B/R NFL 1000: Top 35 Left Tackles
Editor's note: This is the second installment in Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through April 24, with NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the NFL 1000 page for more rankings.
The NFL is a passing league these days, which means the quarterback must be protected. So who is the best at keeping him upright? We take a look at the top left tackles in the league, not based on their total career, but based on 2013.
Throw away the past, the potential and the future. Look at just this year. Who was the best? Who was the worst? That’s what the NFL 1,000 aims to identify. Throw out the narratives and the fantasy football stats and dig into the film. Then we’ll see who comes out on top.
The B/R 1,000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a possible best score of 100.
Potential is not taken into consideration. Nor are career accomplishments.
Offensive linemen are judged on pass blocking (50 points), run blocking (50) and all the technique, athletic ability and football intelligence needed to do both.
In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.
Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.
Each player was scouted by myself and a team of experienced evaluators with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.
35. Lamar Holmes, Atlanta Falcons
Despite his size, Lamar Holmes (6’6”, 333 lbs, two seasons) doesn’t possess the athleticism to keep up with NFL-caliber defensive linemen. He was often beaten and looked stiff in his movements. He would tend to “catch” defenders instead of punching them in pass protection, which led to balance issues.
Holmes struggled to stay on blocks in the run game. He doesn’t seem to possess the athleticism to consistently keep his body in the right position to maintain his blocks. Any size/strength advantage he has is quickly lost with poor footwork and balance.
Holmes gave up 10 sacks and 53 quarterback hurries last season. It was the first real action of his career, and it was obvious he was put into the fire too soon. The Falcons need to find a better option this offseason at left tackle if they’re serious about contending next season.
34. Charles Brown, New Orleans Saints
Charles Brown (6’5”, 297 lbs, four seasons) is on the lighter side of most NFL starting left tackles. Because of that relatively thin frame, he needed to display the kind of athleticism that would compensate for his lack of size in the run game. The problem is Brown didn’t show that last season. It’s obvious the switch to the left side was a struggle. He was inconsistent in his drops and often was beaten around the edge simply because of poor footwork.
Brown would lunge at players in the run game and lose his balance when making initial contact. He didn’t show the kind of athleticism you’d expect with his lighter weight, but he could do enough at times on the second level to impede defenders and seal off a lane.
After Brown saw just eight snaps at left tackle as a rookie in 2010, the New Orleans Saints thought he would be ready to step in and protect Drew Brees’ blind side this past season after Jermon Bushrod left for the Chicago Bears via free agency. They were wrong. Brown struggled, and it opened the door for rookie Terron Armstead to take the spot.
33. Paul McQuistan, Seattle Seahawks
Paul McQuistan (6’6”, 315 lbs, seven seasons) spent time at both guard and tackle for the Seattle Seahawks this season, and he seems to be much more suited for the inside. He doesn’t possess the lateral movement to consistently stay with pass-rushers on the outside, but his versatility has proven to be an asset for Seattle.
McQuistan does have a nasty streak in the run game. Once he’s engaged and has his hands on a defender, he’s usually going to win that battle because of his strength. He drives through blocks well. The only real hindrance to his run blocking seems to be from an athletic standpoint, which again shows he’s better suited at guard.
McQuistan doesn’t belong at tackle, but Seattle knows it can put him out there in a pinch. However, the Seahawks should find other options this offseason should they need someone to fill in for Russell Okung.
32. William Beatty, New York Giants
Will Beatty (6’6”, 319 lbs, five seasons) didn’t have the kind of season the New York Giants were hoping for after they signed him to a five-year extension after last season. He struggled to protect Eli Manning, consistently letting defenders get their hands on him. He was easily driven backward by the bull rush and needs to develop a better “punch” upon initial contact.
Beatty possesses good athleticism as a “leaner” left tackle in the league. He can get to the second level and wall off defenders simply by getting his body in the right position, as opposed to mauling guys out of the way. He’s more of a finesse player who can get taken by more aggressive, physical defenders.
Beatty is hoping to be ready for the start of the 2014 season after undergoing surgery on a fractured tibia. He has an uphill climb to justify the five-year contract the Giants handed him last season. After giving up just three sacks and 22 quarterback hurries in 2012, he allowed 13 sacks and 39 hurries in 2013.
