B/R NFL 1000: Top 35 Right Tackles
Editor's note: This is the fourth 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.
Left tackles make all the money and get all the glamour, but right tackles in today’s NFL are just as important. So who are the best at powering the run and protecting the face of the quarterback? In this piece, we take a look at the top right tackles in the league—not based on their total career, but based on their performance in 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 1000 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 1000 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 me 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.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Players' heights, weights and seasons courtesy of NFL.com.
35. Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens
Michael Oher (6’4”, 315 lbs, five seasons) continues his free-fall since coming into the league as a first-round pick in 2009. Despite a good initial drop and a decent ability to slide, Oher will bend at the waist and reach when making initial contact with a pass-rusher. He can be beaten to the edge but provides a solid base for anyone trying to bull rush.
Oher often gets too high when engaging with defenders in the running game and easily loses leverage. He lets defenders underneath his pads and is able to be driven backward. He doesn’t move well when attempting to get to the second level and cannot be counted on to lead a runner down the field.
Oher often seems like a body just going through the motions in both pass protection and the running game. He possesses good athletic ability and displays enough size to win some one-on-ones. But from watching film, it always seems like he isn’t going all that hard. He’s often beaten by more physical players.
34. Austin Pasztor, Jacksonville Jaguars
Austin Pasztor (6’7”, 308 lbs, two seasons) moved into the right tackle spot for the Jaguars this season after playing briefly at left guard in 2012. He doesn’t drop well in pass protection and doesn’t seem to possess the quickest feet. This will often have him lunging out and bending at the waist to try and reach defenders on the edge.
Pasztor doesn’t offer much in way of the running game. He has trouble staying on his feet and staying balanced. He doesn’t seem to possess the core strength or athletic fluidity to create or maintain leverage while engaged with a defender. Without being functionally strong or fast, Pasztor is more of a liability than anything else. He will get beat across his face when trying to seal the backside lane, and he doesn’t anchor well enough to protect on the front side.
The Jaguars should try to find an upgrade for the right tackle spot heading into next season. It’s that, or hope for a lot of development from Pasztor this offseason. But it’s hard to believe his functional strength and leverage issues can be corrected at this point.
33. Don Barclay, Green Bay Packers
Don Barclay (6’4”, 305 lbs, two seasons) doesn’t possess the prototypical height you normally find for a tackle. Although he does a good job of setting his base in pass protection, which helps protect him from defenders with superior strength or ability, there’s not much from an athletic standpoint that Barclay provides. He doesn’t offer much in the way of a punch and doesn’t move well laterally.
Barclay is a willing blocker and fires quickly out of his stance. Although he’s often out of control and reckless, Barclay doesn’t shy away from attacking defenders. However, he’ll often just bounce off his blocks and allow defenders to make a play. He’s not someone who’s going to win a lot of one-on-ones, but it’s not from a lack of effort.
Barclay played out of necessity for the Packers this season and doesn’t provide enough upside that the team shouldn’t seriously look for an upgrade this offseason. Barclay provides good versatility for the Packers offense, but is better suited for a backup role.
32. Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
It’s safe to say Eric Fisher (6'8", 306 pounds, one season) didn’t have the kind of season the Kansas City Chiefs were hoping for after selecting him No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL draft. His pass protection problems were widely documented and stemmed from balance and recognition issues. Fisher possesses great athletic ability, but he struggled with anchoring versus sliding. He routinely bit to the outside and got caught leaning, which allowed defenders to easily counter back and get inside position.
Fisher displayed the athletic ability to get out and lead to the second level and beyond this season. He’s a raw player who showed that when he had his feet and balance issues correct on a certain play, he was dominant. He has good upper-body strength, but he still needs to develop the finer details of hand placement and leverage. It was enough for Fisher to be strong and athletic in college, but he’ll need to learn the finer details of balance and leverage to be the player the Chiefs believe he can ultimately become.
With starting left tackle Branden Albert most likely leaving the Chiefs via free agency after being franchised last season, the stage is set for Fisher to compete with Donald Stephenson for the Chiefs’ starting left tackle position in 2014. This will be a big offseason for Fisher, and we will see whether he can become more than just a raw player with great physical abilities.
