one of the worst starting linemen in the league.

    If you disagree, let me know why in the comments below.

    Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

10. Brandon Moore, New York Jets

1 of 10

    We start the countdown with a name that many will look at sideways, but Brandon Moore has been incredibly consistent and downright dominating at times.

    According to Pro Football Focus and the pass-blocking-efficiency stat, which factors in the amount of pass-blocking attempts and the number of quarterback hurries, hits and sacks in those attempts, Moore has been the best guard in the league over the past three seasons.

    While that's impressive, Moore is not the last guard on this list. All of those advanced football stats must be taken with a grain of salt, as quantifying what offensive linemen do is no simple task and nearly impossible when you consider all the variables.

    However, it is a good starting point in making the case that Moore has flown under the radar for too long and deserves to be on a list like this.

9. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals

2 of 10

    Remember the sensational rookie season of Andy Dalton with the Cincinnati Bengals?

    Without Whitworth blocking his blindside, you probably wouldn't.

    Whitworth disappears from the conversation of the average fan because he plays with the Bengals, whose wins have been sparse over the past few years. But with Dalton under center, the Bengals could get back into the national conversation a lot more often.

    And once people really start to look hard at the combination of Dalton and another rookie sensation—A.J. Green—they're going to start looking into why those two are so successful.

    Their inevitable conclusion will lead them to Whitworth, and hopefully that will lead to the sort of accolades he deserves.

8. Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3 of 10

    Nicks is known more as a road grader, but he's also extremely light on his feet in the passing game. Without him, Drew Brees would not be able to do the things he's been able to do—like breaking passing records and winning a Super Bowl.

    If you're thinking, "but wait, you have Nicks listed as a Buccaneer," then you really need to catch up, and secondly, you're seeing where the New Orleans Saints could have a problem this year.

    The immense talent Brees benefited from will now help the progression of Josh Freeman, and hopefully, at least for Bucs fans, it will result in the same sort of success for Freeman.

7. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers

4 of 10

    It wasn't too long ago that the Carolina Panthers made Jordan Gross the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL.

    They did that for a reason. He's faded a little as of late, but part of that is the lack of talent around him. On his own, just looking at him individually, he's still one of the top-five tackles in the league.

    According to this list, he's fourth in the league to be exact.

    Foreshadowing alert.

    Gross will find himself back in the national conversation thanks to Cam Newton joining the team and giving people a reason to talk about the Panthers. For that reason, don't be surprised to find Gross back in the Pro Bowl and on a few All-Pro teams at the conclusion of the 2012 season.

6. Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers

5 of 10

    When you think of underrated, what's the first name that comes to mind?

    All right, well, forget that guy. If you thought of him, he's probably not underrated. Get what I mean?

    Josh Sitton, the Green Bay Packers right guard, is the definition of underrated. Sure, he's gotten some props from the media recently, but that's mainly because the Packers surprised everyone by extending him through 2016.

    But the reality is that Sitton allows Aaron Rodgers to do what he does best. The Packers pass the ball more than most teams around the league, but without a guy like Sitton in the interior of the line keeping those big defensive tackles off Rodgers, all that passing wouldn't be very effective.

    Hopefully he appears on a few more lists like this, and we can officially remove that "underrated" tag.

5. Jeff Saturday, Green Bay Packers

6 of 10

    When the Green Bay Packers let Scott Wells walk, Cheeseheads had to be concerned. Wells is an extremely effective center, and replacing him was going to be incredibly difficult.

    Well, not only did the Packers replace Wells, they upgraded by signing Jeff Saturday.

    Saturday has long gone underrated because Peyton Manning was behind him and was the guy running the offense in Indianapolis. And while Peyton deserves every ounce of praise anyone can give him (plus some), Saturday deserves a lot of credit for what he helped Peyton accomplish.

    In addition to all the cerebral things Saturday did and can do at the line, he was also great after the snap at keeping guys off Peyton so he could become the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.

    Now, he'll finish his career by helping Aaron Rodgers; with Sitton right along next to him, put his name up there by Peyton.

4. Nick Mangold, New York Jets

7 of 10

    To say this guy is the keystone of the New York Jets offensive line would be an understatement. Mangold has been an absolute star since the second he entered the league and has maintained his incredibly high play through all the changes around him.

    The Jets have focused on being a team that runs the ball effectively, and Mangold is a huge part of that, but he's overlooked as a pass-blocker because of the run-first mentality of the Jets.

    When the entire line has broken down around him, Mark Sanchez has always known he can count on having a clear path ahead of him as Mangold stonewalls anyone in front of him—which, in the AFC East, includes Kyle Williams and Vince Wilfork.

3. Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles

8 of 10

    There are no words to describe the freakish athleticism possessed by Jason Peters.

    Peters hovers around 350 pounds, but he moves with the grace of a 90-pound ballerina. His handwork is fantastic, and his footwork is some of the best I have ever seen.

    The problem with Peters in Buffalo was his work ethic and getting him to stay motivated. Andy Reid and company have kept him plenty motivated in Philadelphia, and he's become one of the top guys at his position.

    Were it not for a twice-ruptured Achilles' tendon, Peters could very well be tops on this list.

2. Jake Long, Miami Dolphins

9 of 10

    Long is one of those rare No. 1 overall picks that isn't a skill position, but he's been more important to the Miami Dolphins offense than any player who has touched the field for them since he was drafted in 2008.

    Without Long's pass-blocking ability, the Dolphins likely would not have even found their short-lived success a couple seasons ago. One guy on an offensive line can make the entire unit better, and Long does exactly that in Miami.

    A sub-par start to the 2011 season, along with finishing on injured reserve, cemented his spot as the No. 2 pass-protector in the league right behind...

    Drum roll...

1. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

10 of 10

    This guy.

    Even the best players can get lost in Cleveland, and that's what has happened with Joe Thomas.

    Since entering the league as the third-overall pick in 2007, Thomas has gone to the Pro Bowl every single season. And unlike a lot of guys voted to the Pro Bowl, he's not just doing it on name.

    Thomas, playing in the AFC North, is constantly tasked with blocking the likes of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Terrell Suggs. Even facing those guys twice a year, Thomas has maintained his reputations as the league's best pass-blocker and, according to some, the league's best overall tackle.

    That's a different argument for a different day, but what's clear is Thomas' status as the very best pass-protector in the entire league.