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Cleveland's Alex Mack is not only the highest-paid center in the NFL, he's also No. 1 at his position
In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?
They may be the least recognized, but there’s no questioning the value of a solid offensive line. Not only is it the primary line of defense in keeping the quarterback upright and on the field, but the success, or lack thereof, in the running game often comes down to how well this quintet functions as a unit.
Take the Philadelphia Eagles for example. In tackle Jason Peters, guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce the defending NFC East champions have the top or second-ranked player at their respective position, according to Ourlads. Which makes sense considering the Eagles led the NFL with 160.4 yards rushing per game, finished second in total offense (417.3 ypg) and fourth in scoring (27.6 ppg). Obviously, Chip Kelly’s offensive system and coaching had a lot to do with the Eagles’ production last season, but don’t overlook the contributions of the five men up front.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Tackles
1. Trent Williams, Washington
Has matured, and he stayed healthy in 2013, which resulted in a Pro Bowl invitation. He is now a team captain and has become the dominant player he was drafted to be.
2. Jason Peters, Philadelphia
Is the most athletic and productive left tackle in the league when healthy. Missed 2012 with a ruptured Achilles.
3. Joe Thomas, Cleveland
The road-grading left tackle annually spends a week in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl. Solid, athletic and consistent with a nasty style.
4. Tyron Smith, Dallas
The Cowboys’ best offensive lineman is heading into his fourth season after a Pro Bowl year in 2013. The long-armed and big-handed tackle is a zone-blocker supreme.
5. Joe Staley, San Francisco
Tremendous downfield blocker with unmatched mobility. Pairs with Anthony Davis as one of the best tackle duos in the league.
6. Ryan Clady, Denver
Missed most of 2013 with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. When healthy, he is one of the top 50 players in the league and one of the best blindside pass-protectors.
7. Zach Strief, New Orleans
Has developed as a leader. A mauler in the run game and a consistent mirror-and-slide tackle with a solid punch.
8. Jared Veldheer, Arizona
The athletic competitor has made a habit of walling off some of the best NFL pass-rushers.
9. Nate Solder, New England
The athletic tackle weekly demonstrates his functional strength and quickness. A patient pass-protector who plays in balance.
10. Jake Long, St. Louis
Nicked up in recent years, but when on the field he is a physical player who shows quickness, power and a mauler mentality.
11. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore
12. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo
13. Michael Roos, Tennessee
14. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati
15. Orlando Franklin, Denver
16. Russell Okung, Seattle
17. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota
18. Demar Dotson, Tampa Bay
19. Doug Free, Dallas
20. Andre Smith, Cincinnati
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Guards
1. Evan Mathis, Philadelphia
Has put together back-to-back Pro Bowl-caliber years and is one of the league’s top interior linemen.
2. Josh Sitton, Green Bay
A four-year starter who elevated his play in 2013 among the top guards in the NFL. Versatile, tough and physical.
3. Louis Vasquez, Denver
Proved his worth as a pass-protector and a consistent run-blocker who makes few mental errors. Earned a Pro Bowl berth.
4. Larry Warford, Detroit
Played exceptionally well and was in consideration for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The burly guard has sudden first-step quickness and an explosive punch.
5. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
A relentless blood-and-guts competitor who is a violent finisher. Had another Pro Bowl year.
6. Matt Slauson, Chicago
Was an offseason acquisition after starting for the Jets for three years. He paid dividends his first year with a physical and explosive approach and consistent play.
7. Travelle Wharton, Free agent
Is an unrestricted free agent who refuses to retire. A smooth athlete who has quick feet and is effective in space.
8. Ben Grubbs, New Orleans
Struggled at left guard in 2012 but had a solid year last season, boosting him into the Pro Bowl in 2013. An athletic competitor who is aggressive in-line or in space.
9. Brandon Fusco, Minnesota
Heading into his fourth season with confidence and strength to handle the inside power players. Explosive, with a good pad level and flexibility.
10. Geoff Schwartz, NY Giants
Signed with the Giants in the offseason after a strong year in Kansas City, where he beat out incumbent Jon Asamoah. Controls defensive tackles with his huge hands and technique.
11. Brandon Brooks, Houston
12. Andy Levitre, Tennessee
13. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh
14. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh
15. T.J. Lang, Green Bay
16. Jahri Evans, New Orleans
17. Rodger Saffold, St. Louis
18. Logan Mankins, New England
19. Jon Asamoah, Atlanta
20. Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dallas
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Centers
1. Alex Mack, Cleveland
Is a happy camper, signing a five-year deal worth $42 million. The Pro Bowl pivot is a tenacious run-blocker and a consistent pass-protector.
2. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia
Has overcome his lack of ideal size at center with his athletic ability, intelligence and quick-twitch reactions.
3. John Sullivan, Minnesota
Is underrated by the casual fan, but is one of the top centers in the league. Had a strong season after recovering from microfracture knee surgery.
4. Dominic Raiola, Detroit
The grizzled 13-year veteran keeps holding off the younger talent to help maintain stability in the middle of the offensive line.
5. Manny Ramirez, Denver
Stepped in at center when J.D. Walton was unable to play and responded with technique, savvy, instincts and a good use of hands.
6. Evan Dietrich-Smith, Tampa Bay
Was signed away from the Packers in free agency after a year in which he demonstrated his ability to play with a good base, knee bend and hand control.
7. Chris Myers, Houston
Has been a consistent and solid Pro Bowl-caliber performer who, like fine wine, is getting better with age.
8. Travis Frederick, Dallas
Took the heat off Jerry Jones for drafting him in the first round by responding as the anchor of an offensive line that had been substandard in recent years.
9. Ryan Kalil, Carolina
Is a rock in the middle for the Panthers and returned to Pro Bowl form in 2013 after missing all but five games in 2012.
10. Stefen Wisniewski, Oakland
Moved from guard to center and proved to be a solid and consistent mainstay for the Raiders to build around.
11. Mike Pouncey, Miami
12. Roberto Garza, Chicago
13. Nick Hardwick, San Diego
14. Nick Mangold, NY Jets
15. Jonathan Goodwin, New Orleans
16. Will Montgomery, Denver
17. Brian de la Puente, Chicago
18. Rodney Hudson, Kansas City
19. Max Unger, Seattle
20. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore