NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 OG Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 OG Market

0 of 21

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free-agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and Offensive Guard scout Ethan Young dive into this year's OG class. 

    The casual football fan may not revere the offensive guard as a key cog in any offense, but make no mistake—in the modern NFL, you must have at least one guard who can perform multiple tasks at a high level if you want your offense to succeed.

    Power-based teams need guards who can run all manner of power/counter/trap schemes, and more and more teams are implementing hybrid blocking patterns in which players must switch from man to zone blocking. The Patriots, under esteemed line coach Dante Scarnecchia, will alter their blocking philosophies and alignments depending on the opponent. No longer can a guard just sit in his gap and throw people around.

    The best guards of today are equally adept with power-blocking as they are with getting on the move to block outside on screens and getting up the seam in certain run concepts. It's an important and specialized position, and it's why the old idea of moving the bad tackle inside to become a good guard doesn't often work anymore.

    Guards must be trained from the collegiate level for optimal success, and in facing hybrid fronts and stunts that are more complicated than ever, their mental acuity must match their physical prowess.

    Fortunately for those teams in need of improvement at both the left and right guard slots, it's a fairly heavy bale of talent in the 2017 free-agent class, and there's a lot at the top. Here's how we see this year's class.

    Previous Installments

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Left Tackle Rankings

21. Luke Joeckel

1 of 21

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Luke Joeckel did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel was arguably the worst guard in the NFL this year other than Alvin Bailey. It's certainly tough to convert positions, and players don't get enough credit for how seamless they make the transition look at times, but that wasn't the case for Joeckel at all. You have to imagine these were some of the first times Joeckel hasn't been stationed at tackle his entire life because he looked like a fish out of water inside.

    Joeckel made tons of basic mistakes: not dropping far enough back on pulls, getting tripped by other linemen in basic vertical sets, dropping his head and spearing as his first move post-snap, peeling off combo blocks too early, allowing easy ball-side interior penetration—really brutal stuff.

    That said, Joeckel will get a couple more chances as a reclamation project based on his draft position alone. While I understand that allure on the surface, I would advise interested teams to try him at tackle rather than guard. I know conventional wisdom says to try struggling tackles inside at guard, and that makes sense for some players (Greg Robinson, step right up), but that clearly isn't going to work with Joeckel.

    Some may say he didn't get enough reps at guard to fully adjust, but I saw more than enough over the course of the preseason and the first few weeks to convince me there is no future for Luke Joeckel at guard. Perhaps he needs to pull a Justin Britt and convert inside even farther to center. You can at least sell me on that one. But there is no way he should be getting reps at guard again.

    Of all the places he could go, I like the Panthers as a landing spot for Joeckel. Jacksonville needs to cut its losses, so I didn't even include the Jaguars as a suitor, but the Panthers could use a lottery ticket at right tackle. They have had some success with reclamation projects at tackle before in Michael Oher. They aren't finding many exciting tackle options in this draft class, and it would be nice if they had a chance to get help up front for Cam Newton.

    Doug's Quick Take

    It's possible Joeckel could have some manner of success inside in a straight-ahead power-blocking scheme, but that will take time. As Ethan said, his mechanical issues are legion, and he's proof that for the most part, the old "take the bad tackle and make him a great guard" school of thought doesn't work (step right up, Germain Ifedi).

    Potential Suitors: Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns

20. Patrick Omameh

2 of 21

    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 15.2/25
    Run Block: 15.3/25
    Power: 15.8/20
    Agility: 13/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 66.3/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 74/78       


    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    It's clear the Jaguars need to revamp their guard group, as they arguably had the worst performances at the position in the league last year. Omameh was certainly part of that, showing that he is nothing more than a depth option going forward. Omameh had the fifth-lowest NFL1000 grade among guards that played more than five games, so hopefully he won't be asked to start again next season.

    Where Omameh really struggled was getting out of his stance in both the run and pass game. His hands were rarely ready to take part in hand fighting battles because they weren't up yet. Because of this, Omameh repeatedly allowed defenders to get into his body before he was ready, giving defenders leverage they otherwise wouldn't have had. Omameh also plays tall and struggles to play in his legs and generate a powerful anchor. He's smooth, but he is not explosive, and that is his main issue.

    If I was Jacksonville, I would look into purging the guard group as a whole. It clearly didn't work last year, from the top down to the depth options. That said, Omameh could work out as a depth option. When he does get his hands in position, Omameh has a powerful initial punch, and he also has length and flexibility to recover you rarely see off the bench at guard. He's 27, so you question how much development is still possible, but he could still be a serviceable option in the future.

    Dallas presents an interesting fit. The Cowboys don't have much to spend at guard, but if they lose Ronald Leary and want a cheap veteran to compete with La'el Collins, who is coming off an injury, Omameh could fit what they want. Omameh is useful in space, and giving him time to get out and gather himself like the Cowboys do with La'el would help cover up a lot of his deficiencies.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Omameh allowed no sacks and just 13 total pressures in 454 snaps last season, proving that he's decent enough in pass pro. While he remains a liability as a run-blocker, there's enough to build on for a vet minimum deal on a pass-heavy team.

