The skill position players get most of the credit and accolades, but that doesn't diminish the importance of a solid offensive line in today's NFL. Quarterbacks can't rack up all those yards throwing the ball and likewise the same on the ground for running backs if their line doesn't do its job in pass protection and run blocking.
All-Pro-caliber offensive linemen dominate the top of Athlon Sports' positional rankings, which were done in conjunction with Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services and appear in the 2016 NFL Preview magazine. So which teams can boast the top tackles, guards and centers as part of their first line of offense?
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, which has been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.
2016 NFL Tackle Rankings
1. Joe Thomas, Cleveland
A nine-time Pro Bowl player and a six time first-team All-Pro in his nine years in the NFL. A total package of size, flexibility and explosiveness.
2. Tyron Smith, Dallas
Was the first offensive lineman Jerry Jones selected in the first round since he purchased the Cowboys in 1989. The strong, athletic knee bender is the prototype for future NFL tackles.
3. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati
Has started 148 out of a possible 160 games over his 10-year career. Getting better with age. Named to his first All-Pro team in 2015.
4. Joe Staley, San Francisco
Is heading into his 10th NFL season. The five-time Pro Bowl pick plays flat-footed and can handle the best NFL two-move pass rushers.
5. Trent Williams, Washington
Elevated his game in 2015 with new line coach Bill Callahan. The long-torso tackle locks on a pass rusher and has the body control to redirect the defender’s path.
6. Jason Peters, Philadelphia
Age and time are catching up with the one-time archetype for NFL pass protectors. These days, the left tackle is a dominating zone run blocker.
7. Terron Armstead, New Orleans
The rangy blocker offers an outstanding combination of foot quickness and ease of movement.
8. Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City
Made an immediate impression on the offensive line after signing as an unrestricted free agent. Excels in pass protection where he plays with good technique and foot quickness.
9. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo
Is an imposing physical specimen with long arms, a wide body and athletic feet. The Bills inked their left tackle for five years and $65 million dollars in early May.
10. Taylor Lewan, Tennessee
Is an ascending pass protector and physical run blocker similar to former Titan and Eagle Jon Runyan. Aggressive in his run blocking and a smooth-footed pass protector.
11. Donald Penn, Oakland
12. Duane Brown, Houston
13. Ryan Schraeder, Atlanta
14. Morgan Moses, Washington
15. Jared Veldheer. Arizona
16. Jake Matthews, Atlanta
17. Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis
18. Lane Johnson, Philadelphia
19. Zach Strief, New Orleans
20. Joe Barksdale, San Diego
2016 NFL Guard Rankings
1. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
An All-Pro the past two years and a five-time Pro Bowler, Yanda is an explosive run blocker and a skilled pass protector with good body control.
2. Zack Martin, Dallas
A mature leader and a consummate team player who concentrates and focuses on his job. The first Cowboy since Emmitt Smith to earn Pro Bowl bids his first two seasons.
3. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh
One of the best guards to enter the NFL since Steve Hutchinson in 2001. Intense, competitive and patient in pass protection. Excellent recoverability. Hands are strong and explosive.
4. Kelechi Osemele, Oakland
The former Raven signed a five-year, $58.5 million contract to join the Raiders in the offseason. The big, long-armed zone blocker is athletic and effortless in his play.
5. Mike Iupati, Arizona
An athletic and physical pass protector who plays with good technique. Flashes an explosive punch, then locks out and drives the defender. A mauler who gets push.
6. T.J. Lang, Green Bay
A consistent and competitive performer who is technique sound and effort proud. Adjusts well on the run and finishes plays downfield.
7. Josh Sitton, Green Bay
Agile, powerful and nasty in the run game. Strong and tough enough to cut off any inside pass rusher.
8. Evan Mathis, Arizona
Has played for six teams since entering the league in 2005. Won a Super Bowl with Denver in 2016. A battler who plays well on his feet.
9. Richie Incognito, Buffalo
An explosive knee bender who rolls his hips and has a strong lower body. Physical use of hands, punch and placement. A mauler who dominates his
opponent at times.
10. Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati
A physical and aggressive long-torso athlete with good balance and toughness. Locks on his target with strong hands.
11. Jack Mewhort, Indianapolis
12. Trai Turner, Carolina
13. Jeff Allen, Houston
14. Andrew Norwell, Carolina
15. Gabe Jackson, Oakland
16. Justin Pugh, New York Giants
17. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh
18. James Carpenter, New York Jets
19. Andrew Tiller, San Francisco
20. Clint Boling, Cincinnati
2016 NFL Center Rankings
1. Travis Frederick, Dallas
The two-time Pro Bowl center is a smooth, aware and agile blocker who can handle both quickness and power in opposing linemen.
2. Ryan Kalil, Carolina
Was voted All-Pro for the second time and has been to five Pro Bowls over his nine-year career. The physical and intense competitor plays with outstanding first-step quickness.
3. Eric Wood, Buffalo
An athletic blocker who gets movement on the down defender with functional strength. Plays with a solid base in pass protection.
4. Weston Richburg, New York Giants
An athletic center who can pull and read on the run. Blocks any interior leakage or can kick out in perimeter support.
5. Alex Mack, Atlanta
A productive and consistent blocker who is mobile and powerful. Plays with good awareness. Signed with the Falcons after voiding the final three years of his contract with Cleveland.
6. Rodney Hudson, Oakland
Plays with rare foot quickness to execute a variety of blocks in the run game and in pass protection. Puts a hat on a hat and maintains contact.
7. Joe Berger, Minnesota
Had a breakout year in 2015 after a season-ending injury to starter John Sullivan. The 11-year veteran is a technician who is versatile, smart and crafty in his play.
8. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia
The undersized but light-footed Eagle is all about leverage and effective body control. Reacts quickly to pick up the blitz.
9. Max Unger, New Orleans
Brought stability to the interior of the Saints’ offensive line. The scrappy veteran has quick feet and the strength to cut off a penetrating gap nose tackle.
10. Nick Mangold, New York Jets
A long-time Pro Bowl player who plays with excellent body control and balance. Crafty, smart and alert.
11. Mike Pouncey, Miami
12. John Sullivan, Minnesota
13. Matt Slauson, San Diego
14. Corey Linsley, Green Bay
15. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore
16. Ben Jones, Tennessee
17. Manny Ramirez, Chicago
18. Mitch Morse, Kansas City
19. Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington
20. Matt Paradis, Denver