31. Austin Howard, New York Jets
Austin Howard (6’7”, 333 lbs, four seasons) improved his pass-blocking this season. While he didn’t improve athletically, Howard did display a much better understanding of setting his base and putting his lower half in a more balanced position while also recognizing when to slide versus when to anchor. He possesses plenty of upper-body strength to overcome a lack of foot speed when facing rushers around the edge.
Howard is a mauler in the running game, but he struggles to get in position to make a block. He doesn’t possess the foot speed to allow his natural strength to win one-on-one battles because he’s constantly trying to get in the right position. He can push the angle when coming from the backside of the play. But when asked to move to make a block that isn’t simply pushing the pile, he’s not effective.
Howard is a slow-footed mauler in the running game who doesn’t possess the natural athletic ability to fit in most non-power-dominated offensive schemes. Howard improved his balance in pass protection this season, but he has a relatively low ceiling because of his lack of foot speed.
30. Tyson Clabo, Miami Dolphins
Tyson Clabo (6’6”, 315 lbs, nine seasons) was our No. 3-ranked right tackle in 2011, but then he fell to No. 8 in 2012. Now, he has dropped all the way to No. 30 in 2013. It’s obvious that it’s been more than just a bad couple of seasons for Clabo, as he continues to regress in his play. At this point in his career, Clabo needs help to his outside in order to contain speed rushers. He’s fine when players go inside, and he allows his strength and leverage to engage with pass-rushers. But he doesn’t have the foot speed in his slide to catch speed rushers coming up the field.
Clabo still displays a good understanding of leverage when setting up blocks in the running game, but he simply doesn’t possess the strength to consistently win battles once engaged with a defender. He’s often in the right spot but can’t force the issue. He doesn’t possess the athletic ability to simply be a “wall,” as you see with more finesse players who rely upon their athleticism to seal off lanes.
Clabo is clearly regressing and might not get the interest in free agency that his name would have garnered just a few years ago. He’ll find a spot with a team, but he'll most likely have to compete for a starting job or become a backup. There’s something to be said for being in the right spot at the right time, but his best days are clearly behind him.
29. Ryan Schraeder, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan Schraeder (6’7”, 307 lbs, one season) is a developmental player who was forced to step onto the field before he was ready. Schraeder obviously possesses the size and length needed to be an effective pass-blocker in the NFL, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before he can be viewed as a legitimate option to start for the Falcons next season.
Schraeder struggles to locate his target while on the move. He’s either uncomfortable out in space or doesn’t possess the athletic fluidity to set his body up to block a moving target. He won’t attack defenders in the running game, but rather he attempts to seal a running lane by positioning his body.
After coming into the league as an undrafted free agent before last season, Schraeder did an admirable job just to get on the field as a rookie. While it’s too early to give up on him if you’re the Falcons, the team should try to upgrade the position this offseason. Schraeder has all the physical tools to be successful, but he still has a lot to work on.
28. Byron Bell, Carolina Panthers
Byron Bell (6’5”, 340 lbs, three seasons) is a raw, road-grading developmental right tackle. Although he’s shown steady improvement over his first three seasons, his ceiling is relatively low. He doesn’t slide well enough to develop into an upper-echelon pass-protecting right tackle. He also doesn’t have the feet to do much more in pass protection, but he could do much better with his hands. He’ll often “catch” pass-rushers rather than initiate contact.
Bell is physical when engaged, but he is hindered by his lower half, which doesn’t get him in position often enough to use any leverage to drive his man out of the play. Once engaged and locked with a defender, there’s a good chance he’ll win that battle. He doesn’t have the quickness to be much of a factor down the field.
Bell would provide solid depth if he could play guard as well. He doesn’t have the athleticism to earn a roster spot as a swing tackle. Bell’s best bet to gain value would be to show that he can slide inside and use his shorter, thicker frame to carve out running lanes at right guard. He has promise at right tackle, but he has a relatively low ceiling.
27. Ryan Harris, Houston Texans
Ryan Harris (6’5”, 302 lbs, six seasons) was one of the hotter free-agent names just a few years ago, but a lack of fundamental strength has hurt Harris over the past few seasons. Harris spent a brief time at left tackle for the Texans last season before sliding back to the right side. Harris doesn’t possess the natural strength to disrupt the path of a pass-rusher.
