Friday, July 24, 2015

The 10 Best Offensive Linemen of the Past Year

JULY 23, 2015

From Robert Mays' "Trench Fanfare: The 10 Best Offensive Linemen of the Past Year"

I’m not sure when I’ll stop thinking that this is the year the big guys finally get some respect. Barnwell is spending his time shredding the NFL Top 100 this week, so I figured as an addendum to that, I’d devote some attention to the players who get the least amount of it on that silly list.

From an outside perspective, offensive lineman may be the toughest position to judge. So much of what players do and why they do it is based on rules and principles we can’t know unless we’re at practice all week. With some guys, though, it’s just visceral: It’s obvious how good they are, and we can see it without any knowledge of the specific scheme they’re in.

In making the list below, I kept a few things in mind. First, it’s based on only last season. That’s why you won’t see guys like Trent Williams (whose play dipped as he dealt with knee problems all year) or Alex Mack (the best center in football through six weeks before breaking his leg). Also, despite my affinity for guards, this list is dominated by left tackles, and I don’t think that’s an accident. When it comes to offensive line play, those guys still set the bar, and as the league has gotten even more pass-happy, that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Here’s my crack at the top 10:

1. Marshal Yanda (RG, Ravens)

I’d be willing to argue that aside from J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers, no one in the league had a more comfortable margin as the best player at his position than Yanda. Last season was Yanda’s fourth trip to the Pro Bowl, and in 2014 he was a wrecking crew.

This is probably my favorite play any offensive lineman made all season. It’s also the one Justin Forsett cites in Yanda’s section of the Top 100, where the guard ranks an embarrassing 79th. It’s insane. I don’t even know how to process it. Off the snap, Yanda gives a little shove to the defensive end that lined up outside teammate Ricky Wagner before the snap. After that, he bumps the nose tackle with his left hip, ensuring that center Jeremy Zuttah gets him turned and out of the play. He does all of that before finally getting up to the inside linebacker and springing Forsett for a 23-yard gain. The right guard makes the entire play happen.

It didn’t always happen to that extent, but watching Yanda in the run game last season was something to behold. In some ways, you can’t even call it a clinic because so much of it wouldn’t translate to another person. There are so many hip checks and tiny leverage ploys that are singular products of one man’s ingenuity. The one part of Yanda’s game that is transferable is the way he just never stops. His eyes are constantly downfield, and his feet are always moving in the direction of the play. He really is the perfect zone-blocking guard. Not to mention that when the Ravens needed a new right tackle after Wagner’s injury, Yanda took over without any problems. It’s pretty simple. Right now, no offensive lineman is dominating the line of scrimmage like he is.

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