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best offensive tackles | The DC Times

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Backing Up My Offensive Tackle Rankings

Jonathan Bales

A few days ago, I published my list of the NFL’s top 20 NFL tackles, and I knew there would be some backlash.  The best of it (or worst of it?) has come from ESPN, who posted a link to my article here.  Check it out to glimpse some of the fine reader comments, which include:

“this guy isnt qualified enough that we acknowledge his list”

“2 questions…1) who is this Jonathan Bales fellow and 2) Can I have his job, because he is obviously under-qualified to be voicing his opinions on these matters”

“That list was crap”

“Who is Jonathan Bales to rank any position in the NFL anywaz??”

“Bales doesn’t seem to have a clue……..”

“Jordan Gross is more like top 10, does Jonathan Bale needs to get his facts straight.”

“And this is why no one has ever heard of Jonathan Bales or the DC Times.”

And my personal favorite:

“I guess Jonathan Bales from the DC Times needs to learn about football before writing a $@%!$@% peice like this.”

It is this kind of support that keeps me writing each day.

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On the left tackle/right tackle distinction

Aside from the fact that my list was a total peice of $@%!$@%, I wanted to explain in greater detail why I formulated the rankings I did.

I think the distinction between left tackle and right tackle is highly overrated.  Yes, there are differences.  Left tackle is a slightly harder position to play because the defense’s best rusher is often lined up on that side.

But the idea that left tackle is monumentally more challenging than the right side is absurd.  The alignment of most defenses depends on the offense’s strength, and no team is calling “right-handed” formations 80% of the time.  The left tackle will see the opponent’s most dominant pass-rusher perhaps 60% of snaps.

It’s kind of like saying right tackle is tremendously more important than left tackle in the running game (which is still a prevailing thought), but teams simply don’t run to one side of the field dramatically more than the other because it would be detrimental to their production.  Playing left tackle is more difficult than right tackle, but only slightly.

Let’s do some math.  The top offensive tackle in the league in terms of pressure rate was Tennessee right tackle David Stewart, who allowed pressure on only 0.86% of snaps.  Even if we assume 80% of the pressures Stewart yields are from the 40% of snaps he faces the opponent’s top pass-rusher (which is likely a severe overestimation), his pressure rate would rise only to 1.15% if he played left tackle.  That still would be the best rate in the NFL.  Note that I’m disregarding Stewart’s skill set or ability to actually play there, but simply making the mathematical comparison in order to see the jump in pressure rate.

So why do NFL teams pay left tackles the big bucks? I think the primary reason is that left tackles (usually) protect the quarterback’s blind side.  If you have $50 million invested in a quarterback, you better protect his butt.  But there is a difference in the importance of a position and the difficulty in playing it.  Left tackle is more important than right tackle because the position is responsible for keeping the quarterback from getting blind-sided.  But it is not unbelievably more challenging to play than the right side.

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On the absence of Jordan Gross and Donald Penn

Since my article was posted in ESPN’s NFC South blog, a lot of the readers wondered how in the hell I could leave Carolina’s Jordan Gross and Tampa’s Donald Penn off of my list.

First, the rankings were for 2011 play alone.  Gross in particular is a heck of a player who I would love to have in Dallas, but he didn’t play as effectively in 2011 as he did in prior seasons.  Gross’ pressure rate hopped from 1.47% in 2010 (stellar) to 3.02% this past year.  That puts him in Marc Colombo territory.

Nonetheless, Gross is a great player who would certainly make my list of the NFL’s top 20 offensive tackles–if the rankings were not for last season alone.  Actually, he’d be near the top five.

Penn probably wouldn’t make any list of mine, however.  I don’t put much weight into sacks allowed, but the nine Penn yielded in 2011 was pretty bad.  His pressure rate correlated nicely with this total at 2.68%.  In 2010 it was 3.57%.  In 2009 it was 3.14%.  Those numbers put him in the bottom half of the league of offensive linemen, year in and year out.  Penn has been very overrated in pass protection for awhile.  He’s stout in the running game and he’s good enough to start, but he’s not a top 20 NFL tackle.

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Top 20 NFL Offensive Tackles: Using Advanced Stats to Rank Best OTs

Jonathan Bales

I just finished up my list of the top 20 NFL quarterbacks in 2011, and you were probably shocked to see Drew Brees at No. 3 and Joe Flacco all the way down at No. 13.  Today, I am going to take a look at the men who protect those signal-callers by ranking the NFL’s top 20 offensive tackles.

As with the quarterbacks, note that these rankings will combine both my own film study and advanced statistics from sites like Advanced NFL Stats and Pro Football Focus.  Be aware that these rankings are also for the 2011 season only, and that I value pass protection far more than run blocking ability.  I generally discredit sack totals, though, as these are very susceptible to randomness, and focus primarily on pressures as a way to judge tackle performance.