Harris’ lean frame suits him well in the Texans’ zone-blocking offense, but he doesn’t move as well as a 302-pound right tackle should. He doesn’t get overly physical in the running game and would be content sealing a lane for a running back with proper body positioning rather than driving his man out of the play.
Harris provides depth along the offensive line and serves as an emergency swing tackle for a team that is not completely sold on its tackle situation. Harris played well enough last season to earn a spot in the league, but he hasn’t shown enough to feel comfortable about having a starting position.
26. Corey Hilliard, Detroit Lions
Corey Hilliard (6’6”, 300 lbs, seven seasons) saw the most action of his career in 2013. In the six games Hilliard played in which he saw at least 50 percent of the snaps, he didn’t give up a single sack. He surrendered only one sack all season, and that was in Week 17 against the Vikings. Hilliard displays above-average foot speed when dropping into pass protection, but he doesn’t move fluidly and struggles to stay balanced when redirecting.
Hilliard is a willing blocker who doesn’t shy away from contact when out leading in the running game. He doesn’t display a great ability to set up and sustain blocks when out in space. He’ll lunge into defenders instead of breaking down and setting his lower half in order to gain leverage once engaged with a defender.
Hilliard is borderline starting material, and the Lions could easily make an upgrade at the position this offseason. He needs to work on his fluidity during his drops in pass protection, and he needs to not stop his feet when blocking down the field in the running game. He looks to have the core strength to win one-on-one battles, but he doesn’t put himself in position to win those battles often enough.
25. Jeremy Trueblood, Atlanta Falcons
Jeremy Trueblood (6’8”, 320 lbs, eight seasons) uses his long frame well when setting in pass protection. He’ll look to initiate contact with defenders but doesn’t possess the strongest punch when engaging with them. He’ll also overextend when looking to create contact, and pass-rushers will easily counter and blow right past him. He doesn’t have the core strength to stonewall rushers once anchored.
Trueblood fires off the ball quickly and is aggressive in the running game. He’ll drive through blocks and doesn’t seem content just walling off a lane; rather, he takes his guy completely out of the play. He’s an above-average athlete who displays a good understanding of leverage when approaching defenders in space.
Trueblood has a lot of the attributes of a quality right tackle. With improved development regarding when and how to use his hands when engaging with defenders in pass protection, Trueblood could see his chances at holding down a starting position increase.
24. Tony Pashos, Oakland Raiders
Tony Pashos (6’6”, 325 lbs, 10 seasons) might be nearing the end of his career, but he had a solid season for the Raiders in 2013. Pashos surrendered just 19 quarterback pressures in 12 games. Pashos doesn’t move like a natural athlete, but he seems to slide well enough to meet pass-rushers before they get to the edge. He displays a solid base and good punch with his hands to disrupt rushers trying to get up the field.
Pashos doesn’t move well in space and should be limited to a small, confined area if he’s to be a positive factor in the running game. He’s more of a mauler in terms of aggression, but he will often get too high off the snap and immediately lose leverage.
Pashos is a solid pass-blocking right tackle who won’t develop anymore at this point of his career. He doesn’t offer much in the running game if you’re looking outside a confined space near the line of scrimmage. He is who he is, but there’s always a team that is willing to give a spot to someone who can simply protect the quarterback. Pashos can provide that service for at least one more year.
23. Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh Steelers
Marcus Gilbert (6’6”, 330 lbs, three seasons) is a physically gifted player who still hasn’t quite put it all together. He moves laterally as well as any right tackle in the NFL, but sometimes that can be a disadvantage. He’ll slide too quickly to the outside to meet a speed rusher, who will then counter back to the inside. Gilbert needs to trust his hands and feet in meeting speed rushers to the edge instead of trying to beat them to the spot.
Gilbert will overrun blocks out in space and struggle to find a consistent landing point when asked to meet defenders at the second level. He has the foot speed that allows him to break down before engaging with defenders, but he will too often overrun his assignment and be easily avoided or shed by the defender. He’s not overly physical when engaged, but he has the athleticism that should allow him to develop a better ability to seal lanes by getting his feet set in the right position.
Gilbert has the potential to skyrocket in these rankings next season. He doesn’t have to become a mauling right tackle; that’s just not how he’s built. He has exceptional athleticism and needs to find ways to display that. He can start by trusting his ability to push speed rushers up the field and not leave himself susceptible to the counter back to the inside. He also needs to improve his ability to break down before engaging out in space in the running game.
