A long-time reader, Jared Still, asked me for my thoughts on Twitter a few days ago, pertaining to who the best players in the NFL are. In my 140 character limit, I gave him Peyton Manning and DeMarcus Ware. He asked me to blog my top 5 to 10, so I am going to. I’m actually going to do it by position grouping though, so I can turn my small amounts of available time into small bursts of football writing. (I’m still naturally oriented toward long-form writing, even though I know I need to change that up, to maximize the utility of this blog.)
Anyway, I want to start with Right Tackles, because it’s a very under-appreciated position, and it’s very important. Offensive linemen never want to be seen as RTOs, which stands for Right Tackle Only. It generally means that you lack the foot quickness to compete with the best pass rushers on the offense’s left side, and that you’re some combination of too tall, slow, or dumb to play a position inside. (Height is the big thing. You don’t want 6-foot-7 Guards and Centers, because they’ll often be in the QB’s view, and they’ll tend to struggle to maintain leverage against shorter, stockier interior defensive linemen.)
So, if you don’t want to be known as an RTO, why would you want to even play Right Tackle? Being a good RT makes it fine to be an RTO. The Right Tackle tends to be the key line player in a right-handed team’s running game. He’s going to generally be making the key blocks to open running lanes on the right side, whether it be blocking down on a DT, or setting the edge against a DE or OLB. He’ll also need to be strong in pass protection, especially with the overload pressure schemes we’re seeing in today’s game.
It’s true that it’s easier to find a player with a RT skill-set than it is to find one with a LT skill-set. In my opinion, though, the positions are ultimately of equal importance. The LT may usually have the QB’s backside, but the RT tends to have to open the most holes in the running game. You need quality at both.
Here are the top 10 RTs in the NFL, according to me:
1. Jeff Otah, Carolina Panthers
This guy can just be dominant in the running game, and he’s pretty solid in the passing game. I think he’s the most gifted run-blocker in the NFL, regardless of offensive line position. If he’d be a little meaner, and finish more blocks in the running game, he’d be talked about as a potential Hall of Famer.
2. Ryan Harris, Denver Broncos
You hear a lot about the Broncos “collapsing” last season, but you never hear any of the idiot pundits point out that it started when Harris got hurt. Harris is actually more of a natural LT, and he excels in pass protection, but he’s improved his run-blocking a great deal since coming into the NFL, as well. The drop-off from Harris to Tyler Polumbus was as pronounced, and important, as any I’ve seen in a long time.
3. Vernon Carey, Miami Dolphins
Carey generally doesn’t get a lot of credit, but I think he’s better at the RT position than Jake Long is at LT. He’s a little above average in the passing game, but he’s consistently excellent in the running game. I’ve always liked the way he finishes blocks.
4. David Stewart, Tennessee Titans
Stewart is a fairly marginal athlete, but he’s a big, tough, street-fighter. He played a large role in the success of Chris Johnson last season. The Titans have a very good pair of Tackles, and only lose out to the Broncos and Dolphins, when it comes to the best sets.
5. Eric Winston, Houston Texans
Winston is a little taller than I like at 6-7, but he does a good job of playing with leverage, despite that. I’d like to see a little more point-of-attack power from him, but he does a really nice job with the combination blocking that the Texans’ zone scheme asks him to do. His feet are a little slow for LT, which he was in college, but they’re well above average for the right side.
6. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
Vollmer should actually be starting on the left side, because he’s a much better player than the overrated Matt Light, but it looks like he’ll be on the right in 2010. As a 25-year old rookie, he showed a ton of ability when Light was hurt. I think he’ll be on the other side by 2011, because he has LT feet in the passing game.
7. Jared Gaither, Baltimore Ravens
Some people love Gaither more than I do, but I see him getting out-levered (he’s 6-9) and outworked a lot of times. He may be better on the right side than the left, but there’s a good reason that Michael Oher is replacing him on the other side. Even if he just plays to his talent, though, Gaither should belong about this high on the RT list.
8. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings
Loadholt begins the list of flawed players that’s really long at RT. He’s massive and powerful in the running game, but his technique needs a bit of improvement. In the passing game, he does fine for the right side, though, which belies his average foot quickness. I like how he uses his long arms in that area.
9. Jammal Brown, Washington Redskins
I’ve always thought Brown was a bit overrated during his New Orleans years. He’s going to compete with Harris as the best pass-blocking RT this season, but I’ve never seen the nastiness that’s going to be needed from him in the running game. I always thought he was saving himself for 3rd-and-9 in the past.
10. Sean Locklear, Seattle Seahawks
Locklear has played both sides, but he’s better at RT, because he doesn’t have great feet. Most RTs are more drive-blocking oriented, but Locklear is more of a technique guy, who tries to latch on, and control defenders in the running game. I think he’s going to do well in Alex Gibbs’ newly installed zone scheme.
Overrated Others - Mark Tauscher, Green Bay Packers, and Flozell Adams, Pittsburgh Steelers
Underrated Others - Damien Woody, New York Jets, and Jeremy Trueblood, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Young Players Who Could Rise – Anthony Davis, San Francisco 49ers, and Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
Young Players Who Could Disappoint – Jason Smith, St. Louis Rams, and Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
Originally posted at One Man Football