B/R NFL 1000: Top 70 Guards
Editor's note: This is the sixth 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.
Talented offensive guards are the forgotten men on the offensive line. But look at a great team and you’re destined to find them. They’re asked to power the run game and open up passing lanes on the inside for the quarterback. They’re asked to be bulldozers on one play and agile movers on the next.
The guard position asks a lot of a player. So who does it best? Not based on their total career, but based on 2013.
That’s what 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 on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance, on a 100-point scale.
Potential is not taken into consideration. Nor are career accomplishments.
Guards 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.
70. Oniel Cousins, Cleveland Browns
Oniel Cousins (6’4”, 315 lbs, six seasons) is a liability in pass protection who was quickly benched during the regular season because of his poor play. He struggles to locate defenders even in tighter areas and has poor hand placement. This prevents him from consistently engaging and containing defenders.
Cousins can be an effective run-blocker when he gets his technique right. He has some power and is quick enough to move from side to side or forward to the second level. Too often his technique was sloppy, though.
Cousins isn’t a starting-caliber offensive lineman. At 29 years old, that’s unlikely to change.
69. Hugh Thornton, Indianapolis Colts
Hugh Thornton (6’3”, 334 lbs, one season) needs to gain more depth at the snap and establish a base before initiating contact with defensive linemen. Too often he puts himself in a losing position from the beginning of the play and doesn’t have the athleticism to recover.
Thornton needs to become stronger and improve his footwork in the running game. He is too easily thrown aside when trying to sustain blocks and is unable to reset his feet quickly enough to stay square on defenders in space.
Thornton shouldn’t be a starter in the NFL.
68. Nate Chandler, Carolina Panthers
Nate Chandler (6’4”, 310 lbs, two seasons) played left tackle and right tackle before becoming a starter at right guard for the Panthers. His agility is easy to see in his dropback and how he sets and resets his feet. However, he needs to add more strength to his arms if he is to be successful in the NFL.
Chandler is a nimble athlete with the punch on initial contact to knock defenders backward. He can pull into space or work onto the second level. He locates defenders well in space, but he struggles to sustain blocks for prolonged periods.
Chandler is just 24. As a converted defensive tackle, it’s not a surprise that he is still developing his technique as a run-blocker and pass protector. Considering the circumstances, he did show off good technique and enough physical talent to suggest that he could develop into a valuable starter.
67. Shawn Lauvao, Cleveland Browns
Shawn Lauvao (6’3”, 315 lbs, four seasons) has a strong upper body with relatively quick feet for a guard. He can anchor well against bigger defensive tackles and has the quickness to stick with defenders who try to run past him. Lauvao’s technique needs to be more consistent from snap to snap.
Lauvao can make impact blocks, but too often he missed his assignment or took the wrong angle. He is too quick to commit to a big hit rather than engaging defenders with his hands. If he took a more controlled approach, he would be a much better player.
Lauvao has the talent to be a good starter, but he needs better consistency in his technique.
66. Dan Connolly, New England Patriots
Dan Connolly (6’4”, 305 lbs, seven seasons) doesn’t anchor defenders well. He is unable to absorb initial contact with his upper body or reset his feet to keep his stance. He needs to play with better hand positioning. His hands are too often up around the shoulder area rather than in the defender’s chest.
Connolly is able to wrestle defenders to the ground when he begins the play with favorable positioning. He can also seal off running lanes when he gets leverage on bigger defensive tackles. However, he doesn’t sustain one-on-one blocks and he isn’t effective in space.
Connolly has been a versatile player throughout his career. After he solidified himself as the Patriots’ starting right guard, his level of play may take that spot away from him again.
65. Jeromey Clary, San Diego Chargers
When Jeromey Clary (6’6”, 320 lbs, seven seasons) is disciplined with his hands, he is difficult to beat. He isn’t an exceptional athlete, but he is quick enough to succeed in one-on-one situations and has enough strength to withstand bigger defensive tackles. Consistency is the key for Clary. He has the talent to be an even better pass-blocker than he already is.
Clary is a reckless run-blocker who doesn’t bring much physicality to the point of contact. He can move in space, but he doesn’t have the body control to engage defenders and angle them away from running lanes. He looks very much like a tackle trying to adjust to playing guard.
Clary never really established himself as a right tackle earlier in his career. Now he is 30 years old, and while he’s not an exceptional player, he does carry more value for the Chargers at the guard position.
64. Johnnie Troutman, San Diego Chargers
Johnnie Troutman (6’4”, 330 lbs, one season) is a liability in pass protection. His feet are exceptionally heavy, and his lateral movement is almost nonexistent. Troutman attempts to engage defenders quickly and use his strength to keep them from escaping past him. Unfortunately, that leads to him falling forward too often.
Troutman is a big, powerful guard who engages defenders well with his hands before powering through contact with his feet. He doesn’t always sustain blocks and isn’t overly impressive in space.
Troutman has enough ability as a run-blocker to stick to a roster, but he needs to fix his footwork in pass protection if he is to be a viable long-term starter.
63. Ronald Leary, Dallas Cowboys
Ronald Leary (6’3”, 331 lbs, one season) needs to refine his technique. His hand usage is too inconsistent, and he plays too upright to withstand bull rushes from defensive tackles.
Leary isn’t exceptionally agile, but he is comfortable working in space. He can get to the second level and pull outside to some degree. He is better at sealing running lanes in tight, because he doesn’t have the consistent power to push defensive linemen off the ball.
Leary was an undrafted free agent in 2012. He is just 24 years old. He doesn’t have overwhelming physical talent, but he has enough to be a long-term starter if he continues to develop.
62. James Brewer, New York Giants
James Brewer (6’6”, 330 lbs, two seasons) isn’t an exceptionally strong or quick player. He is quick to initiate contact with his hands, but his hand usage isn’t overly impressive. Brewer has an all-around skill set that allows him to contain less talented defensive linemen, but he can be overwhelmed by more physically gifted rushers.
Brewer is an agile player who can easily get to the second level. He needs to improve with his location and ability to engage defenders with his hands. Brewer is aggressive, but he doesn’t have much power and doesn’t knock defenders backward on initial contact.
Brewer played three positions for the Giants, but he spent most of his time at left guard. He struggled there, but this was his first season with extended playing time. He is 26 years old, so he has time to add power to his game.
61. Jamon Meredith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jamon Meredith (6’5”, 312 lbs, six seasons) is a strong player who is effective in tight spaces. He needs to be more consistent with his hand usage, and he isn’t quick enough to be left alone in one-on-one situations.
