Each of the last couple years I put together a list ranking the starters across the offensive line entering the season with tiers to separate them into distinct groups. Last year was the first off-season I had this newsletter and I ranked my top 15 at each position on the O-line (top 75).
This helps me process the landscape of starters entering a season and breaks up players into broader groups of ability that crystallize where certain guys fall in the pecking order relative to their peers. The order within tiers is more malleable and can be debated while the cut-off points between tiers are more of a concrete way of stacking players.
The tiers are based on my 1-7 grading scale that I use for my trait-based style of scouting. It helps to look at the pool of players in the NFL on a spectrum over a bell curve. The bulk of the players fall somewhere between 3-5 (average performers) while the numbers shrink on the margins (1-2 low performers & 6-7 high performers).
1 = Elite. These players win essentially all reps against any level of competition below ‘elite’ while splitting them evenly with other elite players. There are very few players inside this tier at any position in a given season, and it represents the smallest bucket of players (along with tier 7 which we’ll get to shortly). This rarified group produces scheme transcendent players that regularly play at an All-Pro level regardless of the situation around them.
2 = Very good. These players are impact starters that win the majority of their reps against lower tiers of players, split them among other tier 2 players, and can compete with tier 1 players in spurts. This group is where most All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections come from and are often referred to as ‘blue chip’ starters.
3 = Good or above average. These players compete with the majority of competition across the NFL. They rarely win any rep handily, lose most of them when isolated against higher tiers, and are referred to as ‘red chip starters.’ Red chip players, or above average/good starters, can have Pro Bowl selections on their resume with some blue chip traits. However, they lack the consistency of higher tiered players and are often more dependent on the system and players around them for success.
4 = Solid or average. These players form the lifeblood of most NFL rosters. They have dependable skill-sets and can be developed into tier 3 players. They often have a more clearly defined ceiling than tier 3 players with high floors to stick around as starters for a half dozen or more years if they’re in the right system.
*For the purposes of this article, we won’t be using any grade below tier 4, but I’ve included the rest of the scale for additional background information and context.
5 = Adequate or below average. These players are often pushed into starting lineups at the thinnest positions across the NFL (QB, OL, CB) with schemes playing significant roles in their effectiveness. They usually have a trait or two that is or can be developed into the ‘solid’ range while being ‘serviceable’ starters in the right situation, valuable parts of a rotation, and quality depth.
6 = Marginal. These players represent the bottom of NFL rosters and can be put into the low-end of the ‘developmental’ bucket, usually lacking the necessary physical traits to become everyday starters.
7 = Poor. These players are few and far between across NFL rosters, usually are weeded out in training camp and preseason, and are often stashed on practice squads if kept at all. In rare instances, you will see them get on an NFL field in the regular season, usually on bottom-tier teams that experience multiple injuries at one position.
With the terms now defined, let’s get into the rankings.
*No rookies were included in the rankings
2022 OL Position Rankings
1. Trent Williams - Williams is coming off of one of the best and most dominant seasons we have seen from an offensive linemen over the last decade, securing his first First-Team All-Pro selection in the process after starting 15 of 17 regular season games and three playoff games. Williams was my top tackle entering the 2021 season and cemented that status leading up to 2022 thanks to a series of epic performances that I broke down throughout the year.
Williams is in a system perfectly tailored to his strengths and despite being 34-years old, remains in prime position to prolong his peak as a player while securing more accolades that would go a long way towards strengthening his already viable case for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Terron Armstead - Despite coming off of a year where he started just eight games due to injury while averaging 11 starts per year over his last five seasons, Armstead remains firmly a tier 1 left tackle in football due to the undeniable talent, skill-level and impact when on the field. Armstead is a true ‘shutdown’ tackle on an island who can take out premier rushers with minimal help while being an impact, scheme-versatile run-blocker. This isn’t even factoring in Armstead’s renown leadership qualities off the field and in the locker room, which will reverberate throughout the offensive line room and organization in Miami. Playing in new head coach Mike McDaniel’s OL-friendly system will only solidify and amplify Armstead’s rare skill-set in 2022.
3. David Bakhtiari - I went back and forth between having Bakhtiari at the top of tier 2 or keeping him inside tier 1, ultimately deciding on the latter for a few reasons. First, Bakhtiari has an outstanding track record of being durable and consistent over the last five seasons prior to 2021. From 2016-2020 he averaged 14 starts per season with three Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro selections. Second, Bakhtiari will be just 31-years old during the majority of the 2022 season (he turns 31 on September 30).
For these reasons I expect Bakhtiari to regain his peak level of play during the 2022 season and sustain it for at least a few more years. If I take a slightly more pessimistic view and say that he will be at 85 or 90% of his peak this upcoming season, that is still worthy of being ranked in tier 1. Bakhtiari is arguably the best pass-protector in football, a very good run-blocker and deserves the benefit of the doubt coming off of an injury.
4. Rashawn Slater - Slater was a Second-Team All-Pro selection as a rookie last season and by all accounts had an excellent overall campaign, especially considering he was coming off of a year away from football in 2020. While Slater was indeed outstanding, there are still areas of his game in pass-protection to clean up before cementing his status in tier 1 of the position. A tremendous amount of pressure was put on his shoulders last season due to a shaky right side of the line in Los Angeles that forced him into taking on rushers with minimal help while the team ranked third overall in pass attempts. Along with facing excellent competition throughout the year, these factors put a microscope on his game with some tendencies that skilled opponents were able to exploit on film (Everson Griffen in Week 10, Trey Hendrickson in Week 13). Slater and I discussed a few examples during an hour long film room we did earlier this off-season.
Slater enters his second season as a bonafide top five left tackle in football who is on the cusp of cementing his status as an elite tackle alongside more proven players as long as he replicates his 2021 level of play and makes a few refinements to his game. It would be a surprise not to have him in the top tier this time next year.
