B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 35 Left Tackles from 2015
At the end of the 2015 NFL season, ask yourself: Who was the best left tackle in the game?
We're not talking about who made the Pro Bowl or even who got the All-Pro votes. Who was really, truly the best? Forget reputation and forget how much money each player makes. We want cold, hard analysis that comes from watching the games and grading the players.
That's what the B/R NFL 1000 is for, and it's back for another year.
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.
Left tackles are judged on pass protection (45 points), run blocking (45) and the overall value of the position relative to the other spots on the field (nine points). The maximum score for this position is 99.
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 (Dan Bazal, Luke Easterling, Cian Fahey, Adam Heisler, Duke Manyweather and Marshal Miller) with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.
35. Greg Robinson, St. Louis Rams
Greg Robinson is at his best when he can explode into a short set, quickly reaching his spot to settle and then make a stand to immediately anchor. When on target, Robinson shows an explosive strike, stopping many defenders in their tracks.
That being said, there were times in 2015 when Robinson was far too aggressive with his hands looking for a "kill shot," which led him to lunge or expose his chest, allowing defenders into his frame. Robinson runs into trouble when he faces defenders who consistently attack his upfield edge, and it all starts with his inability to vertically drive out of his stance to gain ground and maintain half-man relationship with the defender.
Despite having the length and range needed, Robinson's lack of body control often results in his struggling to trace the hoop so he can run guys over the top of the pocket and past the quarterback. Simply put, even though Robinson possesses rare athletic ability and physically dominating traits, he has struggled mightily to perform anywhere close to his great potential.
You cannot be a dominant or good player on the offensive line if you are relying solely on what you were born with. At some point, gifts need to be developed into tools of the craft.
Robinson's physical traits and God-given ability are undeniable. It was that very reason the Rams selected him with the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. Robinson shows hip-explosion strength and power at the point of attack in the downhill run game, which at this point edges out his marginal pass protection.
The gap-scheme runs the Rams implemented once rookie running back Todd Gurley was healthy seemed to effectively complement Robinson's physical abilities after he struggled to execute many of the blocks needed in the zone-blocking scheme used early in the season. Initial quickness and hand usage often put Robinson in position to reach edge defenders, yet his base would be narrow, his feet would cross and he couldn't work his hips around to effectively hook and seal the edge.
Robinson had better success when he was asked to angle-drive block. When Robinson exploded off the ball, he did show he could effectively step down, collapse and widen the point of attack on down blocks for power plays, but there were times when he was prone to bury his head and completely miss his target. Robinson is effective in space, showing the ability to target and track moving defenders using his excellent athleticism.
34. Ryan Harris, Denver Broncos
A third-round pick in the 2007 NFL draft out of Notre Dame, Ryan Harris has the look and size (6'5", 302 lbs) of a left tackle. In 2015, the Broncos called on him to step into a big hole to replace the injured Ryan Clady for 13 regular-season games and all three postseason games after he started the year at right tackle.
Harris has the lean body and length that NFL scouts and offensive line coaches want, but he struggles to move off the ball with the quickness needed to snap into his pass set and cut off the edge. Protecting his outside shoulder takes all of Harris' agility, and he often oversets, which leaves his inside shoulder open to pass-rushers smart enough to counter his aggressive outside step.
Harris' best trait is his balance and body control when on the move. This allowed him to surrender just four sacks on the year (playoffs included) while protecting Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. Harris has to develop into a better pass-blocker as he sustains blocks if he hopes to be a long-term starter in 2016.
Harris' athletic ability and size make him an ideal fit in a zone-blocking scheme, but playing at left tackle meant he was asked to execute a number of reach blocks and otherwise move off his spot. Harris struggled here, notably so against teams running a 3-4 defense.
The biggest trait lacking in his run-blocking game is the pure strength to move a defender out of the rushing lane. Harris has good quickness moving forward out of his stance but can't generate the pop needed to get underneath the pads of a defensive end to push him out of the way. That left Harris often getting pushed back and resetting the line of scrimmage in the run game.
33. Chris Hairston, San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers is still likely recovering from the Chris Hairston Experiment of 2015. By allowing seven sacks, six hits and 24 quarterback hurries, Hairston graded out as one of the worst pass protectors in the league this past season. Looking at his technique, Hairston doesn't have the quickness to protect in space.
He has a big body but lacks the timing to use the power in his hands as a puncher. Hairston plays top-heavy and takes an unnaturally shallow kick-step when asked to get off the ball and secure the edge. His best move is to anchor down against a bull rush, but a spin move or stunt will leave Hairston hugging air.
Hairston was a fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2011 and has shown promise as a backup left tackle. When forced into action as a starter at tackle and guard in 2015, he struggled in the run game.
At 6'6" and 330 pounds, Hairston simply isn't quick or explosive enough in his hips to pop off the snap and get his hands on the defender's body. Hairston is powerful, but with limited foot quickness and balance, he's often trying to push or pull the defender instead of using leverage to move him.
Hairston graded out better at guard, where he was asked to move less, than his performance at tackle showed. With several glaring technique flaws, though, Hairston wasn't exactly an asset at any position in 2015.
32. Charles Leno Jr., Chicago Bears
A projected right tackle or guard coming out of Boise State in 2014, Charles Leno Jr. was pressed into action at left tackle for the Chicago Bears and struggled out of the gate to grasp the timing and speed of NFL pass-rushers.
The numbers will show that Leno only allowed four sacks, but credit Jay Cutler for his ability to step up in the pocket and avoid potential sacks. Leno consistently gave up the outside shoulder and didn't show the length or hand power to knock pass-rushers off their paths to the quarterback.
Leno did improve as the year went on, but an overall view of his pass protection left us wanting for better balance, better poise and better timing on his punch.
The 2015 season was a tale of two halves for Leno. In the first eight weeks of the season, he struggled to move the pile in the run game and wasn't doing much work outside his box. Asking Leno to get into space on reach blocks or to attack a middle linebacker was futile.
But he turned a corner in the St. Louis game, and it seemed like his assignments slowed down for him. Leno started performing better in space but also showed the hip pop and leverage to move players off the line and into the second level.
31. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets
D'Brickashaw Ferguson was taken with the fourth overall pick in the the 2006 draft by the New York Jets and made Pro Bowl appearances in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Though he has not missed any time, starting 160 games in his 10 season, the wear and tear of being a NFL offensive lineman has noticeably taken away some of the raw ability Ferguson possessed early in his career.
Ferguson has good overall length and tremendous athleticism. He can cover ground by working through multiple pass-set angles and is able to reach landmarks. He maintains good balance and weight distribution and is able to recover with good-not-great foot quickness to mirror and stay in front of defenders. He flashes patience in pass protection and good body control; rarely do you see him lunge or get out over his toes in pass protection.
Ferguson flashes the ability to use his length and upper-body power to punch and control defenders when he is on his spot. He has the lower-body mobility to sink and anchor against the bull rush when he's maintaining his pad level, but he does not have the strength to consistently anchor versus speed-to-power.
Though he shows good foot quickness, at times he gets sloppy and bumpy with his footwork, dropping his post-foot, hopping into pass sets and widening his base to the point he can't recover—also hopping as a last resort to change directions instead of consistently mirroring defenders.
Ferguson shows quickness off the ball that allows him to also use his length to reach and turn edge defenders and also cut off defenders when the run goes away. He plays with fairly consistent hat placement in the run game, which leaves him in good position to execute blocks without defenders crossing his face.
Ferguson isn't really a mauler in the run game, but he does show the mentality to finish defenders when he has the chance. He doesn't keep his feet running through contact and often stalemates, at times narrowing his base and stopping his feet, which has led to him being thrown off blocks and ending up on the ground. He takes good angles to the second level when asked to climb to linebackers.