Meredith’s strength works in his favor as a run-blocker. He isn’t exceptionally agile and needs to be more consistent with his technique. But there is potential there for him to be a valuable run-blocker.
At 27 years of age, Meredith has likely reached his ceiling.
60. Jeff Linkenbach, Indianapolis Colts
Jeff Linkenbach (6’6”, 325 lbs, four seasons) played guard and tackle for the Colts in 2013. As a guard, Linkenbach proved to be agile and aware with good hand usage. He isn’t exceptionally quick moving laterally, but his biggest concern was dealing with bull-rushers. Unless Linkenbach won the leverage battle early in the play, he wasn’t able to withstand the bull rush from a good defensive tackle.
Linkenbach was at his best when he could initially be part of a double-team before leaking onto the second level. Even then he wasn’t overly impressive. Linkenbach doesn’t have an effective initial punch and can’t sustain blocks at any area of the field. His agility is valuable, but it is diminished by his lack of overall strength.
Linkenbach is one of those players who is trapped between being "not good enough" at tackle and "not the right fit" at guard.
59. Zane Beadles, Denver Broncos
There are certain luxuries afforded to offensive linemen who play with Peyton Manning. The most notable one is the benefit Manning’s quick release provides in pass protection. Zane Beadles (6’4”, 305 lbs, four seasons) benefited as much as anyone from this. According to Pro Football Focus, Beadles only gave up one sack in 824 pass-block snaps. That number is impressive without context, but his tape showed him to be an average athlete with inconsistent technique who too often struggled with bigger defensive tackles.
Beadles has a good burst off the snap and is athletic enough to move in space. However, he doesn’t have the strength to sustain blocks, and his technique needs to be refined so he can adjust to the defender’s second movement.
Beadles should be thankful that he played with Peyton Manning in 2013. He will likely remain as a starter in 2014, but he’ll need to play better to keep his job for the long term.
58. Chris Chester, Washington
Chris Chester (6’3”, 309 lbs, eight seasons) uses his hands well in pass protection, but he doesn’t have the strength or lateral agility to be effective in space. He can be overwhelmed in different ways, so Washington needs to hide him in double-teams or with play action as much as possible.
Chester moves well as a run-blocker. He fits the scheme Washington ran last season, and he has the ability to escape onto the second level quickly. He understands angles, which allows him to seal off running lanes. However, he is unable to sustain blocks because of his lack of strength. He could also be better when initially engaging his assignments.
Chester fits the offense that Washington ran last season, but individually he is a limited player who won’t be irreplaceable even in the perfect spot.
57. Chris Scott, Carolina Panthers
Chris Scott (6’4”, 315 lbs, two seasons) is a former college left tackle who played right guard for the Panthers. He has relatively quick feet and extends his hands well to battle bigger defensive tackles. However, Scott struggles in space if he doesn’t get his hands on his assignment at the snap. He doesn’t have enough body control to contain better pass-rushers.
Scott looks much like an offensive tackle trying to play offensive guard when asked to run block. He plays too high, doesn’t engage defenders well and often fails to locate his assignment quickly. Physically, he isn’t strong enough to sustain blocks, and he doesn’t move quickly from Point A to Point B.
Scott is miscast as a guard, and he’s not physically talented enough to be a tackle. It’s unlikely that he will start anywhere in 2014.
56. A.Q. Shipley, Baltimore Ravens
A.Q. Shipley (6’1”, 309 lbs, two seasons) is a college center who understands the technical aspects of playing pass protection. However, he lacks the physical ability to be an effective player in the NFL. Shipley’s main issue is his short reach and poor strength.
Shipley fails to sustain blocks and isn’t athletic enough to be impactful in space. He can seal off running lanes when he begins the play in an advantageous position and locates defenders well in tight areas.
Shipley was a big reason for the Ravens’ struggles running the ball in 2013. Expect him to be replaced in Gary Kubiak’s offense for 2014.
55. Doug Legursky, Buffalo Bills
Doug Legursky (6’1”, 315 lbs, five seasons) is a former center who became the Bills’ starting left guard last season. Legursky is undersized and doesn’t have the reach to consistently contain NFL defensive linemen. He plays with good technique, but there are too many occasions when he allows his body weight to carry him forward.
Legursky doesn’t have the size to push defenders off the line of scrimmage and isn’t mobile enough to be effective in space. In an ideal world, Legursky would be heavily involved in traps and double-teams that allow him to escape to the second level late in the play.
Legursky is more effective as a center complementing two strong guards instead of as a guard between a strong left tackle and center.
54. Khalif Barnes, Oakland Raiders
Khalif Barnes (6’6”, 321 lbs, nine seasons) has heavy feet that were exposed when he played left tackle. However, when he dealt with defensive tackles as a guard, his feet were fast enough. Those fast-enough feet were paired with excellent hand usage to allow Barnes to be an impressive pass protector.
Barnes simply doesn’t have the strength to be an effective run-blocker at the guard position. Even when he had good positioning on defensive tackles, he was too easily forced backward or knocked out of the way.
Barnes played left tackle for the majority of the season, but he moved to left guard before the end of the regular season. He never fit as a run-blocker regardless of where he lined up, but he was an impressive pass protector on the inside.
53. Vladimir Ducasse, New York Jets
Vladimir Ducasse (6’5”, 325 lbs, four seasons) consistently fails to establish a base with his feet. As a pass protector, he is too quick to initiate contact and gives up good positioning too often. His technique needs a lot of work because he doesn’t have a good anchor and his footwork is slow.
Ducasse is big and strong. When he engages defensive linemen, he is able to seal off running lanes and sometimes push lesser defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. However, when asked to work in space, Ducasse is too aggressive trying to locate linebackers. He makes it easy for the defender to slide past him and make a tackle on the running back.
Ducasse started the first four games of the regular season, but he lost his spot for the rest of the season after terrible displays in Weeks 3 and 4. Ducasse’s pass protection needs to dramatically improve if he wants to return to a starting role.
52. James Carpenter, Seattle Seahawks
James Carpenter (6’5”, 321 lbs, three seasons) is a strong player, but that strength isn’t fully exhibited on the field. He plays too tall in pass protection, giving up leverage too often. Furthermore, his feet aren’t quick enough to handle one-on-one situations in space.
Carpenter struggles with pad level as a run-blocker. He loses the leverage battle too often and doesn’t use his hands well to engage defenders. Carpenter can’t sustain blocks, and his ability to work in space is ruined by poor body control.
Carpenter was a high draft pick for the Seahawks. He has endured several different injuries during his relatively short career, but his play on the field hasn’t justified his selection regardless.