    Potential Suitors: Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals

19. Earl Watford

3 of 21

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 13.8/25
    Run Block: 15.2/25
    Power: 16.2/20
    Agility: 13/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 65.2/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 77/78


    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Earl Watford is another depth-only option going forward, scoring as the second-lowest-graded guard in this year's NFL1000. Going further than just below-average grades—where Watford scored slightly lower—Watford edges out Omameh on this list for a couple of reasons. Sure, he's a year younger, but that's not all that important when you are looking at 26 vs. 27 years old at guard.

    The main difference between them is Watford has some experience at tackle.That emergency versatility is nice to have with depth players, and Arizona utilized it last year even though it wasn't pretty at times. I also prefer Watford from a traits perspective, as you can see the flashes on his tape. He's strong and long, and when the movement skills click into place, you can envision the possible development path. That said, the Cardinals tried for years to get those reps to appear more often and never were able to pull it off.

    I included the Rams as a possible third suitor for Watford as competitive depth for one of the worst interior offensive lines in the league. You may be wondering why I didn't include Los Angeles as potential suitors for some of the top guards available. This is because I think next year is finally the season Greg Robinson moves inside to guard full-time and the Rams go after a legit left tackle.

    If that happens, guard isn't a need. Rodger Saffold is already slotted in at the other guard spot. Even though Saffold has been average, he was far and away Los Angeles' best offensive lineman last year. That's not saying much, but there are more pressing matters to address up front. Depth is a need, but as bad as Cody Wichmann and Jamon Brown were last year, getting a cost-effective clear upgrade as a sixth offensive lineman may be tough. The Rams are likely to bring in another body on the inside and spend most of their allocated resources on tackle help.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Watford allowed six sacks as a guard last season, and when he was pressed into service at a tackle late in the 2016 campaign, he was even worse. A hulking presence, Watford doesn't have the agility at any position to succeed against pass-rushers, and his run-blocking doesn't make up for it. If you're signing him at this point, you either believe mightily in his upside or you are desperate for help.

    Potential Suitors: Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams

18. Oday Aboushi

4 of 21

    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Oday Aboushi did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Aboushi is about as bland a depth option on paper as you can get at the guard position, but that has value in today's offensive line landscape. With his age and relatively vanilla play, a team that misses out on the top guard options may overpay for Aboushi, but his tape isn't deserving of more than a depth contract. Essentially, if Aboushi gets more than $2 million per year as an average salary, that is too much.

    Given how bad the Texans guard situation was at times this year, keeping Aboushi around makes a lot of sense even though he didn't stand out on tape. With how Jeff Allen has played, it doesn't look he'll be on the roster this time next year, as his play has come nowhere near what he is being paid. Plus, relying on him to hold medically all year isn't ideal.

    On the other side, Xavier Su'a-Filo has been around a league-average guard, but his contract expires after this season. I can't imagine the Texans will be in rush to re-sign him either. I don't need to remind Texans fans Sua-Filo was selected before Derek Carr in 2014 and has become a martyr of sorts because of that. While that tidbit is irrelevant now, Su'a-Filo has come nowhere near his draft capital investment, and Houston may want to wash its hands of him after this year. So with Allen likely gone too, even if Aboushi is retained, another young guard may be needed in the future.

    Nick Martin could be that guy, but he was originally drafted as a center. Martin could pull off a conversion to guard, but that would be putting a lot of faith in Greg Mancz as the long-term center. The Texans don't need to worry about this for another year, but preparing now may be necessary if they want to avoid getting stuck with an interior of Aboushi-Mancz-Martin with the latter playing a new position.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Aboushi was decent in pass protection last season (seven pressures allowed in 358 snaps), but his below-average run-blocking is problematic. He's a decent veteran fill-in.

    Potential Suitors: Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars

17. John Jerry

5 of 21

    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 15.8/25
    Run Block: 15.3/25
    Power: 16.3/20
    Agility: 13.4/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 67.8/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 63/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    John Jerry is another low-end starting guard who has managed to hang on to a spot at the top of a depth chart over the years. But that may be coming to an end soon. At age 30, Jerry still is prone to overextension in pass protection, often lunging at opposing linemen rather than mirroring their movements. Jerry doesn't display quickness out of his stance either, which sets him behind against quicker one-gap interior rushers and makes it tough to get his spot on reach blocks too. On the flip side, Jerry has good functional strength and looks for work whenever he can, but they may not be enough to hold on a starting job anymore.

    If the Giants decide to go after someone like Chance Warmack, it's hard to see that Jerry returns to the Big Apple. But he may not have to leave the state of New York. The Bills could use some cheap veteran depth on the interior. There wouldn't be much of a chance to start in Buffalo given the presence of Richie Incognito and John Miller, though, so if that is important to Miller, he may be better off waiting until the first wave of injuries hits before signing anywhere.

    Detroit could be an interesting landing spot for Jerry as well. There would be much more opportunity for open competition there, as the Lions should be really young and inexperienced on the inside if they lose Larry Warford. It's an attractive situation for a vet like Jerry. If you can't beat out Laken Tomlinson at 30 years old, you probably aren't going to start anywhere anyway. I have the Lions going after Chris Chester to fill that void right now, but if Chester retires or goes elsewhere, Jerry could be the similar option.

    The fates of Evan Mathis, Jahri Evans and Chester could have a lot to do with Jerry's market even though he is several years younger than that trio. He's in the same tier as those guys from a competitive depth/bridge starter point of view.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Jerry has become a decent pass protector (two sacks, five hits and 19 hurries allowed in 1,123 snaps last season), but his lack of consistent run-blocking, especially for his size, is a concern. He's a depth option on a good line or a fill-in guy on a line in need of help wherever it comes.