Despite some inefficiency in this area, Ferguson proved to be a better run-blocker than pass-blocker in 2015, potentially as a result of his age and declining footwork.
30. Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers
Villanueva has rare size and length. He possesses elite athletic movement and skills that include great balance, solid mobility, change-of-direction ability and overall explosive power.
He looks natural getting into his pass set and looks comfortable in his pass-protection demeanor when getting to his spot to settle. He has great range and can cover a lot of ground—displaying good feet and reflexes when changing directions to recover—and jolts defenders with a quick punch.
Villanueva uses his long arms effectively, rarely allowing defenders into his body. He also utilizes good hand placement but does sometimes get outside his frame and allow defenders in to bull rush him, making it difficult to anchor. He's still inconsistent with his pass sets and looks as if he is not confident in his range, and at times he undersets and ends up having to run defenders over the top of the pocket. This will continue to take time to develop.
Still, you would be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing story in the NFL than that of Villanueva. He moved from defensive lineman to left tackle to wide receiver at Army, catching 34 passes as a senior in 2009, per CBS Sports.
Villanueva went undrafted in 2010 and had tryouts with the Bengals and the Bears but was not signed, so he kept his commitment to serve the United States and was deployed several times to Afghanistan. Given his relative lack of experience as an NFL left tackle, development is absolutely crucial.
Villanueva plays with good pad level and knee bend for an athlete of his size (6'9", 320 lbs). He shows off a mean streak, plays with good explosiveness in the run game and really gets off the ball with a purpose, quickly engaging and jolting defenders off the ball.
Villanueva is able to reach most wide defensive ends effortlessly within his first few steps or can angle-drive defenders who have him outleveraged. He shows the ability to cut off defenders on the backside of the run. He's good in space on screens and takes good angles when climbing to the next level of defenders.
Given the absence of Le'Veon Bell for much of the season, Villanueva did an admirable job in helping keep the Steelers run game effective in 2015.
29. Ereck Flowers, New York Giants
There is no such thing as “pro-ready” when an offensive lineman is making the difficult transition from the college ranks to the NFL. When the New York Giants selected Ereck Flowers with the ninth pick in the 2015 draft, it wasn't because he was the best player available at that selection. The Giants needed offensive line help, both for 2015 and for the future. Flowers is still just 21, but he has some growing to do, particular in pass protection.
Flowers is at his best when he explodes into his vertical set, getting to his spot to anchor. When Flowers gets to his spot, he shows the feet and athleticism to run guys over the top of the pocket and by the quarterback. Flowers gets in trouble when he panics and rolls out of his stance in pass protection instead of kicking and getting to a landmark, though youth and inexperience likely play a part in some of his technique issues.
This often leads to Flowers stepping underneath himself and opening his hips to the point where his upper body becomes out of sync with the lower body, and he has to do double the work and lean on his athleticism to try to compensate for inefficient movement. Hand placement is an area for improvement, but it's important to realize Flowers' inefficient feet leave him out of position to effectively use his hands.
There were moments when Flowers would explode off the ball in 2015, throwing technique out the window and flashing pure physical dominance in the run game. At his best when asked to move the point of attack on base or angle-drive blocks, Flowers shows the strength, power and explosion to hit, lift and drive defenders off the ball.
He shows inconsistent footwork on reach and backside cutoff blocks, though, often stepping underneath himself or gaining no ground at all, which leaves him grabbing to try to execute the block and has led to holding calls. Flowers had no issues climbing to the second level to fit on linebackers in 2015, which highlights the athleticism the Giants saw in him when making Flowers a top-10 pick last year.
28. Donald Stephenson, Kansas City Chiefs
Donald Stephenson possesses all the physical traits, athletic ability and skill sets that you love to see out of an offensive tackle, but he lacks one of the main intangibles that is absolutely vital to offensive line play—consistency. Four years into his career, Stephenson still just flashes the promise of what could be, instead of fully putting it all together, and the Chiefs have made it clear by benching him multiple times.
Stephenson is explosive in his vertical sets while keeping his shoulder square to the line of scrimmage and maintaining the half-man leverage needed to cover up edge-rushers. He has the range and length to cover a lot of ground, which makes defenders have to work to gain ground.
Stephenson has tremendous foot quickness and balance to recover and mirror or even trace the hoop to run guys over the top of the pocket, but he struggles to transition his kick to settle in and "build his house," which is evident when asked to anchor against speed-to-power moves.
Stephenson displays tremendous power at the point of attack. He displays the hip explosion to hit, lift and drive defenders on the downhill run game and maintains a powerful base to re-leverage his hips and power through stalemates. When he loses ground with his first step, he shows the ability to gain ground with his second using high hand technique to reach, hook and seal defenders and effortlessly cut off the backside when the run goes away from him.
Stephenson shows the footwork, body control and agility to effectively pool without working toward the perimeter. He's also effective when asked to execute blocks in space, showing that he can track and block defenders.
Stephenson's run-blocking game is easily more polished than his pass protection, which isn't exactly ideal for an NFL left tackle. He has all the tools to be a productive left tackle for the Chiefs, but right now, his greatest asset is his effectiveness in run blocking from the left side.
27. King Dunlap, San Diego Chargers
After making great strides in 2014, King Dunlap's 2015 season would prove to be unfortunate. Plagued by injury, Dunlap was only able to start seven games for the Chargers after they re-signed him to a four-year deal worth $28 million in February 2015. It's safe to say the Chargers did not get an immediate return on their investment.
Dunlap is absolutely massive (6'9", 330 lbs) and has the range to cover a lot of ground. When he is kicking, he covers so much ground it makes it difficult for defenders to gain a step on him, forcing them to revert to power moves instead of simply speed-rushing the massive tackle. Dunlap has issues anchoring due to his inability to build his house. He resorts to absorbing contact instead of making a stand to anchor.
Once his edge is challenged, he has issues bending to recover, whether it be attempting to re-leverage and anchor or showing enough mobility to take advantage of his length to run guys past the quarterback. Ultimately, Dunlap's length causes him a great deal of issues and magnifies the technical flaws he has.
Dunlap shows a physical mindset in the run game, quickly firing out of his stance to engage and knock defenders off the ball. But he struggles to play with the bend and mobility necessary to use his functional strength to leverage and completely drive defenders off the ball. It doesn't matter what block it is, if Dunlap doesn't win with initial quickness and hand placement, defenders are able to get into his frame and under his pads to leverage him.
26. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
Since being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, Sebastian Vollmer has established himself as one of the premier right tackles in the NFL for the New England Patriots, starting 80 games over his seven-year career. A season-ending injury to starting left tackle Nate Solder forced Vollmer to shift over to left tackle for the defending Super Bowl champions.
When it comes to pass protection, it's never ideal to swing your starting right tackle to the left side, but Vollmer filled the void well for his team. Building on the things he succeeded at on the right side, Vollmer seemed to be at his best when he was able to set firm and anchor immediately.
Vollmer showed in 2015 that when he kept half-man leverage and got to his spot, he was able to punch and anchor defenders consistently. Vollmer did run into trouble when he was moved off his spot, and recovering from the left side made him look as if the game was moving just a little too fast for him.
The landmarks and set points that Vollmer had gotten so use to anchoring at on the right side had all changed, and defenders keyed in on this, making a point to keep Vollmer off-balance with a large variety of speed-to-power changeup moves.