51. Charlie Johnson, Minnesota Vikings
Charlie Johnson (6’4”, 305 lbs, eight seasons) is a former offensive tackle, but he’s not an exceptional athlete. He plays with heavy feet in pass protection and too often allows his upper body weight to drag him forward. This would be less of a problem if Johnson improved his hand placement.
Johnson struggles to locate defenders in space, he is too slow to get to the second level when coming off double-teams, and he doesn’t have the strength to sustain blocks. At times he can deliver a strong punch, but his play as a run-blocker in 2013 was uninspired.
Johnson has been moved around a bit in his career, and the next move may send him to the sideline.
50. Kevin Boothe, New York Giants
Kevin Boothe (6’5”, 320 lbs, eight seasons) is a mechanical football player. From a technical point of view, he does everything he should, but he does everything a step too slow. This allows him to be effective against average defenders, but he is badly exposed against more talented players.
Boothe is too timid to be an effective run-blocker. He is able to seal off running lanes at times, but he does not aggressively push defenders off the line or move well in space. Boothe’s limitations don’t appear to be fixable because he is not a spectacular athlete.
He started the season at center and moved to left guard before going back to center. Yet, no matter where Boothe lined up, he always looked like a player who was reacting to everything happening around him rather than asserting himself.
49. Rob Sims, Detroit Lions
Rob Sims (6’3”, 312 lbs, eight seasons) is an aware and technical pass protector. He has a good anchor and is quick in his backdrop at the snap. The most impressive aspect of Sim’s pass protection is how he always sets up in the right spot to counter the initial defender. His early work in plays allows him to be effective in one-on-one situations. Sims is agile enough, but he could do with more strength in his hands.
Sims notably worsened as a run-blocker in 2013. His pad level was too high, he failed to locate defenders in space, and he doesn’t have the requisite power to move defensive linemen off the line. There were also too many times when he was beaten to his spot at the snap.
Sims is still a good player. If he rebounds as a run-blocker and sustains his pass-blocking standard in 2014, he should be a strong asset for Jim Caldwell’s offense.
48. Chad Rinehart, San Diego Chargers
Chad Rinehart (6’5”, 321 lbs, five seasons) isn’t an exceptional athlete, but he does show off relatively quick feet. He gains depth quickly at the snap before establishing a strong base to battle defenders in one-on-one situations. His feet aren’t exceptionally quick when sliding laterally, but his awareness and hand usage allow him to be an effective pass protector.
Rinehart needs to improve his technique. He needs to develop better hand usage that will allow him to engage defenders and concentrate his power from his feet through his arms. That will prevent him from sliding off his assignments.
Rinehart is a versatile player who played both right and left guard for the Chargers in 2013. He may not be the best starter, but he is at worst a valuable backup.
47. Jeff Allen, Kansas City Chiefs
Jeff Allen’s (6’4”, 306 lbs, two seasons) biggest issue becomes clear quickly. He doesn’t align himself with his assignment well and fails to move his feet. Instead of squaring off against defensive tackles, he allows them to attack his inside shoulder. After that, he tries to wrestle them to the ground instead of resetting his feet to square himself between the defender and the quarterback. This allows defenders to consistently put him in disadvantageous positions.
Allen moves relatively well and shows off enough power to knock defensive linemen backward on occasion. However, he is too often overpowered by stronger defensive linemen. Because of that, he is unable to sustain blocks.
Allen would be a much better football player if he were stronger and learned better technique in pass protection.
46. Wade Smith, Houston Texans
Wade Smith (6’4”, 295 lbs, 10 seasons) doesn’t have the athleticism to be a high-quality pass protector. He is able to get the better of lesser defensive talent because of good technique, but more physically gifted players can expose him. His feet aren’t quick enough to adjust to quick-twitch athletes, and he is too easily knocked off balance when in his stance.
Smith can move well enough to get out in space and fit into the Texans’ zone-blocking scheme. However, his lack of body control moving to the second level is notable, and his lack of strength can be exposed when he is left in one-on-one situations.
Smith may be further exposed if the Texans move too far away from their 2013 scheme. He is technically good enough to get by in the NFL, but without the physical talent that technique is mostly wasted.
45. Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore Ravens
Kelechi Osemele (6’5”, 330 lbs, two seasons) played both guard and tackle as a rookie. He had success at tackle before excelling inside as a guard. Physically, he has the talent to be an excellent pass-blocking guard, but there is one notable problem. Osemele doesn’t gain enough depth at the snap. He consistently gives up position to the defender by being too far upfield and too quick to initiate contact.
Osemele has quick feet and can be good with his hands. However, he lacks the strength to sustain blocks against defensive tackles. He was too easily overpowered last season, but his quickness should make him a better fit in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s scheme.
Osemele’s future is uncertain. He could play guard or tackle for the Ravens. One thing is certain, though. He needs to play better than he did in 2013.
44. J.R. Sweezy, Seattle Seahawks
J.R. Sweezy (6’5”, 298 lbs, two seasons) is a good athlete who plays with excellent technique. He has enough strength to combat any defensive lineman when his hand usage is good, while his feet are quick enough to play in space. Sweezy understands how to play with leverage and shows off good awareness of his surroundings when engaging defenders.
Because he is not an exceptional athlete, Sweezy is an inconsistent blocker. He shows good technique and can move relatively well, but he doesn’t have the strength to dominate at this level.
The Seahawks need to find a new starting left guard, but replacing Sweezy as well at right guard may not be out of the question.
43. Todd Herremans, Philadelphia Eagles
With his quickness, Todd Herremans (6’6”, 321 lbs, nine seasons) should not need to drop his head and lose his balance in pass protection. He allows quicker and slower defensive linemen to slide underneath him because of his lack of body control. He is a strong player who doesn’t need to be so aggressive.
Herremans has strong arms and a good reach that he knows how to use. He can consistently move bigger defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage with his power, while also being able to open up running lanes by manipulating defenders with his hand usage. Herremans is a good athlete who can move well in space. He locates linebackers on the second level consistently.
Herremans is a valuable run-blocker for the Eagles, and the impact of his pass protection issues can be somewhat minimized in Chip Kelly’s offense.
42. Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington
Kory Lichtensteiger (6’2”, 284 lbs, five seasons) has quick feet and shows off good technique. He uses his hands to combat bigger defensive linemen, but he doesn’t have a huge amount of functional strength. He needs to be stouter when defenders look to push him into the backfield.
Lichtensteiger works well in space. He can move to different spots behind the line of scrimmage and escape to the second level with ease. He needs to be more consistent locating linebackers in space and doesn’t have an impressive punch on initial contact. Unless he begins the play in an advantageous position, Lichtensteiger won’t consistently seal off running lanes against big defensive tackles.
