The NFL’s top 11 offensive guards

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·15 min read
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While a lot of our positional lists for the 2022 NFL season feature all kinds of new players bumping previous stars off their podiums, our list of the best offensive guards is very consistent from then to now. Only two of the guards who made the list last year are off this year — Ali Marpet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who retired, and Brandon Scherff, formerly of the Washington Redskins/Football Team/Commanders and now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose injury history and overall excellence when healthy took a  turn in a different direction.

Perhaps the consistency is inherent to the position — is it possible that guards have less of a performance variance from season to season than players at other positions, even when they switch teams? Joe Thuney went from the Patriots to the Chiefs in the 2021 offseason with a five-year, $80 million contract, and he was just as good in a very different system. Kevin Zeitler went from the Giants to the Ravens, proved to be a perfect fit in Baltimore’s system, and might have been even better than he was before.

That’s potentially good news for former Patriots guards Ted Karras and Shaq Mason, who have new homes with the Bengals and Buccaneers, respectively. Not to mention former Rams and Titans guard Rodger Saffold, now with the Bills.

Last year’s list was compiled by our own Mark Schofield, and this year’s list by yours truly with no cribbing, so there you go. And while this list of guards is very much in line with our 2021 version, there is some movement inherent in these rankings. There’s a new guy at the top, while the former guy at the top could very well be there again with more consistent health, and a much, much, MUCH more consistent quarterback than he had last season.

With all that out of the way, here are Touchdown Wire’s top 11 guards in anticipation of the 2022 NFL season.

The NFL’s top 13 safeties

The NFL’s top 12 slot defenders

The NFL’s top 12 outside cornerbacks

The NFL’s top 11 linebackers

The NFL’s top 11 edge defenders

The NFL’s top 12 interior defensive linemen

The NFL’s top 12 centers

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Sports Info SolutionsPro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders unless otherwise indicated).

11. Rodger Saffold, Buffalo Bills

(AP Photo/Justin Rex )

Saffold ranked 11th on our list last year, and he was consistent in 2021 despite Ryan Tannehill’s regression and Derrick Henry’s injuries. Last season, he allowed two sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 18 quarterback hurries on 494 pass-blocking snaps, and he proved more than able to bully people around in run situations with or without Henry on the field. Here, in the divisional round against the Bengals, Saffold (No. 76) pulls to seal the edge, helping D’Onta Foreman to scamper for a nine-yard run.

Here’s another deep Titans pass with Saffold helping out in pass pro — this time, against the Chiefs in Week 7. Here, nose tackle Derrick Nnadi doesn’t have an answer for Saffold once Saffold gets set. You find a lot of that on Saffold’s tape.

Saffold made the first Pro Bowl of his career in 2021, he was then released by the Titans over cap considerations, and signed to a one-year deal by the Bills. This puts Saffold in another passing game known for big plays, and he still has the ability to protect as they happen.

10. Landon Dickerson, Philadelphia Eagles

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The first of our two new guys, Dickerson was selected by the Eagles with the 37th overall pick in the second round out of Alabama. and looked very good wherever he lined up in college.

Dickerson (No. 69) was able to take that potential to the NFL in a big hurry. He played 834 snaps at left guard and 91 on the right side for the Eagles, allowing two sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 23 quarterback hurries on 535 pass-blocking reps. He was also an immediate contributor to Philly’s run game, as he showed on this seven-yard Miles Sanders run against the Buccaneers in the wild-card round against the Buccaneers. Anytime you can move Vita Vea to the second level against his will, you’re doing something right.

The Eagles come into the 2022 season with one of the most impressive offensive lines in the NFL (we have four of the five projected starters on our lists), and Dickerson is already a big part of that, with more to come.

9. Laken Tomlinson, San Francisco 49ers

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Another new guy. There may be a lot of questions about the 49ers’ offense between the quarterback situation and Deebo Samuel’s contract drama, but the left side of this offensive line has things on absolute lock between left tackle Trent Williams and Tomlinson, who allowed three sacks, nine quarterback hits, and 21 quarterback hurries on 681 pass-blocking snaps.

Some of those pressures came about through opponent dominance; there are other times when Tomlinson (No. 75) was not aided by Jimmy Garoppolo’s hesitancy in getting rid of the ball — especially on stuff over the middle of the field. This sack against Green Bay’s Za’Darius Smith in the divisional round is an example of both things happening at the same time.

Tomlinson would be even better with a more decisive quarterback. Perhaps that will be Trey Lance in 2022 and beyond. Regardless, he’s done quite well with all that hesitation and all those bad decisions behind him, and that speaks well for his process and progress.

8. Kevin Zeitler, Baltimore Ravens

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

When you’re adding an offensive lineman to your roster, you want to make sure it’s a good scheme fit — that consideration just answers a lot of the questions on the test, and makes everything easier. When the Ravens signed former Giants and Browns guard Kevin Zeitler to a three-year, $22.5 million contract with $16 million guaranteed in March, 2021, this was a prime example of like as like, and a seamless transition.