31. Bryant McKinnie, Miami Dolphins
One thing Bryant McKinnie (6’8”, 352 lbs, 12 seasons) always has going for him is his size. He is an absolute monster along the offensive line. Despite getting older and losing much of his athleticism, McKinnie still uses his long arms to punch defenders and drive them up the field off the edge in pass protection.
All of McKinnie’s abilities in the run game stem from his size. He doesn’t move well laterally or within traffic anymore. But when you have the size and arm length he possesses, things can fall in your favor fairly easily. He uses his hands well at close range and will overpower a defender once he’s engaged and his lower half is established.
After being acquired by Miami in the middle of the season from Baltimore, the writing is on the wall that McKinnie’s days in the NFL are numbered. He has been a solid starting left tackle throughout the majority of his 12 years in the league, but those days have passed. Today, he’s nothing more than a stopgap for a team that’s low on options.
30. David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers
David Bakhtiari (6’4”, 300 lbs, one season) doesn’t possess the prototypical size of a left tackle. Despite being a bit on the smaller side, Bakhtiari is solid in pass protection. He’s a little stiff and rigid in his drops and slides but is light enough on his feet that he’s still effective. He can be beaten to the edge because of that stiffness, but he does enough with his hands to help mask some of his deficiencies athletically.
The stiffness and rigid movements Bakhtiari shows in his small, confined area in pass protection are much more noticeable in the run game. He shows a great understanding of leverage in getting underneath the pads of defenders, but he will look lost at times when trying to get to the second level or in space.
Bakhtiari’s rookie season has to have been a pleasant surprise for the Green Bay Packers, who took him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft and didn’t expect him to start right away. But a season-ending injury to Bryan Bulaga in the preseason thrust Bakhtiari into the spotlight. While he’s still a work in progress, the Packers have to feel good about what they saw from him this season.
29. Mike Adams, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Adams (6’7”, 323 lbs, two seasons) is more along the lines of your “lean” offensive tackle. But he doesn’t use his size well in pass protection. He bends too much at the waist and often gets off balance when engaging with pass-rushers. He lacks much of a punch upon initial contact and can easily be crossed over his face.
Adams carries his weight well when getting to the second level in the run game. He displays quick feet and an understanding of pad level. He’ll finish off plays and does a good job of driving through defenders once he’s locked on them.
Adams showed some versatility for offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the Pittsburgh Steelers offense last season. He played both tackle spots and lined up as an “eligible receiver” often when the Steelers wanted to go with heavy personnel. He has a lot of work to do in his pass-blocking technique, but there’s enough there athletically that he should continue to see the field in some capacity.
28. Jonathan Martin, Miami Dolphins
Jonathan Martin (6’5”, 312 lbs, two seasons) made plenty of headlines during the season, but much of it had nothing to do with football. The Stanford product struggled after being handed the left tackle position heading into the season. He displays decent footwork and an ability to slide well enough for the position, but he will let defenders initiate contact with him. He often lets pass-rushers get underneath his pads and knock him off balance without displaying much of a punch upon first contact.
Martin moves well for a tackle and is more of a finesse blocker than mauler. He relies on body positioning and footwork to help sustain his blocks rather than strength and drive to finish off defenders. He can easily be shedded by a defender if he’s not in perfect position with his lower half. He doesn’t possess the strength to make up for bad positioning or balance when engaged.
Martin has the tools to be a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. He’s played both tackle positions in Miami, and while he struggled on the left side, giving up six sacks in just six games, he doesn’t possess the physicality to anchor the right side of an offensive line in the run game. He’s best suited for the left side, but he will need a lot of work before he can be trusted with a starting position.
27. Chris Clark, Denver Broncos
Having to replace an injured Ryan Clady and protect Peyton Manning’s blind side wasn’t an easy task for Chris Clark (6’5”, 305 lbs, four seasons), although he played better than most would have expected under the circumstances. Clark is a lean tackle who thrives more on technique than physical ability. He lumbers a bit in his drops with “heavy feet,” but he shows a good understanding of hand placement when dealing with speed-rushers around the edge.
Clark is a liability in the run game. What he displays in pass protection in regards to balance and coordination is lost when he’s asked to attack defenders. He easily lets defenders get into his body and consistently loses one-on-one battles when engaged with them. He doesn’t display the kind of upper body strength needed to finish plays in the run game.
Clark played admirably considering the circumstances, but with a healthy Clady and Orlando Franklin available, he’s a swing tackle at best for the Denver Broncos. Clark was given our worst run-blocking grade among all left tackles.