Lichtensteiger is a perfect fit for what Washington asked him to do under Kyle Shanahan. If Jay Gruden decides to alter the offense, he may become less valuable.
41. Mike Brisiel, Oakland Raiders
Mike Brisiel (6’5”, 310 lbs, seven seasons) had a solid season protecting the passer. He was more comfortable in 2013 than he had been in 2012 with the Raiders. Brisiel showed off quick feet and the ability to work in space against quicker defensive linemen. He is a strong player with the ability to anchor on defensive tackles in close quarters.
Brisiel works much better in space than he does in tight as part of the running game. He is able to pull and deliver strong blows on initial contact, but he struggles to maintain blocks and isn’t the player you want attempting to withstand defensive tackles outside of double-teams.
Brisiel is a decent starter who would be more productive for his offense in a different role.
40. Uche Nwaneri, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rushing the passer isn’t easy against the Jaguars because offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch does his best as a play-caller to create hesitation. Uche Nwaneri (6’3”, 310 lbs, seven seasons) benefited from this, but he also proved to be a well-balanced pass protector. Nwaneri isn’t a special athlete, but he has enough quickness with good awareness to handle quicker defensive linemen. He is also a fighter who won’t give up any easy leverage to bull-rushers.
Nwaneri pulled and moved into space a bit in 2013, but he is too slow. He doesn’t accelerate through running lanes ahead of the back he is leading, and he doesn’t work through contact. Nwaneri is too timid in his approach to contact and isn’t athletic enough to consistently make plays in space either behind the line of scrimmage or on the second level.
Nwaneri is fortunate to be a starter in the NFL. If the Jaguars did not have more pressing needs to address, his position would be in serious jeopardy.
39. John Jerry, Miami Dolphins
John Jerry (6’5”, 335 lbs, four seasons) is active as a pass protector. He anchors well on defensive tackles and uses his quick feet to constantly reset so that tackles can’t slip past him. He keeps his balance and crouches into his stance to absorb any attempted bull rushes.
As comfortable as Jerry is in pass protection, he is just as awkward when trying to open holes in the run game. Jerry doesn’t engage blocks with his hands or play with a low pad level. That negates any potential power he could put into his blocks. Jerry also isn’t quick off the snap, so it’s tough for him to get to spots in space in spite of his quick feet.
Jerry is a decent starter, but his inability as a run-blocker is a major concern.
38. Garrett Reynolds, Atlanta Falcons
Garrett Reynolds (6’7”, 310 lbs, five seasons) can mirror defensive linemen in space. He has quick feet and uses his hands well. But even when he has a leverage advantage, he is unable to deal with bull rushes from bigger defensive tackles. Reynolds can be thrown to the ground or walked back into the quarterback too easily.
Much like his pass-blocking ability, Reynolds’ biggest issue as a run-blocker is his lack of functional strength. He is unable to move or redirect defenders on the line of scrimmage or sustain blocks at any level of the field. Reynolds simply needs to get stronger. His technique and approach to the game are good enough for him to be a long-term starter if he weren’t so susceptible to size.
At 26 years of age, there is still time for Reynolds to develop, but he isn’t exactly a young player at this stage of his career.
37. Daryn Colledge, Arizona Cardinals
Daryn Colledge (6’4”, 308 lbs, eight seasons) is an athletic guard who lacks the functional strength to withstand bull rushes from bigger defensive tackles. His agility, length and awareness allow him to be an effective pass-blocking guard, but there is always a concern when he is left alone with a big lineman such as Justin Smith.
Colledge would be best suited to play in a zone-blocking scheme. His lack of strength on the field becomes more apparent in the run game than the passing game. He is unable to sustain blocks or move defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage because of his lack of power.
Colledge’s inability in the run game would be less obvious in a different scheme. He is still a valuable pass protector, and that should keep him on the field in today’s pass-happy NFL.
36. Adam Snyder, San Francisco 49ers
Adam Snyder (6’6”, 325 lbs, nine seasons) is a valuable backup for the San Francisco 49ers. He’s not an excellent pass-blocker, but he does enough to not handicap the offense. Snyder’s main concern is his movement. He plays with heavy feet and struggles to reset himself in tight areas. Snyder is massive and uses his hands to control defenders in tight areas.
Snyder is big and powerful and plays with a decent pad level for such a tall player. He can move behind the line of scrimmage and deliver blows to linebackers in space. His body control and awareness aren’t perfect, but they are impressive. On the interior, Snyder won’t consistently move defensive linemen off their spots, but he can hold his own and do enough to seal running lanes.
Snyder's best fit is as a backup, and he is valuable for a run-heavy offense with a pair of high-quality offensive tackles.
35. John Greco, Cleveland Browns
John Greco (6’4”, 315 lbs, six seasons) is a technician. He understands how to use his hands while keeping his feet aligned to hold his balance against contact. Greco’s feet aren’t exceptionally quick, so he can struggle in space at times. He also needs to show better awareness without having to turn his head so often.
Greco isn’t powerful and doesn’t sustain blocks. He moves well in space until the point of contact, but he can’t deliver blows without losing his balance. He is able to manipulate defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage with his hands to create running lanes.
Greco’s pass blocking gives him some value, but he needs to improve as a run-blocker if he is to be an irreplaceable piece of the Browns offensive line.
34. Harvey Dahl, St. Louis Rams
Harvey Dahl (6’5”, 306 lbs, eight seasons) is a former offensive tackle, but he doesn’t have exceptional quickness as an offensive guard. Dahl can counter defenders in one-on-one situations, but he needs to get his hands on the defender early in the play and use his strength to knock him off course. Dahl would be a much better pass-blocker if he had better awareness. He needs to see stunts coming more quickly and be more aware of his surroundings.
Dahl is athletic enough to be effective on the second level. He quickly locates defenders and engages them with a strong initial punch. However, his hand usage is poor, which allows defenders to quickly escape from him. Dahl can also pull into space and be effective against linebackers, but he needs to show more power against defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage.
Dahl is a reliable starter. He’s an unspectacular player, but his balanced skill set should keep him in the starting lineup for the Rams or another team.
33. Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans
Chance Warmack (6’2”, 323 lbs, one season) had an inconsistent rookie campaign. He wasn’t helped by having to play twice against J.J. Watt. Warmack’s main concern in pass protection is his technique. He is too aggressive and allows his weight to carry him forward out of his stance. Warmack’s feet will also need to speed up if he wants to be one of the best guards in the NFL.