22. David Stewart, Tennessee Titans
David Stewart (6’7”, 313 lbs, nine seasons) has taken a free-fall in our rankings over the past three years. In 2011, Stewart ranked as our No. 4 right tackle. He then fell to No. 9 in 2012 and now sits all the way down at No. 22. Much of the fall has to do with his athleticism, as he doesn’t move well enough to catch speed rushers up the field and almost lumbers in his footwork. At this point, Stewart needs someone to help chip or slow down speed rushers off the edge.
Stewart is still a big body and presence in the running game. Although he doesn’t offer much in the way of one-on-one victories, he provides just enough functional strength to not be a complete liability. He doesn’t come off the ball that well, which allows defenders a chance to get underneath his long arms and take away his leverage.
Stewart’s long arms and steady base could keep him in a starting position in the NFL, although his best years are clearly behind him. He doesn’t have the foot speed to slide inside and needs help with speed rushers to the outside in obvious passing situations.
21. Jordan Mills, Chicago Bears
Jordan Mills (6’5”, 316 lbs, one season) was one of the surprise rookies to start at tackle this season in the NFL. From a pass-blocking standpoint, he has plenty of room for improvement. The basic physical abilities are all there to develop, but it’s going to take time. Mills struggled to recognize counter moves and was often out of position, as he would simply reach for the pass-rusher without using much leverage to disrupt his progress.
Mills is a better athlete than he consistently shows on tape. Whether it’s from thinking too much or from trying to handle the speed of the game, Mills will look hesitant at times when asked to get out and lead on a running play.
Mills gave up 62 quarterback pressures for the Bears last season, including two games—both against division opponents in Detroit and Green Bay—in which he gave up nine pressures. He’s actually pretty good once he’s locked and engaged with pass-rushers, but too often his lower half will fail him in getting to a competitive spot to protect.
20. Breno Giacomini, Seattle Seahawks
Breno Giacomini (6’7”, 318 lbs, six seasons) is a long-armed wall at right tackle for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Giacomini displays average athleticism when dropping and mirroring in pass protection. He doesn’t have a lot of false steps, and although he’s lacking in lateral agility, he is balanced and always seems under control when setting to engage.
Giacomini doesn’t have the athleticism to be a huge factor at the second level or in space in the running game, but he understands leverage and does a good job off the snap of driving guys who are lined up directly on him. He will win one-on-one battles as long as he’s not having to move a long way to reach his block.
There aren’t many right tackles who could be described as more “average” than Giacomini. There aren’t a lot of physical attributes that separate him from other guys, and he doesn’t have exceptional athleticism. He displays a good base in pass protection and can win in the running game when engaged with a defender. There’s a lot to be said for simply being "average."
19. Marcus Cannon, New England Patriots
Marcus Cannon (6’5”, 335 lbs, three seasons) saw the most extensive action of his career last season for the Patriots. A jack-of-all-trades, Cannon displayed plenty of value playing both tackle spots as well as right guard in 2013. Cannon drops and sits well in his base in pass protection. He displays good balance while mirroring pass-rushers, but he needs to do a better job of initiating contact. He’ll often “catch” rushers who are either coming right at him or coming through his inside shoulder. In either case, Cannon doesn’t offer much in the way of strength to stop them.
Cannon doesn’t have the athleticism to do much down the field in the running game. He does a good job of keeping his feet moving through contact, but he doesn’t seem to possess that “killer instinct” when engaged with defenders. He’s just physical enough to slightly disrupt a defender, but he can be beaten by more physical players.
Cannon provides plenty of versatility for the Patriots offensive line. They could probably find a better starting option at right tackle this offseason, but Cannon’s not a liability, and his capacity to play multiple positions along the offensive line will help him find a way to stay on the field, one way or the other.
18. Justin Pugh, New York Giants
Justin Pugh (6’5”, 301 lbs, one season) surprised some people when he was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft. He tends to drop his head when engaged with pass-rushers, which often leads to balance issues as he bends at the waist. He possesses all the necessary athletic traits to do well in pass protection, but he needs to recognize stunts better as well as when to anchor versus when to slide and mirror.