    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Detroit Lions

16. Chris Scott

6 of 21

    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Chris Scott did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    A career backup, Scott arguably looked the best he has over the course of his career in the five games he played significant snaps in 2016. Scott appeared in 10 games but only played more than a dozen snaps in Weeks 11-15. Of course, saying he's looked the best he has in his career isn't saying much, but Scott did show some growth from his brutal run as a starter in 10 games during the 2013 season and should get interest as a depth option during this free-agency period.

    Scott came into the league as a developmental project and bounced around after struggling to stay healthy, stay in shape and stick on a roster his first few years in the league. His conditioning struggles are well documented as well. After coming into OTAs as the projected starter at left guard for the Bills in 2013, he was cut after failing a conditioning test. He came into that camp weighing in at 360 pounds, and even after he was released and eventually signed by the Panthers, he had to be given multiple IVs during early-season practices in Carolina. That's the last we've heard since then.

    His play weight is somewhere around 340 pounds now, but I'm sure some teams, like the Jaguars with former Bills head coach Doug Marrone now in Jacksonville, won't be interested in bringing Scott around given his past struggles.

    While Scott's weight may suggest he's a player who would be an asset in the run game, his grade splits showcase he's much more adept in pass protection. In traditional looks, Scott struggles to attack defenders and dictate their movements, often letting them come to him. The Panthers also utilize a lot of power/counter concepts, meaning their right guard is asked to pull and block defenders in space a lot. This is not where Scott wins, as he struggles to generate leverage in the open field. At his best, Scott is a sturdy pass protector that can serve as a deep depth option.


    Doug's Quick Take

    A swing guard who can pass-protect (two sacks, three hits and five hurries allowed in 295 snaps last season), Scott has obvious conditioning issues that will hinder his progress until and unless he can get past them.

    Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins

15. Jermon Bushrod

7 of 21

    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 14.8/25
    Run Block: 14.9/25
    Power: 15.9/20
    Agility: 14.5/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 67.1/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 68/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Jermon Bushrod is going to have a lot better market than people think and much better than his play would dictate. Why? Mostly due to his unique blend of traits. His agility grade of 14.47 was third among free-agent guards, trailing only T.J. Lang and Andrew Gardner, and the latter was only graded in one game this season.

    Combine that with his 34.5-inch arms, and teams may get excited about his raw physical abilities as well as the idea that he can potentially slide out to right tackle as well if needed due to his short-area quickness and length. We've seen Bushrod at tackle before, and it was a mess from a technical standpoint, but given the lack of quality options on the market and his background there, needy teams could justify his acquisition.

    While some of Bushrod's technical deficiencies were hidden at guard, he wasn't suddenly a great player when moved inside for the Dolphins. Like when he was playing tackle, Bushrod struggled to keep his hips square in pass protection. Even though he has long arms, Bushrod's ability to create leverage is average at best. At 32 years old, it's hard to imagine his bad habits get fixed at this point.

    Even though he was one of the worst guards in the league last year, the Dolphins may still look into bringing Bushrod back. If they lose him, they would need two new guards, assuming Laremy Tunsil replaces Branden Albert and kicks to tackle. I've listed Miami as a potential suitor for many of the top guard free agents, but if they move on from Bushrod, they would need another one. In a relatively weak interior offensive line draft class, they may not find one there.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Bushrod is indeed the kind of player who will excite teams because of his raw athleticism. However, when those teams turn on the tape, they'll find a player who struggles to keep rushers from getting around him to either side, and he loses power battles too consistently.

    Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals

14. Tim Lelito

8 of 21

    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 15.4/25
    Run Block: 16.4/25
    Power: 16/20
    Agility: 13.8/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 68.6/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 50/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Tim Lelito is another player that hasn't been able to consistently put it together, but he has some clearly defined traits that come through on tape.

    Lelito is listed at 6'4" but plays as squatty on tape as you'll find along an NFL offensive line, almost looking like an H-back at times on film (a role he played in jumbo sub-packages for New Orleans this year). That said, because he gets his pads so low, he displays tremendous power, winning with play strength and power at the point of attack. Pair that with his aggressive and fiery demeanor, and you get a quality asset in the run game.

    The issues come in pass protection, where that aggressiveness comes back to bite him as he tries to engage with defenders too quickly, overextending and allowing defenders to easily counter his initial punch.

    In terms of roster construction, it wouldn't surprise me if the Saints let Lelito walk and spent their limited amount of available money on a bigger upgrade, like Ronald Leary, to fill their right guard void. New Orleans has been linked to Leary in the past, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and a depth chart with Leary and Andrus Peat as the starters at guard and Senio Kelemete as a swing backup makes a lot of sense.

    That said, with Terron Armstead's injury history, it may make sense to want to run four quality deep on the interior in case Peat is forced to fill in for Armstead again at some point. On the other hand, four-deep depth role could easily be filled through the draft. I don't see Lelito as more than a depth option right now, but his past work in sub-packages may generate unique interest in teams that look to implement those types of packages into their offense.

    Doug's Quick Take

    A sometime starter in 2016, Lelito was above-average in pass protection late in the season, and he filled in at center, guard and right tackle. He's a quality depth guy who will have to work his way into any full-time starting lineup.