The Titans asked Warmack to do a lot as a rookie. He appears to be a perfect fit in the team’s zone-blocking scheme, but he needs to be more consistent sustaining blocks while on the move. He also needs to show better awareness of space and the angles from which defenders are engaging him. Warmack showed a lot of potential pulling into space and escaping to the second level, but he needs to be more consistent with body control and locating his assignments.
Warmack was highly thought of during the draft process, and the Titans selected him with the expectation that he would be one of the best players in the league at his position. He’s not there yet, but it’s much too early to suggest that he won’t be one day.
32. Brian Waters, Dallas Cowboys
The first thing that stands out when watching Brian Waters (6’3”, 320 lbs, 13 seasons) in pass protection is the activity of his feet. There are plenty of guards in the league who have quick feet, but few combine that quickness with such monumental upper body strength. Waters keeps his eyes up and engages his hands so that he is always aware of his surroundings.
Waters gets stood up too often because his pad level isn’t consistently low. He is a strong player and can move in space, but he doesn’t drive his legs through contact or locate defenders on the second level.
Waters suffered an injury midway through the season that curtailed his comeback effort. He was playing well before that, so the possibility remains that he could be back in the NFL at 37 years of age next season.
31. Shelley Smith, St. Louis Rams
Shelley Smith (6’4”, 312 lbs, two seasons) doesn’t have impressive lateral quickness. He is a liability when left in one-on-one situations, so the Rams needed to be creative with their offense to keep him out of those situations. Smith is difficult to escape when he gets his hands on a defender at the snap, but any sort of movement is an issue.
Smith is a strong, aggressive and intelligent run-blocker. He has the ability to pull to both sides of the field or escape onto the second level to make key blocks. He quickly locates his assignment and aggressively uses his hands to deliver punches in space. Smith is also impressive in tight situations, as he can use his low center of gravity and strength to gain a leverage advantage.
Smith has enough talent to become a starter in the NFL. He need to improve as a pass-blocker.
30. Justin Blalock, Atlanta Falcons
Justin Blalock’s (6’4”, 326 lbs, seven seasons) technique in 2013 was impressive. A wide base and good hand placement allowed him to anchor on bigger defensive tackles, while his awareness meant it was difficult for quicker defenders to get past him. When Blalock isn’t technically perfect, he can be exposed because he is not an overly impressive athlete. Winning at the snap is very important for the 30-year-old.
Blalock is able to move in space and locate defenders, but he lacks the physical prowess to make impact blocks. He fails to move defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage and can’t sustain blocks. Blalock’s lack of physical talent is his biggest issue, but he also plays too high at times.
Blalock was the best offensive lineman on a bad offensive line.
29. Clint Boling, Cincinnati Bengals
Clint Boling (6’5”, 311 lbs, three seasons) is an improving pass protector. Boling is a former college tackle who shows off his agility in space as an offensive guard in the NFL. He is able to quickly shift his weight and extend his hands to control quicker defensive linemen and linebackers, while he has enough strength to withstand bigger defensive tackles.
Boling needs to get better as a run-blocker. His pad level was too high in 2013. Too often Boling was trying to overcome a defender who gained a leverage advantage against him. He doesn’t consistently sustain blocks and doesn’t get to the second level with success.
Boling is a solid player who has his limitations at this point. He is still young and dealt with injuries in 2013, so he could rebound in 2014.
28. Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers
Mike Iupati (6’5”, 331 lbs, four seasons) is an excellent athlete who has impressed in pass protection in previous seasons. However, this year Iupati played too upright and was too aggressive. Instead of sitting back into his base and using his arms to hold defenders away from his quarterback, Iupati too often moved forward at the snap and tried to immediately knock the defender to the ground.
Iupati is still one of the best run-blockers in the NFL. He is agile and strong. That allows the 49ers to use him in a variety of ways. Iupati is often the focal point of tosses, sweeps or different trap plays that require him to make a difficult block that not many linemen in the NFL can consistently do.
Iupati didn’t have a good season, but he is still exceptionally talented and should be able to return to being one of the best guards in the NFL.
27. Mike Pollak, Cincinnati Bengals
Mike Pollak (6’3”, 300 lbs, six seasons) isn’t an athletic football player. He achieves success on the field because he is a refined technician. Pollak relies on excellent hand usage and a strong base to repel defensive linemen. He is strong enough to sustain his blocks after the snap with his hands, while his ability to quickly reset his feet allows him to sustain the integrity of his base. His lack of physical ability can be exposed by bigger defensive tackles.
Pollak is a technical, but not physically gifted guard. He willingly engages defenders with his hands and powers his feet through contact without losing his balance. He can hold his position on the field, but he won’t move defenders off the line or consistently seal running lanes.
Pollak is a reliable backup who can come in and sustain the quality of the Bengals offensive line. He isn’t likely to become a starter.
26. Willie Colon, New York Jets
Willie Colon (6’4”, 305 lbs, four seasons) is a former offensive tackle who moved to guard late in his career. Those offensive tackle traits allowed him to excel on the inside as a pass protector in 2013. He isn’t exceptionally quick moving laterally, but he is quick off the snap and gets into his stance quickly. At that point, it’s difficult to get past Colon because he is very strong and quick enough not to lose his positional advantage.
Colon is physically talented. He has quickness, power and a willingness to initiate contact on every snap. However, Colon’s balance is poor. He can’t sustain blocks because he doesn’t win with his hands, and he plays too high on a regular basis. He has the ability to get to the second level where he can be effective, but consistency is a major concern.
Colon needs to be more disciplined in the running game. Still, he should be a priority free agent for someone this offseason.
25. Alex Boone, San Francisco 49ers
Alex Boone (6’8”, 300 lbs, four seasons) is a converted offensive tackle playing guard. This is immediately evident in pass protection because he relies on his huge reach to keep defenders away from the quarterback. Because of his reach, it’s almost impossible for defenders to escape from him when he uses his hands well. Boone doesn’t move exceptionally well from side to side, and his height works against him when trying to fight for leverage.
Boone’s size works in his favor in the running game. He has the power to manhandle defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage, pushing them upfield or sealing off one side of a running lane. In spite of his bulk, Boone moves well in tight spaces and can explode through contact while on the move.
Boone may not have been a dominant guard last season, but he was still a very good player with a rare skill set.
24. Kraig Urbik, Buffalo Bills
Kraig Urbik (6’5”, 324 lbs, four seasons) combines a strong initial punch and quick, precise feet to keep defenders away from the quarterback. He isn’t exceptionally quick moving laterally and doesn’t have the strength to recover when he loses leverage. But Urbik is an impressive pass-blocker overall.
