This list was made based almost exclusively on my personal film study of the trenches. The idea behind the slots for each player is based on an assessment of their overall body of work until this point, coupled with a projection for expected performance in the 2021 season.
I considered their 2020 film as the number one criteria for the ranking as well as the prior year or more of film when possible to serve as additional indicators of future performance. As an example, this wasn’t possible for Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs since he was a rookie in 2020 but for Saints LT Terron Armstead prior seasons were a factor because track record is important when ordering players for their current and future value.
Keep in mind that the ‘tiers’ are more important than the actual ranking, so players inside each tier can be shifted around without much pushback from me.
Tier 1 - Unique
Tier 2 - Elite
Tier 3 - Very good/trending up
Tier 4 - Very good/trending down
Tier 1 - Unique
*Age* = Week 1 of the 2021 season
Aaron Donald - DT - Rams - Year 8 - 30-years old
Donald is the most disruptive force in the NFL with the ability to win with elite power or quickness from anywhere on the defensive line. Whether penetrating the backfield to divert or wreck a run game, or using one of a half dozen or more pass-rush moves on passing downs, Donald is a force multiplier up front who soaks up extra attention for his teammates so that they can thrive, while producing at a rate that dwarfs everyone else at his position. Donald is a first-ballot Hall of Fame caliber player who is coming off of his third Defensive Player of the Year award in 2020, with a string of six consecutive First Team All-Pro selections dating back to the 2015 season.
Tier 2 - Elite
Zack Martin - RG - Cowboys - Year 8 - 30-years old
Martin was forced to play right tackle for the Cowboys in three games last season including starting at the unfamiliar position twice before going down with a season-ending calf injury in his second start at right tackle in Week 12 against Washington. Along with a concussion that took him out for Week 7, Martin missed a total of six games in 2020, the most of his illustrious career (his prior high was two missed games in 2018).
Even with some chinks in his armor showing up last season for the first time in his career in terms of injuries and missed games, at 30-years old with his track record of excellent play and an unmatched skill-set, there are more reasons to believe he will recapture his stellar play than not.
Myles Garrett - Edge - Browns - Year 5 - 25-years old
Garrett finished first in the inaugural True Sack Rate (TSR) that measures quality of sacks across the NFL, with all 13 of his sacks being high-quality (HQ). Garrett averaged a HQ sack every 58.2 snaps in 2020 while second place (Joey Bosa) averaged a HQ sack every 78.4 snaps. Bosa also played about 200 less snaps than Garrett did.
The TSR is by no means an ‘end all be all’ metric but it does an accurate job of measuring just how unbelievably productive and skilled Garrett was in 2020. At just 25-years old, Garrett is entering his prime as the most talented edge-rusher in the NFL with a refined pass-rush plan that makes him the alpha in a position group (edge) that is full of them.
Joey Bosa - Edge - Chargers - Year 6 - 26-years old
In terms of pure skill, I would place the older Bosa brother atop the list among his peers for the 2021 season. With the ability to set up his moves using hesitations and stutters, plus string multiple moves together on the same rep while gaining ground upfield, Bosa is the poster child for what it should look like from a technique perspective. He’s also exceptionally quick with the play strength to run through blockers using his bull-rush and reduce inside to the 3T on passing downs. Bosa also finished 2nd in high-quality sacks per snap in 2020 despite playing just 53% of snaps, which was ridiculously efficient.
Trent Williams - LT - 49ers - Year 11 - 33-years old
After missing all of the 2019 season, Williams came back in 2020 reunited with Kyle Shanahan inside the ideal scheme for his skill-set and didn’t miss a beat, starting 14 games and reclaiming ‘elite’ status with several jaw-dropping performances and blocks. Williams is at the tail end of his prime, but based on his film last season looks to have at least one more year at an All-Pro level.
Terron Armstead - LT - Saints - Year 9 - 30-years old
Armstead is the prototypical left tackle and is coming off of back-to-back seasons where he missed a combined three games after missing 21 games the prior three seasons (2016-2018). After quieting injury concerns as of late, there really isn’t a knock left on his game. Armstead is an elite pass-protector capable of thriving on an island against the league’s best while being the closest all-around run-blocker to Trent Williams at the position.