He’s quick and athletic and moves better than most typical NFL right tackles. He’s aggressive at the point of contact and will drive through his blocks until the play is finished. He will tend to overrun his blocks at the second level at times, but he sets himself up well in space, for the most part. He comes high off the snap when players are lined up directly on him and doesn’t possess the strength to regain leverage once he’s engaged.
Pugh surrendered just five sacks in more than 1,000 snaps last year for the Giants. His rookie season wasn’t without its lumps, but he showed enough from an athletic and physical standpoint in the running game that he projects well into next season. With a better understanding of how to recognize different pass-rushing moves, Pugh could find himself in the top 12 next season.
17. LaAdrian Waddle, Detroit Lions
LaAdrian Waddle (6’6”, 321 lbs, one season) is another rookie who played well in 2013, despite going undrafted. Waddle definitely has the size and reach to play tackle in the NFL, but he still needs to work on his drops and kick-slide. He looks stiff, and his motion looks forced when dropping in protection. He can be beaten to the edge but packs a pretty good punch upon initial contact with pass-rushers.
Despite his size, Waddle moves pretty well when asked to get out and run. The stiffness displayed in his drops and slides in pass protection is not a problem when he’s out leading the run. Waddle can get to the second level, set up blocks and seal lanes down the field for running backs. Nobody will confuse him for an NFL left tackle, but he moves well for a nice developmental right tackle.
Waddle has a lot of things you look for in a prototypical right tackle. He’s big and aggressive in the running game. He fires quickly off the ball and can still create leverage in one-on-ones at 6’6”. However, he tends to “catch” pass-rushers coming at him and will need to develop better use of his hands. But there are a lot of things to like about Waddle if you’re the Lions.
16. Michael Bowie, Seattle Seahawks
Michael Bowie (6’4”, 332 lbs, one season) was a surprise performer for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks last season. After being taken in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft, Bowie wasn’t guaranteed to make the team, much less contribute in 2013. Bowie isn’t built like your prototypical NFL tackle. At just 6’4”, Bowie has an uphill battle in pass protection because defenders can get into his body that much easier. Bowie doesn’t drop or slide well and can be beaten by speed rushers fairly easily.
Bowie is physical and aggressive in the running game. He fires out quickly off the ball and shows a good understanding of leverage when approaching blocks on the second level as well as when linemen are straight up on him. He finishes plays and isn’t content just sealing a lane for the running back.
Bowie is a throwback player who seems to pride himself on contact, engagement and aggressiveness. While he still leaves a lot to be desired in pass protection, Bowie excelled as a run-blocker, which was all the more impressive as a rookie seventh-round pick.
15. Tyler Polumbus, Washington Redskins
Tyler Polumbus (6’8”, 305 lbs, six seasons) had the best year of his career in 2013. He’s always had the size and length to develop into a top-tier pass protector, but he couldn’t consistently establish his balance point. While giving up just four sacks all season in 2013, Polumbus may have finally turned a corner in that regard. He doesn’t possess the quickest feet when mirroring pass-rushers, but he does have the length to reach guys trying to beat him up the field.
Polumbus doesn’t have the athleticism to get out and lead on the front side of a running play, but he does a good job of getting his long arms out on the defenders and making them fight through him. He struggles with leverage when defenders are head-up on him, strictly because of his size. He lets defenders underneath his pads and can get stood up by defensive linemen.
Polumbus showed that he could hold down the right side of the Redskins offensive line if they need him to. There’s nothing flashy about his abilities, but he offers enough in pass protection with his size and length that you could do much worse if you’re searching for a right tackle.
14. Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland Browns
Mitchell Schwartz (6’5”, 320 lbs, two seasons) overcame a disastrous start to his season. After surrendering seven sacks in his first four games, Schwartz allowed just four sacks in his final 12. As a former college left tackle, it’s easy to see his ability to slide in pass protection, although he’s not the most fluid player. He packs a good initial punch on defenders and has the strength to disrupt pass-rushers once engaged.
Schwartz displays power in the running game and will drive defenders out of the play. He doesn’t seem content with just being in the right position. He shows a quick first step and looked much better from a leverage standpoint this season in the running game. He can get a little too far out front with his weight when he’s on the move and setting up a block, though.