Vollmer explodes off the ball and quickly engages to drive defenders. He generates force through the ground by maintaining a powerful base and driving through his steps to get push at the point of attack on base or angled-drive blocks. Vollmer shows the strength and hip mobility to re-leverage and strain to break stalemates at the line of scrimmage.
Vollmer also excels at generating vertical movement on combo blocks and shows that he can collapse and secure the line of scrimmage when asked to work with his guard. He displays quickness, agility and body control when asked to get out in space and track moving defenders.
While moving from the right side impeded Vollmer's pass-protection abilities in 2015, he did show continued aptitude in the run game—despite New England's diminished utilization of it in the second half of the season.
25. Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil's athletic ability and upside had many teams intrigued during the 2012 draft process, which led to the Minnesota Vikings selecting him fourth overall. Kalil went to the Pro Bowl at the conclusion of his rookie season, but chronic knee issues in both knees have proved to be a major speed bump in the development of his young, yet raw, game. Despite multiple procedures on both knees the last few offseasons, Kalil has never missed a start in his four-year career.
Kalil explodes into his pass set at the snap and is able to cover the range needed to get to his landmark, maintaining half-man leverage on defenders. He is most effective when he is able to quick set, punch and anchor defenders before they move him off his spot, though.
Kalil shows explosive upper-body power when he is able to make a stand and punch, and he shows the lower-body strength and mobility needed to drop his hips to anchor. He also displays good foot quickness needed to laterally mirror defenders.
Kalil still struggles in one-on-one pass-protection situations, and they all stem from his inefficient footwork and poor technique. Though Kalil is able to mirror defenders because of his athleticism and quick feet, he runs into many issues as a result of his inability to adjust his pass-set landmarks versus defenders who move him off his initial spot.
Kalil brings significant nastiness with him when he steps on the field, and the tackle out of USC is not afraid to get after it in the run game. Kalil is willing to block defenders downfield or engage in some extra shoving toward the end of plays.
Out of his stance, Kalil shows good hip explosion, upper-body explosiveness and overall power at the point of attack, allowing him to get movement and drive defenders off the line of scrimmage. Kalil often makes reaching and sealing defenders look easy with his quick feet, athleticism and hands usage. He does a good job of securing and getting push coming off on second-level defenders when he is asked to combo block with either the left guard or tight end.
Kalil is able to consistently cut off the backside 3-technique defensive tackle on run plays going away from him, which he does by either ripping, running and straining to cross the face of defenders who stay flat or doing the same to the far-side thigh board of a defender who is working up the field.
24. Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
After being the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, Eric Fisher's play hasn't quite lived up to the hype. His third year needed to be big, and Fisher made big strides late into the 2015 season. After being highly scrutinized, Fisher seemed to play with a sense of urgency and a consistent mean streak, which always seemed to be lacking from his game.
Like the old cliche goes, "save your best for last," Fisher did just that, turning in outstanding performances against the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card Round and also against the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional-round playoff game.
In pass protection, Fisher quickly gets into his set, maintaining even weight distribution and is able to get to his spot effortlessly and settle his feet. Though his footwork has improved, his overall hand usage is still average. He shows he can recover when moved off his spot and the ability to drop his hips and anchor versus the bull rush when he builds his house and punches, but he may be at his best when he can short set and use independent hands to slow defenders.
At times, Fisher narrows his base and lunges to punch, completely missing with his hands, which makes him susceptible to push-pull and quick swim moves. He shows he can quickly post down to take away the inside and use his length, body control and athleticism to trace the hoop and run rushers past the quarterback.
Fisher also displayed improved mental processing and overall awareness to identify, slide out and pick up edge pressures that may have come late from depth in 2015.
Fisher showed a physical mindset and played with a chip on his shoulder in the run game, quickly firing out of his stance to engage and knock defenders off the ball and attempting to finish defenders every chance he got. He did a good job of working with his guard on double-teams, getting vertical push and collapsing defenders.
At times, Fisher showed the footwork and targeting to effectively combo block and overtake leveraged defenders for the guard to slip off and climb. Fisher did not always show the proper footwork, though, especially in targeting and overall technique on down blocks.
23. Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville Jaguars
Three seasons and 35 starts into Luke Joeckel's career, there are some serious questions that still arise, but the most important is: Is Joeckel's average play still a part of the development curve, or has he topped out of what he can be? In 14 games in 2015, Joeckel had moments that excited and moments that were flat-out bad.
Joeckel looks smooth getting into his pass set and looks natural kicking to get to his spot. He delivers a tight and explosive punch when he makes a stand. Joeckel is not overly strong and struggles to anchor consistently, which has been a major issue so far in his career and was a big reason for him surrendering seven sacks and 39 pressures in 14 games last year.
Joeckel needs to improve the consistency of his pass-set angles, and at times he undersets, which allows defenders to turn the corner on him. He does show the quickness and body control needed to recover when his edge is challenged or he is moved off his spot, though. Joeckel has the feet and agility to take away the inside from defenders with a solid inside hand and post-foot. He does a good job at working with his guard to pass off a defensive line twist.
Joeckel displays good explosiveness and quickness off the ball in the run game, which allows him to immediately uncoil his hips and jolt defenders off the point of attack. However, you just do not see the strength and physicality at the point of attack with Joeckel.
While able to reach and hook defenders pretty easily with quickness and hand placement, at times his feet get crossed up, which is when he falls off blocks. Joeckel has to be able to maintain a base to sustain. He takes good angles when climbing to the next level of defenders and does a nice job finishing, and he consistently plays with good knee bend.
Joeckel also displays good hand placement by latching on to defenders, which allows him to control them. As is the case with many left tackles near the bottom of our list, Joeckel is better in the run game than he is in pass protection.
22. Donovan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Donovan Smith surprised many when he declared for the 2015 draft after his junior season. Many believed Smith still needed development and, most of all, needed to mature. Smith struggled early on during his rookie season but settled in and found his groove down the stretch.
Smith shows a quick vertical set in pass protection, covering the range needed to maintain leverage on some of the best pass-rushers in the league. Smith showed he could also set firm and end the fight early when he got his hands on defenders.
One of the biggest issues Smith had early on in the season was his recovery when defenders moved him off his spot. He would become over-aggressive and lunge or would lose weight distribution and get knocked back on his heels. Midway through the season, Smith began to recover and reestablish after being moved off his spot.
Smith shows good (but not great) foot quickness and lateral agility to mirror and stay in front of defenders. He uses his length and upper-body power to punch and control defenders.
Smith has the lower-body strength to anchor against the bull rush when pad level is maintained. He has good mobility in his hips, which allows him to sink his hips and anchor once he's leveraged with his hands. Late in the season, Smith began to figure it out and flashed good patience in pass protection and good body control, rarely lunging or getting out over his toes as he did early in the season.
In the run game, Smith comes off the ball with good hip explosion and is able to engage, uncoil and lift defenders. Combined with tremendous upper-body explosion, he delivers a solid initial blow.
Smith shows good lower-body strength and a powerful base to push the point of attack and strain to move stalemates. As long has he did not tire out, Smith displayed quickness off the ball, which allowed him to use his length and footwork to reach and turn edge defenders and also cut off defenders when the run went away from him. Again, when fresh, he proved to be a mauler.
Smith takes good angles to the second level when climbing to fit on linebackers and also shows he has the mobility and awareness to pull or get out in space and still track defenders and execute blocks. For Smith, his effectiveness in the run game boils down to being fresh and in good condition.
21. Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
Taylor Lewan was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft and was expected to develop into a mainstay anchor for the Tennessee Titans offensive line. But Lewan has struggled in some areas and has even regressed to the point where the Titans could be looking to upgrade the left tackle position via the draft in the spring.