26. Jermon Bushrod, Chicago Bears
When Jermon Bushrod (6’5”, 320 lbs, seven seasons) was signed to a five-year deal with the Chicago Bears last offseason, they were probably hoping for more than he showed in 2013. He struggled in pass protection for most of the season, yielding 42 quarterback hurries, which was the second most among left tackles in the NFL. He displays heavy feet and doesn’t slide particularly well, which leaves him susceptible to speed-rushers.
Bushrod has the size and strength needed to move piles in the run game. Once he’s locked up with a defender, he’s going to win that battle. But he does have issues finding his target in space or at the second level. He doesn’t display good balance when moving through traffic, but his size and strength often bail him out of bad technique.
Bushrod was overpaid by the Bears, and they probably knew that when they brought him over from the Saints. He’s more of a run-blocking left tackle, and the Bears paid a premium for a player who struggles in pass protection, which is essential duty for the blindside protector.
25. Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders
Jared Veldheer (6’8”, 321 lbs, four seasons) missed most of the season with a triceps injury and played in just five games at the end of the season. He found limited success in limited playing time, including a disastrous showing in Week 17 against the Broncos. He naturally slides well in pass protection and possesses plenty of upper body strength to win at the point of contact, but weight balance and recognition issues cause hesitancy and often put him in bad spots.
For all the natural athleticism Veldheer displays for a player his size in pass protection, there’s little to show for it in the run game. Often off balance and leaning forward, in part due to overaggressiveness, Veldheer is inconsistent when searching and targeting linebackers at the second level. He doesn’t display the functional athleticism to consistently make blocks anywhere but in-line in one-on-one battles with defensive linemen.
Veldheer is a mauler who’s much like a bull, always searching for the red cape. Once he’s engaged and his body is in the right position, he’s going to win that battle every time. But he doesn’t get to the point often enough.
24. Kelvin Beachum, Pittsburgh Steelers
Kelvin Beachum (6’3”, 303 lbs, two seasons) doesn’t fit the mold of the prototypical left tackle. His shorter arms make it difficult for him to sit and anchor versus bull-rushing pass-rushers without giving ground. It also makes it difficult for him to push speed-rushers up the field. He displays quick feet when he’s sliding in protection. And his issues seem to stem from how he balances from the waist. Beachum doesn’t provide much in the way of upper body strength, but he slides his feet well enough that he could develop nicely with more work on his core balance point.
Beachum needs work in establishing leverage in the running game. He’s often long-armed and standing tall once engaged with defenders, allowing them to move him out of the way with relative ease. He possesses light enough feet that he could develop much more in this part of his game. He’ll need to work on getting low off the snap and creating leverage before making initial contact. He doesn’t look interested in attacking defenders off the ball, rather just locking up and making sure he doesn’t miss his man.
The former seventh-round pick in 2012 might not be anything close to a finished product now, but after playing all five offensive line positions for the Steelers in 2013, Beachum provides them a wealth of versatility. We’ll soon see how the Steelers approach making upgrades to the offensive line this offseason, which will tell us how they feel about Beachum competing with Mike Adams for the left tackle spot next season.
23. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets
D’Brickashaw Ferguson (6’6”, 310 lbs, eight seasons) took a slide in our rankings after coming in at No. 14 last year. He has always relied on natural athletic ability to slide and mirror in pass protection. He’s never been known as a mauler who’s overly physical when engaged with defenders. Ferguson didn’t show that same athletic ability in 2013, giving up eight sacks and 31 hurries after yielding two and 19 in 2012, respectively.
Not displaying much strength at the point of attack, Ferguson routinely lost one-on-one battles with defenders who were more physical and had better leverage and strength. Often high off the snap when blocking downhill, he was more inclined to seal a lane because of body positioning due to proper footwork than forcing the issue with strength and leverage.
Ferguson will never be seen as anything more than a long-armed above-average pass-blocking left tackle. He uses his hands well in shoving defenders up the field and still possesses the natural ability to slide and mirror in pass protection. But if 2013 is any indication, Ferguson’s best years are behind him.
22. Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil (6’7”, 308 lbs, two seasons) took a drop in the rankings in 2013 after coming in at No. 12 last season. Kalil has the prototypical size and length for an NFL left tackle. His lean build and athleticism have been his defining traits through the first two years of his career. In 2013, defenders were able to overpower Kalil going right at him and getting underneath his pads.