Schwartz is a solid right tackle who’s yet to get anywhere near his ceiling. He has the strength to win one-on-ones once engaged and the natural athletic ability and strength to both lead and seal in the running game.
13. Joe Barksdale, St. Louis Rams
Joe Barksdale (6’5”, 326 lbs, three seasons) surrendered just four sacks and 18 quarterback pressures in 838 snaps for the St. Louis Rams last season. Barksdale possesses the ability to anchor and attack when dropping in pass protection. He’s rarely caught not making initial contact with a pass-rusher and displays the strength to disrupt them on that punch. He doesn’t possess elite foot quickness, but he makes up for it with proper hand usage and a good punch.
Barksdale has the strength to push a pile when angling on zone runs. He doesn’t possess the quickest feet and doesn’t maneuver well through traffic when trying to get to the second level. If he doesn’t have a clear, direct path through the front seven of the defense, he’s not going to reach a linebacker.
Barksdale had the best year of his career for the Rams in 2013. He’s developed the ability to violently use his hands when first engaging with pass-rushers. He still needs to work in creating leverage in the running game, but Barksdale did enough that the Rams don’t have to scramble this offseason to find a replacement.
12. Gosder Cherilus, Indianapolis Colts
Gosder Cherilus (6’7”, 314 lbs, six seasons) may never fully justify the money that was given to him last offseason. But he is solid, and the absence of a liability is sometimes valuable enough to warrant the expense. He’s not overly athletic and doesn’t drop as naturally as some other tackles. But at his size, he still moves better than you’d expect. He’s strong with his hands and doesn’t give ground due to a solid initial punch. He can be beaten on counter moves once his weight and anchor have been established.
Cherilus excels when he’s anchoring in the running game. He possesses the strength to beat defenders once engaged and is solid in one-on-one situations. He’s much better when he’s not having to get in space to track his assignment. Cherilus can be too upright, and despite excellent upper-body strength, there are times when his balance point doesn’t help him keep any leverage. He’ll be top-heavy and bend, which will allow defenders to shed and make a play.
Cherilus is a solid right tackle who won’t cause the Colts any issues until 2016. That’s when his cap hit jumps to $9.9 million. Until then, Cherilus will continue to be solid in both pass protection and in the running game. He’s the perfect player to plug and play and forget about until you have to revisit his alue when his contract expires.
11. Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles
Lane Johnson (6’6”, 310 lbs, one season) was the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense when the Eagles selected him with the No. 4 overall pick last April. Johnson displayed the athleticism and lateral agility to be the future anchor of Kelly’s uptempo offense. Johnson’s issues in pass protection last season should be a learning experience for him. He struggled with his balance, stemming from an inability to recognize when to slide versus when to anchor. He lacked a good punch on initial contact, which gave pass-rushers an upper hand from the start.
Whereas Johnson’s ability to recognize the finer details of pass protection are coming along slowly, there’s no doubt about his ability in the running game. Johnson doesn’t move like a right tackle when blocking out in space, or like an offensive lineman in general. He’s not the strongest blocker at the point of contact, but his lateral agility and the natural fluidity of his movements get him in the right position quickly to seal lanes for the Eagles running backs, namely LeSean McCoy.
Johnson should be moving over to the left side of the Eagles offensive line soon. Jason Peters isn’t getting any younger, and the development Johnson showed throughout this season should have Eagles fans optimistic about his future as a franchise left tackle. Despite giving up seven sacks through his first eight games, Johnson surrendered only four in his last nine games.
10. Eric Winston, Arizona Cardinals
A tale of two halves of the season, Eric Winston (6'7", 302 lbs, eight seasons) struggled as he went from a zone-blocking scheme in Kansas City to Bruce Arians’ power football in Arizona. The five- and seven-step drops were new to him, and it took Winston time to get comfortable. In the second half of the year, though, Winston played like a top-five right tackle. He’s powerful in his punch and has the strong, wide base to anchor against a bull rush. His lateral movement isn’t elite, but he’s quick enough and uses his length well to fan out wide rushers.
Still one of the best run-blockers in the game, Winston is able to get low and drive defenders off the ball. He has a big, solid frame as well as the lower body strength needed to get the initial push into a defender’s body. Reaching the second level isn’t as easy for him as it used to be, but his quickness is still there.