Quenton Nelson - LG - Colts - Year 4 - 25-years old
Nelson has been elite since his rookie season with a rare combination of physical tools and mental acuity that has resulted in some of the most impressive highlights for an offensive lineman that we’ve ever seen. With that said, his down-to-down consistency in terms of technique as a pass-protector hasn’t reached cyborg/Zack Martin levels just yet, which is really the only thing keeping him from being higher than he already is on this list.
David Bakhtiari - LT - Packers - Year 9 - 29-years old
Bakhtiari will likely be out for the first month of the season or so after suffering a late-season torn ACL in 2020, but was his usual (elite) self prior to going down and is young enough to expect at least a couple more seasons of his prime. Similar to how Joey Bosa is the ultimate technician at his position, Bakhtiari is the same at his, specifically in pass-protection. Nobody can really eclipse Bak’s consistency in his sets and hands, which has led to a shocking level of performance over the last 4-5 years against all levels of competition.
Khalil Mack - Edge - Bears - Year 8 - 30-years old
Mack was arguably the most well-rounded edge player in the NFL in 2020 and still demands as much if not more attention from opposing offense’s than any player at his position. What makes Mack such a dynamic force off of the edge is that he brilliantly sets up his moves while possessing a unique blend of speed to threaten the edge with power to shift inside at a moment’s notice and run through his opponent. That alone strikes a level of fear into pass-blockers and opposing coaches alike that ensures an ‘elite’ tag for the foreseeable future.
Ali Marpet - LG - Bucs - Year 7 - 28-years old
Marpet has been playing at an elite level for the last several seasons and does it with tremendous play strength to anchor on command with the technique to consistently create movement and leverage in the run game in any run concept. He’s also started 10 or more games at all three interior spots over the course of his career and has missed just three games in as many seasons. Marpet has yet to earn a Pro Bowl or All-Pro selection, but on film is clearly among the best in the NFL at his position with several more seasons of his prime left to go.
Ryan Ramczyk - RT - Saints - Year 5 - 27-years old
Ramczyk enters year five after a bit of a down year relative to his 2018 and 2019 seasons due to a nagging knee injury that he was dealing with, yet still remained one of the 3-5 best players at his position. When healthy, there is a strong case to be made that he is the best right tackle in the NFL, primarily due to how fundamentally sound he is in all facets of the position. Few players are able to blend as much skill and variance into their games without losing their technique, but Ramczyk is able to do that in pass-protection while being a stellar run-blocker capable of dominating at all three levels of the field.
T.J. Watt - Edge - Steelers - Year 5 - 26-years old
After leading the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss, and QB hits, Watt has entrenched himself in the elite tier as one of the league’s top all-around edge players. Watt times the snap exceptionally well and has one of the quickest get-offs in the NFL. In 2020, he really developed his pass-rush plan around his signature cross-chop move, with a quality bull-rush that keeps blockers honest and prevents them from selling out to stop his speed around the corner. Of his 15 sacks, just seven were high-quality due to a chunk of his production coming through scheme and on stunts, which is important context to his ranking.
Chris Jones - DT - Chiefs - Year 6 - 27-years old
Jones is comfortably my number two defensive tackle in the NFL entering 2021 for his ability to take over a game as a pass-rusher. Not only can he rush over either guard effectively but he can kick out to the edge and pose a significant threat to most of the tackles in the league. His run defense is predicated off of splash penetration plays and is good enough, but as a rusher Jones is a dominant force that would have an even bigger name if not for Donald.
Ryan Jensen - C - Bucs - Year 8 - 30-years old
Some will scoff at this ranking but the simple fact is that Jensen is the most imposing presence at the pivot in the NFL with the alertness in pass-protection to own the ‘A’ gaps, the top-shelf play strength to generate movement in the Bucs downhill run scheme, plus the athletic ability to be an asset on the move as a run-blocker. “Presence” can be an ambiguous term, but when studying center play across the NFL, it becomes apparent that Jensen stands above his peers in that area, bleeding across all areas of the Bucs offense in subtle and obvious ways.