Kalil doesn’t possess the natural strength to anchor in the run game, but his athleticism allows him to get out on the edge and lead on plays to the outside. He’ll lose one-on-one battles in the trenches because he doesn’t have the natural strength to drive defenders out of the hole. Rather, he relies on his positioning and proper leverage upon initial contact to seal lanes in the running game.
Kalil possesses everything you’re looking for from a franchise left tackle. He has exceptional athleticism and the ability to easily kick and slide in pass protection. He’ll never be confused for a mauler in the run game, but he’s paid to protect the quarterback, and his ceiling is unlimited in that regard.
21. Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Okung (6’5”, 310 lbs, four seasons) was injured for a good portion of the season, and even after coming back in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings, things weren’t good for him. Ranked as our No. 3 left tackle last season, Okung struggled to display the same athleticism we’ve come to expect from him. The toe injury was obviously a major factor, as he didn’t slide or drop nearly as fluidly as he’s shown in the past.
He’s still more of a finesse blocker than mauler in the run game. Okung relies on his athleticism to set up his blocks rather than strength once engaged with a defender. He displays the ability to get out and lead on runs to the outside, but he doesn’t possess the upper body strength to overcome poor positioning.
Okung is an elite left tackle who had a down year dealing with an injury that undoubtedly played a major role in his ability to perform as we’ve come to expect. As down of a year as it might have been for him, he was still the blindside protector of a Super Bowl championship team. He’ll have an offseason to recuperate and should make a major jump back up in next year’s rankings.
20. Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions
Riley Reiff (6’6”, 313 lbs, two seasons) gave up 34 quarterback hurries in 2013 and routinely displayed an inability to slide and shove speed-rushers up the field. His arm length, which was a point of contention for many for him coming out of Iowa, has proven to be an issue. Reiff often “caught” defenders coming right at him rather than punching and attacking.
An aggressive mauler in the run game, Reiff displays an ability to attack defenders that he doesn’t show in pass protection. He’s athletic enough and displays plenty of strength and agility by crossing the face of defenders when angling from the back side of outside zone runs. He will overrun plays at the second level and can bend a little too much at the waist, which causes some balance issues and allows defenders to disengage and make a play.
Reiff has a low ceiling at left tackle because of his physical limitations in pass protection. He will never be an elite pass-protecting tackle strictly because he doesn’t have the arm length to keep defenders from getting the edge on him consistently.
19. Donald Stephenson, Kansas City Chiefs
Donald Stephenson (6’6”, 312 lbs, two seasons) is one of the most improved tackles in the NFL. He really improved his balance and positioning in pass protection over the past year. He displayed more functional athleticism with his ability to slide and carry pass-rushers who were trying to beat him to the edge up the field. His punch could still use work, but Stephenson surrendered just one sack in 623 snaps in 2013.
Stephenson is more of a finesse blocker in the run game. He relies on his quickness to set up and wall off defenders rather than mauling them and physically taking them out of the play. He showed a good understanding of leverage, but he allowed defenders too far into his body at times, and he doesn’t possess the kind of strength to get out of a bad spot.
Stephenson will have a shot at the starting left tackle job next season for the Kansas City Chiefs. After Branden Albert played on the franchise tag in 2013, the emergence of Stephenson and the drafting of Eric Fisher No. 1 overall could lead to a larger role for Stephenson in the Chiefs offense in 2014. He possesses all the necessary athleticism and traits to be a solid left tackle in the NFL.
18. Donald Penn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Donald Penn (6’5”, 340 lbs, seven seasons) struggled in pass protection this season, giving up 11 sacks, which tied him for second-most in the NFL. Because of his size, he’s not the fleetest of foot already, but he has issues with balance and was susceptible to double moves when a defender got him leaning to the outside. He struggled with letting defenders initiate contact when he dropped in pass protection as well.
Penn possesses excellent upper body strength that’s on display once he’s engaged with defenders in the run game. He doesn’t move well laterally and struggles to get to the second level quick enough to seal lanes for backs breaking through the line of scrimmage. But once he’s locked up with a defender, it’s over.
Penn is another candidate who is best suited to play on the right side of the offensive line, where he’d face more strength-oriented pass-rushers and could use his physicality in the run game more often.
17. Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis Colts
Anthony Castonzo (6’7”, 307 lbs, three seasons) may have the prototypical size for a left tackle, but he isn’t the prototypical left tackle. He’s less finesse and protection and more mauler and physical. Castonzo doesn’t slide well or possess the athleticism to stay with speed-rushers to the outside in pass protection. He displays good hand usage when engaging with defenders, but the lack of lateral agility ultimately puts him in bad positions.