Lewan is at his best when he can short set, latch and anchor defenders right away. He shows the foot quickness to mirror and stay in front of defenders and displays the feet and length needed to trace the hoop and run defenders past the quarterback.
Lewan is inconsistent with his pass-set landmarks, which has caused him to be unable to consistently settle to a spot and build his house to anchor. He struggled to transition his kick versus speed-to-power moves, often being overpowered by the bull rush. Lewan also appears to get frustrated and becomes overly aggressive with his punch timing, which leads to his lunging and being beat with hand swipes and push-pull. The majority of the eight sacks he surrendered came in this way.
Lewan does a nice job giving help to his guard with inside hand while keeping eyes outside when the slide protection comes to his side, though. As the season went on, he seemed to have gotten better with his hand usage when he settled his feet, notably using independent hands to keep rushers off-balance.
The emotion and mean streak Lewan plays with in the run game are undeniable. Lewan gets off the ball with a purpose, demonstrating initial explosiveness and power out of his stance to jolt defenders at the point of attack.
Though Lewan continues to drive his feet when engaged with defenders, he often narrows his base, making it difficult for him to re-leverage to break stalemates and to finish defenders consistently. The narrowing of his base also makes it difficult to maintain and strain blocks, often leading to him being thrown off blocks. You just don't see strength and sustained power out of him in the run game, but the effort is there.
Lewan must improve his patience when combo blocking with his guard or tight end. At times he comes off the first-level defenders before they are secured, and movement is generated trying to get a block on linebackers. Lewan does have good quickness, body control, footwork and targeting when cutting off the backside defender when the run goes away from him, though, and takes good angles when climbing to the second level.
20. Branden Albert, Miami Dolphins
Branden Albert got off to a shaky start in 2015, beginning the season with a hamstring injury after already dealing with a reconstructed knee from his 2014 injury. Albert did not look like he was playing with confidence in the first two games of the season and appeared to be a bit hesitant. But after returning from sitting out in Weeks 3 and 4, Albert looked to have turn the corner.
Known for his outstanding pass protection, Albert has notched 106 starts in his eight-year career. He made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and was named an alternate for 2015.
Albert has a smooth and natural pass set, which allows him to cover a lot of ground. He displays good patience and is rarely out of position. Albert shows the ability to set, kick and stick once he reaches his landmark. He establishes and maintains a solid inside post-foot to take away the inside path from defenders and is also able to use his inside hand to take away the inside from pass-rushers.
Despite the injuries Albert has had, he still has the foot quickness to mirror and stay in front of defenders and also shows the ability to trace the circle and run defenders over the top and past the pocket. Despite that, Albert was inconsistent with his punch and anchor in 2015. Many times it looked as if his timing was off. He often found himself catching defenders into his frame, becoming unable to anchor.
Albert flashes quickness off the ball, which helps him to quickly engage defenders in the run game. He shows quick feet and outstanding footwork when reaching and sealing edge defenders and when cutting off backside techniques when runs go away from him.
Albert does a good job of keeping his shoulders square on combo blocks and when climbing to the next level to engage linebackers. He also shows the ability to pull and execute on moving targets.
Albert isn't going to overpower anyone in the run game, but he's been fairly effective in that area to this point. Still, his true value is as a pass-protecting left tackle who is adequate enough at run blocking.
19. Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions drafted Riley Reiff with the 23rd overall pick of the 2012 draft in hopes that he would be a mainstay for a long time anchoring Matthew Stafford's blind side. But instead, he has consistently provided more questions than protection.
Reiff has provided continuity on the Lions offensive line, having started 55 games, but longevity does not necessarily correlate with production. There is no need to sugarcoat the fact that Reiff is a liability in pass protection, which begs for two question to be asked: What do the Lions do with Reiff, and is it time to look for an upgrade at left tackle in hopes of landing a premier anchor?
In pass protection, Reiff is able to angle set toward defenders and get to his landmark to punch and anchor. He is at his best when doing so. There is not much else he can do if he is moved off his spot, though, as he loses weight distribution—with his feet all over the place—and eventually loses balance, making it impossible to anchor or recover.
Reiff is inconsistent in setting his feet to make a stand and anchor, often letting defenders into his frame to walk him back. Reiff's feet have to consistently put him in position to effectively use hands, which are also very inconsistent.
Because of the toughness and physicality Reiff plays with in the run game, there has been a lot of buzz about him moving to guard, but the fact is this: He does not play with enough square power to generate the force needed in the run game from the interior offensive line.
Reiff is at his best working in-line angles to angle-drive block or quickly reach and seal. He generates just enough force to stand defenders up when double-teaming and does a decent job widening the point of attack on down blocks.
Reiff is a better run-blocker than he is a pass-blocker, which doesn't bode well for his future at left tackle for the Lions.
18. Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons
As to be expected, Jake Matthews got off to a rough start in the first half of his rookie season in 2014 (19 pressures and four sacks over first seven weeks), but he began to figure it out and ended the season improving every week. Matthews clearly carried that momentum into the offseason and continued to make strides in 2015. PFF has Matthews credited with surrendering only one sack the entire season and finishing with a 95.7 percent pass-blocking efficiency score.
Matthews looked comfortable in pass protection in 2015, quickly getting into his set and showing consistency in his set angles to get him to his spot. He showed he could smoothly transition and settle from his kick to his landmark and was able to build his house and drop anchor once engaged with defenders.
Matthews also showed good patience and quick feet to mirror and stay in front of defenders. He did a good job of establishing and maintaining a solid inside post-foot and showed good body control and balance when needing to recover to post down and take away the ability for defenders to counter inside.
Matthews also showed the mental processing and awareness to identify and pick up pressure looks, which is paramount for the development of young tackles.
Matthews shows a mean streak and plays with controlled aggression on film, which is absolutely vital when playing offensive line. He plays with a good initial base and good knee bend, which eliminates the chance for defenders to use leverage against him.
The young tackle also does a good job using his hands in the run game, quickly getting inside the frame of defenders and latching on to leverage and gain control. Matthews wins the hand-placement battle often. He displays good footwork in the run game and shows he can reach and hook defenders on the edge with efficient footwork and good high-hand, outside-hand usage.
Matthews takes good angles when climbing to the second level and effectively fits on linebackers. On film, he is on the ground far too often, though—the result of a narrow base, which leads to his losing power and falling off blocks, especially at the second level. You just don't see the raw strength, power and physical domination in his game that leads to being an exceptional run-blocker.
17. David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers
There isn't a team in the NFL better than the Green Bay Packers at scouting, drafting and developing starting offensive linemen outside of the first three rounds of the draft. David Bakhtiari is a perfect example of this. He has become an essential part of the Packers offense over his 46 starts.
Bakhtiari ran into some injuries this season that kept him out of the last two games of the regular season, and in his absence, it was evident that the Green Bay Packers offense was not the same. How different was it? In the last two weeks of the regular season, the Packers offensive line surrendered 14 sacks, giving up nine against Arizona and five against Minnesota.
Bakhtiari is a huge component of the offense and displays a unique pass set in which his initial kick gains him vertical ground and his shoulders remain square to the line of scrimmage. His second kick then allows him to open his hips to settle on his spot, 45 degrees from the line of scrimmage. What is even more impressive is how quickly he squares his shoulders back up to recover if he is moved off his spot.
Bakhtiari always seems to maintain a half-man leverage and displays good punch timing, delivering a tight, solid punch. Once engaged, he shows great mobility to sink his hips, torque his elbows close to the body and leverage with his hands to anchor. He does not always look fluid when recovering, but he never loses balance or ends up out of position.