In 2020, the Ravens ran gap blocking with one or more pulling guards in the run game on a league-leading 245 snaps, gaining a league-leading 1,518 yards, a league-leading 672 yards after contact, and a league-leading 13 touchdowns. The Giants in 2020 ran behind those kinds of blocking patterns on 125 snaps for 552 yards, 292 yards after contact, and one touchdown.

So, no issues there. In his first season with his new team, Zeitler allowed just one sack, no quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback hurries on 771 pass-blocking snaps. And it should come as no surprise that Baltimore once again led the NFL in gap schemes with one or more pullers with 198 attempts for 940 yards, 372 yards after contact, and eight touchdowns. The Browns were a bit more explosive on these concepts — and we have a LOT to write about Browns guards later in this piece — but Zeitler was able to match his efforts seamlessly in his new team’s fundamental ideas.

Zeitler (No. 70) pulled to his left from his right guard position a lot, and this 16-yard Latavius Murray run against the Packers in Week 15 shows how well he’s able to hit the second level and seal the edge — in this case, against linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, a top player at his position.

One of the reasons the Ravens are confident in rookie first-round center Tyler Linderbaum and his Jason Kelce-style skill set (a ton of agility, but not top-tier power) is the presence of Zeitler to demolish people in the low post. It’s something the team should be able to rely on through the life of Zeitler’s contract.

7. Chris Lindstrom, Atlanta Falcons

(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

The spiky and inconsistent nature of the Falcons’ 2021 offensive line can be summed up with these numbers: Last season, rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield led all NFL guards with 11 sacks allowed. Right guard Chris Lindstrom, however, was one of just three guards (Halapoulivaati Vaitai of the Lions and Justin Pugh of the Cardinals were the others) who didn’t give up a single sack among those who played at least 50% of their offenses’ snaps.

The Falcons selected Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick in the 2019 draft out of Boston College, and 2021 was the year in which Lindstrom was able to put it all together — he gave up just eight quarterback hits and 23 quarterback hurries in 661 pass-blocking reps. He also proved to be a good, technically sound run-blocker. Sometimes, the best way to deal with Buccaneers defensive tackle/small planet Vita Vea is to cut him at the line, and that’s what Lindstrom (No. 63) does here on this 39-yard Cordarrelle Patterson run in Week 13.

The Falcons aren’t exactly bursting with talent on either side of the ball right now, but at least their right guard position is relatively spectacular.

6. Shaquille Mason, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

The Buccaneers lost both their starting guards this offseason — Ali Marpet to retirement, and Alex Cappa to free agency, as Cappa signed with the Bengals as part of Cincinnati’s desperately-needed offensive line makeover. Tampa Bay’s response was to trade a fifth-round pick to the Patriots for the services of Mason, who has two years left on the five year, $45 million contract extension he signed with New England in 2018. Mason has developed into a consistently fine guard since the Patriots selected him in the fourth round in 2015, and last season, he allowed two sacks, three quarterback hits, and 11 quarterback hurries on 589 pass-blocking reps — with a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones who was still figuring things out at times.

Mason obviously has a long history with one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, which should come in handy this season. Brady will enjoy the fact that once Mason (No. 69) gets in his set and gets his arms out, it’s tough to get past him. Buffalo’s Ed Oliver discovered this on a long Jones pass to Nelson Agholor that ended in an interception, but that was more about the throw and the coverage (Buffalo’s safeties are REALLY GOOD) than the protection.

Mason’s experience and chemistry with Brady is a plus, but he’d be a major asset in any offensive line.

5. Wyatt Teller, Cleveland Browns

(Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Some teams have a knack for bringing the nasty with their guards in the run game, and in 2021, the Browns were absolutely one of those teams. Last season, Cleveland had 192 rushing attempts with gap blocking and at least one puller, behind only the Ravens. No team gained more rushing yards than Cleveland’s 1,039, or rushing yards after contact with 666, and only the Bills (12) had more rushing touchdowns on those concepts than Cleveland’s nine.

The epicenter of that success is Teller, who’s been perhaps the league’s most dominant pulling guard over the last couple of seasons. And he’s not too bad in pass protection, either — on 631 pass-blocking snaps, he gave up four sacks, no quarterback hits, and 20 quarterback hurries.

Two of those allowed sacks came against the Patriots in Week 10, so that’s a discussion. Here, Teller (No. 77) isn’t quite sure about how to deal with linebacker Dont’a Hightower kicking multiple gaps inside, and a Baker Mayfield takedown is the result.

In that same game, here’s Teller introducing rookie Odafe Oweh to the intricacies of those concepts on a Nick Chubb 15-yard run.

Cleveland signed the former Bills castoff to a four-year, $56.8 million contract extension in November, 2021, and Teller has earned all that scratch as one half of the NFL’s best guard duo. Who’s the other half? We’ll discuss that in a few minutes.