Castonzo is a physical downhill blocker in the run game. He displays a good understanding of leverage and sets up blocks well on the second level. For what he lacks in lateral agility in sliding in pass protection, he makes up for in downhill pursuit in sealing lanes for a running back. He finishes plays well. Once he’s engaged with a defender, it’s over.
Castonzo would seem to fit best at right tackle, as his strengths seems to be more in line with what you’d want on that side. He’s dominant in the run game, but unless he drastically improves his ability to kick and slide smoothly, he’s going to have a pretty low ceiling at left tackle.
16. Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals
Anthony Collins (6’5”, 315 lbs, six seasons) played 673 snaps in 2013 and didn’t surrender a single sack. He displays excellent upper body strength and does a great job of using his hands with pass-rushers. He’ll stonewall defenders with great leverage, and although he doesn’t possess the quickest feet, there’s enough fluidity in his drops that he gets his body in position to engage.
Collins uses his size well in the run game and displays excellent strength at the point of contact. He was often asked to simply open up and run pass-rushers up the field. But when asked to get out and lead on the edge, he showed the athletic ability to lead the way for the running back.
Collins is a solid left tackle who gives you exactly what you’re looking for from the position. He has the ideal size and has enough athletic ability that he won’t hinder your game plan if you want to get out on the edge and run. He should get a fair amount of interest on the free-agent market this offseason.
15. Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
Brandon Albert (6’5”, 316 lbs, six seasons) has always been a solid pass-protecting left tackle since coming into the league in 2008 as a guard out of Virginia. That didn’t change in 2013. Albert drops and slides well and possesses plenty of upper body strength to punch and push pass-rushers up the field.
Having Jamaal Charles at running back throughout his entire career has benefited Albert from a run-blocking perspective. Albert struggles at getting to linebackers and locking up on the second level. Charles needed just a split second of walling off a defender before he was into the secondary, and Albert provided that.
Albert is going to be one of the hotter names on the free-agent market this offseason. After playing on the franchise tag in 2013, Albert and the Chiefs saw Donald Stephenson emerge as a future starter at tackle, with Eric Fisher as a future bookend on one side as well. Albert has been solid but not spectacular throughout his career. But when talking left tackle, plenty of teams will pay a premium simply for solid.
14. Duane Brown, Houston Texans
Our top-rated tackle in 2012, Duane Brown (6’4”, 303 lbs, six seasons) struggled, along with the entire Houston Texans team, for most of the 2013 season. Brown has always been on the smaller side of offensive tackles. He displays excellent quickness in his drops and slides, and he is still an elite pass-protecting offensive tackle.
It was the run game where Brown scuffled this season compared to what we’ve seen from him in the past. He overran plays when blocking at the second level, and most of his issues when engaged had to do with balance and bending at the waist. He still has the quickness to cross the face of linebackers when angling from the backside. But when asked to block downhill, he’d struggle.
If this is what Brown’s worst season looks like, that’s still not a bad thing if you’re a Texans fan. He is still an elite pass protector and can still move well enough to fit a zone-blocking system. Brown is right in the middle of his prime and will look to have a bounce-back season in 2014.
13. Michael Roos, Tennessee Titans
For the last nine years, Michael Roos (6’7”, 313 lbs, nine seasons) has been a solid left tackle for the Tennessee Titans. Roos has the ideal size and length for the position. He’s smooth in his drops and delivers a nice punch upon initial contact with pass-rushers. He has the strength to jolt them with that punch, and his lower half sets him up well to finish off the play.
Always known for his pass blocking, Roos had a great season in the run game in 2013. He displayed great strength when engaged with defenders and finished plays well. He looked comfortable getting to the second level and locking up with a defender. He also looked comfortable out in space finding and setting up his blocks.
Roos gave up just two sacks in 2013 after surrendering four in 2012. But the number of quarterback hurries he allowed more than doubled from 16 to 35. Still, he’s the prototypical left tackle who’s anchoring a talented but young offensive line in Tennessee. Roos has an opportunity to make a large leap in next year’s rankings with more consistent work in pass protection, which we’ve seen from him before.
12. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
Andrew Whitworth (6’7”, 335 lbs, eight seasons) displays excellent balance in pass protection. He’s rarely caught off guard with stunts and switches, and he always seems to be positioned correctly. Despite one poor game against the Baltimore Ravens, Whitworth had a solid year at tackle. He gave up just four sacks while protecting Andy Dalton’s blind side in 2013.
Whitworth has made a name for himself over the past few years as a superb pass-blocking left tackle, but in 2013, it was his run blocking that stood out. Although Whitworth didn’t get any more athletic in 2013, he did a much better job of being efficient with his footwork. He uses impressive strength at the point of contact to maul defenders once he’s engaged.
Whitworth displays the physical ability to give you everything you want in a solid left tackle. After Cincinnati Bengals left guard Clint Boling tore his ACL in Week 13, Whitworth slid inside to guard for the remainder of the season. At 32 years old, Whitworth may have a higher ceiling at guard strictly because of athletic limitations at this point, but he remains a versatile player who gives the Bengals options.
11. King Dunlap, San Diego Chargers
King Dunlap (6’9”, 330 lbs, five seasons) drops pretty well for a guy his size from an athletic standpoint. His weight-balance issues cause him to overextend at times and put himself in a bad position to redirect on a stunt or double move. He displays good strength to shove speed-rushers who try to beat him to the edge up the field. His struggles in pass protection have more to do with his hand placement than his lower half.
The quickness Dunlap displays by getting to the edge and to the second level has become the biggest area of improvement in his game. He displayed nimble feet to move within traffic and adjust to bodies on the ground around him. He showed great leverage in getting low enough to control his man at the point of contact, which is something he struggled with in the past.
Despite playing in just 11 games this season for the Chargers after coming over from the Philadelphia Eagles, Dunlap showed the kind of development Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco were looking for. He absolutely dominated in the run game in helping running back Ryan Mathews to a career year. Dunlap always had the size and quickness, and he put it together in the run game in 2013.
10. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills
In his second season, Cordy Glenn (6’5”, 345 lbs, two seasons) showed remarkable development as a pass protector. His quickness in coming off the ball improved to a level where he could meet speed-rushers off the edge. But perhaps most notably, his technique took off. Glenn’s awareness to know when to time his punches became his strength. He’s still a little heavy and a little heavy-footed for the ideal left tackle, but you can’t argue with his production and impact.
The athletic ability Glenn shows at 345 pounds is very impressive, especially in the run game. He’s able to get off the ball and track to the second level to reach a weak-side linebacker or knock a middle linebacker off his gap. Glenn is strong enough to get underneath his pads and push a five- or six-technique defensive end and open rushing lanes to his inside or outside shoulder. You’d like to see better balance, but he can pull or trap from his spot at tackle. His biggest flaw is inaccuracy when getting to his man. Glenn will lock on to a target and then struggle to make initial contact.
Glenn continued to improve as an all-around blocker in his second season. In fact, we moved him up 12 points as a pass protector and four as a run-blocker. His footwork took a huge step forward this season, and that allowed him to be in better position against speedy pass-rushers. It’s that type of development that will keep him among the 10 best tackles in the league.
9. Jake Long, St. Louis Rams
Injuries have taken their toll on Jake Long (6’7”, 322 lbs, six seasons) over the years, and that shows up most in his pass protection. He has the ideal length and athleticism needed to handle speed or power on the blind side, but in 2013, we saw him struggle to maintain contact against bull rushes. Ideally, a tackle will bend his back and sink his weight, but Long struggled to hold his ground. What you like is his length, timing and the impact of his punch against a rusher off his body. Long has that knockout blow to stun a defender and is rarely fooled with a combination move.
One of the best run-blocking tackles in the league, Long saw his production here improve as he regained some of the strength he lost in Miami. Once healthy, he was dominant. He does a great job locking onto defenders off the ball, using his long arms to reach them and then redirecting players with leverage and a smart hand use. He’s strong enough to win at the point of attack in a head-to-head battle.
Still regarded by many as an elite left tackle, Long struggled when the season began to find his rhythm in St. Louis. By midseason, he was back to his old form, showing the technique and strength needed to be a pillar on the left side before an ACL injury ended his year. Long has to find a balance between quickness and strength, though, as that continues to be an issue in pass protection.
8. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens stole Eugene Monroe (6’5”, 306 lbs, five seasons) from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth- and fifth-round-pick. The former first-round pick stepped right in as the team’s upgrade over Bryant McKinnie and the offense took off. In pass protection, Monroe’s athleticism showed up against speed-rushers. He has the kick-step to come off the ball with speed and balance, and that puts him in position to take away the corner. He matches that kick-step with a good slide to mirror defenders. Where you want him to get better is at taking away the corner with a punch that knocks defenders off the ball. There are still times when he can get off the ball late, more due to timing than athleticism, and that has to be cleaned up.
The first thing you notice when charting Monroe on run plays is his quickness and burst at the snap. He attacks the defense and uses leverage and a strong right hand to grab and pull defenders. He’ll get to the second level with good balance, but he can struggle to make contact there if he must track a player laterally. Monroe could be a dominant run-blocker, as he works well on combination blocks and pulls. He just has to improve his ability to make that initial contact.
The Ravens found a steal in Monroe when they traded with the Jaguars to acquire his services. Monroe didn’t miss a beat, stepping in and maintaining his status as a top-10 left tackle on our list. His balance as a blocker and experience instantly made him a must-sign player for the Ravens this offseason.
7. Nate Solder, New England Patriots
At times this season, no left tackle was better than Nate Solder (6'8", 320 lbs, three seasons). The task of protecting Tom Brady’s blind side is a big one, and he does an admirable job keeping “The Franchise’’ healthy. Solder wins with his length and athleticism. His movement in space is jaw-dropping for a big man, and he uses his incredible wingspan to reach defenders who try to take the long way around him. When countered to the inside or bull-rushed, Solder does a good job setting his feet and holding his ground. He will fall prey at times to a low-charging defender who wins the leverage game, but his feet generally allow him to slide out to the edge and take away the corner, and he’s strong enough to catch and grapple on the inside. Bending at the waist continues to be his biggest flaw, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Players as tall as Solder usually struggle to get the leverage needed to win in the run game, but he comes off the ball low and hot. His athleticism gives him an edge in getting the jump on defenders, but he also uses his long arms to make initial contact and then swing his feet and core to seal off defenders or push-and-pull them into position. Solder isn’t much of a puller from left tackle, but in man-blocking situations, he’s very good on the left side.
Easily one of the best young tackles in the league, Solder has the length and footwork to cut off most pass-rushers. He also showed better leverage and push in the run game this season, which is why he’s moving up from a ranking of No. 10 last season.
6. Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Tyron Smith’s (6'5", 318 lbs, three seasons) moved toward elite status in his second season at left tackle. With his rookie season spent on the right side, Smith was more comfortable protecting the blind side in 2013 than in 2012. He quickly adapted. Coming out of his stance, Smith is incredibly fluid, fast and athletic. Defenders aren’t able to beat him to the corner, as he’s too quick and uses his length too well to knock them off balance. You’d like to see better strength to handle a speed-to-power counter, but that will come with time and more experience. All the tools are in place for Smith to be great.
Being a great run-blocker requires a mix of athleticism and technique. Smith has both. He’ll still physically dominate a defender by simply mauling him off the line of scrimmage and then letting his mean streak take over. But in 2013, we saw him start to use his hands better and to churn his feet throughout the block. That’s the next-level technique that, when paired with his athleticism, will build greatness. He plays well in space too, showing the agility to reach outside linebackers and move them to the sidelines. Smith has to be more consistent with his hand placement to maintain blocks, but his stock is rising.
One of the best young tackles in the game, Smith could easily be atop this ranking next year. He shows the length, timing, spatial awareness and athleticism to dominate defenders in both the passing and run games. He’s one more great year away from top recognition.
5. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers
After receiving a grade of 32 in pass protection last year, Jordan Gross (6'4", 305 lbs, 11 seasons) made a massive improvement this season. What changed? Gross was more patient. The strength he’s always shown was still there, but he did a much better job setting himself up to best handle speed and power. His familiarity with Cam Newton helped, for sure, but Gross was much more composed and confident in 2013. That allowed him to stop lunging for defenders and sit back and wait to strike, which allows a left tackle to perfectly time his punch for maximum effect. Gross can still get beaten up with a hard rip move, but his technique working the body of defenders was near textbook.
When asked to take on a head-up defensive end, Gross is one of the best in the game. He has quick hands and is tough enough to fight through rips to get his placement and drive a defender. He’ll struggle to reach an outside linebacker or wide-set defensive end, but he's smart enough to position himself with leverage to win most battles there.
