Ranking the teams in the top five was no easy task, as the teams from 3-5 are virtually interchangeable, so it might as well be a “tier” of players. The Denver Broncos have three players who can succeed as tackles in this league, but they will kick Orlando Franklin inside to replace the departed Zane Beadles. Franklin’s natural position is tackle, but I think he’ll be better than Beadles, who wasn’t as good in 2013 as he was in 2012. Clady has been slapped with the “overrated” tag recently, but I don’t think he deserves it. I’m not sure he’s elite, but he’s close and is undoubtedly a franchise LT; that’s all that matters. Clark was huge replacing Clady last year, and he might actually be an even better RT than Franklin.
It seems like nagging injuries caused Matt Kalil’s play to slide a bit in 2013 after a phenomenal 2012 campaign, but there’s no doubt that Kalil is one of the most individually gifted tackles in the game. Heading into his third season with a knee injury (and scope) well behind him, Kalil will be a top ten tackle next season. Loadholt is one of the game’s best right tackles, and he’s the best run-blocking tackle in the league for my money (Peters and Solder provide some nice competition).
3. Cincinnati Bengals Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith
Ranking the Bengals over the Broncos and Vikings was no easy choice, but Andrew Whitworth wasn’t going to be denied this spot. He’s one of the game’s elite offensive linemen, and he managed to play guard and tackle at an elite level last season. He’s even better at tackle, though, and he’s still going strong at the age of 32. Andre Smith can be hit-or-miss at times, but he’s been money over the past two seasons despite some hitches in pass protection. He’ll have lapses like an embarrassingly quick pressure to Jason Worilds last year that led to a hit on Andy Dalton, but he’s still one of the top right tackles around.
This ranking might also be controversial, but Joe Staley is just that good. Per PFF, he allowed just 14 pressures last season, but the craziest thing is that he is an even better run blocker. This is key in the 49ers smashmouth rushing attack led by Frank Gore, and Davis is another road-grader in the running game. Davis was still solid last year, but he was even better in 2012. In fact, he was the best right tackle that year, and that’s saying something given how good Sebastian Vollmer is. Run blocking pushes these two to the top, because we know that everyone on this list (well, except for Johnson and Schwartz last year) is assured in pass pro.
1. New England Patriots Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer
These two are clearly the cream of the crop when talking about duos, and it’s such a shame Sebastian Vollmer went down with a gruesome injury at the beginning of the season against the Miami Dolphins. We were robbed of watching the game’s premier right tackle, and it sometimes seems like there’s nothing he can’t do out there. Vollmer is the definition of solid, and his loss was lost in the talk of other big losses such as Rob Gronkowski and Jerod Mayo. Solder is even better than Vollmer, and it’s important to overlook the ten sacks he allowed last year. Sacks are overrated. Sometimes he needs to do a better job of not giving up those kinds of hits, but that’s the lone blemish to an incredibly advanced game. One of the game’s best, Solder is incredibly athletic, can dominate in the running game, and his ability to get out and block on screens makes Shane Vereen‘s life a whole lot easier. Solder isn’t flawless, but it’s telling that the sacks allowed are fluky when he only allowed 12 total QB hits and 23 pressures. He’ll be even better next year, and Tom Brady will certainly reap the rewards of having a healthy Vollmer, though he is a major injury risk due to chronic back issues, next season as well.