Lane Johnson - RT - Eagles - Year 9 - 31-years old
The only reason Johnson isn’t higher on this list is that the injuries he has accumulated over the last couple of seasons have caused him to miss 13 games over that span and more importantly have raised concerns about him being able to reach his peak again at 31-years old. Johnson isn’t ‘old’ by any means and should realistically be able to reach at least 90% of his peak form in 2021, which would result in an elite tackle. Johnson is supremely athletic with underrated play strength and the movement skills to thrive on an island against top competition. Expect his Week 1 matchup against Steelers edge T.J. Watt to provide some important insight into what we can expect from him moving forward and if he is back to his normal self.
Chandler Jones - Edge - Cardinals - Year 10 - 31-years old
Jones is coming off of a torn biceps injury that cost him 11 of 16 games last season. His run from 2017-2019 was epic and saw him lead the NFL in sacks with 49, five more than the second-place rusher over that span, Aaron Donald. Jones, whose arms measured 35 1/2 inches at the 2012 combine, is one of the most skilled and unorthodox rushers in the NFL. As one All-Pro starting tackle told me, Jones moves like a “pterodactyl” after the snap. In-between the snap of the ball and first contact, Jones uses deception and body english in the form of hand flashes, head fakes, stutters, and bobs that disorient blockers to open up his unique assortment of moves. His long-arm technique is capable of inserting into the frame of any tackle in the NFL to gain control, with a variety of counters to the corner off of it, plus he has the ability to cross-face and win inside at an elite level. It remains to be seen if he can pick up where he left off in 2019 at 31-years old off of a serious injury, but even at 90-95% of his peak he deserves to be mentioned here.
DeForest Buckner - DT - Colts - Year 6 - 27-years old
Buckner wins with tremendous use of hands and premier length, with as freaky of physical dimensions as any player in the NFL at 6’7” 295 with 34 3/8 arm length and 11 3/4 hand size. Buckner aligned as a loose three technique is one of the more terrifying looks any guard can face and his signature club-swim move is one of the best ‘trump card’ moves of any rusher in football.
Tristan Wirfs - RT - Bucs - Year 2 - 22-years old
This is as high as any second year player can be for me and it is warranted after the spectacular year Wirfs had as a rookie in 2020 where he faced a slew of outstanding rushers and more than held his own against them all. With rare play strength and anchoring ability to go along with elite athletic ability, Wirfs is able to set vertical, get to his spot, and absorb power against anyone. He can also mix up his sets and hands to stay unpredictable. Having Tom Brady at quarterback certainly helped him in terms of finding his landmarks and not having to protect for an inordinate amount of time, but he spent plenty of time isolated against top competition and was borderline dominant through all 20 starts.
Wyatt Teller - RG - Browns - Year 4 - 26-years old
Teller was the best guard in the NFL last season during the 11 games he started and is a great example of why decision-makers oftentimes prefer to bet on traits in the draft, because when the coaching, scheme, and technique line up there’s a better chance for a home-run, or a grand-slam in Teller’s case. The only reason he isn’t higher is because it was just one year of dominance and it wasn’t a full season due to him missing five games with a calf injury. The 2021 season will be the first that Teller has had the same offensive line coach in consecutive seasons as a pro and that coach is the game’s best in Bill Callahan. Expect him to be an All-Pro in 2021 if he’s healthy for 12 or more games.
As one All-Pro starting tackle told me, Chandler Jones moves like a “pterodactyl” after the snap. In-between the snap of the ball and first contact, Jones uses deception and body english in the form of hand flashes, head fakes, stutters, and bobs that disorient blockers to open up his unique assortment of moves.
Nick Bosa - Edge - 49ers - Year 3 - 23-years old
Even after missing his second season in 2020 with a torn ACL, Bosa was so special as a rookie in 2019 that he needed to be included in the elite tier. Bosa came into the league and was dominant from day one and it went straight through the Super Bowl where he had a legitimate case for being the MVP of that game had the 49ers won.
Tier 3 - Very good/Trending up
These players are either very good now and likely to remain there (Za’Darius Smith, Brandon Scherff, Joel Bitonio, etc.) or very good now and likely to ascend into the elite tier in 2021 (Brian Burns, Danielle Hunter, Frank Ragnow, etc).