5. Laremy Tunsil - Tunsil started just five games last season due to a thumb injury that required surgery, but he was very good in those starts with the athletic ability, technique in pass-protection and well-roundedness in the run game to warrant the fifth spot in the rankings. Tunsil’s movement skills in terms of quickness, being patient and remaining square allows him to thrive on an island against top competition and are difference-making qualities at tackle. At 28-years old on an ascending offensive line in 2022, Tunsil will get to play alongside stud rookie left guard Kenyon Green, putting him in a nice spot to have a bounce back year.
6. Tyron Smith - Smith is outside of his prime at this point due to the accumulation of neck and back injuries over his career, but when healthy he is still a very good starting tackle capable of making impact blocks in the run and pass game that few others can replicate. Even with Smith’s availability questions, his upside as a 10-12 game starter is worthy of still being included in tier 2 at the position for the 2022 season.
7. Ronnie Stanley - Stanley is the wildcard of this tier with the most upside since he has been a very good, tier 2 tackle for the majority of his career. The issue is the nagging ankle injury that has forced him to miss 26 games over the last two seasons. Even with reports suggesting Stanley will be ready to return in 2022, he will likely begin the year around 80-85% of his peak play as he works himself back into football shape and hones in on his technique again after such a long time away from playing. The reason for him being at the top of tier 3 is that he is still just 28-years old with multiple seasons of tier 2 level play on his resume, giving him more upside than anyone below him on this list.
8. Orlando Brown Jr. - Brown has made a successful and impressive transition back to his natural left side over the last two seasons after playing on the right side during his first two seasons in the NFL. Brown replaced an injured Ronnie Stanley for 13 games in 2020 for the Ravens and then started 16 games on the left side last season for the Chiefs. The transition over the last two years hasn’t been as much about switching sides since Brown played left tackle throughout college, but the scheme adjustment from Baltimore’s run-heavy approach to Kansas City’s more passing-based system was about as stark as you can get.
Brown performed at a high level last season, protecting QB Patrick Mahomes blindside, particularly as the year went on and he settled into his new role. Brown wins using his immense size and keen understanding of angles and body positioning to blot out rushers off the edge while bringing a tone-setting, imposing presence to an offense. His above average range to protect the corner can get stressed against high-end rushers that know how to set up their moves and win with speed, but Brown is firmly an above average, plus starter who is just entering his prime.
9. Dion Dawkins - Dawkins has missed just one game over his last four seasons and has been a tier 3 starter at left tackle since 2019, when his consistency level in pass-protection made a significant leap. Dawkins wins by being one of the strongest, biggest and most physical tackles in the league and blending that with knowing when to pick his spots in pass-protection to prevent getting beat too quickly. Dawkins started off slow last season after a scary bout with COVID-19, but eventually regained the standard of play we’ve been accustomed to over the last few years. Along with center Mitch Morse, Dawkins is a cornerstone player on a solid Bills line.
10. Trent Brown - Brown is making the transition back over to the left side this off-season after having an excellent year at that spot with the Patriots in 2018. When healthy, Brown has tier 2 ability as a pass-protector thanks to an enormous frame, light feet and crafty hands to strike, widen and keep rushers at his fingertips.
11. Jonah Williams - Williams is one of the most underrated left tackles in the NFL right now thanks in large part to missing his entire rookie year in 2019 due to injury, six games in 2020 and playing on a well below average to bad offensive line unit the last two seasons in Cincinnati. This has obscured the fact that Williams has developed into the above average caliber starter many envisioned him being when he left Alabama. He posted several impressive performances against some of the league’s top pass-rushers in 2021 (Myles Garrett, Yannick Ngakoue).
12. Jake Matthews - Matthews isn’t flashy and doesn’t wow you on film in any one area, but he does everything well and is the epitome of consistency. Winning with good initial quickness, balance and ability to recover with adept zone run-blocking skills, Matthews is a quality and dependable starter for the Falcons. He also has missed just one game in his eight year career and has the longest consecutive starting streak in the entire NFL at 127 games.
Left tackle is the deepest I can remember it in the tier four range. This tier is loaded with viable options and the 15th spot was extremely difficult to parse out. I ultimately went with Robinson but players like Garett Bolles, Jordan Mailata, Taylor Lewan, Andrew Thomas and Jedrick Wills are all tier four starters, many of them with tier three and even tier two potential if they continue to develop (Wills, Thomas, Mailata).
13. Taylor Decker - Decker has been a quality, middle-of-the-pack starter at left tackle for the Lions since he stepped onto the field as a rookie in 2016. Despite having adequate athletic ability, Decker wins using good snap timing and efficient footwork on multiple types of pass sets to get to his spot balanced and under control with good play strength to handle power. He will get into trouble against shiftier rushers that can break him down with stutters and hesitations, lacking the range and quickness to recover at a very high level. Decker is a borderline ‘red-chip’ starter that competes against the majority of competition he faces with the ability to challenge and be competent against top-tier competition in spurts.
14. Kolton Miller - Miller has appeared to level off as a solid starting tackle after dramatically improving his body and game over his first few seasons in the league. Considering how raw he was coming out of UCLA and how skeptical many analysts were of his selection in the first-round (including me), the Raiders ultimately made a sound decision by selecting him and deserve credit for how much development has occurred since acquiring him. Miller still tends to overset rushers, open up too early against speed off the edge (making him vulnerable to adept counter moves) and gets knocked off balance too often, but he is a solid overall pass-protector with good athletic ability to recover and stay attached to blocks. He also has the strength to hold up well against the bull-rush. Miller is a plus run-blocker with the ability to create instant displacement in the run game and locate second-level targets on the move. He’s also just 26-years old and has only missed two games over his first four seasons.