The Packers employ a lot of different run schemes, which require their offensive linemen to be able do a lot of different things. Whether it be power-gap schemes or zone-blocking schemes, Bakhtiari shows outstanding physical toughness in the run game and displays the explosion, strength and power to push the point of attack.
Bakhtiari quickly explodes out of his stance and gains inside hand placement to angle-drive block defenders off the point. He plays with a powerful base that allows him to strain and sustain blocks and shows the ability to re-leverage his hips to get under defenders when needing to break stalemates.
Bakhtiari's versatility is valuable for the Packers, and while his pass protection overshadows what he can do in the run game, he's more than adequate for a left tackle tasked primarily with keeping Aaron Rodgers on his feet.
16. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens gave Eugene Monroe a huge $37.5 million contract prior to the 2014 season, and it is safe to say the team has not seen a fruitful return on investment.
Monroe has all the physical traits you look for in an offensive tackle and when healthy is a good pass protector for Joe Flacco. But Monroe has missed a lot of action, only once playing in all 16 games in eight NFL seasons. In 2015, Monroe only finished three of the six games he started. Health has become a major factor in his inability to consistently put it all together.
Monroe's strength is in his pass-protection abilities. He shows outstanding range, explosively getting into his pass set to intersect defenders by maintaining half-man leverage. Monroe does an outstanding job using his length to keep defenders out of his frame and shows an explosive punch and recoil to slow them. He also shows the quickness and reflexes to recover when defenders move him off his spot.
Monroe is able to mirror and take away the inside and is adept at tracing the hoop to run defenders past the quarterback. He does struggle to transition his kick, settle and anchor versus speed-to-power players, though. Once they have him on his heels, he panics and lunges forward to attempt to deliver a blow, making him susceptible to completely losing balance if the defender throws a quick counter.
Monroe has no issues making all the blocks necessary for the zone-running game to be effective, showing the ability to accurately target and reach his landmark by losing ground with his first step and gaining ground on his second step to reach, hook and seal defenders on outside zone.
When uncovered, he is effortlessly able to run through the backside cutoff block. Monroe combo-blocks effectively with his guard slipping off and overtaking when necessary. He's also consistent with his angles when climbing to the second level to fit on linebackers and shows good body control and spacial awareness to track defenders and finish in space when pulling or on screens.
15. Kelvin Beachum, Pittsburgh Steelers
Kelvin Beachum had an impressive start to the 2015 season until his contract year was cut short after suffering a torn ACL in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals. At 6'3" with average length, guys like Beachum "aren't suppose to be able to play left tackle in the NFL," according to many experts.
Some may say that Beachum is an exception to the rule, but I believe Beachum is a prime example of why physical traits alone cannot be the be-all and end-all measuring stick and simply aren't enough to project an offensive lineman's potential success.
What Beachum lacks physically, he makes up for with great technique. He smoothly sets and gets to his landmark in pass protection, maintaining even weight distribution and half-man leverage. He shows that he can build his house to anchor when he is on his spot and can deliver a well-timed punch. If a defender beats Beachum to his landmark, he is often able to get into his frame, forcing Beachum to either make a stand or counter to recover.
He did at times struggle with lengthy defenders who were long enough to get into his frame, but he usually combated it by crafty use of hands to break momentum and regain hand placement and leverage.
Beachum isn't afraid to mix it up and shows physicality in the run game. He tries to finish defenders every chance he gets. As you would expect out of a tightly wound, compact frame, Beachum generates good power at the point of attack, quickly engaging and lifting defenders to leverage and driving them off the line of scrimmage.
Beachum maintains a powerful base that allows him to sustain power and break stalemates. He also shows good foot quickness, inside hand usage and well-timed hip swivel to turn head-up defenders out of the gap, creating a crease between him and the ball-carrier.
Beachum is an effective combo-blocker who knows exactly when to overtake or to slip off the block. When uncovered, he's able to effectively shift to the B-gap and climb up to linebackers flowing over the top toward the ball-carrier.
14. Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Okung has battled his fair share of injuries over his six-year career, and 2015 would prove to be no different. After playing only eight games in 2013 and 14 games in 2014, Okung registered 13 starts in 2015, missing time for a recurring toe injury and calf strain, yet he battled through a shoulder issue all season as well.
What was noticeable about Okung on film in 2015 was his ability to adapt his game to work around his ailments, finding new crafty techniques and methods to get the job done in spite of nagging injuries slowing some of his athletic ability
Okung quickly snaps out of his stance and smoothly gets into his pass set, which consistently looks to be at a spot about three yards deep and three yards wide. Okung rarely seems to change his landmark, where he settles to build his house. He's at his best when he can get to his spot and punch-recoil-punch to stop the charge of a defender and eventually create leverage with his hands to drops his hips to anchor.
Okung takes advantage of his length and rotational power when using his inside arm to widen defenders up the field who rush him full man. He shows the foot quickness, balance and mobility to quickly recover to take away inside counter moves, but he struggles when a defender is able to keep his feet going and move him off his spot, attacking his upfield shoulder and running the hoop.
He crosses his feet over and cannot trace the hoop to run guys over the top and past the quarterback, and this issue alone resulted in Okung giving up close to half of the 21 pressures PFF has him surrendering.
When run blocking, Okung exhibits explosive get-off out of his stance that generates decent initial power at the point of attack to engage and get decent movement on his angled-drive block. He can be inconsistent, though, when needing to re-leverage his hips to break stalemates because he loses power when his base narrows.
Okung effectively works combo blocks with his guard, getting lateral movement and understanding when to overtake heavy-leveraged players, often quickly wheeling his hips around in the gap to create a natural running lane. He also shows good short-area quickness, sifting through the B-gap and climbing to block second-level defenders flowing toward the ball-carrier when the run goes away from him.
13. Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis Colts
There weren't many bright spots on the Colts offensive line in 2015, but Anthony Castonzo was one. In his fifth season out of Boston College, Castonzo was consistent and solid—two words that any offensive linemen would gladly be associated with. Castonzo is as tough as they come and is dependable, starting 73 games and missing only three since taking over as the full-time starter five games into the 2012 season. He doesn't do anything that stands out as necessarily being great, but he is good at many things.
Castonzo is an explosive pass protector with tremendous range to cover a lot of ground. He consistently kicks to his spot, maintaining even weight distribution so that he precisely settles and builds his house to anchor. Castonzo wins with hand placement often and is good with latching with his hands and controlling defenders once he is on his landmark.
He also shows the overall strength and mobility to leverage and anchor with balance and coordination to smoothly recover when moved off his spot. Castonzo uses his length and foot quickness to trace the hoop to run rushers past the quarterback. He doesn't always maintain his post-foot and has to work to cover up the inside if he overcommits, though. He'll often run into trouble with being too aggressive versus defenders with some wiggle.
Castonzo does not mind getting after it in the run game. He consistently generates force on his base blocks to knock defenders off the ball, and he plays with a powerful base that allows him to sustain and drive through stalemates.
The Boston College product does an excellent job when he's the postman on "deuce block" double-teams with his guard, collapsing and pushing the 3-technique defensive tackle vertical. He also does a nice job of standing defenders up by stepping same-foot-same-shoulder on "trey" double-team blocks with his tight end and is able to square up and come off on linebackers after pushing the double-team.
Castonzo is good with cutting off the backside when the run goes away from him, doing it with quickness, efficient footwork and craftiness.
12. Duane Brown, Houston Texans
Duane Brown may be one of the least talked-about premier left tackles in the NFL. Since being selected 26th overall in the 2008 draft by the Houston Texans, Brown has been selected to three Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro in 2012 and has notched 120 starts in eight seasons. Brown was outstanding again in 2015 before his season ended with a torn quad that put him on injured reserve right before the AFC Wild Card Game.