If graded purely on the second half of the season, Winston may have been place within the top five on this list. When taking the entire year into account, though, his early struggles keep his score down. A free agent in 2014, Winston should be a hot name on the open market.
9. D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers
D.J. Fluker (6’5”, 339 lbs, one season) is one of the most physically dominant blockers in the league. But that power didn’t help him handle outside pass-rushers early in his first season. Fluker can absorb power rushers, and if his punch lands on a speed move, the defender is done. But he has to increase his accuracy when asked to punch. That will come with experience and a better understanding of space and timing. The strength he showed when getting his hands on a pass-rusher was amazing.
Fluker has rare strength and is able to physically dominate defenders at the point of attack. He’s not always the quickest guy off the ball, but if he can get his hands on a defensive player, the game is over. He’s not consistent in controlling the second level, but his play as a rookie was eye-opening. Fluker’s power, mean streak and hand technique are ideal attributes.
The rookie from Alabama took little time to become acclimated to the NFL, but Fluker physically dominated from the first day on the job. He still needs to work on his technique, especially in the passing game, but he’ll be a fixture inside the top 10 on this list for years to come.
8. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings
A productive, consistent pass protector, Phil Loadholt (6’8”, 343 lbs, five seasons) retains his ranking inside the top 10. After giving up just four sacks all season while protecting some lesser-than-amazing quarterbacks, Loadholt’s grade improved four points over last season. He bettered his outside pass protection with quicker feet and a better timing on his punch. He’s also able to stun defenders initially and then slide to recover. If a defender beats him off the jump, though, chances are they will win the battle.
A surprising decrease in run production from Loadholt resulted in a drop in grade from 44 to 35. Loadholt struggled this year to keep blocks. His initial contact was solid, but maintaining that contact long enough to open an outside rush lane was the issue. When asked to simply down block or control a six-technique defensive end, he was able to deliver.
A huge man at right tackle, Loadholt put together a solid 2013 campaign. He’s learned to be patient and not overextend his mammoth frame, and that’s allowed for better production and impact on the right side.
7. Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Andre Smith (6’4”, 335 lbs, five seasons) can be dominant in the passing game. Smith has developed into a reliable, consistent force on the right side. In pass protection, he’s able to reach the edge with his feet on a smooth kick-slide. Smith has good balance and lateral agility for a big man, but he backs that up with a long reach and tough right-hand punch. And if you want a blocker with a mean streak, Smith has it.
An area of decline for Smith compared with last year’s grade of 46, the running game was a problem when he was asked to get outside the box and make plays. Smith is powerful and has great leverage, but his accuracy when asked to get to defenders away from his initial stance was poor this season compared to last.
Powerful and overwhelming for defenders, Smith has arrived as one of the best in the game. He followed up his No. 4 ranking last season with another rock-solid performance that led to a top-10 finish in a competitive group.
6. Anthony Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Anthony Davis (6’5”, 323 lbs, four seasons) has the ideal combination of power and athleticism to play right tackle. He’s quick out of his stance and has the length to initially get his hands on a pass-rusher. Inside moves will get him crossing his feet at times, but he’s generally balanced and poised when a defender gets inside his reach.
A fireball off the line of scrimmage, Davis does a great job making that first contact. He’s agile enough to reach the second level and will kick out or pull with ease. He took a step back finishing blocks in 2013, though, which is something he has to get back to doing if he wants to reclaim the No. 1 ranking.
An incredibly balanced right tackle, Davis excels at kicking out defenders to open running lanes and at holding the edge to allow Colin Kaepernick time to survey the field. While he did take a step back in 2013, Davis has the tools to be one of the best in the league at right tackle on an annual basis.
5. Orlando Franklin, Denver Broncos
One of the biggest tackles in the game, Orlando Franklin (6’7”, 320 lbs, three seasons) continues to be one of the best tackles in the league. For a big man, Franklin moves well, too. He’s capable of being quick out of his stance and driving to the corner to get speed rushers. That said, he’s at his best when asked to simply square-up and manhandle defenders with his power and reach. A wide-set defensive end with a shoulder dip can get him, but he’s largely consistent and reliable.