    Potential Suitors: Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints

13. Jonathan Cooper

9 of 21

    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Jonathan Cooper did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 


    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Jonathan Cooper's ascension (by default due to injury) and fall in Cleveland is one of the strangest situations of the 2016 season. He came in and put up two weeks of tape for a Browns front that really needed some stability. After a below-average game the following week, Cleveland cut Cooper outright. This move not only ended an intriguing comeback attempt, but it also raised a lot of questions about the sort of teammate and player Cooper was in the locker room. There had to be something going on, because for the Browns to move on from anyone while three interior offensive lineman were on IR is telling.

    At the peak of the Jonathan Cooper roller-coaster ride that was December 4 to right around Christmas time, Cooper's quickness and aggressiveness in his jump sets stood out to me. He also showed off great punch and power at the point of attack. He looked as healthy as he had ever looked in his NFL career too. Even during the good stretch Cooper's footwork could still use some work, as he continued to waste steps in pass protection, but there was a lot to be excited about overall.

    Obviously, Cooper has something to figure out between the ears before sticking anywhere. But on tape, the Tar Heel alum flashed traits that give me hope he could become a solid player if he does get the other issues sorted out. Until then, Cooper will remain an enigma, brought in by hopeful teams that look to unearth the potential the Arizona Cardinals saw when they drafted him seventh overall.

    Even though highly drafted players like Cooper typically get more chances than others, you only get so many opportunities in the NFL. This could be Cooper's last shot, and a team like Atlanta or Indianapolis that could use competition inside will likely be the one to take the plunge.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Cooper is one of my biggest evaluation misses. I still don't quite know what happened to the player I ranked seventh overall in his draft class, but he hasn't been able to show the otherworldly combination of power and agility in the NFL that he did in college. NFL teams will be interested because of that potential, but he's definitely a "buyer beware" player at this point in his career.

    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys

12. Andrew Gardner

10 of 21

    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Andrew Gardner did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Andrew Gardner is an interesting case. Like Chance Warmack, who only played two games this year, Gardner's grade average isn't reflective of his value, as he was graded in one game for NFL1000 in 2016.

    A 2-star recruit out of high school, Gardner had a very successful career at Georgia Tech anchoring a triple option attack featuring Tashard Choice. But injuries caused him to miss almost the entire predraft process and slip to the sixth round of the 2009 NFL draft.

    Gardner has bounced around since then, spending most of his time with the Texans before latching on as a depth option with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. After two years with the Eagles, Gardner followed Kelly to the Bay Area last offseason. With Kelly now out of San Francisco, Gardner may be forced to venture somewhere new next season.

    As a player, Gardner is very athletic for his size and is great at finding and moving defenders in space. He plays a little tall and lacks leverage at times, but he's the type of blocker that can get off of his spot and find his assignment on the second level. ZBS-heavy teams, especially ones that could use some tackle depth as well, should be interested in Gardner as an OL7.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Gardner found his most playing time in 2014, when he allowed five sacks in 683 snaps for the Eagles. He's a decent depth addition for any team that uses a quick zone scheme, but he hasn't moved his way up to starter quality. He might be better suited for the right tackle position, as he's historically been better in pass protection there.

    Potential Suitors: Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts     

11. Jahri Evans

11 of 21

    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 16/25
    Run Block: 16.1/25
    Power: 16.6/20
    Agility: 12.6/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 68/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 56/78


    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    While Saints backup guard Tim Lelito (who comes in 14th on this list) had a better average NFL1000 grade than Evans this year, in a vacuum Evans is the more desirable player next season for a couple of reasons.

    The first is the relatively small sample of Lelito, who was graded in only five games to Evans' full slate of 16. Even when accounting for their six-year age difference, Evans is more likely to see starter work in 2017 because of his advantage in pass-protection ability. He's way more technically proficient in that regard. Evans may not move well anymore, as showcased by his agility grade, which is the biggest reason he rates as low as he does. But he's still capable of playing with good leverage and putting up sturdy play in the run and pass game.

    Another factor to consider with Evans is the intangibles side. After getting cut from Seattle early last preseason, he looked to be done. But he returned to a struggling OL in Nola right before Week 1, immediately earning a starting spot. The Saints' level of OL play was not good early on in the preseason, and he seemed to help bring it together for New Orleans over the course of the year. That chemistry makes sense given how he was a key member of the Saints OL for years, but the difference with him in the fold was noticeable.

    With all this talk about what Evans did for the Saints and what he offers them in the huddle and between the ears, I don't think Evans will forgo retirement to play for a new team. I would guess it's Nola or bust for the vet. It will be interesting to watch the market unfold for him and see if the Saints go after someone like Ronald Leary as previously discussed or roll with Evans once again.

    If there is one other team that could be a long-shot possibility, it's Miami. The warm weather and playoff potential could convince Evans not to call it quits, and if the Phins miss out on some of the top free-agent options, a sturdy guard like Evans would be a huge need.

    Doug's Quick Take

    The six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro was once the best guard in football when it came to establishing power at the line of scrimmage and taking that power though linebackers and into the secondary. At his peak, Evans had an unmatched combination of strength and agility. Now, he's a decent stationary guard at the point of attack and a pretty good pass protector. Evans probably has a couple more good seasons left in a power-based scheme.