Brown shows good range in pass protection when setting vertical and then adjusting to a 45-degree angle. He is able to maintain even weight distribution and half-man leverage on defenders working to his landmark. Brown is effective when he uses his firm set to strike an anchor against defenders on the line of scrimmage, but he has no issues settling his feet to build his house once he reaches his spot.
Brown also demonstrates good patience, punch timing and strike-zone recognition. And he displays explosive upper-body power when punching. He's good overall with his hands.
Brown maintains a powerful base and shows good overall strength, power and mobility when anchoring. He possesses good foot quickness, and his feet maintain contact with the ground when mirroring defenders, which allows for easy change of direction without shifting weight distribution. Brown has good balance for his size and possesses excellent recovery skills.
In the run game, Brown comes off the ball with a purpose and quickly engages defenders. He outputs explosive power to jolt defenders off the ball and generate force through the ground by maintaining a powerful base and driving through his steps to get push at the point of attack.
Brown shows the strength and hip mobility to re-leverage and strain to break stalemates on the line of scrimmage. He also shows sudden initial quickness, efficient footwork, hand placement and the hips to reach, seal and hook edge defenders. For a left tackle his size, Brown does display some quickness, agility and body control when asked to pull and track moving defenders.
11. Michael Oher, Carolina Panthers
Michael Oher may be the most improved offensive lineman of 2015.
Oher never missed a game in his first five seasons in Baltimore after the Ravens drafted him 23rd overall in 2009, but his development seemed to halt and his overall play regressed after offensive line coach John Matsko was fired by Baltimore in January 2011. Matsko joined the Panthers staff a day later. Oher would spend the 2014 season in Tennessee and did not perform well in the 11 games he started.
He reunited with Coach Matsko when he signed with the Carolina Panthers, and the resurgence of his game is evident.
Oher has an explosive vertical set that allows him to create just enough space to get to his spot and settle his feet to build his house. He shows the strike-zone recognition and punch timing to effectively stop the charge of defenders and is able to leverage his hips to anchor.
Oher maintains an outstanding base with even weight distribution and shows good ability to recover when he is moved off his spot. He also shows the foot quickness and efficiency with his footwork to cut grass, maintaining contact with the ground to mirror and post down to take away the inside.
Oher shows good physicality at the point of attack and displays the hip explosion, strength, power and hand placement to hit, lift and drive defenders on base blocks or when tracking to angle-drive block. The Panthers run multiple schemes in the run game, and their offensive tackles, specifically, must be able to do a lot of different things.
Oher understands the angles of the zone-blocking scheme and is able to quickly reach and seal defenders by losing ground to gain ground and also shows the footwork to cut off the backside by ripping and running or cutting the far leg of scraping.
Oher generates positive lateral movement when combo blocking and is able to overtake and slip off to climb when necessary. He shows good tracking when climbing to the second level and is able to fit and drive linebackers. Oher pushes the point of attack on "deuce block" double-teams in power schemes and is able to step down and collide the hip of B-gap defenders when down blocking.
10. Jared Veldheer, Arizona Cardinals
The primary focus of the Arizona Cardinals the last two offseasons was to upgrade their offensive line with size and toughness. In 2014, they did just that with the signing of Jared Veldheer. At 6'8" and 321 pounds, they do not come much larger than Veldheer, who has proved to be a huge free-agent signing, figuratively and literally.
Veldheer is aggressive in terms of the way he approaches pass protection. The majority of times, he is at his best when he uses his short set to get his hands on guys right away. Veldheer does possess the range and athleticism needed to set to a landmark if needed but would rather immediately use his length, anchor and ability to react and recover to end the fight early.
When Veldheer does attempt to set with depth, his landmarks are inconsistent, oversetting at times, but showing the ability to recover and post down to take away the inside. Other times, he undersets and has to work to use his length to run guys over the top and past the quarterback.
The aggressive nature in which Veldheer lives and dies by in pass protection has, at times, caused him to be susceptible to getting beat with hand swipes, push-pull and spin moves. He has difficulties passing off twist and line games.
Veldheer is a capable in-line blocker, excelling in gap scheme-type blocks, where he is able to take advantage of square power to consistently push the point of attack. He shows the ability to get movement off the line of scrimmage on base blocks and the feet, targeting, hand placement and hips to reach-block edge defenders. He also understands when to turn it into an angled-drive block if he cannot hook and seal.
The behemoth left tackle generates outstanding force out of his stance when asked to double-team and combo block and shows the body control and awareness to keep shoulders square and come off on second-level defenders.
He has the footwork and upper-body power to collapse and drive B-gap defenders when asked to down block and takes full advantage of his length and lateral quickness when needing to step down to take away the B-gap.
9. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills
Cordy Glenn has had his ups and downs in his four-year NFL career. He has flashed both promise and dominance but has raised concerns about his commitment to being a pro. There were huge questions and high expectations for Glenn heading into the 2015 season.
Would the 45-game starter put it all together in his contract year and take the next step toward being a premier left tackle, or would he continue to merely flash the promise we've all grown accustomed to seeing since Buffalo drafted him 41st overall in 2012? Glenn's performance in 2015 has shined the light on just how good he can be when motivated and committed.
In pass protection, Glenn explodes into his set and reaches his landmark with a sense of urgency while maintaining even weight distribution throughout. He shows the upper-body explosion to jolt defenders and displays the overall strength, lower-body mobility and ability to create leverage with his hands to consistently anchor on defenders.
The most impressive part about Glenn in pass protection is what he can do when defenders move him off his spot. For as massive as Glenn is (6'6", 345 lbs), he possesses quick feet and tremendous balance and is able to quickly recover when defenders initially get him off his spot and out of half-man relationship. Glenn uses his length and foot quickness well to trace the hoop and run guys past the quarterback and engulfs and widens wide rushers up the field.
Glenn shows good use of his inside hand and post-foot when taking away the inside. When fatigue does not derail him, Glenn is on level with Trent Williams, Tyron Smith and Jason Peters as one of the most physically dominating pass protectors in the league.
Glenn understands how to use his size, explosion, power and strength in the run game, flashing physical dominance to move defenders off the point of attack on downhill base blocks. Glenn shows the feet tracking, hip explosion and upper-body explosion to hit, lift and completely widen defenders on angled-drive blocks. He also shows the ability to lose ground on his first step and gain ground on his second step.
Glenn displays the targeting body control and footwork needed to quickly cut off backside defenders when the run goes away from him. He can completely collapse and widen the point of attack on down blocks and generates great movement on double-teams and combo blocks with his guard.
Given his size, there's no reason Glenn should be as athletic and versatile as he is.
8. Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
Jason Peters may be one of the best stories in the NFL. A college tight end, he went undrafted out of Arkansas in 2004 and since has worked himself into being one of the best offensive linemen in football. After his eight Pro Bowl trips and two All-Pro selections, you could even make the argument that Peters is a Hall of Fame player.
He possess elite, freaky athleticism for a guy his size (6'4", 328 lbs). He understands angles in both pass protection and the run game and excels at both. Though he was selected for his eighth Pro Bowl, 2015 presented challenges for him in the form of numerous injuries.
Peters has been called the “dancing bear” for his nimbleness in pass protection. He shows an explosive set in which he smoothly transitions his kicks to get width, which allows him to consistently get to his landmark and in position to punch and anchor against defenders.
The range Peters has in pass protection when healthy makes it almost impossible for edge-rushers, blitzers and even corner blitzes to get around him. And early in the season before injury, when teams did challenge his edge, he displayed the feet and agility to effortlessly run them by.
