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Is Tyron Smith the Best Tackle in the NFL?

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 04:  Offensive tackle Tyron Smith #77 of the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 4, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals defeated the Cowboys 19-13 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

DeMarcus Ware is no longer biased.

Ware, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason before signing with the Broncos, has been going up against two-time All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady in practices with Denver. Clady is without a doubt one of the top tackles in the game—as are Jake Long, Branden Albert, Jason Peters and Trent Williams, all of whom Ware battled last season—but the Cowboys' all-time sack leader still believes that Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith is the best player in the game at that position. 

"I know when I was going against Tyron just what I was going against," Ware said this week as the Broncos get set to play the Cowboys in Thursday's preseason finale, according to Rowan Kavner at DallasCowboys.com. "Run blocking, pass blocking, I feel like the best tackle in the league. I knew if I could beat him, I could beat anybody else."

Kavner notes that, this year, "no Cowboys defender has been able to get by the left tackle," which helps to explain why the 'Boys jumped to lock the 23-year-old up long term with an epic 10-year, $109 million deal earlier this summer. 

"He’s out there mauling guys," added Ware. "I mean, just being a dominant guy out there on the corner, pass blocking and run blocking."

It's not easy to rank offensive linemen because evaluating players at that position has more to do with observation that statistics. A lot of these big left tackles maul dudes, but some are also more prone than others to lapses either in pass protection or as run-blockers. Penalties and sacks and pressures allowed have to be factored in along with less quantifiable moments like these: 

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We're fortunate nowadays to have advanced stats at our fingertips, and we'd be silly not to use them. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Smith was the only tackle in the game last year to surrender fewer than two sacks on over 1,000 total snaps. 

Fewest sacks allowed on min. 1,000 snaps (tackles), 2013
TackleSnapsSacks allowed
1. Tyron Smith10231
2. Michael Roos10882
2. Joe Thomas11492
2. Austin Howard10712
2. Cordy Glenn11812
Pro Football Focus

Considering that his primary job is to keep quarterback Tony Romo upright, that's an indication that he indeed may be the best. But as Ware notes, Smith is also solid in the running game. PFF graded him as the league's 11th-best run-blocker among tackles with at least 10 starts. 

He did take seven penalties last season, which isn't ideal and is a big reason why PFF ranked him below six other tackles overall. But ultimately, PFF ranked Smith second in pass-blocking efficiency among left tackles, behind only the 30-year-old Joe Staley, who gave up fewer hurries and took fewer penalties on basically the same number of snaps. 

Most efficient pass-blocking left tackles, 2013
Left tacklePBE
1. Joe Staley96.6
2. Tyron Smith96.3
3. Joe Thomas96.2
4. Cordy Glenn96.2
4. Branden Albert96.2
ro Football Focus (PBE: Pass-blocking efficiency rating)

Consider that Smith is still only 23 years old and should continue to get better, and Ware's assessment has a lot of credence. 

Here's how Smith shapes up compared to the competition at one of the most important positions in sports: 

Notable NFL left tackles, listed by age
TackleAgeYears in NFL2013 PFF grade2013 PBE
Tyron Smith23322.596.3
Cordy Glenn24219.696.2
Trent Williams26434.495.9
Ryan Clady27722.397.2
Duane Brown2969.895.7
Jake Long29622.594.6
Joe Thomas29728.596.2
Branden Albert2965.996.2
Joe Staley30724.496.6
Andrew Whitworth32817.895.7
Jason Peters321025.795.1
Pro Football Focus

Again, it's tough to reach definitive conclusions on these types of evaluations, but if Smith isn't the best tackle in the league right now, the trajectory indicates he likely will be very soon. 

 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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