15. Cam Robinson - Robinson has been a solid starter over the course of his five year career. There have been some tier 3 highs and tier 5 lows due to a breakdown in consistency as the seasons progress partly from dealing with nagging injuries and also technique breakdowns, but overall his talent and underrated skill-set average out to a functional starter. With ideal size, length and good athletic ability, Robinson has a strong foundation to rely on with some crafty technique to throw at opponents, allowing him to matchup physically with anyone. Him not sustaining the right balance between when to be aggressive and patient leads to a handful of glaring losses every season that are difficult to overlook and cause him to receive the ‘underachiever’ tag. The result is a passable starter with flashes of more sprinkled in each season.
1. Quenton Nelson - Now that Bucs LG Ali Marpet has retired, the top tier is manned solely by Nelson, who is arguably the best overall interior lineman in the league. Nelson had his 51 consecutive game starting streak snapped early last season due to an ankle injury that kept him out for four games, but he has been incredibly durable over his career and is in the early stages of his prime. On the field there is a distinction between Nelson’s ceiling and impact compared to everyone else’s at the position thanks to a unique blend of size, football intelligence, power, technique and competitive toughness that results in some mind-bending blocks.
2. Joel Bitonio - Bitonio has had an incredible run over the last five seasons without a single missed start or snap, plus four Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections (three Second-Team, one First-Team). Bitonio has gradually morphed into one of the game’s top technicians at the position with a game founded on high-level athletic ability. The result is a very good pass-protector and run-blocker with the ability to fill in at left tackle in a pinch, which he did last season for two games. There is a case to be made that he deserves to be in the top tier, but due to a slightly lower and more defined ceiling than Nelson, he comes in at the top of tier 2 as the second best left guard in all of football.
3. Joe Thuney - Thuney has been a personal favorite player of mine since he came into the NFL in 2016 when most analysts considered him overrated due to his lack of size and power. What has always been there and remains in his game is an advanced understanding of how to play with a strong base, independent hands and outstanding balance on nearly every rep. Thuney broke his hand in Week 5 this season then went out the next week against Commanders All-Pro DT Jonathan Allen and played as good of a game as any guard ever has against him. He also slid out to left tackle for a game last season, played center the year before and has taken snaps at right tackle in the past. Some guys seemingly have an inherent understanding of how to utilize leverage to their advantage to get defenders blocked, and Thuney is one of them.
4. Elgton Jenkins - Jenkins had his 2021 season cut short due to a torn ACL after eight starts filling in at left tackle for an already injured David Bakhtiari. He performed at an admirable level and may start the 2022 season at right tackle, but I believe his best spot is clearly at left guard, where he spent the bulk of his first three seasons. The term “positional versatility” gets thrown around far too often with linemen, but Jenkins is the ideal example of what that really means. At just 26-years old, Jenkins has started at four of the five positions on the line. Regardless of where Jenkins spends the bulk of his time in 2022, it is clear that he is a top four left guard in football and one of the most valuable linemen overall.
5. Laken Tomlinson - There is a clear demarcation between the top four left guards and this next tier, but Tomlinson has earned the right to be at the top of this group for several reasons. After starting his career as a first-round pick on a bad team with middling coaching, Tomlinson merely had promising flashes on the field rather than any sort of consistent skill-set that suggested he was a long-time quality starter, which led to the ‘bust’ label being prematurely used to describe him. After two seasons with the Lions, things quickly turned around once he joined the 49ers. Tomlinson started all but one game that first year in 2017 before not missing a game from 2018-2021. He became a physically imposing, powerful presence on the line both as a pass and run-blocker in the 49ers’ zone-based system. The Duke product gradually improved each year with the team before signing his deal with the Jets this off-season. Entering 2022 at 30-years old, Tomlinson is still in his prime and set up to continue his above average level of play in a similar offensive structure to what he was used to in San Francisco under Jets’ offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
6. Rodger Saffold - Saffold has increasingly struggled against sub-package and high-level interior rushers over the last couple of years, but he is still one of the most strong and powerful run-blockers in the league with a stout anchor once he gets latched. Saffold has played an underrated and key role in the outstanding production of RB Derrick Henry over the last four seasons. Adding him to the line in Buffalo alongside left tackle Dion Dawkins gives the Bills a hulking, commanding left side. Saffold will struggle to stay in front of really shifty, skilled rushers if isolated against them too often, but he will set a firm pocket using aggressive sets and provide major thump in the run game, which sounds like the ideal Aaron Kromer (Bills O-line coach) type of player.
7. Jonah Jackson - As I’ve studied Jackson’s game over the last couple of years, I’ve become convinced that he is the most underrated left guard in the NFL. At just 25-years old with only one missed start over his first two seasons, he is set to enter his prime with several standout performances against elite competition under his belt, namely last season against All-Pro DT Cameron Heyward. Jackson’s ability to square up, root his feet, strike and create leverage in pass-protection against a variety of alignments and opponents is a notable skill for such a young player. He is also powerful and efficient in the run game. Not many analysts talk about Jackson as a top ten left guard in football, but he is more than deserving of the praise.
8. Dalton Risner - Risner has good power to open up lanes in the run game with the movement skills to be a highly effective puller. His competitive toughness as a finisher makes it all come together as a plus run-blocker. The main concern in his game is an upright style in pass-protection that allows skilled rushers to open him up and work underneath his frame quickly, creating quite a bit of variance when he is isolated. Risner works very well with his linemates with the slide to his side, recognizes line games quickly and is also highly reliable. He’s missed just one game over his first three seasons.
