At Dallas News, I used stats to rank the league’s best left tackles. Here are my top 10:
A few weeks ago, I posted an article from Pete Prisco that ranks the NFL’s best players at four important positions: quarterback, pass-rusher, cornerback, and left tackle. Since that time, I’ve published my own top 15 rankings for the quarterbacks, pass-rushers, and cornerbacks.
Today, I’ll turn my attention to the left tackles. As with the other positions, age will play a major role in my rankings. At just 22 years old and heading into his third NFL season, history suggests that Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Is he better than someone like Titans left tackle Michael Roos right at this moment? Probably not, but at nine years his younger, you’d probably prefer Smith long-term.
Also note that I really don’t care about how many sacks a lineman allows. That might seem ridiculous since the goal for anyone in pass protection is to keep the quarterback upright, but sacks are extremely volatile, meaning it’s almost worthless to grade an offensive lineman using the stat. I tracked Smith as allowing only three sacks in 2012, for example, but based on how often he allowed pressure, his most likely sack total was actually nine. If we were to use those three sacks to grade Smith for his 2012 play alone, he’d probably rank higher than he should. The goal when projecting players is to search for stats that are predictive of future play, however, and pressure rates are more predictive than sacks because they’re less susceptible to randomness.
Finally, quarterback play is also a factor in my rankings. I’ve used stats from Pro Football Focus on the average time each quarterback spent in the pocket prior to each pass. It should be no surprise that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning got rid of the ball quicker than any other quarterbacks in 2012, both throwing in 2.50 seconds or less, on average. Quarterbacks can really aid their linemen in sack and pressure rates; Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady allowed just one sack in 2012, for example, but he also benefited from perhaps the quickest decision-making quarterback in the NFL. Tony Romo makes a ton of plays with his legs, but he spends a lot of time in the pocket, which doesn’t help Smith’s numbers.
Below, I’ve listed my top left tackles heading into 2013. The number behind their names is their age when the 2013 season begins. I’ve listed sacks allowed and pressure rate, with the latter stat being a stronger factor in my rankings.
2013 NFL Left Tackle Rankings
1. Joe Thomas, Browns (28): 3 sacks allowed, 1.6 percent pressure rate
2. Russell Okung, Seahawks (25): 1 sack allowed, 2.7 percent pressure rate
3. Duane Brown, Texans (28): 4 sacks allowed, 2.0 percent pressure rate
4. Ryan Clady, Broncos (27): 1 sack allowed, 2.3 percent pressure rate
5. Matt Kalil, Vikings (24): 2 sacks allowed, 3.3 percent pressure rate
6. Jake Long, Rams (28): 4 sacks allowed, 2.4 percent pressure rate
7. Trent Williams, Redskins (25): 4 sacks allowed, 3.6 percent pressure rate
8. Tyron Smith, Cowboys (22): 3 sacks allowed, 6.0 percent pressure rate
9. Eugene Monroe, Jaguars (26): 5 sacks allowed, 3.2 percent pressure rate
10. Joe Staley, 49ers (29): 8 sacks allowed, 3.3 percent pressure rate