5. Denver Broncos Louis Vasquez
Known as a solid player throughout his career for the San Diego Chargers, Louis Vasquez may have had a career year for the rival Denver Broncos last season. Playing next to top run blocking center Manny Ramirez last year, Vasquez was a top-five guard, though there are some who argue that all of the Broncos linemen looked better than they truly are. Not only do they point out that Peyton Manning‘s quick release and ability to avoid pressure may have helped them, but they also believe that the success of the passing game made it easier for the line to generate push in the running game due to facing lighter fronts. These are all valid points, but Vasquez has always been a great guard. For instance, he allowed just three combined sacks and QB hits last season, per the Pro Football Focus, before allowing just two (no sacks) QB hits last year. A consistent player, Vasquez rarely makes big mistakes, and his only below-average game was in the Super Bowl.
4. San Francisco 49ers Alex Boone
The San Francisco 49ers guards didn’t play up to their talent last season (the same can be said for their right tackle), but they were the stars of the best line in football in 2012. Iupati is the bigger name, but Alex Boone is the better player, and he’s one of the most vicious run blockers in the entire game. The 49ers run the ball up the middle 56% of the time, so they certainly trust their guards to generate massive push in their power-running game. Last season, the 49ers were more effective running it near Boone than anywhere else on the line, and they were pretty much guaranteed a good gain when running it at him in 2012.
3. Baltimore Ravens Marshal Yanda
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce surprised everyone by turning into the NFL’s worst running back duo last season, and a large part of the criticism goes to the offensive line. That said, Eugene Monroe and Marshal Yanda are two of the best players at their respective positions, so it was the likes of Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley who dragged those two bright spots down. Yanda didn’t look his usual self at the beginning of the year, but the elite guard still allowed just two sacks after giving up none last year (only eight hurries allowed in 2012). With better health and play around him next season, Yanda will be even better.
2. Green Bay Packers Josh Sitton
One of the most valuable players on the Packers, Sitton has played at an elite level since a dominant, coming-out season in 2009. After being underrated for a few seasons, Sitton is a household name among diehard fans, and he is easily the Packers best pass protector. Per PFF, Sitton was responsible for just seven pressures allowed, and he allowed Aaron Rodgers to be hit just once- it wasn’t even a sack, at that. Truly transcendental in both phases, Sitton formed a formidable interior duo with now-Buccaneers center Evan Dietrich-Smith, as the Packers were second in the league with a 4.6 adjusted line yards average on runs up the gut.
1. Philadelphia Eagles Evan Mathis
The best player on the best offensive line in the league (yes, better than Jason Peters and Jason Kelce), Evan Mathis was, like former Panthers teammate Schwartz, once a victim of teams (especially the Cincinnati Bengals, who preferred to play Nate Living over him) not evaluating him properly. Mathis has always been a menace in the running game, but the consistently excellent work he put in last year in Chip Kelly’s new scheme was simply unprecedented. The Eagles had 4.3 adjusted line yards up the middle for one of the top totals in the league, and he showed the ability to help block in space. No guard is better at getting to the second level than the powerful Mathis, who also allowed just one sack last year. Like Jahri Evans, Mathis is excellent at helping running backs generate yardage in the screen game, and former Saints RB Darren Sproles shouldn’t miss a beat on those plays.
Tags: Alex Boone Andy Levitre Baltimore Ravens David Decastro Denver Broncos Detroit Lions Evan Mathis Geoff Schwartz Green Bay Packers Jahri Evans Josh Sitton Larry Warford Louis Vasquez Marshal Yanda New Orleans Saints New York Giants Notes And Analysis Philadelphia Eagles Pittsburgh Steelers San Francisco 49ers Tennessee Titans