9. Landon Dickerson - Dickerson started his rookie campaign at right guard before eventually settling in at left guard, gradually improving as the year went on. Dickerson was fresh off of his third ACL tear heading into his rookie season, so people expected he would start a little slow. There were some questions about how much of his vaunted power would still be there from his time at Alabama when he won the Rimington Trophy. Dickerson quieted many of those concerns and was a bulldozer in the run game for the NFL’s top rushing attack. With incremental improvements to his strike timing, footwork and patience in pass-protection, Dickerson has the ability to move even higher up this list by this time next off-season.
10. Michael Onwenu - Onwenu has been a revelation for the Patriots after being selected in the sixth round two years ago, filling in at a high-level at both guard spots, right tackle and as a jumbo tight end over that span. Last season he was surprisingly moved into a reserve role about midway through the year, which throws a wrench into his valuation by the team, but on film he is clearly one of the top left guards in the NFL due to his size, power, heavy hands and quick processing skills. Being able to fill in at tackle in a pinch and move around the line when needed increases his value as well.
11. Andrus Peat - Peat has steadily been on the decline over the last couple of seasons largely due to nagging injuries and the wear and tear of so many over his career. That said, he is still a force in the run game with rare power and a strong anchor against the bull-rush. His strike timing and placement leave something to be desired in pass-protection against certain types of rushers, but his trump card in the run game and physical traits make him a solid starter with the ceiling to get back into the next tier if he can stay healthy and regain more patience and control in his game.
12. Matt Feiler - Feiler has carved out a role as a solid starting guard after coming into the league as an undrafted free agent and initially breaking out for the Steelers at right tackle during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Last season he served as a stabilizing force for standout rookie LT Rashawn Slater thanks to his quick processing, spatial awareness and play strength. The Chargers left side of their line is a strength partly because of Feiler’s reliability.
13. Andrew Norwell - Norwell is re-joining his former Panthers line coach John Matsko in Washington this season, which should be a seamless transition. Norwell came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent under Matsko in 2014 and developed into an All-Pro before securing the richest deal in league history for a guard with the Jaguars in 2018. What followed were some unspectacular yet solid seasons in Jacksonville with several injuries that he played through but clearly sapped some of his movement skills in the process. Norwell was already operating at a deficit regarding his middling athletic ability entering the league, so now he is heavily reliant on processing skills to make up for it. Norwell is still just 30-years old, one of the smartest guards in football and crafty enough to be a middle-of-the-pack starter, particularly back under Matsko’s tutelage.
14. David Edwards - Edwards has quietly been a functional starter for the Rams over his first three seasons. Winning with his size, balance and play strength, Edwards does a nice job creating movement off the ball on zone combo blocks and maintaining a firm pocket against power-rushers. His athletic ability and movement skills are merely adequate, but he knows how to work around it with patience and technique. Edwards is a great example of a lineman ‘you can win with.’
15. Cody Whitehair - Whitehair has bounced around the interior over the course of his career with the Bears and, despite his best spot being center, settled in at left guard over the last season and a half. Now he is the leader of a middling Bears line in desperate need of some stability. Whitehair is undersized and has adequate play strength that makes him a vulnerability when isolated against some of the higher end interior defensive linemen in the league, but the new zone-based run scheme in Chicago should help mitigate that to a degree, allowing his quickness and adept use of leverage to really shine. Whitehair has been easy to forget over the last couple of seasons on a subpar O-line, but he remains a functional starter with proven positional versatility.
1. Ryan Jensen - Jensen is the most physically imposing center in the league and hasn’t missed a game over his last five seasons. Not only does he patrol the pocket like a stick of dynamite and lessen the load on QB Tom Brady by handling most of the calls up front, he is equally effective generating movement or picking off backers at the second level in the run game. Jason Kelce and Jensen bring equally unique and rare skill-sets that impact the game in ways their peers haven’t been able to replicate up until this point.
2. Jason Kelce - While Kelce needs help from his guards in pass-protection against certain matchups that Jensen doesn’t, his run-blocking prowess remains sensational. Kelce has cat-like quickness with a bulldog mentality, routinely leading to highlight reel blocks that capture even the least O-line interested fan’s attention. Kelce hasn’t missed a game over his last seven seasons and has been a First-Team All-Pro four times over that span. Despite being the oldest player on this list of centers, he is still operating at a near peak level and is likely going to the Hall of Fame after his career is over.
This entire tier is malleable depending on personal preference, and I even cycled through a handful of orders in the process. The center position is loaded at the top and every player in this bucket is a bonafide stud at the pivot.
3. Creed Humphrey - Humphrey put together a phenomenal rookie season where his skill-set rooted in efficiency, play strength and power at Oklahoma made a seamless transition to the pro game. Humphrey’s stoutness in the middle of the Chiefs line has been a boon for QB Patrick Mahomes, and there really isn’t a significant weakness in his game. The main thing for Humphrey will be to continue to fine-tune his technique rather than make any dramatic change to his game, which should secure his spot inside the top two tiers at his position for the next decade.
4. Erik McCoy - McCoy missed four games early in the 2021 season but quickly rebounded into the force he has been essentially since he stepped on the field as a rookie in 2019. I would make the case that McCoy is the most talented center in the NFL and certainly belongs in this second tier. It’s just a matter of putting it together for another year before potentially taking over the top spot as Jensen’s and Kelce’s careers wind down over the next few years. Few players in the NFL can drive and plant Vita Vea, reach defenders with ease and track down targets on the move, but McCoy has the rare ability to do it all.
5. Ryan Kelly - Kelly is another ultra-talented center who made an immediate impact as a rookie in 2016. After dealing with persistent injuries from 2017-2018 (13 missed games), he has managed to stay healthy over the last three years (three Pro Bowls and just four missed games) to cement his status as a top five or six center in the league. Kelly wins using a potent combination of athletic ability and play strength to handle himself well in isolated situations, work combo blocks and climb and take out threats on the move at a high level.
6. Frank Ragnow - I had Ragnow listed number three overall and at the top of tier 2 entering last season before he suffered a season-ending toe injury after four games. Ragnow could easily be higher in the tier, but coming off of a serious injury combined with the excellent competition at the position lowered him heading into the season. When he’s on the field, Ragnow captains a good line in Detroit. He has the strength and physicality to grind and wear down opponents over the course of games. Ragnow is also highly effective on the move, offering the rare blend of athletic ability and strength that the majority of the top two tiered centers in the league possess.
7. Rodney Hudson - Hudson has declined physically over the last couple of seasons, lacking the juice that made him an elite starter with the Raiders for roughly half a decade, but he remains the quarterback of the line in Arizona. Hudson has the processing skills to orchestrate the offense. This also boosts his play speed, allowing him to play faster than his average movement skills and power would suggest he can. This ranking is also factoring in the intangibles that Hudson brings to the offensive line room with his leadership, experience and ability to act as a force multiplier. After skipping mandatory minicamp this off-season it was rumored that he was mulling retirement. He’s since reported for training camp, but the writing seems to be on the wall that this could be his last season.
8. Mitch Morse - Morse is a personal favorite of mine going back to his rookie season with the Chiefs in 2015 when he was lethal on the move. Thankfully, Morse has been able to reclaim much of that effectiveness after a scary foot injury in 2017. He remains one of the most effective pulling centers in football and has an array of techniques in pass-protection to combat being one of the leaner guys at his position. Morse’s presence has been a solidifying force on the Bills line since he signed in 2019 and has really unlocked a creative run game that mixes in one of the league’s best pin-pull packages largely based off of his skill-set.
9. Corey Linsley - Linsley has been a good starter for at least the last five years, bringing a shrewd presence in pass-protection and being an adept zone run-blocker. Linsley is closer to average regarding size, physicality and power, but he more than makes up for it with efficient footwork, hands and very good quickness. His value to the Chargers is also hard to overstate considering how much pressure he is capable of taking off of QB Justin Herbert pre-snap, allowing him to grow into the position at his leisure while Linsley serves as a second quarterback for the offense.
This tier consists primarily of gritty, tough centers that win with smarts, technique and quickness. The majority of these guys don’t have great pedigree, size or power, but they are solid, functional starters that typically have a higher end trait or two in their game that they rely on to compete against higher end competition. They’re also some of my favorite players on the field to study because of the high degree of nuance and craftiness in their games.
10. Brian Allen - Allen is coming off of a really good season for the Super Bowl champion Rams, starting 16/17 regular season games and all four playoff games. Allen is a classic undersized former high-level wrestler turned center who wins with excellent competitive toughness and a refined understanding of how to win the leverage battle. I watched every snap of his 2021 season and came away very impressed. Allen has a good chance of rising up a tier if he replicates last year’s level of play in 2022.
11. Ben Jones - Jones is a linchpin on the Titans line having missed just one start over the last eight seasons. He serves as a well-rounded, solid starter with a junkyard dog mentality that he has rode to a pretty remarkable career as a former fourth-round pick. Jones is a stout, strong player with a wrestler’s skill-set, capable of working inside and under bigger defenders and generating impressive torque to finish blocks. His work on combo blocks is also a big reason for the amount of success RB Derrick Henry has had over the last few years.
12. David Andrews - Andrews is coming off zero missed starts in 2021 after a 12-start year in 2020 where he was working himself back into form after missing all of 2019 due to having blood clots in his lungs. Andrews played more like himself last season, regaining most of his solid movement skills and power we’re accustomed to seeing from him while maintaining his excellent spatial awareness and processing skills. It is easy to underrate a center like Andrews who doesn’t offer a lot of flash, but when you watch closely it is easy to see how the former undrafted free agent has been able to carve out six-year career as a plus starter.
13. Chase Roullier - Roullier is a quick center with good size who understands how to work combo blocks efficiently. He has had some persistent trouble diagnosing games and blitzes that result in being tardy picking them up and is coming off of a broken fibula suffered eight games into the 2021 season. Roullier has had some impressive flashes over the course of his career, but he hasn’t been able to refine enough areas of his game to be considered much higher than an average starter.
14. J.C. Tretter - Tretter currently is a free agent after being a cap casualty in Cleveland, with the Browns deciding to go younger at the position and give Nick Harris a shot at being the starter. Tretter was a solid starter last year and has been for the bulk of his nine year career, missing just one game over his last five seasons. I have heard of some concerns about a back issue with Tretter, which could be part of the reason he remains unsigned.
15. Connor Williams - Williams will be playing center for the first time in his career in 2022 after playing tackle in college and left guard for the first four years of his pro career. While that brings obvious uncertainty in his projection this season, his skill-set is well-suited to man the pivot as long as he can handle the mental duties in the pre-snap phase. Williams has good athletic ability and should be able to utilize his quickness and physicality inside head coach Mike McDaniel’s multiple run scheme.
1. Zack Martin - If I had to vote for the single best and most consistent offensive lineman that I’ve studied over the last eight years it would be Martin. I affectionately refer to him as ‘The prototype” based on how flawless his footwork and use of hands are, but he’s also a very good athlete with the power, play strength and demeanor to match. When players and coaches want to find teach tape for the guard position, watch Martin.
2. Wyatt Teller - Teller is entering his fifth season as a pro but has only been a full-time starter for two and half of them, earning back-to-back Second-Team All-Pro selections in the process. Teller is so obviously talented that separating him from everyone but Martin felt necessary. While firmly behind Martin in the rankings due to not being on his level from a technique or consistency standpoint, Teller is a mutant with few equals in terms of physical traits. He was the best overall guard in football in 2020 despite playing just 11 games and was very good last year. He can become even better by refining his footwork and hands in pass-protection.
