By Steve Silverman
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There’s very little chance for any team that doesn’t pay significant attention to the men up front.
In many ways, the game is still about the basics – blocking and tackling – and teams that can’t do the former will have a significant problem sustaining drives, moving the ball and scoring points consistently.
However, it’s not that simple. An offense must be a finely turned machine in which all parts work cohesively. As we look at the best offensive tackles in the league, two of the top four played for awful, nonplayoff teams last year.
Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns has all the measurables and is a high-quality left tackle, but the Browns rarely are a threat to win games.
Here’s our look at the NFL’s best tackles.
1. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
It’s difficult to find any flaws in Thomas’ game, as he has been a first-team All-Pro six times during his nine years in the league. He is as durable as they come, as Thomas has never been hurt and simply will not take a down off for any reason. At 6-foot-7, 315 pounds, Thomas combines strength, explosiveness and athleticism like no other tackle in the league. If only the Browns had a team to complement him.
2. Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
If there’s any tackle who could give Thomas a run for his money, it’s Smith. The 6-5, 320-pound Smith is one of the strongest players at the position, and he combines that characteristic with excellent technique and a desire to get better every year. Smith has a relentless attitude on the field, and that’s just what NFL coaches want from their tackles.
3. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
Unlike the first two in this list, Whitworth is not the natural kind of player who has dominated from the start. Whitworth struggled with consistency in the early years of his career, and a lack of athleticism would rear its head fairly often. But Whitworth has proved to be a very hard worker who has gotten better throughout his career. Now 34 years old, he is using his 6-7, 330-pound frame better than ever.
4. Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Staley understands the tackle position as well as anyone at the position in the league. He understands what his opponent is going to do, and he has the technique to win the battle most of the time. While he may commit a few penalties, Staley is a consistent player who has the skill and the quickness to stop the best pass rushers.
5. Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
Sometimes a player will get a huge contract extension and that will allow him to relax and play his best football. That was the situation with Williams last year, as he put his signature on a five-year, $66 million contract and played sensational football. The 6-5, 339-pound Williams is a massive man who can engulf opposing pass rushers and neutralize them. There was a tension to Williams’ game before he signed his big deal, but he appeared to concentrate on his job much better after he got paid.
6. Duane Brown, Houston Texans
He is a bit of a throwback to tackles from another era because he does not have the massive size that many at the position have. He just exceeds the 300-pound mark at 304 pounds, and that’s a rarity among current tackles. Brown is a true technician and a very hard worker who is one of the cleanest blockers in the league. He simply does not get called for holding.
7. Jared Veldeer, Arizona Cardinals
One of the unsung heroes on the Cardinals, and he has turned into a sensational player since signing in Arizona prior to the 2014 season. The Oakland Raiders regret letting him get away because he is a tall and athletic man at 6-8 and 324 pounds who moves extremely well, understands his assignments and executes them very well.
8. Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
A bit of a downturn last year for the 34-year-old Peters, but he was not the only member of the Eagles who seemed to grow weary of coach Chip Kelly’s leadership. The Eagles have turned to Doug Pederson this year, and while there’s no reason to believe that he can perform a complete turnaround, there is the addition by subtraction factor. Additionally, Pederson is huge on the running game, and that should help Peters perform at his best.
9. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills
If Williams relaxed and started to play better after signing a contract extension, the Bills are hoping that Glenn can do the same thing. Glenn is a fine blocker already, and that’s why they signed him to a five-year, $66 million deal. The 6-5, 245-pound Glenn has the ability to engulf smaller men and open up huge running lanes for the Buffalo ground game.
10. Ryan Clady, New York Jets
Clady, traded from the Broncos to the Jets in the offseason, is coming off a torn ACL that caused him to miss all of the 2015 season. When Clady is healthy, he is one of the best athletes at his position, and there’s every reason to believe he can bounce back because he is just turning 30 this season and should have plenty in the tank.
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