Chronic back issues and a high-ankle sprain plagued him, though, and it was obvious when Peters uncharacteristically struggled when needing to recover against defenders' second or countermoves.
The 34-year-old had to go away from his rangy pass sets, changing them to be a bit more aggressive so he could get his hands on defenders right away. This led to misses with his hands and openings for defenders to gain hand placement and eventually leverage, making it difficult for Peters to transition into dropping anchor. Despite the injuries, Peters managed to only give up five sacks and 11 pressures on the season.
When healthy, Peters showed the dominance in the run game that has made him one of the best in the business. He displayed a dynamic combination of explosion, strength, power, footwork and physicality in 2015, just as he has most of his career.
Whether it was moving the point of attack in one-on-one situations on angled-drive blocks or reaching wide-aligned edge players, Peters made it look easy. Despite the nagging injuries, he still showed the initial explosion, strength, power, footwork and physicality described above, but he struggled to sustain and strain defenders when needing to break stalemates or re-leverage to gain control.
7. Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders
Despite going undrafted in 2006 out of Utah State, Donald Penn just completed his 10th season and has notched 140 consecutive starts. Penn was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and has even caught three career touchdowns. At 6'4", 315 pounds, he doesn't have the prototypical size and physical traits of an ideal NFL left tackle, but he represents what offensive line play is all about: toughness, consistency and pride.
It doesn't matter if it is run blocking or pass protection, Penn absolutely gets after defenders.
He explodes into his set in pass protection, maintaining even weight distribution and half-man leverage to get to his landmark and settle on his spot. He shows good punch timing and explosive upper-body power to violently deliver a strike and anchor versus elite talent.
It doesn't always look pretty, but Penn shows the foot quickness, body control and mobility to consistently recover when defenders move him off his spot, and he can smoothly post down, using a strong inside hand to take away the inside counter.
Penn has the range and enough length to run guys over the top of the pocket and past the quarterback when they get even with his upfield shoulder. He can also walk guys up the field to widen them with his base and power. Penn shows the awareness and mental processing to identify and pick up twists, often passing off the slant man through a violent collision.
Penn plays with tremendous square power in the run game and is able to explode out of his stance, quickly engaging to hit, lift and drive defenders off the point of attack on base blocks or angled drive blocks.
He maintains an outstanding base and generates good power through his in-steps that allow him to sustain and drive or re-leverage to break stalemates. He shows the ability to violently collapse the 3-technique defensive tackle on "deuce blocks" when he is the postman and is able to stand up defenders on combo and duo double-teams.
Penn shows the footwork, targeting, upper-body explosion and hand usage to deliver a violent blow when collapsing and widening the point of attack on down blocks for power. Any chance he gets, Penn looks to finish blocks, no matter if it is stopping in-line defenders or fitting and driving linebackers into the ground on the second level. Penn simply plays with relentless intentions.
6. Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
- The initial vertical nature of his set allows him to establish a definitive post-foot as well as the angled width he works to while maintaining half-man leverage, which allows him to maintain his post-foot.
- Staley possesses outstanding body control, balance and mobility, which allow him to quickly recover and post down inside on defenders.
- He is able to consistently take away the inside because of how violent he uses his inside hand to snatch and gain leverage.
There has been a lot of change in San Francisco recently, yet Joe Staley, with 130 starts since 2007, remains a constant. Staley turned in an outstanding 2015 season, which concluded with the nine-year-veteran making his fifth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.
Staley, plays the game the way it is suppose to be played—with toughness and grit. It's evident on film that when things got tough down the stretch for San Francisco, Staley turned up his intensity. After having a rough outing against the Bears in Week 13 in which PFF credited him with surrendering two sacks and six pressures, Staley managed to give up only three pressures and zero sacks over the last four weeks of the season.
In pass protection, Staley shows an explosive set that sees him consistently reach his landmark by covering vertical ground and widening edge-rushers off their path at a 45 degree angle. He possesses elite foot quickness and displays efficient footwork when mirroring to stay in front of defenders or transitioning his kick to build his house to anchor. He also has explosive upper-body power, good strike-zone recognition and outstanding punch timing.
Rarely do you see Staley get beat to the inside, and there are a few reasons for this:
Staley does not settle for stalemates or position blocking when run blocking; he absolutely mauls defenders in the run game. He shows the hip explosion, power and strength to quickly engage, hit, lift and drive defenders off the point of attack in one-on-one downhill run situations.
Staley displays the ability to step down and explosively strike and drive the hip of B-gap defenders on down blocks, which requires the point of attack to be widened on power plays. He consistently generates great push on "deuce block" double-teams with his left guard and is able to square his shoulders to fit and drive linebackers once the deuce hits the second level.
He's also an outstanding puller who can locate, track and execute, and it does not seem to matter if he's moving to the near perimeter or in the opposite direction. Staley is good in space, able to dip his hips and explode on a sitting defender or can change directions and cut when a defender is moving.
In zone schemes, Staley shows the overall quickness, footwork and hand placement to reach and seal edge defenders at the point of attack. He also shows the consistent targeting, body control and hand usage to cut off the back side when the run goes away from him.
5. Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
Terron Armstead has quietly performed at a high level for the New Orleans Saints since taking over as the starting left tackle in Week 16 of the 2013 season.
There was plenty of buzz about Armstead after he clocked a blazing 4.71-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 combine, the fastest offensive line time since at least 2006, but the Arkansas-Pine Bluff product has done nothing but continue to develop his game to complement his rare physical gifts.
In pass protection, the three-year pro shows the ability to keep edge-rushers off balance by switching up his sets, which normally takes offensive linemen some time to develop. He shows an explosive set that gains vertical ground and is able to get to his spot effortlessly to build his house.
He also shows he can aggressively set firm, strike explosively and anchor to stop the charge of rushers at the line of scrimmage.
Armstead displays good strike-zone recognition and punch timing, often stopping defenders dead in their tracks as he anchors on his spot. There were times where he did over set and was unable to transition his anchor versus speed-to-power in 2015, but what is impressive about Armstead is his ability to use his hands effectively.
Usually it takes a long time for offensive linemen to develop crafty hand usage, but Armstead consistently is able to use independent hands to throw off defenders' timing. He also shows he can snatch and trap defenders down toward the ground and can swat and pin defenders' hands to gain leverage or to knock opponents off balance.
Armstead's ability to recover is special. He is able to maintain the half-man leverage needed to use his length and efficient feet to trace the hoop and run edge-rushers over the top of the pocket. He also shows the body control, foot quickness and inside-hand usage to mirror defenders and take away the inside.
The Saints don't ask Armstead to do a whole lot in the run game, which is a good thing, because he isn't a devastating run-blocker in the traditional sense. Armstead is more of a "fit" or position blocker and isn't going to consistently road grade and get a ton of movement at the point of attack.
He still shows the hip explosion, upper explosiveness and power at the point of attack needed to quickly engage and jolt defenders off the ball. And he plays with a good base, generating force through his in-steps, allowing him to sustain his power when engaged with defenders.
If there is one inconsistent area, it's in his footwork and targeting when needing to cut off the back side when a run goes away from him. Armstead is decent on zone-combo blocks, either overtaking heavy-leveraged defenders or allowing his combo mate to go to the second level or working through the near shoulder pad of outleveraged defenders.
Armstead shows he can run good tracks and takes good angles when climbing to the second level to fit on linebackers.
He might not be asked to do a ton of it, but Armstead still earns high marks as an efficient, effective run blocker on the left side of the Saints line.
4. Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
In his fifth year, Tyron Smith cemented himself as one of the top left tackles in the game. Smith has made three consecutive Pro Bowl trips for his efforts in 2013, 2014 (All-Pro) and 2015. He has notched 79 starts, and at only 25 years old, all signs show that his best football is still ahead of him.