3. Brandon Scherff - Scherff hasn’t played a full season since 2016 and is averaging about 11 starts a year over the last five seasons. When on the field, he’s still extremely valuable with a rare skill-set that few guards can match. This led the Jaguars to sign him this off-season to a three-year, $49.5M deal. Scherff’s explosiveness has been sapped over the years due to the inordinate amount of injuries and wear and tear on his body, but it was at such an elite level to begin with that he is still an impact blocker. Scherff is one of the best jump-setters in football, a legit weapon on the move in the run game and brings a tone-setting presence when uncovered in pass-protection.
4. Shaq Mason - Mason had a bit of a down year last season compared to his previous couple years due to his footwork and overall technique in pass-protection breaking down a bit. With that said, he was still a plus starter with dominant run-blocking ability. Going to the Bucs in a trade this off-season puts him in another downhill run scheme, only now sandwiched between two elite players in Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs. Expect Mason to fix the quirks in his technique and be a force in Tampa Bay this season.
5. Trey Smith - There is a storm coming in 2022 and it’s name is Trey Smith. Armed with physical traits only matched by the likes of Teller and Nelson at the guard position, Smith was the steal of the draft for the Chiefs as a rookie in 2021. Smith is built like a tank with thunder in his hands and hate in his heart for the opponent. He tends to get a little wild and over-aggressive with his technique but that was reeled in a bit under excellent line coach Andy Heck last season, which resulted in a very good rookie season with some jaw-dropping flashes. If Smith can continue to clean up his technique as a pass-protector, learn to be more patient and pick his spots a little better, the sky really is the limit for how good he can become.
This tier is entirely interchangeable depending on the criteria and personal preference. There is a good mix of different age brackets with players past their peak yet still rock solid (Zeitler), ascending types that have tier two potential (AVT, Lindstrom) and others likely at the top of their ceiling but still in their prime as long-term plus starters (Cappa, Corbett). I try to balance that out by focusing on expected performance in 2022 alone, but also consider what the player has been on film to help predict where they will be into the future.
6. Kevin Zeitler - Zeitler is the oldest player in this positional grouping yet has missed just one game over his last seven seasons. He made 17 starts in 2021 as a plus starter for Baltimore. Zeitler plays with balance, poise and sound technique, allowing his game to age exceptionally well.
7. Alijah Vera-Tucker - “AVT” had a very good rookie season at left guard, showcasing many of the same traits that were on display during his time at USC. AVT is a smooth operator on the field thanks to plus athletic ability, outstanding balance and dexterity using his hands. Add in a nasty, physical demeanor and the recipe is there for a long-time high-quality starter. The one question for AVT is how he’ll handle moving to the right side of the line to accommodate LG Laken Tomlinson. If AVT adapts well, he has a strong chance of rising up this list over the course of the year.
8. Alex Cappa - Cappa gradually refined his game over his first four seasons as a pro after coming out of the now defunct Division II Humboldt State football program and maintains tier 3 status at right guard heading into the 2022 season. Winning with an advanced understanding of leverage, very good use of hands to control blocks, and renowned toughness, Cappa is a significant upgrade for the Bengals.
9. Chris Lindstrom - After three years in the NFL including two as a full-time starter, Lindstrom is one of the few bright spots on the Falcons line and is ascending among his peers at the position. He wins with good initial quickness and snap out of his stance, pop in his hands and straining hard to sustain blocks. Lindstrom is still refining his strike timing and hand placement against the cross-chop but is able to compete with most competition using fast, strong hands and good mobility to recover when needed.
10. Austin Corbett - Corbett rounds out the top 10 after rejuvenating his career in 2020 with a very good season and following it up with a slightly less consistent but still quality season in 2021. Corbett has the play strength and power to anchor against the bull-rush and generate movement off of the ball with a keen understanding of timing and body positioning as a zone run-blocker. He is set to start at RG for the Panthers and will be a big upgrade for them this upcoming season.
11. Nate Davis - Davis showed drastic improvement between his rookie year in 2019 and 2020 with much-improved body control and technique, before failing to take the next step in 2021. Davis enters year four with the raw power to create immediate displacement in the run game and will need to shore up his footwork and hands in pass-protection to better handle being isolated against quality rushers.
12. A.J. Cann - Cann is coming off of season-ending knee surgery after just four games in 2021, but averaged 15 starts over his first six seasons as an underrated, solid starter with eye-catching games against premier talent. Cann is in a similar mold as late-career Gabe Jackson, winning with a robust power base to anchor on command and move people in the run game, but he’s more scheme-dependent due to below average athletic ability.
13. James Daniels - Daniels has had some really nice flashes over the course of his career including last season that speak to why he was an early second-round pick in 2018. The issue is that he has an almost equal number of technical breakdowns in pass-protection that can be back-breaking for an offense. It’s important to point out how often Daniels has had to move positions on subpar offensive line units over his career. He is going to the Steelers with more upside than actual proof of being more than a middle-of-the-pack starter.
14. Trai Turner - The player Daniels is most likely replacing at right guard for the Steelers last year is Turner, a crafty veteran with 106 career starts, including all 17 last year in the midst of chaos around him offensively. I studied every snap of Turner in 2021 and saw a player still capable of putting together multiple seasons as a solid starter in a multiple or gap-centered run scheme. Turner is also reuniting with two coaches in Washington in Ron Rivera and O-line coach John Matsko that he had the best years of his career with in Carolina, which should help him hit the ground running.