The Panthers' comeback in 2013 wasn’t all about Cam Newton. Gross had a huge hand in keeping the offense rolling and allowing the unit to be versatile and balanced in the way it attacked a defense. Even as a veteran player, Gross showed remarkable improvement in 2013.
4. Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
In his seventh season, Joe Staley (6'5", 315 lbs, seven seasons) improved as a pass protector. The speedy defensive ends that troubled him so much in 2012 weren’t as much of a factor, as he learned to get to the corner and balance himself quicker. Staley’s a smart blocker, and while he's not the biggest or most athletic, he’ll use every weapon at his disposal to secure the edge. He’s not the most patient blocker in space, and that can hurt him if he starts lunging for defenders. But in 19 starts, he allowed just four sacks. Even with a running quarterback, that’s incredible.
Among the league’s best run-blocking left tackles, Staley actually moved down this year after scoring a perfect 50 last season. The reason is a struggle to maintain blocks at the second level. He is able to reach any defender on the field, but he didn’t lock on and contain the defender as well this year. If you put a defensive end on his head pre-snap, he’s going to dominate. But when asked to get into space and lock on for a drive block, Staley wasn’t quite as impressive this year. But still, his combination of strength, meanness and hand placement make him a tough player to defeat in the run game.
Long known as just a great run-blocker, Staley's game became more balanced in 2013. He’s one of the quicker, more agile tackles in the game, and it easily shows up on film just how important he is to the 49ers offense.
3. Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
The 2013 season featured the return of Jason Peters (6’4”, 328 lbs, nine seasons)—and right in time for the introduction of Chip Kelly’s offense. Peters has the quickness you want in the position, and he slides off the line with excellent balance and speed. He’s into his pass pro set before most defensive ends are into their first step. He’ll use that advantage to get his feet set and prepare for a countermove. His strength can be iffy when a defender comes at him head-on, but he’ll usually get his hands under the defender's pads and arch his back to absorb the move.
The ideal left tackle for Kelly’s game plans, Peters is among the most athletic movers at the position in the league. He fires off the line with balance and burst and uses that to kick out defensive ends or reach a weak-side linebacker in the run game. Peters isn’t the strongest tackle in the league, and he will get tossed aside here and there. But by and large, he’s too quick for defenders to beat. Once he arrives at his target, he wins with that surprising speed and by getting underneath defenders and then driving his legs and turning their shoulders. If you want lateral quickness and finishing power in a run-blocking tackle, Peters is your guy.
Peters made a great return to the NFL after missing the 2012 season with an injury. His status as one of the most athletic tackles in the game is intact, as is his reputation as one of the more balanced, versatile linemen on the field.
2. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
The perfect technician when it comes to pass blocking, Joe Thomas (6’6”, 312 lbs, seven seasons) receives a perfect score here. The quickness with which he moves off the ball is impressive given his size, but he’s not just a finesse blocker. Thomas does a great job shuffling and sliding his feet to square his shoulders and brace for impact. He’s also rarely baited into mistakes. Where other pass protectors might fall for a false move, Thomas is rock-solid in his pass sets.
The entire Cleveland run game took a step back in 2013, but Thomas actually saw his score improve. The inability to seal off holes on the left side did show up on film, but you still see why he’s one of the best in the game with his quickness to get to the second level. Thomas has the power to be a mountain-mover, but he was inconsistent with his pad level and drive strength.
Thomas is still the model by which incoming draft picks are graded at left tackle. His size, strength, vision and quickness are all ideal. While he didn’t dominate as a run-blocker in 2013, he’s still the best pass protector in the NFL.
1. Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
A smooth, fluid athlete at left tackle, Trent Williams (6’5”, 325 lbs, four seasons) comes off the ball like a tight end. But make no mistake, he blocks like a left tackle. In pass protection, he slides his feet well to cut off outside rushers, but he has the presence of mind to keep his inside shoulder protected. Quick, strong hands allow him to punch and redirect pass-rushers and win by stunning them off the ball. He can get bent backward at times and isn’t exceptionally strong, but his quickness and agility are elite.
One of the best in the league at getting to the second level of the defense, Williams' best asset in the run game is his agility. He’s quick and balanced in space and doesn’t lunge or overextend when trying to get to outside linebackers. He shows good reach and has a light step and calm footwork when coming down the line of scrimmage.
One of the most athletic and patient left tackles in the NFL, Williams' play doesn’t receive the national attention it should. His balance as a pass-blocker and run defender made him the best and most valuable left tackle in the game in 2013.