If you would like, compare this list to the offensive tackle rankings I did prior to the 2010 season to see how things have changed.

1. David Stewart, Tennessee Titans

Stewart is perhaps the league’s most versatile offensive tackle, flourishing in both pass pro and run blocking.  He yielded only eight pressures in 931 snaps last year–by far the best rate in the NFL.  Those numbers could be at an All-Pro level for a guard, so the fact that he’s protecting like that outside is unreal.

2.  Tyson Clabo, Atlanta Falcons

Clabo had one of the top pressure rates in the NFL, allowing pressure on just 1.41% of snaps.  As a comparison, he still gave up twice the pressures (16) as Stewart.

3.  Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles

Peters was PFF’s top-rated tackle due to his run blocking ability.  The Eagles averaged a remarkable 7.1 YPC when running behind Peters.  Seven, point, one.

4. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

Thomas didn’t have much help, but Cleveland averaged only 3.1 YPC when running behind him.  Still, he allowed only 15 pressures in 1,087 snaps.

5. Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs

One of the league’s most versatile players was ranked at just No. 21 by PFF, but he was solid in run blocking and yielded only 13 pressures in 1,071 snaps–one of the lowest pressure rates in the NFL.

6. Eugene Monroe, Jacksonville Jaguars

Monroe graded out as PFF’s sixth-best run blocker.  He allowed nine sacks, which is actually poor, but only 12 pressures.  He’s the perfect example of how (really) good pass protection can get overlooked by fluky sack numbers.

7. Jake Long, Miami Dolphins

Long had a down year by his standards, but still allowed pressure on just 1.87% of snaps.

8. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots

Since this is ranking of efficiency, I put Vollmer on the list.  He played only 346 snaps in New England, but he was excellent in the run game and yielded just three pressures all season.

9. Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys

I talked up Smith all year, and although he gave up eight sacks, his overall pressure rate of 1.96% is still great.  He was also a beast in the run game.

10. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals

One of the league’s more underrated tackles struggles against the run, but his three sacks and 14 pressures allowed in nearly 1,100 snaps is stellar.


11. Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers

Bulaga will likely make the switch to left tackle in 2012, in which case we will see a decrease in efficiency.  In 2011, he graded out as PFF’s third-best run blocker.

12. Eric Winston, Houston Texans

Checking in right behind Bulaga in terms of run blocking efficiency is Winston.  Running backs averaged nearly five yards-per-carry when Winston was at the point of attack in 2011.

13. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets

Most might rate Ferguson higher, but he actually struggled some in 2011 with a mediocre 22 pressures yielded and inconsistent run blocking.

14. Trent Williams, Washington Redskins

Trent Williams? Despite criticism, his 2.03% pressure rate is pretty good.

15. Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals

Rated at only No. 29 by PFF, Smith was solid in the run game and allowed pressure on 1.73% of snaps.

16. Duane Brown, Houston Texans

Rated sixth overall by PFF, Brown didn’t allow a sack all season.  He did yield 22 pressures, though, and the Texans averaged a pedestrian 4.4 YPC behind him.

17. Michael Roos, Tennessee Titans

Once the league’s premiere offensive tackle, Roos is still productive.  In 2011, he allowed pressure on 2.35% of snaps–a number that is pretty good but doesn’t compare to the one sack he allowed all year.

18. Matt Light, New England Patriots

Something wasn’t “right with Light” this season, but he still turned in a decent campaign.

19. Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers

Staley had a really good, but not elite season.  He was average in the run game and allowed pressure on 2.13% of snaps.

20. Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh Steelers

Probably a surprise on this list, Gilbert was decent as a run blocker and allowed a top-notch 1.32% pressure rate.  He’d be higher if he played the left side.

Notably Absent: Jordan Gross (Carolina), Donald Penn (Tampa), Phil Loadholt (Minnesota), Michael Oher (Baltimore), Doug Free (Dallas)

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Dallas Cowboys Quick Hits: Andre Gurode Shotgun Snapper

Contributed by Vince Grey

Top 15 NFL Offensive Tackles

I took a look at Jonathan’s NFL offensive tackle rankings, and I can’t disagree with the left tackle spots not being the “end all be all” of O-line positions.  I’m not concerned about the Cowboys’ lack of Pro Bowl talent there at this time. When it comes to the offensive line, the whole is often greater (or less) than the some of the individual parts.

In other words, it’s not an absolute necessity to have several Pro Bowlers in order to have an efficient and effective line.

Personally, I’ll take five solid starters who work well together over a line with a couple of All-Pros but three weak links at the other slots. For Dallas, I see no weak links individually (assuming Doug Free turns out to be decent player), but I do feel they can play better as a unit–particularly by decreasing penalties.

