2021 OL/DL All-Pro Teams
Studying and breaking down the best players in the trenches every season has become the lifeblood of my career as an analyst and scout. Identifying the players who are worthy of the ‘All-Pro’ distinction can be tricky along the offensive and defensive line, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable. Each season I have a running list of the 10-15 best players at each position that I make sure to watch every week. I emphasize critical factors and position specific traits, technique, and level of competition on each rep. I’m looking for impact plays against the best competition to go with a standard of consistency from rep to rep. Over the years, a hierarchy established itself in the trenches with an ever-evolving list that I update each off-season. Here’s how I saw the 2021 season play out with the 18 best offensive and defensive linemen in the NFL listed below.
*Teams were made through the first 16 games of the season
First-Team OL All-Pro
LT - Trent Williams - 15 starts
Other left tackles had very good seasons and are deserving of second-team All-Pro recognition, but Trent Williams is the clear cut choice for being the best left tackle in football after the year of film he put together. It was littered with special performances. After a messy divorce with Washington and a scary bout with cancer, Williams got a second chance at life and football by reuniting with Kyle Shanahan in the ideal system to showcase his rare talent.
Williams is regularly featured in Shanahan’s zone heavy run scheme as a puller around the edge, climbing to the second level, cutting off the backside, and generating an ease of movement on the opponent that’s sometimes hard to believe. Williams is not only the most dominant run-blocker in the sport, but he’s an excellent pass protector with the balance and body control to mirror premier edge-rushers on an island.
Despite being 33-years old, Williams has maintained the elite athletic ability that has been a staple of his game since entering the NFL. He’s gradually getting stronger and more powerful with age. We’re now witnessing a Hall of Fame level player extending his prime inside a scheme tailor made to accentuate his strengths.
LG - Joe Thuney - 16 starts
Perhaps the best compliment to give Thuney in his first season with the Chiefs is that he delivered on the NFL-record contract he signed leading up to the season. The deal made him the richest guard in league history. Thuney has yet to miss a game in his career (96 straight starts). This season he brought that same level of reliability to a revamped Chiefs line tasked with protecting the league’s most valuable asset in QB Patrick Mahomes.
Thuney fractured his hand in Week 5 and followed it up with a remarkably impressive game against elite competition vs. Jonathan Allen in Week 6. He proceeded to put together a couple of standout performances against the likes of Jeffery Simmons and Kenny Clark. Thuney even slid out to left tackle in Week 17 to cover for an injury. After years of flying under the radar as a steady piece for the Patriots, Thuney has been given more of a spotlight with the Chiefs. He’s only bolstered his reputation as one of the most technically sound, versatile, and consistent lineman in the NFL.
C - Ryan Jensen - 16 starts
Ryan Jensen is the poster child for being a tone-setting presence in the middle of an offense with a rare ability to manipulate the psyche of his opponent through physicality and calculated “body blows.” His presence is tangible on film with a swagger and influence that is simply unmatched across the NFL.
Jensen has ideal size (6’4” 320 pounds) and plus athletic ability to execute assignments on the move with the play strength and power to spearhead the Bucs downhill run game predicated on generating vertical displacement off the ball. He knows how to keep rushers guessing and off-balance with independent strikes and a keen understanding of how to manipulate leverage, plus has sharp, active eyes to decipher pressure packages and keep the ‘A’ gaps clean. All bets are off and things get gnarly once Jensen is engaged with a defender. No center in the league throws and ragdolls opponents around the field at a higher clip, and he has several signature performances this season that showcase that, including this dominant performance against Eagles DT Javon Hargrave.
Jensen also somehow hasn’t missed a game over his last five seasons despite his uncoiled, rugged demeanor on the field, which speaks to how much of a throwback he really is.
RG - Zack Martin - 15 starts
The prototype. That’s what Zack Martin is for not just guards, but offensive linemen in general. He plays with machine-like technical prowess and unmatched consistency. Martin is the gold standard for how coaches and players draw up ‘teach tape’ on basically every block in the book.
Martin is in year eight and still humming right along as the best guard in the sport since he stepped onto an NFL field back in 2014. He’s earned All-Pro nods in seven of his eight seasons. The only reason he didn’t earn the distinction last year was because he missed more than two games for the first time in his career, finishing with just 10 starts due to injury. Martin reclaimed his status in 2021 and is a first-ballot Hall of Famer without a weakness in his game.
RT - Lane Johnson - 13 starts
Johnson put together a remarkably impressive season even by his lofty standards, and he did it after taking a three game hiatus to work on his mental health. Typically, missing a few games will be enough to knock a guy off of the first-team, but some injuries and inconsistencies in other top right tackles this season made the choice clear.
Johnson is the most athletic right tackle in the NFL. He possesses superb explosiveness and timing of the snap that allows him to consistently beat rushers to the spot balanced and under control. He’s able to work inside and under the bull-rush to dissipate power while being too quick for rushers to work around with premier length and precise use of hands to initiate first contact and stay leveraged on blocks.
The pass protection remains stellar year in and year out with Johnson, but it’s his work as a run-blocker this season that really caught my eye and played an integral role in spearheading the Eagles elite rushing attack. Johnson is 31-years old and in his prime. The rare movement skills from his time coming into the NFL are still intact, along with the play strength to anchor and shut down power-rushers and the toolkit of techniques to outmaneuver premier rushers on an island.
Second-Team OL All-Pro
LT - Rashawn Slater - 15 starts
This was an easy selection for me based on how well-rounded the rookie first-round pick was this season, and he’s done it for a Chargers team decimated by injuries on their offensive line. With the entire right side getting injured and backups playing there for the majority of the season, Slater kept the left side intact using a special blend of play strength, body control, footwork, and balance. Despite sitting out all of the 2020 college season and being out of football for a year prior, Slater hit the ground running immediately as a rookie and gave us every bit as impressive of a season as Tristan Wirfs did last year when he was a rookie for the Bucs.
Slater regularly stymies the bull-rush with a combination of foot quickness and precise hands to create leverage, mirror and cut off speed-rushers around the corner. He’s also a beast in the running game, using the same foundational traits with the athletic ability and spatial awareness to make impact blocks on the move that we’re accustomed to seeing from premier left tackles.