The 6'5", 320-pound Smith possesses a rare combination of size, strength, power and explosion to go along with excellent body control, balance and efficient technique. If there were to be a “prototype” pinpointing what an elite offensive tackle should look like, Tyron Smith would surely be the standard.
He shows a dynamically explosive pass set, which allows him to consistently get to his spot landmark while maintaining half-man leverage. Smith keeps an even weight distribution and consistently knows when to make a stand to build his house and anchor. He also shows great strike-zone recognition and punch timing, which leads to the delivery of a tight, explosive strike with strong overall hand usage.
Smith consistently shows the foot quickness to mirror and stay in front of defenders while also displaying the efficiency in his footwork needed to post down on opponents to take away the inside. At times, Smith does allow defenders into his body when trying to anchor against speed-to-power rushes, which has led to him being walked back and did result in three of the five sacks he was responsible for, as tallied by PFF.
His feet, hips and hands consistently put Smith in position to make reach blocks look easy against elite edge defenders. He shows the absolute strength and power to push the point of attack on base blocks or on angled-drive blocks. When a run goes away from him, Smith's feet put him in position to consistently cut off defenders on the back side when they clearly have him outleveraged.
It is impressive to see Smith's ability to control defenders by dropping his hips and torquing the elbows to create leverage with his hands when breaking up stalemates in the run game. He effectively works combo blocks with his guard, getting vertical push and knowing if he needs to keep pushing the combo or to overtake heavy-leveraged players.
Smith has been notorious for his violent club he nails defenders with to get them up the field on draw plays, and he is absolutely vicious in space. He shows the ability to track moving defenders and to engage to execute an effective, and at times, devastating block, often resulting in many highlight knockdown finishes.
3. Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
Trent Williams has been selected to the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons (2012-2015), and six years into his career, he has established himself as one of the top left tackles in the game. 2015 saw Williams emerge as a leader for a young Washington offensive line that needed his brand of consistency.
Unorthodox in terms of traditional pass-protection sets and angles, Williams tailored his pass set to complement his physical traits. This allows the 6'5", 337-pound Williams to have great range against the NFL's elite pass-rushers by gaining vertical depth on his first and second kicks and creating width on his third kick.
Williams may possesses one of the better punches among offensive linemen. On film, you can routinely see the heads of many defenders jolt back when he strikes. Williams shows strength, power, lower-body mobility and balance when needing to anchor or recover.
His pass-protection tool box is made up of a dynamic combination of athleticism, patience, body control and physicality, which makes him one heck of a tough road block to get around. He often widens defenders completely up the field and away from the quarterback.
Williams showed the awareness and mental processing to identify and call out twist games or blitz looks throughout the 2015 season. He consistently established and maintained his post foot and was active using an inside hand. Because of this, when defenders attempted to counter inside, Williams could smoothly recover and post down to take away the inside and bury opponents.
Washington's big left tackle can do it all in the run game. He shows the ability to consistently get movement at the point of attack on base blocks or angled-drive blocks. He is able to reach, hook, drive and finish most edge defenders within his first and second steps with great initial quickness, footwork, hip timing and hand placement. He understands when he needs to re-leverage, as well, knowing when to turn his reach into an angled-drive block when defenders have him outleveraged.
His athleticism kicks in as he makes backside cutoffs look like a jog in the park. Williams is one of a few left tackles who consistently pull and finish players on inside power plays and while pulling to the perimeter. It is evident that when Williams releases on screens or climbs to the second level, he is moving with bad intentions and looking for contact, whether it be a defensive back in the flat or a linebacker scraping over the top of a play.
2. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
After being a notable Pro Bowl and All-Pro snub for the 2014 season, Andrew Whitworth turned in another dominating performance in 2015. He does all the dirty work that at times goes unnoticed. There is nothing in his game that stands out as being textbook or pretty to watch, but what he does is effective, and he's proven to be a consistent anchor for the Bengals offensive line.
Whitworth showed great range while protecting the offense's left side in 2015. He keeps defenders off balance by switching up his sets. That creates space, a firm setting and allows him to picking his spots to jump set and get his hands on guys at the line of scrimmage. Whitworth pairs outstanding upper-body strength and explosion with patience and precise punch timing to anchor against the NFL's best pass-rushers.
At 6'7" and 330 pounds, what stands out about Whitworth in pass protection is his outstanding body control and balance when needing to recover. Whether he's quickly mirroring and posting down on defenders to take away the inside, or using his length and feet to trace the hoop and run guys past the quarterback, Whitworth rarely looks out of sync.
That resulted in just 17 total pressures and only five sacks allowed in 2015, including the AFC Wild Card Game, per PFF.
As efficient as Whitworth is in pass protection, there is absolutely no drop-off in the run game. In fact, he may be even better at it.
Whitworth shows physicality here. He absolutely mauls and finishes off blocks in a nasty manner, and despite his length, he displays good lower-body mobility and consistently shows the lower-body explosion necessary to uncoil his hips, hit, lift and drive defenders off the point of attack.
Whitworth maintains a functional base when engaged and shows he can sink his hips to re-leverage when breaking stalemates. He has the efficient footwork needed in all areas of the run game, and it doesn't matter if it's effectively reaching and sealing the edge or crashing inside to down-block on a 3-technique defensive tackle. Whitworth has been on the giving end of many epic double-teams and combo blocks.
No matter if he's working with the left guard or the tight end, there is always significant movement off the line of scrimmage. Whitworth displays his athleticism and spacial awareness when asked to pull and is effective moving in either direction.
1. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
In terms of consistent dominance, it gets no better than Joe Thomas.
He is the only offensive lineman in NFL history to be named to nine consecutive Pro Bowls to start his career. If someone asks what offensive tackle I would start a franchise with, it's simple: Joe Thomas. Having started all 144 games in his nine-year career, Thomas is the definition of consistency and durability, which is unheard of for an offensive lineman in the modern NFL.
When you turn on the film of Thomas, it is easy to be fooled into believing what you are seeing is routine, and it looks like you are watching the same play on a loop. But the truth is, there is nothing routine about it. We are witnessing greatness on each snap from a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Thomas makes pass protection look easy. Using a truly unique elongated stance, the 6'6", 312-pound Thomas is able to effortlessly explode off his front foot, maintaining even weight distribution and a set vertical to his spot, which puts him in position to latch and anchor versus elite NFL edge-rushers. Thomas' pass set looks the same every play no matter who his opponent is.
It is evident Thomas does not base his set upon the defender. He bases it upon his kick, allowing him to have the range to reach his landmark. It is rare that his edge is challenged, and when it is, he shows the body control and feet to trace the hoop, running defenders over the top and past the quarterback. Thomas displays rare recovery ability and always seems to know where he is in relationship to the quarterback.
Thomas has always been known to excel as a zone blocker—a scheme in which he could use his athletic ability to take advantage of in-line angles. But 2015 saw Thomas have what may have been his best season as a complete run-blocker. That includes downhill, in-line run plays.
Consistently uncoiling his hip, delivering a violent strike and driving many guys to a finish, Thomas controlled the point of attack in 2015. It doesn't matter if it's run blocking or pass protection, he wastes no movement. His feet are machine-like, which consistently puts him in position to use his hands in a crafty manner.
Thomas' awareness to get his hips around and create a sealed lane when cutting off the back side is a thing of beauty and seemed to be a new tool in his tool box. He shows great footwork and timing on double-teams and combo blocks, overtaking defenders or shoving them to his guard, which allows him to climb to the second level.