Andre Gurode Shotgun Snapper

I was one of those who considered Gurode overrated.

However, my issues with Andre were never with his blocking, but rather with his Shotgun snaps.

Until last season, virtually every spread snap with AG was an adventure.  Back then, I posted in other venues how Tony Romo didn’t get nearly enough credit for being a top athlete because on Shotgun snaps he would not only have to read the defense and prepare to throw, but he would also have to be ready for snaps to his left, far left, right, far right, in the ground, and of course, my personal favorite, over his head.

I don’t drink, but I even invented a drinking game called the “Andre Gurode Shotgun Snapper” where you take a shot every time an AG snap went off-target enough that Tony had to jump up, or sideways, or dive, to get it.

In `07 and `08, you’d be a lock to be hammered by halftime.

Sadly (for the side games, not for Tony and the `Boys), in `09 Andre seemed to have corrected the problem, at least to the point where it’s no longer perilous every other snap.

Dallas Cowboys Times Player Rankings–A Rebuttal

After reviewing Jonathan’s 2009 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings, the listing of two players stands out as just wrong.

Jay Ratliff all the way down at #13?

Really?

I would move Ratliff up several notches, minimum, and personally I rate him at #3.

Even putting aside his talent and ability, the lack of quality depth behind Jay means he plays an inordinate number of snaps, and yet he was still extremely productive. I’d rate his importance to the team as high as anyone not named Romo or Ware.

The other is the complete absence of Mat McBriar.  I can virtually guarantee you the coaches value his great punting skills more than replaceable backups like John Phillips, Victor Butler, and a few others Jonathan has on his list.

**Editor’s Note:  McBriar is very valuable but was left off the list because we did not grade his 2009 play (I’m not even sure how to grade each punt, to be honest).  The point about Ratliff’s snaps, however, is a good one.  Perhaps I overlooked that aspect of his game, although I still would not move him up 10 spots.

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NFL’s Top 15 Offensive Tackles: Does a Cowboy Make the Cut?

Thus far, we have ranked the league’s top quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and QB/WR tandems.  Today comes the men who make all of the guys look good–the offensive linemen.

Grading offensive linemen is obviously a difficult task, as there are no truly objective statistics by which they can be compared.  Instead, linemen are judged by the “eye test” more so than at any other position.

You will notice that we do not downgrade right tackles simply for playing the “easier” position.  Left tackle is of course a crucial position for any offense, but we do not agree with the long-held belief that it is much more important than the other positions on the line.  Thus, over half of our top 15 offensive tackles do not regularly play on the blind side.

1.  Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns

In our opinion, Thomas is hands-down the best tackle in the game.

2.  Ryan Clady, LT, Denver Broncos

Clady is dealing with an injury right now, but the 1/2 sack he yielded in his ’08 rookie year is ridiculous.

3.  Jake Long, LT, Miami Dolphins

Long might have extra incentive to protect for Michigan teammate Chad Henne.

4.  David Stewart, RT, Tennessee Titans

The run of offensive tackles who football fans know may have just ended.  Stewart allowed just one sack last season.

5.  D’Brickashaw Ferguson, LT, New York Jets

People say he is a finesse player, but we think Ferguson’s run-blocking has improved.

6.  Michael Oher, LT/RT, Baltimore Ravens

Like Doug Free, Oher’s athleticism makes him a better fit on the left side of the line.

7.  Jon Stinchcomb, RT, New Orleans Saints

Stinchy (can I call him “Stinchy”?) played 1048 snaps last season, yet allowed just three quarterback hits for a team that throws the ball all over the field

8.  Damien Woody, RT, New York Jets

Woody is one of the league’s best run blockers, but he also allowed ZERO quarterback hits in 2009.

9.  Willie Colon, RT, Pittsburgh Steelers

Big Ben does get sacked a lot, but much of the time it is his own fault.

10.  Jared Gaither, LT/RT, Baltimore Ravens

We can’t see why no team is willing to give up a second-rounder for Gaither.  Yes, there are concerns about his work ethic, but his ’09 play was outstanding.

11.  Phil Loadholt, RT, Minnesota Vikings

If linemen had a legitimate shot at Rookie of the Year, Loadhoalt would have been a candidate last season.

12.  Ryan Harris, RT, Denver Broncos

Harris was injured for the majority of the 2009 season.  He should bounce back this year.

13.  Jordan Gross, LT, Carolina Panthers

Most people think Panthers right tackle Jeff Otah is the better lineman, but Gross is far superior in pass protection on the left side.

14.  Sebastian Vollmer, LT/RT, New England Patriots

Vollmer is a swing tackle, but he allowed only one sack last season and was dominant in the run game.

15.  Kareem McKenzie, RT, New York Giants

Teammate David Diehl was also a candidate, but McKenzie is a better run blocker.