Top Ten Offensive Tackle Bookends of 2014

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Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I decided to rank the top ten safety duos going into the 2014 season, and it’s time to rank the top offensive tackle duos heading into the new season. First of all, I would like to give honorable mentions to the Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts (crossed them off at the last second), San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, and Tennessee Titans (not sure if both Michael Roos and Taylor Lewan will start).

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Anthony Collins, Demar Dotson

The Buccaneers have one of the most underrated duos in the league, and Dotson definitely deserves to receive more recognition after a breakout 2014 season. Collins benefited greatly from Andrew Whitworth dominating at left guard, but he deserved the contract he received from the Buccaneers and will be an upgrade over Donald Penn. The 28-year-old didn’t even allow Andy Dalton to get hit once in pass protection, per the Pro Football Focus, and he had a career year in a contract year. It will be interesting to see if Collins suffers a drop-off without Whitworth next to him, but he should be fine.

9. Philadelphia Eagles Jason Peters, Lane Johnson

Johnson will be suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy, and that’s a shame since he looks poised for a big breakout season in his second year. One of the most athletic offensive tackles in the league, Johnson was highly-rated coming out of Oklahoma and already looked the part as a run blocker in the Eagles run-heavy scheme. The Eagles talented tackle bookend encircles one of the league’s best interiors, and Evan Mathis is simply unstoppable at guard. Jason Peters is also a top-notch blocker, and he recovered from a rusty start of the season (coming off of a major injury) to finish as one of the best tackles in the game. That’s where he is in the league’s hierarchy, and there aren’t many players who have his athleticism and can dominate in the passing and running game. Johnson had struggles as a pass blocker last year, but he looks an awful lot like Nate Solder and should have a similar second-year breakout to the Patriots LT once he returns from suspension. If Johnson does break out, then the Eagles should move into the top five.

8. Cleveland Browns Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz

Joe Thomas continues to be the best pass blocker in the game, and it isn’t even worth trying to argue against that at this point. He’s as reliable as they come, and he is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Mitchell Schwartz’s play can be a point of contention, but there’s no doubt in mind that he has all the tools to be an excellent starting tackle. He played at a high level in 2012 before falling down a bit last year, but it’s not like he was bad either. Schwartz allowed 11 sacks, but that total is bloated. I see a bounce-back season in store in 2014, but this ranking is largely based off of Thomas’s ability.

7. St. Louis Rams Jake Long, Joe Barksdale

Based on the depth charts I’ve seen, it looks like the Rams starting offensive line will be, from left-to-right, Jake Long, Greg Robinson, Scott Wells, Rodger Saffold, and Joe Barksdale with veteran offseason addition Davin Joseph being the top backup at guard. The Rams have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive line, which gives them a great deal of flexibility. They have four tackles who can conceivably play at a high-level next year, though some may be worried about Long coming off of a severe knee injury. Barksdale’s breakout 2013 was important when Saffold went down, Robinson’s upside has been well-documented, and there’s no doubt that Long played at an elite level in his first year with the Rams.

6. Dallas Cowboys Tyron Smith, Doug Free

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line used to be an oft-criticized unit, but it’s now one of the major strengths of this team and supports an amazing offense that must carry an awful defense. Doug Free was a major punching bag after an absolutely pathetic 2012 campaign, but it was an off year for a guy who was quietly a solid starting right tackle in the previous couple of seasons. He bounced back in a big way in 2013, forming a great partnership with Tyron Smith. With Zack Martin and standout center Travis Frederick on the inside, the Cowboys offensive line will ensure that Tony Romo, who continues to deal with back issues, won’t revert to being an expensive punching bag for defenses.

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