Urbik isn’t an exceptional athlete, but he can get out in space and move on the second level. However, he struggled to locate defenders in 2013 and was overpowered too often in spite of playing with good technique.
Urbik has enjoyed spells throughout his career when he was one of the better guards in the NFL. He was a good player in 2013, but he needs to improve his consistency if he wants to climb the rankings.
23. Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins
Richie Incognito (6’3”, 319 lbs, nine seasons) is strong and uses his hands well. It’s rare that he is bull rushed off his spot, and it’s tough to escape from his grasp if he gets a good position at the snap. However, Incognito’s slow feet were exposed in 2013. He can’t move well in space and was unable to handle defenders in one-on-one situations because of that.
Incognito is as powerful as any left guard in the NFL. He can obliterate defenders when he lines them up and hits them. However, he too often plays undisciplined football, which takes away from his impact on the field. His hand usage and angles approaching defenders make it easier for defenders to knock him off balance or slide away from him. Incognito would be one of the best run-blockers in the league with better body control.
Incognito is known more for non-football activities at this point, but he is still a valuable offensive lineman when in the right situation.
22. Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dallas Cowboys
Mackenzy Bernadeau (6’4”, 333 lbs, five seasons) needs to move his feet quicker. He struggles in space with defensive tackles because he is unable to react to their movements laterally. Bernadeau uses his hands well, so he is able to fight with defensive linemen at the snap, but he is susceptible to bull rushes because of his lack of strength.
Bernadeau excels on the second level. He isn’t the fastest or quickest offensive lineman in the NFL, but he has an excellent blend of aggression and control at the point of contact in space. He does this by quickly locating his assignment and keeping his feet wide, before intelligently attacking with his hands.
He’s a valuable run-blocker who needs to improve as pass protector.
21. Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs
Jon Asamoah (6’4”, 305 lbs, four seasons) is a strong guard. He is able to contain defensive tackles in tight spaces with his strength because he uses his arms well. His feet aren’t exceptionally quick, but he is disciplined with his base and understands how to shift his weight to counter the movement of his assignment.
Asamoah is powerful and moves well in space. However, he slides off defenders too often. He needs to square off with defenders and understand when to be aggressive and when to hold position. Asamoah is a work in progress as a run-blocker, but his strength and feet are good enough that he should be able to improve as he plays more.
At 25 years of age, Asamoah has a chance to be an outstanding player for years to come. To do so, however, he must refine his technique on the field and developing better consistency.
20. Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati Bengals
Kevin Zeitler (6’4”, 315 lbs, two seasons) is a good pass protector with the potential to be a great one. His feet are quick and his hand usage is impressive for such a young player. He has the fluidity to handle defensive linemen in space and the strength to hold his position against bull rushes. Zeitler needs to be quicker to diagnose stunts and delayed blitzes from the second level.
Zeitler can move in space and has the ability to get to the second level. As a rookie, he struggled with his hands and was unable to consistently control defenders. He improved somewhat in his second season, but he needs to continue developing in that area.
Zeitler didn’t take the massive step forward he could have in 2013. He is still a talented player who has All-Pro potential, but he needs to be better in 2014 if he is to reach that potential.
19. Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints
Jahri Evans (6’4”, 318 lbs, eight seasons) is an outstanding pass-blocking guard. In spite of his size, he has quick feet that allow him to consistently keep his balance. That balance combined with his reach allow him to contain even the most active rushers. He is able to recover if he loses the initial contact at the snap.
With his athleticism and power, Evans should be an effective run-blocker. He is physically able to do anything the Saints ask of him, but he needs to improve his technique. Evans’ main concern is his inconsistency aligning properly with his assignment. He doesn’t always square up to defenders. As a result, he is unable to properly engage them at the point of contact.
Evans is a phenomenal physical talent who only has a few seemingly minor corrections to make if he wants to get back to the top of these rankings.
18. Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
Logan Mankins (6’4”, 308 lbs, nine seasons) has a bad habit of being too aggressive in his attempts to protect the passer. He drops his head too often and allows defensive linemen to knock him to the side before rushing the pocket. Mankins needs to be less aggressive and focus more on establishing his base and winning with his hands.
Mankins is a solid run-blocker who can work well in space or in close quarters. He is technically sound, showing off the quickness to make tough backside cut blocks and the ability to seal off running lanes with his leverage. He struggles absorbing punches from bigger defensive tackles and doesn’t sustain blocks.
Mankins appears to be fading physically. Injuries and age are likely contributing to that, but he needs to give up fewer sacks in 2014 if he is to maintain his high standing.
17. Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams
Rodger Saffold (6’5”, 332 lbs, four seasons) moved to guard during the 2013 season after playing tackle throughout his career. Saffold’s length and athleticism give him the potential to be one of the best pass-blocking guards in the NFL, but he needs to be more consistent with his footwork. Saffold loses his balance too often because he lets his weight pull him forward.
Saffold’s athleticism instantly stands out on tape. He seamlessly slides behind the line of scrimmage when asked to pull and advances to the second level with ease. Once Saffold locates his assignment, he is aggressive and powerful. As a run-blocking guard, Saffold has a comfort and freedom that wasn’t there when he was a tackle.
Saffold could eventually move back to offensive tackle, but it appears that his most prosperous career path would be found playing inside.
16. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers
David DeCastro (6’5”, 316 lbs, two seasons) has active hands in pass protection, but too often he was knocked off balance by defensive tackles. He needs to be less aggressive at the snap and play with a better base so that he doesn’t get knocked sideways or pushed back into his quarterback as much.
An exceptional talent in the running game, DeCastro quickly became a key player for the Steelers offense. He routinely pulled to both sides of the field and consistently located defenders in space. DeCastro has the strength and body control to deliver powerful blows in the open field.
DeCastro is still a developing player. His plays in space for the running game have made him a big favorite for Steelers fans, but he needs to develop better discipline as a pass protector if he wants to be one of the best guards in the NFL.
15. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ramon Foster (6’6”, 325 lbs, five seasons) isn’t an exceptionally athletic player, but he is a former college offensive tackle who has made a seamless transition inside. His quick hands and feet have helped him a lot as a pass protector. Foster is quick to engage his assignment and consistently plays with good technique. His long arms allow him to control pass-rushers, but his lack of athleticism makes it tough for him to recover if he loses initially.
Foster is slow off the ball and doesn’t deliver impact blows to defenders at the snap. He can work in space, but he isn’t impressive at locating defenders and finishing blocks. Ideally, the Steelers would trap defenders to his side or involve him in double-teams on running plays.