Brian Burns - Edge - Panthers - Year 3 - 23-years old
Burns is the first name in this tier because he is right on the cusp of putting everything together and having his first truly dominant season in 2021. Burns has a lightning quick get-off with elite speed, bend, and an advanced understanding of how to set blockers up to shorten the corner. As his top counter move, he has a vicious inside spin that he deploys once blockers start to overset to protect their edge. Burns has gradually added weight to his lanky frame and flashed immense power last season. Once he understands how to fully unleash his newly added strength the sky is the limit for where he can go.
Brandon Scherff - Washington - Year 7 - 29-years old
Scherff has had stretches of elite play for about five years and has elements of his game that are without a doubt worthy of being categorized as such. ‘Play speed’ is how fast a guy executes assignments and Scherff is elite in that regard, with the ability to make impact blocks on all three levels of the field that is only matched by a select few guards in football. Injuries (16 missed games the last three seasons) have really been the key factor in preventing him from being in the same company as Zack Martin and Marshal Yanda before he retired, but there is no doubt he is a top five right guard in football when healthy. My only concern moving forward in 2021 and beyond is if he can maintain the same level of explosiveness and power that have been such critical aspects of his game after all the wear and tear on his body.
Za’Darius Smith - Packers - Year 7 - 28-years old
Smith is almost as tough for analysts to pin down as he is for opposing blockers due to how often he is moved around the line of scrimmage before the snap. When an edge-rusher is most effective as a ‘spinner’ and from rushing inside over a guard, they tend to become underrated because they are winning in untraditional ways. That’s Smith. Few players have as much violence baked into their game as Smith does, who can win with a thundering bull-rush down the middle of a blocker or with outstanding dexterity using his hands to swipe the hands of blockers and cross their face. Similar to how Jadeveon Clowney was used for the Texans, Smith is moved inside and out depending on the game-plan and matchup to capitalize on the opponent’s weak link. He also finished 4th in the TSR with a 10.5 ‘sack score’ in 2020, signaling a highly efficient rusher.
Ronnie Stanley - LT - Ravens - Year 6 - 27-years old
Stanley has been a high-end, very good level tackle almost immediately since becoming a starter as a rookie in 2016 and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue into the future despite suffering a season-ending ankle injury after six games in 2020. Stanley benefits from playing in the most run-heavy offense in the league and takes less reps in pass-pro than any of his peers, but when asked to play on an island, thrives against the majority of competition that he faces while being an extremely skilled, crafty run-blocker that excels in any scheme.
Laremy Tunsil - LT - Texans - Year 6 - 27-years old
Tunsil hasn’t quite reached the level of consistency in pass-protection as some of the players have in the elite tier, but has the movement skills to match up with edge-rushers as well as anyone from an athletic standpoint. He’s also incrementally become a better, more physical run-blocker over the years and is still in his prime with room to round off some of the rough edges to his game. Even without any improvement in the ensuing years, Tunsil is firmly a ‘very good’ left tackle.
Danielle Hunter - Edge - Vikings - Year 6 - 26-years old
Slotting Hunter was tricky due to the herniated disc in his neck that required surgery and robbed him of his 2020 season, but by all accounts has regained his athletic ability and movement skills. Prior to the injury, Hunter had accumulated 29 sacks in the prior two seasons and was widely considered to have entered into the ‘elite’ tier among edge players. In terms of sheer physical appearance and tools, Hunter is in rarified air among his peers, now it is just a matter of proving that he has the ability to sustain a full season again before climbing back up to the top-tier.
Elgton Jenkins - LG - Packers - Year 3 - 25-years old
Jenkins has put together a stellar first couple of seasons in the NFL and enters year three with expectedly high expectations. Jenkins has every physical marker needed to sustain a great career with the competitive toughness and mental processing to match. Jenkins started at three different positions in 2020 and while that looked to have hindered his technique a bit at his home at left guard, the proven versatility to be an asset across the line was notable. As long as he can settle into one spot this season I’d expect him to insert himself into the next tier by this time next year.
Frank Ragnow - C - Lions - Year 4 - 25-years old
Since making the switch full-time to center in his second season in 2019, Ragnow has solidified himself as a top five center in the NFL entering 2021, while just entering his prime. After some inconsistencies with his strike timing and use of hands in 2019, Ragnow cleaned most of it up in 2020 and put together the best year of his young career. He is trending up and should be comfortably in the next tier entering 2022 given the trend his game is currently on. What makes him so special is his blend of size, processing, play strength, and physicality. Having a guy like Ragnow at the pivot that can quarterback the line and simultaneously set the tone physically is invaluable for any offense.
Leonard Williams - DT - Giants - Year 7 - 27-years old
Williams has been a bit of an enigma over the last several seasons. There is no denying that he has elite physical tools and skills, but it has been a matter of putting it all together in consecutive seasons that has escaped him. Williams is coming off the best year of his career by every significant metric in 2020, including the TSR where he ranked second in sack score and total number of HQ sacks. If he can replicate similar levels of production in 2021, he would warrant being included in the elite tier alongside the likes of Chris Jones and DeForest Buckner.
Jonathan Allen - DT - Washington - Year 5 - 26-years old
Allen might be the most underrated player in this tier and its because his stat sheet isn’t particularly impressive, but his tape shows a different story. Allen has been an elite run-defender for multiple seasons at this point but what has elevated him into more exclusive company is the pass-rushing prowess he showed on tape in 2020. Armed with a couple of awesome power moves and pristine use of hands to disengage from blocks, Allen is able to win with pure power and speed as a rusher, making him one of the most well-rounded trench players in the NFL.
Quinnen Williams - DT - Jets - Year 3 - 23-years old
After a mediocre rookie season with some impressive flashes, Williams took a giant step forward last season to the point of being dominant. With tremendous natural leverage and power, Williams is able to run through blockers with ease to reset the line of scrimmage and live in the backfield. He also has an advanced understanding of how to knock blockers off balance with nasty hump and club moves as a pass-rusher. It really is a matter of time before we’re talking about him as the next great interior D-lineman.
Stephon Tuitt - DL - Steelers - Year 8 - 28-years old
Tuitt finished tied for third in most HQ sacks in 2020 with six amidst his continual ascension as a key member of Pittsburgh’s ferocious front four. At 6’5” 305 pounds, Tuitt moves shockingly well and is a menace on stunts, routinely opening up opportunities for T.J. Watt while creating constant havoc from his primary alignment over the right guard. Tuitt is given the autonomy to make plays based on feel and what he sees, which has unlocked his talent in more appreciable ways.
Joel Bitonio - LG - Browns - Year 8 - 29-years old
One of the best parts about the state of the Browns organization as a legit Super Bowl contender entering the 2021 season is that Bitonio is still there as a pillar of arguably the league’s best offensive line and engine of the offense. After not missing a snap over the last four seasons with 95 career starts under his belt, Bitonio is one of the more well-rounded and consistent players at his position. He’s also a critical part of 2020 first-round pick Jedrick Wills’ development at left tackle.
Mekhi Becton - LT - Jets - Year 2 - 22-years old
The term ‘freak’ gets thrown around loosely at times, but for Becton it is wholly appropriate. At 6’7” 370 pounds, Becton has a rocked up build with eye-popping movement skills plus the capability of generating an unbelievable amount of explosive power through his hips and hands, which we saw flash on tape many times as a rookie in 2020. If not for a shoulder injury suffered in Week 3 that caused him to miss a couple of games and lingered throughout the year, he would be even higher on this list.
DeMarcus Lawrence - Edge - Cowboys - Year 8 - 29-years old
Lawrence has been a bit mischaracterized over the last two seasons largely due to his sack numbers dipping. When you contrast his raw numbers from the 2019-2020 seasons (11.5 sacks) with his 2017-2018 seasons (25 sacks) it is understandable for people to think that he is no longer a dynamic, very good edge player, rather in the ‘good/above average’ tier. It’s important to understand the various changes that the Dallas defense has undergone during that timeframe relative to coaching changes that have impacted what Lawrence’s responsibilities are as a player. Lawrence has gradually been asked to focus more heavily on defending the run while seeing an inordinate amount of double-teams over the last couple of seasons. When isolated against top-tier competition at tackle, he is still on the shortlist for most respected by his opponents due to his vaunted cross-chop technique but also his spin move, effectiveness on stunts, and underrated power.