When asked to fire off and lock horns with a defensive end, Franklin gets the job done. Where he’ll struggle is if asked to reach an outside or inside linebacker at the second level. He does well when asked to chip or rub and then release, but a straight release upfield can hurt him. Strength is not an issue for Franklin when blocking in man situations.
Franklin was routinely abused in the Super Bowl, but take a look at his entire season, and you will see a top-tier right tackle. Is he helped by having Peyton Manning as his quarterback? Sure, but all offensive linemen are graded by their individual assignment, and Manning’s quick release doesn’t get all the credit.
4. Demar Dotson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Demar Dotson (6’9”, 315 lbs, five seasons) emerged in 2013 as a top-tier right tackle. The long arms on his frame allow him to reach defenders with ease, and he’s able to drop his weight to handle a power rush. Speed players can test Dotson, but he does show a nice punch and a good slide to recover when going to his right. His kick-slide is actually a slide, too, unlike many big players who try to jump out of their stance.
A solid player with power to come off the ball and stun defenders, Dotson has to learn to finish blocks better. He’ll make initial contact and then struggle to hang onto or handle defenders. He’s able to move well to get to outside linebackers or wide ends, but he could stand to be more consistent. Agility and bend aren’t a high-graded trait of his.
A nice surprise in an otherwise tough season for Tampa, Dotson emerged as a top right tackle this fall. His development over the offseason led to his moving from No. 14 overall last year into the top five this time around.
3. Doug Free, Dallas Cowboys
Doug Free (6’6”, 325 lbs, seven seasons) saw one of the biggest jumps in grade from 2012 to 2013. After receiving a 27 in pass protection last year, Free moves way up to 43. That improvement is the result of his increased patience and poise in the passing game. Free didn’t lunge, back-bend or throw his arms at defenders last season. Instead, he sat, waited and struck when the defender was within reach. The outside speed rush is still tough for him, but he showed much better footwork in sliding to his right to protect the edge.
Playing right tackle means being able to power the running game with a lot of one-on-one blocks. Free improved in this area considerably in 2013, showing much better consistency with his hands and with his finishing of a block. He has power, and his technique is good enough that he can get underneath a defender. But he showed considerable improvement in his ability to turn the shoulders of tacklers to open rushing lanes in 2013.
What a comeback for Doug Free in 2013. He was rated at No. 25 last season, but his second year at right tackle allowed him to get more comfortable and play up to the high levels we had come to expect from him in the past.
2. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
Sebastian Vollmer (6’8”, 320 lbs, five seasons) has the ideal body and build for a right tackle in today’s NFL. He is also one of the game’s best pass protectors. Vollmer’s long arms allow him to reach defenders who come wide off the edge and take a loop to the backfield. He moves with rare balance and leverage, and he is able to easily slide his feet to get underneath his arms. Vollmer is balanced and agile, which allows him to square-up defenders. The biggest area of improvement in his game will come once he’s consistent about bending at the knees and not lunging to reach linebackers and second-level defenders.
A solid run-blocker, Vollmer did see his score drop from 42 to 39 this season. The reason for that was a struggle to get his hands on defenders and finish blocks in the running game. He’s still proficient, and he can be powerful and dominant at the point of attack, but you’d like him to play meaner and use his power to push defenders more often.
A balanced blocker at right tackle, Vollmer continues to be one of the best in the game. He’s consistent, too, having come in ranked at No. 2 among right tackles for the past two years in a row.
1. Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints
Patience was something Zach Strief (6'7", 320 lbs) needed to develop heading into his eighth season, and he did. He no longer bent at the waist or lunged to reach outside rushers, instead allowing his long arms to do the work as he slid and mirrored rushers. Strief blossomed as a pass protector in 2013, keeping the face of his quarterback clean and showing the versatility to handle either power or speed off the right side.
A big man with the physical gifts to maul defenders, Strief too often plays high in the running game and will struggle to get the leverage needed to push the pile. When asked to reach an outside linebacker, he can be inconsistent. The best play for him is to simply lock onto head-up defensive ends and turn their shoulders to open an off-tackle rushing lane.
Ranked at No. 23 among all right tackles last year, Strief made huge strides in 2013. His balance, patience and instincts were all improved, and it showed, as he was asked to protect and provide passing lanes for Drew Brees. He allowed just three sacks in 647 pass-blocking snaps.