Today's Best Tackles and Their Throwback Comparisons
It’s time to dig a little deeper.
A little deeper as in the trenches, where, as we know, games are really won and lost in the NFL.
In the first four parts of this 12-part throwback comparison series, we addressed offensive skill positions.
The next three installments will feature tackles, guards and centers. In terms of the offensive linemen, we’ll be looking at the 2013 Pro Bowlers (the players who were originally chosen in December and not the recent substitutes) and a few other standout players at the position.
In case you're wondering, these performers are in no particular order.
The criteria are multi-faceted and one legend doesn’t fit all. We are talking style as much as anything because after all, the eye test is still the best pop quiz ever. But other factors will be taken into account when making comparisons.
One reminder: This is not a ranking of the eight best tackles in the league. It’s some of the best players at their position and who they remind us of from the distant or not-too distant past.
Finally, our thanks to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for some of their statistical support.
Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
Similar To: Jim Parker
It was quite the bounce back season for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. And when it was all said and done, left tackle Branden Albert turned out to be an important part.
A subject of trade rumors during the offseason, the fact is that the former first-round pick turned in a solid year and helped his team get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Kansas City finished 11-5 following a 2-14 disaster in 2012, one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in NFL history.
Albert was part of a unit that led the way for teammate Jamaal Charles to finish third in the NFL in rushing, second in total yards from scrimmage and first in total touchdowns. However, the six-year veteran’s forte was pass-blocking, allowing just four sacks in the 12 games he played. The veteran blocker was named to his first Pro Bowl this season.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Parker was named to eight straight Pro Bowls with the Baltimore Colts from 1958-65 and was a star at both tackle and guard. Albert offers that kind of versatility should the need arise one day.
Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
Similar To: Art Shell
While this is a piece about throwback similarities, you could certainly make a case for Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jason Peters as a candidate for comeback honors.
This past season, the 6’4”, 328-pound blocker was named to his sixth Pro Bowl as teammate LeSean McCoy won the league's rushing championship—the Birds were the best in the league when it came to running the football.
In 2012, Peters missed the entire season with an Achilles injury. In 2013, he graded out as the NFL’s fourth-best offensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus.
The massive blocker brings back memories of Hall of Famer Art Shell, an eight-time Pro Bowler with the Oakland Raiders, who teamed with fellow legends such as guard Gene Upshaw and center Jim Otto to form one of the best offensive fronts in league annals.
Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowoys
Similar To: Willie Roaf
Dallas Cowboys tackle Tryon Smith is headed to the Pro Bowl for the first time this year.
As the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, it was just a matter of time before the standout blocker wound up as the team’s starter on the left side. As a rookie, he manned the right tackle spot before switching to left tackle in 2012.
In some ways, you almost feel like the Cowboys are wasting a good thing with Smith, especially since they apparently refuse to commit to a running game. A year after finishing next-to-last in the league in rushing, Dallas was 24th in the NFL in 2013 when it came to running the ball.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for Smith and his pass-blocking. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has allowed just four sacks over the last two seasons, including just one sack in 2013.
Smith has a long way to go match the accomplishments of Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf. But there are certainly some comparisons and it will be fun to see how the Cowboys’ tackle career unfolds.
Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Similar To: Forrest Gregg
San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley has been a mainstay on the offensive line—a position group that is perhaps the main reason this team is in the playoffs for the third straight season.
Named to the last three Pro Bowls, all while under current 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, Staley has started all 16 games in each of the last three seasons. Each of those years San Francisco finished in the top 10 in rushing, ranking eighth in 2011, fourth in 2012 and third this past season.
Two years ago, the Niners fell short at home in the NFC title game, losing to the New York Giants by three points. Last season, Harbaugh’s club fell 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. San Francisco was back in the NFC Championship Game for the third straight year.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg spent most of his career in professional football not only going to Pro Bowls, but playing for championships. His resume with the Green Bay Packers, along with one season with the Dallas Cowboys, is impressive to say the least.
Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Similar To: Jackie Slater
Reliability is quite the trait to have.
And if the Cleveland Browns had that same attribute when it came to head coaches as does left tackle Joe Thomas, there may be one less mistake by the lake.
Since returning to the National Football League in 1999, the Browns have gone through seven different head coaches. It’s resulted in one playoff appearance and two winning seasons over the last 15 years.
Meanwhile, Thomas was the third overall pick in the ‘07 draft and has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his seven seasons.
Despite his outstanding play on a weekly basis, the former University of Wisconsin standout has yet to play for a winning team with the Browns.
Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater played all 20 seasons in the NFL with the Rams, mostly in Los Angeles and one season (one game) in St. Louis. He was as reliable as they come and was named to seven Pro Bowls.
Hmmm. There’s that number again.
Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
Similar To: Roosevelt Brown
He graded out as the top offensive tackle in the NFL in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.
But there’s little doubt that Washington’s Trent Williams would trade in that No. 1 ranking for far more than three victories.
The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft was in and out of the starting lineup his first two seasons in the league. But in each of the last two years, Williams has been a 16-game starter and named to the Pro Bowl in both of those campaigns.
It’s worth noting that Williams graded out as the NFL’s second-best run-blocking and fourth-best pass-blocking tackle in the league this past season. Washington ranked fifth in the league in 2013 one year after leading the league in that category the previous year.
Nine-time Pro Bowler Roosevelt Brown was a fixture on the New York Giants offensive front for 13 seasons and nine of those he was voted to the Pro Bowl. Could Williams be a permanent part of the Redskins’ line for the next decade? We shall see.
Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos
Similar To: Ron Mix
First, here is a tip of the helmet to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Despite the fact that three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady went down in the second week of the season, no team in the NFL surrendered fewer sacks in 2013 (20) than John Fox’s club.
We have seen this before with Manning. While with Indianapolis, the Colts either tied or led the league in fewest sacks allowed seven times in 12 seasons from 1999-2010.
Still, Clady remains one of the best pass protectors in the business and here’s hoping we see him back in action in 2014.
Tackle Ron Mix was one of the great players in the history of the American Football League, anchoring those San Diego Chargers fronts that were the hallmark of their great offenses throughout the 1960s.
Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks
Similar To: Dan Dierdorf
When he’s on the field, Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung is as good as it gets.
The problem has been keeping him on the field.
A Pro Bowler in 2012, Okung played and started a career-high 15 games last season. However, we have yet to see the sixth overall pick in 2010 suit up for all 16 contests in any of his first four campaigns. This past season, he missed eight games and no one was sorrier (or sorer) than teammate and quarterback Russell Wilson.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf was a six-time Pro Bowl tackle while the Cardinals were still located in St. Louis. He was a big part of a team that won consecutive NFC East titles in 1974 and ’75, although his club came up short in the playoffs. He also helped pave the way for running backs such as Terry Metcalf and Jim Otis, the latter the NFC leader in rushing yards in 1975.
It goes without saying that a healthy Okung is nothing but a positive for the Seahawks, who are hoping to parlay the No. 1 seed in the NFC into winning a ring at MetLife Stadium in February.