Tier 4 - Very good/Trending down
These players are either very good now and likely to remain there for the next few seasons (Grady Jarrett, Shaq Mason, Carl Lawson, etc.) or very good now and likely trending down (Rodney Hudson, Duane Brown, J.J. Watt, etc).
Duane Brown - LT - Seahawks - Year 14 - 36-years old
After studying every snap of Brown’s 2020 season I was amazed at what I saw. Brown’s play strength is elite and his technique is nearly flawless. I thought he had a very strong case for being one of the few truly ‘elite’ left tackles in the NFL last season and the only reason he isn’t up there on this list is because of his age. At 36-years old Brown is likely to face the gradual downward slope that comes with time sooner rather than later, but will still be a very good tackle in 2021.
Fletcher Cox - DT - Eagles - Year 10 - 30-years old
Despite only missing an incredible three games since the 2013 season, Cox has battled his fair share of injuries and off-season surgeries over that time that have severely limited his practice time. Along with the wear and tear of his 134 career starts, Cox has started to lose some of the juice and quickness that made him so special for so long. That said, he is still able to turn it on in spurts and dominate any level of competition, which is enough to cement his status as a very good interior defender for 2021.
Chase Young - Edge - Washington - Year 2 - 22-years old
Young is a physical marvel in terms of his size and athletic ability, plus his motor runs hot, allowing him to make incredible effort plays that few of his peers can match. That was basically his rookie season in a nutshell because his skill-set as a pass-rusher is still underdeveloped relative to other Ohio State rookies like the Bosa brothers, who were much more polished coming in. It’s also important to point out that Young showed signs of stringing moves together late in the year (albeit against subpar competition) and was dealing with a nagging groin injury most of the season that appeared to sap some of his juice. Ultimately, Young is trending up with undeniable and rare talent that look like the foundation of an eventual elite player for a long time.
Akiem Hicks - DT - Bears - Year 10 - 31-years old
Most fans and analysts know that Hicks is a bull in a china shop on the field who is capable of taking over games as a run-defender and pass-rusher. At 6’4” 350 pounds, Hicks has a unique build for the 3-technique alignment that he primarily operates out of. Not only does he control the point of attack at an elite level, but his play speed is outstanding due to how well he processes his keys in the running game. Hicks penetrates the backfield at a spectacular rate considering his size and he can still use sheer strength and power to collapse the pocket and put blockers on skates into the quarterback’s lap nearly at will. His age is really all that brings him down to this spot.
Cameron Heyward - DL - Steelers - Year 11 - 32-years old
If you had to make teach tape for the ‘bull-rush’ and ‘play strength,’ Heyward would be one of the first players that come to mind, with some epic examples over the years. Not only does Heyward compress the pocket as a rusher and reset the line of scrimmage against the run, but he is also one of the more crafty players in the trenches. Setting up teammates to be successful on twists and stunts with subtle grabs and holds is a skill that only the best veterans can execute, and is something that Heyward has also mastered.
Von Miller - Edge - Broncos - Year 10 - 32-years old
Slotting Miller on a list like this after missing all of the 2020 season with an ankle injury suffered in practice isn’t easy, but I knew that he needed to be on here somewhere based on his track record. Even at 32-years old, if Miller is able to regain 85-90% of his peak for another season the amount of attention and respect he’ll command will be on par with any edge player in football. I would bet on that happening in 2021, especially surrounded with the amount of talent there is on the Broncos defense.
Grady Jarrett - DT - Falcons - Year 7 - 28-years old
Jarrett is an above average pass-rusher but an absolutely elite run-defender which evens out to an impact starter. Few guys are able to knife through blockers, blow up plays, and maintain gap integrity like Jarrett has done over the last several years, and he didn’t show any signs of slowing down last season.
Carl Lawson - Edge - Jets - Year 5 - 26-years old
Lawson has ascended into a very good power rusher over the last few seasons despite not having the sack numbers to show for it (10.5 sacks over the last two years), although he did rank second in quarterback hits in 2020 with 32. Lawson has a compact, rocked up build and at 6’2” has the natural leverage advantage over opposing tackles with the power and long-arm technique to capitalize on it. Not only can Lawson capture the inside shoulder of blockers and put them on skates into the quarterback, but he can also win outside at a high level with his stab-chop-rip move, giving him multiple ways of impacting the quarterback.