15. Quinn Meinerz - This was a tough spot to fill and I ultimately decided to go with Meinerz’s flash and upside. Meinerz started nine games for the Broncos as a rookie last season and showed some of the athletic ability and power in the run game that made him a quality college prospect. There is a clear deficiency in his game as a pass-protector with needing to clean up his pass sets and use of hands to avoid being beaten too quickly, but I know for a fact that has been a point of emphasis in his training this off-season. Considering Meinerz made the jump from Division III football and a year off in 2020, there are plenty of reasons to believe that he will continue to improve and refine his technique over time.
1. Lane Johnson - Despite missing four games last season Johnson still earned second-team All-Pro recognition thanks in large part to some phenomenal performances against top competition (Maxx Crosby, Joey Bosa) and dominating other quality rushers. Johnson has always been a true shut down pass-protector on an island, but the most impressive part of his year was how impactful he was as a run-blocker. Here is the highlight package from 2021 that I put together for OL Masterminds that showcases a little bit of what makes Johnson such a special player.
2. Tristan Wirfs - Wirfs began his career about as well as anyone, winning a Super Bowl, not missing a single start or snap and earning First-Team All-Pro honors in 2021. Of course it helps to be protecting the best QB of all-time in Tom Brady who is unmatched in how efficient he is inside the pocket, but Wirfs doesn’t receive help and goes toe-to-toe with elite competition. His strike timing in pass-protection last season was a little shaky. I think he was even better as a rookie in 2020, but he is firmly in tier 1 with the outlook of a perennial All-Pro.
3. Ryan Ramczyk - Ramczyk missed seven games last season due to a nagging knee injury that hampered him throughout the year, causing his ability to play with power and strength to take a dip. Even at less than 100% for the bulk of the season, he remains a lock for tier 1 at right tackle due to impeccable technique, efficiency from the ground up and well-roundedness. Ramczyk has a strong case for being the best run-blocking right tackle in football and he can thrive on an island against top competition when healthy.
4. La'el Collins - Collins had major hip surgery that kept him out of the entire 2020 season and lingered into last year, when he managed to start just ten games. The reason he is still inside the top five and a lock for tier 2 is that when healthy you can count on one hand the right tackles in the NFL who are as physically imposing, strong and powerful as him. Collins hit his stride late last season as well, capping off the year with a standout performance in the playoffs against the 49ers dominant defensive line. Collins has the rare ability to set aggressively on elite rushers, establish leverage, latch and end reps quickly, which he displayed against Nick Bosa here. There is a little more variance baked into Collins’ projection for 2022 solely due to durability, but if he is on the field for 12 or more games his ceiling is higher than everyone else outside of tier 1 at the position.
5. Brian O’Neill - O’Neill has earned being a top five player at his position after gradually improving each of his first four seasons in the NFL to the point where he has minimized his biggest concern (anchoring) so it is no longer a liability in his game. Development isn’t typically as linear as O’Neill’s has been since coming into the NFL, but he has used an elite athletic base and underrated competitive toughness inside the ideal scheme for his skill-set with the Vikings (zone-based run game + heavy play-action) to build out the rest of his game over time. Now he is undoubtedly a tier two starter with skill-set to match his physical tools.
6. Jack Conklin - Conklin is reportedly still working his way back from a torn patellar tendon suffered in Week 12 last season but should be able to open the season as the starter. Before the injury last season Conklin was his usual self; a bulldozer in the run game and an above average pass-protector. Conklin and Wyatt Teller form arguably the best right side in the NFL. Here is hoping we get to see them for a full season again in 2022.
7. Taylor Moton - Moton hasn’t missed a single start or snap over the last four seasons and even filled in at left tackle for a game this past season. Despite playing on a bad offensive line last year, Moton was the one constant, consistent player and enters 2022 as the unit’s best player. Moton doesn’t do anything at an elite level, but he does everything well and deserves to be at the top of tier 3. He can be considered a fringe tier 2 player. The main reason I kept him here is that on obvious passing downs (especially against top competition), Moton is typically provided some sort of extra help since his good but unspectacular range, quickness and ability to redirect can get exposed.
8. Penei Sewell - Sewell had a rocky start to his rookie year after initially struggling with the move to right tackle during the preseason before hitting the ground running at left tackle over the first eight games of the year as he filled in for an injured Taylor Decker. Sewell then moved back to the right side and corrected the awkwardness in his pass set from the preseason, finishing an impressive rookie season with 16 starts split between each side. The flashes from his decorated college career at Oregon were on display throughout the year, and his rare physical traits provide him with a ceiling everyone below him simply can’t match. Amazingly, Sewell will be just 21-years old at the start of the 2022 season, with a long runway to develop into a tier 1 or 2 player over the next few years.
9. Braden Smith - Smith is a plus run-blocker and functional pass-protector with the play strength and anchor to handle the bull-rush and power moves pretty well. He gets by against top competition by not having to play on an island very often due to the OL-friendly nature of head coach Frank Reich’s run-first scheme that incorporates extensive play-action, misdirection and built in help for the tackles. That said, Smith’s presence was sorely missed when he was out last season thanks to Indy’s poor tackle depth, highlighting the importance of his above average, quality play.
10. Rob Havenstein - Havenstein put together another solid season in 2021 thanks in large part to being quick out of his stance with good weight distribution and discipline to stay inside-out on most rushers. This forces rushers to work around his massive frame, which he also uses to his advantage in the run game by walling off defenders and having an advanced understanding of timing and angles. All of these things help increase his play speed and mask his middling athletic ability, but that will get exposed on an island against high-level rushers, shoehorning him into tier 4 as a reliable starter with a high floor and clearly defined ceiling.