    Potential Suitors: Retirement, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins

10. Vladimir Ducasse

12 of 21

    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 16.3/25
    Run Block: 16.3/25
    Power: 16.4/20
    Agility: 13/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 69/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 47/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Vladimir Ducasse had a really weird 2016, going from being on the street to getting a chance with Baltimore after a rash of injuries for the Ravens to holding on to their right guard job for the rest of the season even after everyone else got healthy.

    The thing that was so odd about keeping Ducasse in the lineup is it forced Marshal Yanda to play on the left side. Yanda is a special player and can handle switching sides, but considering the interior depth Baltimore already had (Alex Lewis, John Urschel and Ryan Jensen) and the fact that Yanda has been an anchor on the right side for years now, it was strange to see it unfold the way it did.

    Clearly, Ducasse brought something to the table the Ravens liked last year. Even though they already have a ton of depth on their front, it wouldn't surprise me if they looked to bring him back. Based on what happened last year, the Ravens can't be happy with how Urschel and to a lesser extent Lewis (a rookie who battled injuries for a big portion of the year, all while having to convert positions) have played, and they clearly view Ryan Jensen as an emergency depth option. I like Jensen for what he is, so I was surprised he didn't get more of a chance last year.

    Ducasse's biggest flaw was in pass protection this preseason, but he won a lot more matchups in that respect after he was re-signed in October. It's still the biggest deficiency of his game, but his rapid improvement there from a technical standpoint was intriguing. Ducasse plays with nice leverage, and if he can continue to keep his hips square and improve his hand placement, he will find a home somewhere.


    Doug's Quick Take

    It's not surprising that Ducasse has always struggled against speed-rushers and against agility to either side—he's a big, hulking guy more known for his in-line power. However, his power is inconsistent due to iffy mechanics, and he'll stay on the second or third tier unless he becomes more physically efficient.

    Potential Suitors: Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants

9. Chris Chester

13 of 21

    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 15.6/25
    Run Block: 16.9/25
    Power: 16.5/20
    Agility: 13.9/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 70/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 37/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    At 34 years old, retirement certainly has to be on Chris Chester's mind this offseason. But if he does put a helmet back on for one more go, it may be for a new team in 2017. Atlanta could look to upgrade its right guard position, the biggest hole on a great offensive line, with a younger and better option. It's the only way the Falcons can clearly improve their offense, and given the recent trend of building dominant offensive lines by Dallas and Oakland, it wouldn't surprise me if the Falcons followed suit and made a splash up front. The window is now for Atlanta, and after losing the Super Bowl in brutal fashion, bringing in a more dynamic option would make sense.

    It's not that Chester was horrible last season. He was about as close to league average as you can get at guard. But he faded down the stretch after a good first six weeks, and with another year of age-related regression, he could become a liability.

    Chester came into the league somewhat on the lighter side, but he has his play weight to about 315 now, and he plays even heavier than that from a functional strength point of view. Chester is one of the strongest guards in the league, and when he gets leverage he can dictate defenders and clear out gaps with the best of them. He's the nasty road-grader of the Falcons front, and that physical presence is important to what the Falcons do and will be important to replicate in a potential replacement. Consistently getting that leverage in pass protection is his biggest issue, though.

    Chester's short-area quickness has declined in recent years, and in an attempt to compensate for his delayed reactions, his footwork goes out the window at times. When he gets out of sync there are some bad reps, which hurts his perception in fans' eyes. It may not be fair, but offensive linemen that play with peaks and valleys are often perceived as being worse than they are. The Position Adjusted Variance (PAVAR) of Chester's NFL1000 grades reflects this inconsistency, coming in at 50.69, highest among all free-agent guards.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Chester was unquestionably the weak link in Atlanta's outstanding offensive line last season, and with Kyle Shanahan's move to San Francisco, he won't have the benefits of Shanahan's zone scheme to bolster his efforts. Steve Sarkisian has vowed to maintain Shanahan's offense, but the Falcons' new offensive coordinator doesn't have Shanahan's track record of success. It's almost certain the Falcons will move on from Chester, and unless some other team assumes he'll play the way the rest of Atlanta's line did last season, he could struggle to make a roster.

    Potential Suitors: Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons

8. Evan Mathis

14 of 21

    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Evan Mathis did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Mathis is nearing the end of his rope in the league. Retirement is something to consider, as he's 35 and coming off season-ending ankle injury last season. Although he has tweeted about retiring, it's not official yet. Mathis battled various injuries through the four games he played last year before ending up on IR.

    Mathis came into the league as an elite athlete, but as he has developed he's become more technically sound with his initial punch and hand placement. The elite feet have started to fade, but the power at the point of attack hasn't, and you can live with that kit inside. But between his health and age, it's hard to view Mathis as a reliable option going forward.

    Unfortunately for Mathis, the Cardinals need a reliable option at right guard. I have them going after the Bengals' Kevin Zeitler, but given their precarious cap situation, that may mean losing someone like Calais Campbell to make it happen. Arizona largely has the depth to handle that, and it would give last year's first-rounder Robert Nkemdiche a clearer role going into 2017. But you never want to lose players of Campbell's caliber.

    General manager Steve Keim could attempt to fit Chandler Jones, Campbell and someone like Zeitler into their $34 million of cap space, but that would require serious cap balancing and removing a lot of the Cardinals' expiring depth and mid-tier starters. Guys like Tony Jefferson, Kevin Minter, Marcus Cooper and Frostee Rucker who played a lot of snaps last year would be lost in that sort of situation. These cap scenarios are tough, but protecting Carson Palmer as best they can has to be a huge priority next year.