The Steelers offensive linemen were aided by the quick passing game that the team adopted midway through the regular season, but Foster is still one of the better guards in the league.
14. Ben Grubbs, New Orleans Saints
Ben Grubbs’ (6’3”, 310 lbs, seven seasons) quickness is his best attribute when protecting Drew Brees. He moves laterally with ease and shuffles his feet quickly to adjust to the pass rush. Grubbs uses his hands well and is able to withstand bull rushes by quickly shifting his weight instead of anchoring to one spot.
Grubbs performs much better in space than he does inside. His quickness and technique allow him to chip defensive linemen before quickly rushing to the second level or pulling to either side of the field. Grubbs locates defenders quickly and is aggressive at the point of contact.
Grubbs isn’t a big, powerful guard, but he is quick and smart. That is the type of offensive lineman who fits well in this league today. He is a valuable member of the Saints offense.
13. T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers
T.J. Lang (6’4”, 318 lbs, five seasons) is agile, but not exceptionally so. He can move well in space, and once he establishes his base, it is difficult to move him backward. However, Lang needs to improve his hand usage. Too often he was slow to react to the defender’s first initial movement. In those moments, his upper body was also rigid, which resulted in him conceding ground more often than he should.
Lang is powerful in close quarters. He can move defensive tackles off the line and create running lanes by sealing off the defender whenever he ventures too far forward. When he tries to make impact blocks, he doesn’t have good body control, and that limits what he can do in space despite his athleticism.
Lang is a talented player who could elevate himself into the top 10 with more active and precise hand usage.
12. Kyle Long, Chicago Bears
Kyle Long (6’6”, 313 lbs, one season) has exceptionally quick feet that allow him to move laterally while maintaining a strong base. He uses his hands well to prevent defenders from working into his chest, but he needs to develop greater consistency to get the most out of his physical ability. As a former offensive tackle, Long is a raw player who needs time to develop as a guard.
Long excels at timing his release to get to the second level. He is able to use his athleticism to knock the defensive lineman immediately across from him into a better position for his teammate to block him, while still maintaining his own balance to move forward. However, on the second level, Long needs to improve at locating and engaging defenders. He doesn’t always finish plays and needs to show a nastier streak to get the most out of his physical ability.
Long is exceptionally talented. He has all the talent to be one of the best offensive guards in the NFL.
11. Brandon Brooks, Houston Texans
Brandon Brooks (6’5”, 335 lbs, two seasons) doesn’t have exceptionally quick feet, but he turns his body and uses his hands to compensate for any lack of lateral quickness. His low center of gravity allows him to use his strength to get underneath taller defensive linemen and keep them away from the quarterback.
Brooks has phenomenal body control in the open field. He can slide to either side of the field or pull behind the line of scrimmage before locating a defender on the second level. Once he gets to that defender, he is able to either explode through him aggressively or latch on to him with good hand usage to help create a running lane. In tighter situations, Brooks is able to wrestle much bigger players off the line of scrimmage because of his refined technique and overwhelming strength.
The former third-round draft pick looks set to be one of the best guards in the NFL over the coming seasons.
10. Brandon Fusco, Minnesota Vikings
An up-and-comer at the position, Brandon Fusco (6’4”, 306 lbs, three seasons) has to win with leverage, technique and timing due to a smaller frame at right guard. He does well to meet defenders in the hole and can brace for impact. But if asked to handle a rip or swim move, he struggles to re-establish his feet and move with the pass-rusher. He’s at his best when he’s simply moving his feet laterally and able to get his hands hooked under the pads of the rusher.
A solid athlete with the movement skills to play in space, Fusco did a good job as a strong-side run-blocker. He comes off the ball with good leverage and a clean release and is best when down-blocking to seal off rushing lanes. Fusco can get a bit top-heavy at times, but we noted great improvement in his run-blocking game over the course of the season.
After a disappointing 2012 season, Fusco emerged as a legitimate starter last year. His improved strength, patience and vision were notable in all aspects of his play. He could still improve in his timing and punch in pass protection, but he was one of our most improved players in 2013.
9. Andy Levitre, Tennessee Titans
A transition from Buffalo to Tennessee featured Andy Levitre (6’2”, 303 lbs, five seasons) struggle in pass protection after receiving a perfect score in this category last year. The familiarity with quarterback Jake Locker and injuries at the position definitely affected his score, but so did his footwork. Noted as a strength last year, Levitre seemed to hesitate in blocks and didn’t slide his feet as well to meet blockers and get his foundation set. That’s an easy fix, if he’s more comfortable in the team’s scheme next fall. Of course, playing against J.J. Watt twice each year doesn’t help either.
Levitre shows good agility and plays with a natural leverage you like at the position. He’s active with his hands and moves well through the second level. He has good awareness to work in combination blocks and knows when to stay and when to go. His hand placement could improve, especially against quicker defensive tackles, but his strength and foundation are solid.
Ranked at No. 6 last year, Levitre has a ton of qualities that you really like. He has to be more consistent in 2014, especially in pass protection against speedy 3-technique defenders, but our team liked his strength and agility in the run game.
8. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
The pure power shown when watching Marshal Yanda (6’3”, 305 lbs, seven seasons) is impressive. And for a guard with just average size, the punch he packs is always entertaining. Yanda does well in pass protection because he uses all his tricks and tools to beat a defender. He has good reach, and his strong right hand can stun a defender when punching. He’ll slide his feet to maintain balance, but we did notice counter moves tripping him up more in 2013. Combination blocks were another area where he didn’t seem as dominant this past fall.
In the run game, Yanda does a great job coming off the ball and making that first impact on a defender. He’s at his best when taking on a head-up or gapped defensive tackle and moving him down the line. When asked to explode to the second level, he can be a bit hesitant in engaging defenders. Not overly quick, Yanda excels with leverage, hand placement and technique.
Regarded annually as one of the best guards in the NFL, Yanda once again lived up to his reputation. He’s balanced, experienced and rarely beaten twice by the same player or move. Yanda is the picture of consistency at the position.
7. Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs
A seven-game starter for the Chiefs in 2013, Geoff Schwartz (6’6”, 340 lbs, four seasons) emerged as one of the best players at the right guard position. When in the lineup, Schwartz showed the patience and length you want from an interior blocker. He’s able to move his feet with high-level spacial awareness and doesn’t get caught bending his back to reach pass-rushers. What you like most is his strength to engage and lock up defensive tackles. Better A-gap recognition will be key for him in a larger role, but his versatility and strength are outstanding. An area to improve would be his play against counter moves. A quick rusher will set him up and get his feet moving before he’s ready to attack.