4. Joe Thuney, Kansas City Chiefs

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

From 2018 through 2020, Thuney was one of the NFL’s more spotless pass protectors, allowing three sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 46 quarterback hurries on 2,008 pass-blocking snaps. That’s a pretty good total over one season, much less three. The Chiefs responded to Thuney’s excellence with the Patriots by signing him to a five-year, $80 million contract in March, 2021, and Thuney responded with yet another season in which his quarterback had very little to complain about on his watch.

In 2021, Thuney allowed one sack, two quarterback hits, and 14 quarterback hurries on 956 pass-blocking snaps. Going from the Patriots’ quick game to Kansas City’s theater of randomness might give ordinary guards a problem, but Thuney has proven to be anything but.

Thuney isn’t a pure power blocker at 6-foot-5 and 308 pounds, but he’s always been a sound technician, and that’s how he deals with bigger, more aggressive disruptors. Here, in the AFC Championship game against the Bengals, Thuney (No. 62) takes on the 6-foot-3, 347-pound D.J. Reader, and keeps him out of the pocket with hand use and a solid base. This helped Patrick Mahomes to have the time to hit Mecole Hardman 44 yards downfield.

The Chiefs often like to use Thuney as the cutback blocker on pulls when they run sweeps, and on this 18-yard Tyreek Hill run against the Eagles in Week 4, Ryan Kerrigan discovered just how well Thuney gets that done.

The Chiefs made a complete change along their offensive line after their former front five was demolished by the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, and Thuney was a major part of why that worked as well as it did.

3. Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

(AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

It speaks to Nelson’s excellence that a whole lot of people will probably be quite hacked off to see him third on this list, when he justifiably placed first last year. Not that Nelson was bad at all in 2021. He gave up just one sack, six quarterback hits, and eight quarterback hurries on 448 pass-blocking snaps one season after allowing one sack, five quarterback hits, and nine quarterback hurries on 659 pass-blocking reps in 2020.

The difference in 2021 was the number of those snaps, and the occasional quality of the pressures allowed. Nelson missed three games last season due to an ankle injury and COVID concerns — the first games he’s missed in his NFL career — and there were times when he wasn’t the same completely dominant guy on the field.

On this sack allowed against the Jaguars in Week 18, Nelson (No. 56) just seemed… off.

A healthy Nelson in 2022 — along with a healthy line around him, and a more consistent quarterback in Matt Ryan, as opposed to Carson Wentz — may have No. 56 back on the top of this list. We wouldn’t be surprised at all.

2. Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys

(Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Martin ranked second in last year’s list behind Quenton Nelson, and here he is again. The seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time First-Team All-Pro is building a Hall of Fame resume at age 31, and there was no dropoff in 2021. In 741 pass-blocking reps, Martin allowed two sacks, six quarterback hits, and 15 quarterback hurries, while maintaining his status as the fulcrum of Dallas’ run game.

If you want to see how that works, here’s Martin (No; 70) at right guard, pulling and eliminating linebacker Casey Toohill so that Ezekiel Elliott can score a touchdown against Washington.

Is Martin the best guard of his era? The 2014 first-round pick out of Notre Dame certainly has a case. But he’s not the best guard on this list, and there’s one reason why… another guy who was drafted in 2014, and had his best season to date in 2021.

1. Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns

(Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

The Browns selected Bitonio out of Nevada in the second round of the 2014 draft and converted him from tackle to guard. Since then, Bitonio has been a bastion of consistency in a series of Cleveland lines that have had more than their share of personnel movement. The Browns may now have the NFL’s best guard tandem in Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, but it was Bitonio who was there all along. Outside of his 2017 season, when he gave up six sacks, Bitonio has never allowed more than three sacks in a season, and in 2021, he gave up just two sacks, two quarterback hits, and 13 quarterback hurries in 631 pass-blocking reps.

Bitonio (No. 75) has all the physical skills you want in a guard with his toughness and agility, but what sets him apart at this point in his career is his ability to diagnose different defenders and take them out of bad situations for his quarterback. Here, against the Packers in Week 16. watch how he deals first with defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster, and then, he takes out linebacker De’Vondre Campbell on a Baker Mayfield 24-yard pass to Jarvis Landry.

Bitonio has been one of the NFL’s better guards for a long time in terms of career value. In terms of peak value, 2021 was his best season so far, and it put him at the top of our list this time around.

Honorable mentions

(Robert Scheer/IndyStar-Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Justin Pugh, Arizona Cardinals

Ted Karras, Cincinnati Bengals

Connor Williams, Miami Dolphins

Dalton Risner, Denver Broncos

Jon Runyan, Green Bay Packers

Mark Glowinski, New York Giants

Brandon Scherff, Jacksonville Jaguars

Trey Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

Austin Corbett, Los Angeles Rams

Robert Hunt, Miami Dolphins

Ezra Cleveland, Minnesota Vikings

Gabe Jackson, Seattle Seahawks

 

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