    It's hard to predict a landing spot for Mathis, but John Lynch is a noted fan from his broadcast days and could bring him in to be part of the 49ers' guard mix for competition inside.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Mathis has lost some of the physical characteristics that once made him one of the league's best guards, but he still has something to offer on the field, and he'd be a willing and able mentor to younger linemen on any team. He could still be a starter on quick zone teams with a clear hole at the right guard position and a need for veteran leadership.

    Potential Suitors: Retirement, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals

7. Chance Warmack

15 of 21

    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Chance Warmack did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    This is where the average grades start to divert from the rankings as guys like Warmack who only played a few games in 2016 are docked due to a small sample. That said, Warmack will be a very interesting player to watch. I have no idea what his market will be, but I am sure there will be a broad level of interest given his age, past draft slot and the traits he flashes for gap scheme teams.

    I haven't included the Titans much in my Potential Suitors lists for other guards. With the nature of their "Exotic Smashmouth" scheme they look for different type of players than other teams do, and this market is somewhat limited in prominent gap scheme blockers. Larry Warford is the only other player on the market that would be a good fit for them going forward.

    Warmack is a strong run blocker who wins by clearing the A and B gaps with raw power. Get him off his spot, though, and the technique starts to break down, and you see him overextend and get off balance. Warmack has a lot of similarities to Chris Chester from a deficiency standpoint, which is why I included the Falcons as a team to watch for Warmack. Even if the 34-year-old Chester doesn't retire, he's a free agent on a team that has moved to get younger in recent years.

    You may think Warmack in a Shanahan stretch zone-blocking scheme is a horrible fit, and from a mental processing standpoint, you're probably right. Warmack may struggle to read and react to defenders' movements post-snap. But with Kyle Shanahan on his way out, if the Falcons offense starts to go away from those read-based looks and doesn't want to invest heavily in someone expensive like Lang, Warmack would help fill the road-grader void left by Chester in the interior.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Warmack's hand injury doesn't help his marketability in free agency, as he hasn't had a great season since 2014 and his mechanical flaws seem to have expanded in the last two seasons. Without a lot of good recent tape behind him, Warmack will have to convince teams in workouts that he can retain his center of gravity, and thus his overall power, with proper stance and footwork.

    Potential Suitors: Tennessee Titans, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons

6. Eric Kush

16 of 21

    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 16/25
    Run Block: 16.6/25
    Power: 16.6/20
    Agility: 14/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 70.2/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 36/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    While Eric Kush isn't a household name, he could be a nice value signing. A career journeyman at center, Kush bounced all around the league before sliding to guard last year for an injured Josh Sitton. The good news? His play at guard last season was starter-caliber in the five games he played. At only 27 years of age, he is young enough to settle in for more than a few seasons. The question is, will teams value the solid yet limited tape, or will they look at his minimal resume and turn away?

    The Bears have no need for Kush other than depth, and even though he's a free agent too, Ted Larsen would be a cheaper option as an OL6. It seems likely Kush will have to find a new home next year as a budget veteran guard option. The Vikings (if they move on from Brandon Fusco), Buccaneers and Chargers all come to mind as teams that need help along the interior offensive line but also potentially lack the assets to bring in some of the top options on the market. Given the lack of quality centers on the market, Kush's previous experience at the position will only help his value to those teams.

    As a player, Kush displays good play strength and flexibility for his size. He does a solid job of keeping everything in front of him in pass protection, yet he doesn't play too passively, still coming off his sets very aggressively. In the run game, Kush displays nice seal but at times can have problems reaching his assignment on the second level. He has experience in almost every style of blocking scheme as well, so that shouldn't be a worry going forward.

    Overall, given his versatility and steady improvement, Kush is the type of player who can end up being a solid contributor out of free agency for below starter-level cost.

    Doug's Quick Take

    The Bears' guard rotation was decimated by injuries last season, and Kuch did help out, allowing no sacks and just six total hurries in 279 snaps. He's a coachable player who might just break a starting roster on a weaker line.

    Potential Suitors: Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers

5. Larry Warford

17 of 21

    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 16.2/25
    Run Block: 16.6/25
    Power: 17/20
    Agility: 13.8/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 71/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 27/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    In a top-heavy free-agency class at guard, you may think Larry Warford could be a decent value for your team because of the talent of the group, but Warford is the most likely to get overpaid of the top options. Warford will have a hot market because of his youth. It wouldn't surprise me if he is the first mover in this position group for that reason. If not, whoever misses out on the top guards on this list (Jacksonville, Miami and Los Angeles) will get desperate because of the talent cliff at guard after Warford.

    The Lions have brought in a lot of young offensive linemen the past few drafts, perhaps preparing for the departure of Warford and right tackle Riley Reiff. Most Lions fans would retort that those picks haven't established much confidence in limited reps. Some context is needed, though.

    Laken Tomlinson was maddeningly inconsistent again last year, but there are other answers available. Yes, Graham Glasgow was one of the worst interior linemen in the NFL down the stretch last year, but initially he looked OK at left guard. His struggles mostly came when he had to change positions, exposing some of his deficiencies. Detroit also has Joe Dahl and ex-South Carolina Gamecock Corey Robinson, one of my personal favorite offensive line draft prospects from the last few years, lying around. Both are names to monitor for a starting job in 2017.