Firing off the ball and knocking defenders out of the play is what Schwartz does best. His height can be a problem at times when attacking the second level, but he recovers and resets well by getting his hands under the pads of a defender. The only downside there is if the defender gets into his pads before he can recover. In the Chiefs' scheme, he was asked to pull often and did a good job consistently finding his man in space.
Schwartz played his way this past year into what should be a big free-agent contract. He started 2013 as a No. 6 lineman for the Chiefs, but by season’s end he worked his way into the starting right guard role. When Schwartz plays, he looks like a top-10 guard. That should earn him a payday and a starting job in '14.
6. Matt Slauson, Chicago Bears
The move to Chicago was a good one for Matt Slauson (6’5”, 315 lbs, five seasons). Ranked at No. 41 in our previous installment, he makes the move up to No. 6. This comes in large part due to his increased patience and poise when pass blocking. Slauson’s bad habit of lunging or reaching for players was gone, and he worked much better in tandem with his linemates to slide and protect gaps. He improved when closing down inside pressure, but it remains an area where he can continue to develop.
Slauson plays with good quickness and can get into space to shut down defenders. His ability to lock-and-drive improved greatly in 2013, as he showed the vision to find his man and the athleticism to reach the defender. Playing lower and more balanced allowed Slauson to jump from a grade of 24 points to his ranking here at 41.
Among the most improved guards in the NFL during the 2013 season, Slauson is a keeper for the Bears and represents part of the offensive line rebuild GM Phil Emery embarked on last year at this time. The moves paid off, as Slauson was a high-level starter for the team at left guard.
5. Travelle Wharton, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers came out of nowhere to be one of the NFL’s best teams in 2013, and guard Travelle Wharton (6’4”, 315 lbs, nine seasons) really did the same. As a pass protector, he showed good vision and patience, especially important with a mobile quarterback. Wharton has the length to punch and keep defenders away from his frame, but also doubles down well to absorb rushers with a strong back and heavy anchor. He doesn’t move well sliding laterally, but his reach and timing make up for that.
A powerful man coming off the line of scrimmage, Wharton can stun defenders with his first-step quickness. He doesn’t maintain that quickness well throughout blocks, and he can get beat in space. But he’s powerful enough at the point of attack to overwhelm most defenders.
The entire Panthers offensive line showed improvement in 2013, but Wharton was the one who developed the most. He was much more balanced and handled moving down the line and through the second level with more composure and confidence. The improvement he showed as a veteran blew us away.
4. Larry Warford, Detroit Lions
Rookie Larry Warford (6’3”, 333 lbs, one season) landed with the Detroit Lions and from Week 1 proved he was a steal in the third round of the 2013 draft. His raw power when taking on pass-rushing defensive tackles was obvious from the get-go. He engulfs defenders. Once his hands are on them, it’s game over. Warford doesn’t always move well off his spot, but he’s great in close quarters and holds his ground as well as any guard in the NFL. With a strong foundation and long, active arms, he’s one of the game’s best blockers in pass protection.
As a power blocker, Warford can struggle to get into space and attack the second level. The Lions want him to be able to fire off the ball and reach a middle linebacker, but he struggled in that area. When asked to down-block on a nose tackle, 1- or 3-technique, he shows the first-step quickness and power you want. In space, though, he’ll struggle to show the quickness to beat the defender to the ball.
The rookie from Kentucky was a great surprise for the Lions in 2013. Warford has the strength, awareness and pass-protecting chops to be a great player for a long time. In his first year, he earned his ranking and is one of the brightest young stars in the league.
3. Louis Vasquez, Denver Broncos
The pass protection of Louis Vasquez (6’5”, 335 lbs, five seasons) was already good in San Diego, but his move to Denver in free agency allowed him to excel. In a spread-out pass protection scheme, he was able to use his agility to fan out defenders while still showing the strength to lock horns with a defensive tackle and shut down bull rushes. Vasquez has the foundation to play with power, and he is tough to beat once he gets his hands on you.
Playing with ideal leverage remains the only issue for Vasquez in the run game. He did show improvement here, but at the second level he’s too high when engaging defenders. You want to see him get his shoulders down and balanced on pulls and traps. That said, his strength is exceptional and allows him to drive-block and clear paths in the run game. When matched up with a head-up defender, Vasquez is exceptional at moving him off his spot with strength.
Ranked at No. 24 last season, Vasquez flourished in Denver. Having the quick release of Peyton Manning helped, but he also saw his run-blocking score increase by 14 points while his pass protection score went up four. Vasquez is a high-potential player who performed at an All-Pro level in 2013.
2. Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
Ranked at No. 2 for a second straight season, Evan Mathis (6’5”, 298 lbs, 10 seasons) is fluid, balanced and athletic in pass protection. He does a great job using his length to keep defenders off his frame, and that’s really where he is at his best. His smaller, leaner build allows power rushers to move him off his spot. But Mathis is great at adjusting and resetting. His hand use can be a bit inconsistent, but he’s generally quick enough to beat most defenders with his athleticism.
The highest-graded run-blocker in our 2014 series, Mathis is excellent in space. He’s often asked to move down the line and does so with a composed balance and great understanding of space and timing. If asked to pull and hit an outside linebacker, Mathis shows off his speed, aggressiveness and accuracy in getting to his man. He dominates at the second level with his quick first step and a tenacity in locking his hands on a defender.
Mathis is the ideal fit for a guard in the Chip Kelly offense. He’s an athlete with exceptional movement skills and can be dangerous to the defense when he’s pulling and trapping. Mathis is once again one of the best in the game.
1. Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers
Josh Sitton (6’3”, 318 lbs, six seasons) plays offensive guard the way the position is supposed to be played. His athleticism allows him to consistently be in position to meet defenders, but he also plays with great power when asked to sit and handle a bull rush or power move. His vision is top tier, and he’s rarely (if ever) caught off guard or surprised by a counter move. With good length and timing, Sitton can mirror, slide and even stand up and punch pass-rushers in the interior of the line.
You want offensive guards to be a little mean on the field, and Sitton is that way. He’s not a finesse blocker and will get his hands dirty when needed. His athleticism and flexibility is impressive when firing off the ball, and he backs that up with good strength to drive-block defenders out of the hole. The Packers often do ask him to move from his spot, and he does so with good balance.
Ranked at No. 3 last year, Sitton rises to the top of our board in a season in which he didn’t have Aaron Rodgers behind him every game. The way Sitton handled defenders, especially in the passing game, is must-watch film for interior linemen.