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NFC East: Ranking The Division’s Top Players At OT

Posted Feb 12, 2014


Pretty much all my player rankings to this point have been glamour positions – guys who rack up yards, touchdowns or sacks.

That’s a bit of injustice when you consider the type of talent playing the no-name positions in the NFC East – especially at offensive tackle. The top three left tackles in the division have a combined nine Pro Bowls between them, and the fourth has a Super Bowl ring.

The draft pedigree is impressive, too. Of the eight starting tackles in the NFC East, four were taken in the top 10 of the NFL draft, the fifth was taken in the first round and the sixth was a second round pick. Of course, arguably the best of the bunch was an undrafted free agent all the way back in 2004.

With so many talented guys to choose from, this one is sure to draw some debate, so let’s take a look.

 

1.     Jason Peters, Eagles: When you’ve got three different tackles who are commonly thought of as among the top five or 10 in the game, it’d be easy to rank one above another. Tyron Smith or Trent Williams might belong in the top spot by virtue of the fact that they’re eight and seven years younger, respectively, than Peters.

I’m still going with Peters by virtue of his outstanding play on top of his resume, though. The 2013 season was Peters’ sixth Pro Bowl selection and his fourth since being traded to Philadelphia from Buffalo. In fact, the only time he hasn’t made the Pro Bowl was 2012, when he missed the season with two separate ACL tears.

So not only did Peters earn his second First-Team All-Pro designation in 2013, he did it a year after severely injuring his knee. He helped spark LeSean McCoy to the rushing title, and though the Eagles gave up a few too many sacks, Peters helped Nick Foles earn a Pro Bowl bid of his own.

Peters will be a free agent after the 2014 season, which gives me an inkling he’ll be intent on impressing once again next season.

 

2.     Trent Williams, Redskins: If play-by-play charting is anything you buy into, it’s hard to ignore ProFootballFocus grading Williams as the second-best tackle in the NFL last season, trailing only Cleveland’s own All-Pro, Joe Thomas.

Williams earned his second Pro Bowl selection 2013, as he was one of the few enjoyable things about the Washington offense – along with 1,200-yard running back Alfred Morris and 100-catch receiver Pierre Garcon.

A top five pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Williams has a lot of parallels with the Cowboys’ own Pro Bowler, Tyron Smith. His dominance on an otherwise lousy team, coupled with two straight Pro Bowl selections, is what prompted me to pick him above Smith.

 

3.     Tyron Smith, Cowboys: This says a lot more about the elite talent at left tackle in the NFC East than Smith’s ability. The young left tackle would probably be the best at his position in six of the eight divisions in this league – just not this one. Not yet, at least.

As we talked about often in training camp, it looked like the former No. 9 overall pick was in for a rough year, given the way he performed against DeMarcus Ware last August. Smith overcame that to dominate throughout 2013, though. He routinely erased top level pass rushers and kept Tony Romo’s jersey clean.

On top of that, Smith and Ronald Leary helped spur DeMarco Murray’s fantastic second half, as Murray averaged roughly six yards per carry off the left side of the Cowboys’ line. It all added up to Smith’s first Pro Bowl selection last month and a high probability of a lucrative contract in the near future.

 

4.     Will Beatty, Giants: Williams is a good example of the value you can get out a contract extension, and certainly one the Cowboys hope Smith will follow.

Beatty, a key part of the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl team, got a big money deal of his own – though his first season of that contract wasn’t exactly inspiring. New York’s offensive line was decimated by injury in 2013, but Beatty’s subpar play on a $37 million deal didn’t help.

The veteran famously allowed 13 sacks of Eli Manning last season, which was a lethal combination for a team fighting injuries in the interior of its line, not to mention breaking in a rookie at right tackle.

 

5.     Doug Free, Cowboys: It’s always funny to think what a difference a year can make. Free was one of the Cowboys’ biggest question marks last offseason, as his massive contract made him a candidate to either take a paycut or be released ahead of the 2013 season.

Free wound up taking a reduced salary, largely thanks to the problems he had drawing false starts and allowing sacks in 2012. To say he responded well is an understatement. The veteran wound up among ProFootballFocus’ top five right tackles last season, as the Cowboys’ outside blockers upped their play significantly.

 

6.     Tyler Polumbus, Redskins: I’ve got to give the seasoned veteran a slight nod over two rookie right tackles – though both rookies performed admirably.

Coupled with Williams, Polumbus helped lift the Redskins up to the third-rated offensive line last season, paving the way for Morris’ second-straight 1,000-plus yard season. Probably most importantly for the Redskins, the veteran is earning just $2 million compared to many of his much more expensive counterparts.

 

7.     Justin Pugh, Giants: How’s this for an endorsement of the rookie right tackle – Pugh was the first Giants rookie to start all 16 games for the club since Lawrence Taylor.

There’s no telling if Pugh turns into one of the game’s seminal players at his position, like LT. But he was one of the only reliable members of the Giants’ offensive line. Not bad for a rookie selected at the tail end of the first round.

 

8.     Lane Johnson, Eagles: Kind of like Smith and Williams, I’m not ranking Johnson last because he was bad – the tackle play in the division was just strong.

Like Pugh, Johnson started all 16 games as a rookie, though Johnson was taken 14 spots higher in the 2013 NFL Draft. Johnson’s season started off a bit shaky, and we saw the likes of George Selvie take advantage of him in the first half of the season. He came on at the end though, helping pave the way for Philly’s playoff run.

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