    As a player, Warford's aggressive nature and raw strength are fun to watch. He's nasty, and as he got healthier this year, we saw him start to let it go again. His movement ability returned to acceptable levels as his health returned as well. Last year when he was banged up, Warford was a lot slower out of phase and struggled to mirror quicker one-gap penetrators in pass protection. As long as the medical is all clear, Warford will have a hot market this offseason.


    Doug's Quick Take

    A third-rounder out of Kentucky in 2013, Warford is one of the better finds from the Lions front office in recent years. When healthy, he presents a compelling blend of estimable power and agility. He might not be best suited for a heavy passing attack like Detroit's at this point in his career, but he'd add a lot to any power-based line.

    Potential Suitors: Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans

4. Ronald Leary

18 of 21

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 16.4/25
    Run Block: 17.1/25
    Power: 16.7/20
    Agility: 14.1/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 71.2/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 23/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Injuries are one of the most unfortunate occurrences in professional sports, and it can feel a little taboo to talk about advantages gained by the "next man up" approach of the NFL. There is no question Ronald Leary earned tens of millions of dollars from La'el Collins' injury, though. Well, maybe there is a slight question about whether the injury was solely responsible. With Collins' early struggles this year and Leary's pedigree, one wonders how long those struggles would have been tolerated on a team with big ambitions.

    That "slight question" theme will resonate into the offseason with Leary. One might think a Cowboys team with no cap space has to let Leary walk. But the Cowboys just built a 13-win season on dominant OL play. Do they want to mess that up as Collins comes off a serious injury? These are the sorts of "slight questions" that surface when you imagine Leary in another uniform next year. Leary is not the best lineman Dallas has, but losing him may be the Jenga block that makes the tower tip for this dominant offense.

    The Cowboys would have to do absurd cap juggling to keep Leary around, but it may be worth it to make sure nothing about this offense changes in 2017. I would get behind the effort from a scouting perspective too. Leary is a tone-setter up front and packs a powerful initial punch. He's a player who wins with power and functional strength, but Leary is heady and knows how to mask his deficiencies as well. Rarely do you see Leary overextend and open up his hips in a desperate attempt to recover because he knows that is not where he wins. Rather, he focuses on keeping everything in front of him and making defenders beat him with an anchor in the ground.

    Leary seems like a cut-and-dry open market player, and the only "slight question" I don't have is about his ability as a consistent and stabilizing force along whatever offensive line he ends up on.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Leary is a powerful player with limited agility. I don't ever see him as a Pro Bowl-level guard, but he's done well for the most part as the Cowboys have built their incredible offensive line around him. He didn't allow a sack in 2016, but his 21 hurries cause a bit of concern, and teams interested in Leary will have to analyze how effective he'll be without Tyron Smith to his left and Travis Frederick to his right. Buyer beware there.

    Potential Suitors: Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys

3. Kevin Zeitler

19 of 21

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 16.9/25
    Run Block: 16.4/25
    Power: 17.1/20
    Agility: 14.4/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 72/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 21/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    Kevin Zeitler has been a sturdy starter at right guard for a few years now in Cincinnati, and that continued this past season. Zeitler is young enough that he may have two big paydays in his future. But like T.J. Lang's Green Bay Packers, the Bengals have invested a lot of draft capital into young offensive linemen in the past couple of seasons, and these younger players are much better fits to replace Zeitler than what Green Bay has in place behind Lang. I see three reasonable right guard replacements for Zeitler already in play on the Bengals roster:

    Cedric Ogbuehi: A former first-rounder, Ogbuehi could kick inside after struggling in his first full year at tackle. This would allow highly drafted Jake Fisher to slide into the starting lineup at right tackle full-time. The move inside makes sense from a traits perspective as well, as Ogbuehi has the frame to play guard and has showcased the strength at the point of attack needed to play on the interior.

    Andrew Whitworth: Another player with an expiring deal, Andrew Whitworth transitioned inside down the stretch in 2016 after he acknowledged in May that he was open to a position switch. It's possible that occurs full-time in 2017. Of course, that puts a ton of faith in unproven tackle play in Fisher and Ogbuehi. Given Whitworth's track record and the lack of talent on the tackle market, you have to imagine somebody will pay him tackle money. I don't imagine the Bengals will pony up to beat that amount only to slide Whitworth inside and have tackle be major question mark going forward.

    Christian Westerman: This scenario may not be talked about as much, but I absolutely loved the blend of play strength and fluidity Westerman displayed on film at Arizona State. He can step in next year and be a quality starter on the inside.

    Given the Bengals' cap situation and the fact that the Bengals rarely use cap to bring in notable outside free agents, Cincinnati could go away from its previous draft strategy and bring Zeitler back because he was its best lineman and a stabilizing force at times last year. That would be a mistake. From a roster-building prospective, retaining Whitworth, letting Fisher stick at right tackle and allowing Ogbuehi and Westerman to battle inside makes sense.