11. Morgan Moses - Moses has been an incredibly durable player over his career, missing just one game over his last seven seasons. At 6’6” 330 pounds with 35+ inch arms, Moses is able to blot out rushers off of the edge when he lands his punch. Moses plays an aggressive, physical brand of football, namely in pass-protection which in turn creates a lot of variance, particularly against speed-rushers that evade his initial strike. There is a bit of a feast and famine aspect to Moses’ game, but he has plenty of games where it works very well. Pair his physical playing style with the ability to displace defenders on the first level of a defense as a run-blocker and you get a solid, reliable starter that brings a commanding presence to the line.
12. Terence Steele - Steele is one of the most intriguing offensive linemen listed for a variety of reasons. After not only making the team but also starting 14 games as an undrafted rookie in 2020, Steele got back into the lineup last season for 13 games due to La’el Collins being out with an injury. Steele showed significant improvement from year one to year two, so much so that the team cut Collins and are rolling with Steele as the outright starter in 2022.
What makes Steele exciting is the eye-catching raw power that he has in the run game to propel and dig out defenders on command. Paired with excellent length and a strong punch, Steele has the tools to keep improving and potentially even jump a tier in the future. His matchup against the Chargers and Joey Bosa in Week 2 last season spoke volumes about the caliber of player Steele is and can become.
13. Isaiah Wynn - Wynn will likely be playing on the right side for the first time in his pro or college career this season. This obviously creates a level of uncertainty that is hard to measure, but Wynn has largely been a solid starter at left tackle over his 33 career starts and has the traits to make the move work. Having some experience playing next to Michael Onwenu, who will presumably be the starting right guard alongside Wynn, also helps his outlook.
14. Sam Cosmi - Cosmi was a draft darling in the media largely due to testing like an elite athlete at the 2021 Combine and he was a prospect I saw real potential in on film coming out of Texas. However there is a clunky element to his game when he’s on an island against top competition stemming from inconsistent footwork as a pass-protector that will need to get cleaned up to really elevate his game to its full potential. Cosmi does have legit ‘very good’ power, body control and good run-blocking skills to rely on while he continues to develop, which makes me optimistic about him at least being a solid starter in 2022.
15. Tytus Howard - Howard has excellent size, flashes of major power and a nasty, aggressive demeanor to impose his will on defenders, making him a lot of fun to study. Howard had to switch sides and positions last season, moving from right tackle to left guard, which threw a wrench in his development, but the move is a credit to him at the same time for taking it in stride. He went on to start 15 games (ten at LG, five at RT) but was much more up and down at guard than at tackle. Howard still needs to improve his mobility, snap timing and learn to play with more consistent leverage (pad level), but the physical traits and competitive toughness are there for him to sustain tier 4 status with upside to climb.
As the season progresses I put together a midseason and then end of season All-Pro team which usually provides an overview of the top five or so players at their position from that current season. Those articles serve as an addendum of sorts to this one before we will revisit the list in its entirety for the new top 75 next off-season.
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Was waiting for this....and was certainly worth the hype I had for i good stuff as always. Some things that come to mind looking through this. This is alot feel free to respond or look at whichever parts of this you want to, no need to parse through all this super closely haha.
a) One surprising omission to me was Jon Runyan. I know you had him with like a month left listed in the season listed under your Pro Bowl consideration list at G. What are your thoughts on him and how you think he projects? Also just wanted to throw some names out there and see how close they were to making the list for you at different spots. No need to give specific breakdowns on each just saying how close is fine unless a guy particularly piques your interest: Matt Hennessy, Mike McGlinchey, Graham Glasgow, Ted Karras, Ezra Cleveland, Robert Hunt, Billy Turner.
b) Orlando Brown I was a bit surprised about how high he came in. You made an interesting pt about him understanding body angles but I do sometimes feel like he can still have some ugly sets on deeper drop backs or by guys beating him outside. I might be missing something you can tell me where Im wrong but I get the sense sometimes his hands and feet arent fully in sync with each other(https://gfycat.com/tenselivelyiridescentshark). What Im wondering is maybe you might value his work in the run game alot or if Im just completely off base in my discussion on his pass pro
c) I agree with you having Mailata outside your top 15(still in tier 4) think some of the hype with him may be a year premature. But I did want to ask you hear all the time about how "he only started playing football 4 yrs ago the sky's the limit for him" what you thought of his realistic ceiling?
d) DJ Humphries I had kind of viewed as the NFC equivalent of Cam Robinson in the past. You hadnt mentioned him in your H/M either was wondering your thoughts on him and where you view him. Actually find him kind of an interesting player, has fine athletic traits and I find his hand usage often helps him vs better edge rushers(https://gfycat.com/blueblackandwhiteisopod). He does have bad reps(can be had vs bull rushes) but he held up better vs better competition than I expected.
e) Real quick wanted to ask about Kolton Miller agree with everything you said about his issues(some ex https://gfycat.com/welldocumentedcolossalgrison) just wanted to ask how correctable do you think they are. Because while it is true he has kind of stalled out Im not sure that necessairly needs to be the case per se, I think he's quite talented in pass pro and potentially has a meaningfully higher ceiling than where is right now.
f) Lastly wanted to ask about 2 guys also who's teams seemed to sour on them a hair Michael Onwenu and La'el Collins. With Onwenu do you have insight into why the Pats might have benched him, anything on film to suggest it? What position do you think is best for him, my initial instinct is guard but he's held up better in pass pro than Ive expected in the past at RT. And then with La'el Collins his contract was lower than I would’ve valued him, seems like given how high you ranked him maybe you were a bit surprised as well. My two initial thoughts on that were a) health concerns with him are significant b) he will occasionally have some surprisingly ugly(especially his first few games back https://gfycat.com/friendlysourfieldmouse) which might skew perception and unfairly hold a bit too much weight against him.
Thanks alot again for doing this and taking the time to read through my thoughts, appreciate you
great work as always