Unlike the other positions in football, there aren’t really any statistics to objectively measure an offensive lineman’s performance. Quarterbacks have a multitude of statistics—completions, interceptions, passing yards, among others—that can be dissected at length and even calculated to arrive at a quarterback rating. Receivers have catches and touchdowns; running backs have yards rushed; even defenders have tackles, sacks and interceptions.
Instead of positive stats, numbers for offensive linemen are limited to the negative—penalties against, sacks allowed. No one keeps track of holes opened, sacks saved, or incompletions prevented. So, how do you evaluate these monsters in the trenches? One angle is to look at those “negatives” like a golf score: the lower the number, the better the player. However, you also need to look at the intangibles, like longevity (the length of his career), consistency (does he play every game?) and the opinions of his peers and coaches, which take aggression, toughness, agility and overall ability into account. This last intangible often translates into Pro Bowl selections for the best of the best.
So, with all that said, here is a list of some of the greatest in today’s game*:
Stars of Today:
Nick Mangold (Center, New York Jets): Nick Mangold attended The Ohio State University and was selected 29th overall in the 2008 draft by the Jets. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons in the league. He has helped young QB Mark Sanchez adjust to the pros by allowing an average of only one sack every 10 games.
Chris Snee (Guard, New York Giants): Chris Snee attended Boston College and was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2004 draft. Snee hasn’t missed a single game in the last six seasons and has only allowed nine sacks in the last four seasons. He helped the Eli Manning defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and has earned Pro Bowl selections in the last three seasons. Oh, and by the way, he’s the son-in-law of Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. That last fact doesn’t make him one of the best, but it certainly doesn’t hurt his job security.
Joe Thomas (Tackle, Cleveland Browns): Joe Thomas went to the University of Wisconsin and was drafted third overall in the 2007 draft. He hasn’t missed a single game in his four-year career and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each year of his young career. He hasn’t had the luxury of playing for a playoff-contenting team, but he clearly has talent that will only grow with time.
Jahri Evans (Guard, New Orleans Saints): Jahri Evans attended tiny Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, and was selected by the Saints in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl last two seasons and has never missed a game in his five-year career, including the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Evans has only given up 8 sacks in first 80 starts and in 2008 he was part of a Saints offensive line that allowed only 13 sacks in 2008, a franchise record. Evans and the rest of his O-line has also helped quarterback Drew Brees set a multitude of NFL and team records.
Kris Dielman (Guard, San Diego Chargers): Kris Dielman went to Indiana University, where he actually played tight end and later a defensive lineman. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Diego Chargers in 2003. He has only committed 10 penalties in the past three years, and allowed 5.5 sacks in 46 games. He was part of the O-line for the record-breaking season of running back LaDainian Tomlinson and has been selected to four Pro Bowls (twice as a starter).
*Of course, I have to add our usual caveat: Reasonable minds will certainly differ about who should be on this list. In fact, that’s even more true with offensive linemen, for the same reasons stated above. However, these are names an educated fan should know.