    As a player, Zeitler wins with power and leverage. His upper-body strength is evident on reach blocking reps, as Zeitler is able to control defenders away from his body, which helps hide his slight movement deficiencies. The Bengals are a truly balanced flex blocking team, utilizing both zone and gap scheme concepts. Even though Zeitler held up in zone looks, teams that utilize a true ZBS may not be the best fit for Zeitler going forward. That said, Zeitler is a young and sturdy starter who should garner interest from multiple teams.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Perhaps more than any guard on this list, Zeitler is a throwback to the NFL's days of yore, when guards won every battle with pure power. He's got a nasty streak a mile wide, and while he's not the most agile player at his position, he gets the job done in pass protection. Any power-based offense that can afford him should jump at the opportunity.

    Potential Suitors: Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars

2. Andrew Norwell

20 of 21

    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    *Restricted Free Agent*

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 17/25
    Run Block: 17.5/25
    Power: 17.1/20
    Agility: 14.8/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 73.4/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 9/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    The clear standout among restricted free agent guards, Andrew Norwell is the only guard I could conceivably see being given an offer sheet this year. Norwell may be the best overall RFA available this year, although I'm sure Malcolm Butler would have something to say about that as well.

    While losing a young dominant guard via restricted free agency brings up memories of Steve Hutchinson, the new CBA has removed the possibility of the so-called "poison pill" that made the Hutchinson acquisition so easy. Teams interested in RFAs cannot include odd clauses on their offer sheets meant to hamstring the original team anymore. In the Hutchinson situation, the Seahawks added a clause to Nate Burleson's offer sheet that fully guaranteed his seven-year contract if he played more than four games in the state of Minnesota in a year in response to the Vikings' poaching of Hutchinson in a similar fashion.

    On tape, Norwell showcases leverage and upper body strength at the point of attack reminiscent of Hutchinson. While Hutchinson lacked the length Norwell has, the explosiveness Hutch displayed out of his stance was rare, and comparing anyone to him fully is unreasonable.

    That said, the point here isn't to detract from Norwell, who is developing into one of the premier guards in the league. Norwell's consistent technique in pass protection is one of his best traits, only one-upped by his ability to drive through and clear play-side gaps in the run game. Even though agility and movement aren't where he wins, Norwell showcases good awareness in space and is so strong that he is able to clear a path on the second level with the best of them.

    While Norwell is a desirable young talent, with the quality of this free-agent guard class I don't think guard-needy teams are going to want to hand out both the massive offer sheet and the high draft pick tender needed to acquire him. Because the Panthers are going to match anything short of earth-shattering money, Norwell should remain in Carolina no matter what happens.

    Doug's Quick Take

    With Norwell and Trai Turner on their roster, the Panthers may well boast the finest guard duo in the NFL. Certainly, Norwell and Turner are the best power-based duo in the business and a perfect fit in this offensive scheme. Norwell probably isn't going anywhere this season, but with him and Turner both set to test the full free-agent waters in 2018 (and with Turner's recent signing with Rosenhaus Sports), Carolina has some tough decisions to make.

    Potential Suitors: Carolina Panthers

1. T.J. Lang

21 of 21

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 17.8/25
    Run Block: 17/25
    Power: 16.7/20
    Agility: 15.3/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 74/100
    NFL1000 2016 Guard Rank: 8/78

    NFL1000 OG Scout Ethan Young

    T.J. Lang is one of the best guards in the league in a market that craves offensive linemen. He leads a strong but top-heavy guard free-agency group. At 29 years old, Lang is not the youngest guard in this free-agency class, but offensive linemen can keep up elite levels of play longer into their 30s than other positions, so he is hitting the market just in time to cash in for a huge contract.

    The Packers' offensive scheme features primarily zone-blocking concepts, but given Lang's traits and experience, it's reasonable to expect he could hang in a gap scheme as well. In fact, when the Packers throw out gap power concepts, Lang thrives.

    Green Bay has been quite deep along the offensive line in recent years, but since the Packers moved on from Josh Sitton sooner than anticipated, Jason Spriggs' frame and overall traits don't project well on the interior, and JC Tretter is also a free agent, the Packers may want to keep Lang around long-term.

    Seeing the Falcons on Lang's suitor list may surprise people, but it would not surprise me if the Falcons tried to follow the mold of what Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders did last offseason and build a super offensive line. The window to win is now with Matt Ryan, and given how the Alex Mack signing has turned out so far, the Falcons may want to go back to the well and set their offensive personnel over the top.

    On the field, Lang is a technician who knows exactly where to place an initial punch. He has a strong upper body as well, so these well-placed punches have something behind them. Lang has one of the best anchors in the league and rarely gets overpowered in pass protection. His Pass Protection and Power grades illustrate this sturdy play, coming in first and fourth among free-agent guards respectively.

    If there is an area where Lang struggles, it's in recovery. In the rare occurrence Lang misses his initial punch, he doesn't have the feet needed to get back in position. That said, Lang is one of the premium talents in this free-agent class, and given his experience, position and scheme versatility, the Green Bay right guard should have plenty of suitors.


    Doug's Quick Take

    People thought Packers general manager Ted Thompson was nuts to deem Josh Sitton expendable, but Thompson was playing the odds, knowing that Lang was ready to be the face and voice of Green Bay's offensive line. That he was, and the remarkable nature of his 2016 season doesn't get enough ink. In an offensive system that forces the quarterback to run around and wait for openings, Lang allowed no sacks, no hits and just 11 hurries in 964 snaps. T.J. Lang is going to get paid in 2017, and he's going to earn every penny. Offseason foot and hip scopes are the only concern here.

    Potential Suitors: Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons

    All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.