Shaq Mason - RG - Patriots - Year 7 - 28-years old
As I’ve studied every snap of Mason’s career over the last couple of seasons I’ve come to appreciate just how consistent and well-rounded of a player he has become after initially being known as more of a mauler in the run game. Mason still can create massive lanes as a run-blocker with the best of them, but his footwork in pass-protection has rapidly developed over the last few years, making him one of the most reliable guards in the NFL.
Taylor Moton - RT - Panthers - Year 5 - 27-years old
Moton was recently given a mega contract extension by the Panthers fresh off of the best year of his career in 2020. Moton has steadily improved his technique in pass-protection and has incorporated a variety of techniques into his game to keep rushers guessing, doing wonders for his development and has matched up this area of his game with his already outstanding run-blocking. He also hasn’t missed a game in three years. The reason he isn’t higher is that he doesn’t have many successful examples in pass-protection when isolated against elite competition, but he executes what he’s asked to do very well and has the capability to thrive on an island in spurts.
Rodney Hudson - C - Cardinals - Year 11 - 32-years old
Hudson has missed five games in the last eight seasons and just one game over the last five years. He has coordinated the pre-snap phase of the Raiders offense brilliantly over that span and rarely makes a mental mistake. Hudson’s athletic ability was always his top physical trait and his play strength eventually matched, resulting in about four seasons of truly elite play. As Hudson has aged, his movement skills have declined and is the only reason he’s this low. Even with above average-to-average athletic ability at this point in his career, Hudson’s experience, functional strength, and sound technique should act as a force multiplier for the Cardinals offensive line and elevate the entire offense.
J.J. Watt - Edge - Cardinals - Year 11 - 32-years old
Even with Watt’s physical ability around 80% of what it was during his prime, he is still capable of beating any opponent at any time using an advanced understanding of how to set up his library of different moves. He isn’t capable of playing the amount of snaps he did before all of the injuries starting wearing down his body, but in Arizona he likely won’t need to. Being in a tailored, reduced role opposite of Chandler Jones should lead to an efficient, more potent impact than last year when he played 91% of snaps on a terrible defensive line.
David Onyemata - DT - Saints - Year 6 - 28-years old
Onyemata has long been an underrated interior player with elite-level power at the point of attack, but he primarily was a role player prior to 2019. In 2020, he set a career high in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and QB hits, finally getting more national attention in the process. Onyemata also was second among all defensive tackles in the TSR for most HQ sacks per snap. He was recently suspended for the first six games of the 2021 season, but strictly from an on-field standpoint, is one of the more disruptive trench players in the NFL.
Corey Linsley - C - Chargers - Year 8 - 30-years old
Before being named first team All-Pro I had Linsley pegged as one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the NFL. Linsley is a technician in the zone run game with elite-level processing in pass-protection that results in one of most rock solid centers in football.
Joe Thuney - LG - Chiefs - Year 6 - 28-years old
Few analysts have been as big of a supporter of Thuney’s game as I have dating back to 2016 season, when he was an undersized rookie with a shaky anchor. Now he is widely considered a top guard in football as evident by the Chiefs making him the highest paid guard in league history this off-season. While Kansas City overpaid to an extent, they secured a well-rounded, reliable (zero missed games over the last five seasons) starter with the use of leverage, hands, and athletic ability to thrive in pass-protection against top competition. Thuney isn’t the most imposing guard in the NFL, but he is one of the most savvy.
There are still other players that I would qualify or hear arguments for being ‘very good’ at their respective positions. This list was extremely difficult to parse down so I had to make an honorable mention list of some of the players that I believe are very good and worthy of being included in this last tier.
Honorable mention in order of consideration: Kenny Clark, Erik McCoy, Cameron Jordan, Brandon Brooks, Tyron Smith, Orlando Brown Jr., Ryan Kelly, Calais Campbell, Andrew Whitworth, Frank Clark, Brandon Graham, Rodger Saffold, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Trent Brown, Richie Incognito, Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan, Bryan Bulaga, La’El Collins.