Midseason NFL Offensive Line All-Pros

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]

Regarding the study of OL play, Offensive Line Performance (OLP) founder and owner LeCharles Bentley delivered a message at the inaugural OLP OL Seminar that resonated with me, “Appreciate the craftsmanship.”

My primary focus when I study film every week is on the offensive line, a position that is overlooked by the mainstream media but is vital to understanding how the game works. Lineman are heavily leaned upon by their teammates as tone-setters who protect their own. They’re a team within the team, and that is what truly makes them so special. They speak their own language, are under-appreciated, and often the toughest and smartest people to play the game.

These are just a handful of reasons as to why offensive line play resonates with me so deeply. I played it in high school (right guard and not very well), but have always appreciated guys like Willie Roaf, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Larry Allen, LeCharles Bentley, Jon Runyan, and other renowned players from my adolescent years.

Identifying the traits that make great players great has become a popular endeavor for many, but offensive line is especially complex. Without proper context your ability to accurately assess what’s going on in a given play for an offensive lineman is significantly minimized. Not only from a schematic point of view, but from a traits perspective as well, and this is where my focus lies when I evaluate film. The opinions in this piece are grounded in trait-based analysis of players that I study on tape.




My aim with this article is to select the five best offensive lineman in the NFL above all else. Instead of selecting one player at each position, I am choosing two offensive tackles, two offensive guards (from either side), and one center.

The right guard position is simply deeper than left guard in the NFL right now, so I decided to interchange OGs for the purpose of putting together the five absolute best offensive lineman so far this season.

Midseason NFL Offensive Line All-Pros

1st Team:
LT Trent WilliamsWashington
OG T.J. LangGreen Bay Packers
C Travis FrederickDallas Cowboys
OG Zack MartinDallas Cowboys
RT Riley ReiffDetroit Lions

Runners-up:
LT David BakhtiariGreen Bay Packers
OG Marshal YandaBaltimore Ravens
C Alex MackAtlanta Falcons
OG Trai TurnerCarolina Panthers
RT Bryan BulagaGreen Bay Packers

1st Team Analysis

LT Trent Williams – Washington Redskins
Games started: 8

I haven’t seen a more dominant offensive tackle in football this season than Trent Williams,  who has been in peak form this season, even filling in at left guard in Week 3 against the New York Giants:

Aside from this incredible game at left guard, Williams has improved this season, which is saying a lot considering he was already one of the few, true, elite left tackles in the NFL. This season his level of play has risen to another level and he was the very best I studied.

Cowboys LT Tyron Smith has been on a tear since returning from a bulging disk (or more so a muscle spasm) in Week 5, and was given this spot by a friend of mine (and well-respected OL evaluator) Duke Manyweather for Bleacher Report’s Midseason All-NFL1000 Team.

We differed here because I valued Williams’ consistency a little bit more, and for being available in every game this season (Smith has played in only 6 games). That is notable. Despite being suspended for the next 4-games, this team is a mid-season honor; Williams was available in all eight games and at the peak of his powers.

Blessed with a rare size and athleticism combination, Williams is purposeful in his initial movements and plays the game with a nasty demeanor.

Williams is routinely able to beat defenders to the spot,which allows him to dictate terms to his opponent. Williams’ ability to consistently obtain and maintain a half-man relationship against pass-rushers allows himself to dictate rather than react, and unleashes his physical prowess. Elite power and strength are hallmarks of Williams repertoire, and he demonstrates elite ability to drive / angle-drive block all competition off the ball in the power run game.

Williams is also a master at the backside cut-off, a block critical for the success of away side runs, specifically in zone-based concepts, which Washington employs regularly.

This is from Washington’s Week 4 matchup with the Cleveland Browns and a beautiful display of a creativity, nuance, and power on a backside cut-off:

Where things become even more technical is in pass-protection; an area that Williams displays cat-like quickness for the position with very good hand usage to throw off the timing of pass-rushers. Through outstanding placement of his hands on the strike, independent hand usage, and maintaining a strong base, Williams is able to dominate in pass protection.

Either by using a quick set to end things quickly, or a vertical set; Williams is able to sync his strike and base seamlessly. There are really no limitations to his game.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]

OG T.J. Lang – Green Bay Packers
Games Started: 8

Lang continues to be rock solid for the Packers and is a solidifying member of an otherwise excellent offensive line group. Lang’s game is predicated on efficiency as everything he does is calculated and smooth. From the precision of his pass sets, to the timing of his hand usage, everything Lang puts on film has an air of confidence that is rare to see.

Very rarely is Lang ever caught out of position and it begins with his stance. Very few offensive lineman have a prettier or more functional stance.

langstance1

As you can see his back foot is set at a 45-degree angle and all three 45s of OL play are in place (toes, tibia, femur). Lang is generating torque in his stance and is coiled up, ready to explode into the drive-catch phase.

langstance2

The same applies to Lang’s 2-point stance which is highly functional and effective; I cannot think of an offensive guard with a better stance. An offensive lineman’s foundation lies within his stance. Once that is solid, the rest of playing the position becomes much easier because your movement is rooted in deliberate, violent, and controlled power. When you study Lang these are the benchmarks that his game is built off of.

While there are other flashier names such as Raiders LG Kelechi Osemele or Ravens RG Marshal Yanda, Lang continues to cement his status among the NFL’s elite offensive guards and should be recognized for that.

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Vid1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Vid1Still.png”]

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]

C Travis Frederick – Dallas Cowboys
Games started: 8

People may be surprised by this, but I think Frederick and Zack Martin are the two best players in the NFL at their respective positions. There is a strong argument for Tyron Smith being the best at his (although I lean elsewhere), but either way, this offensive line is on their way to becoming an all-time great unit. They won’t want to talk about that as a unit publicly, but what has transpired along the offensive line in Dallas is nothing short of spectacular. The front office deserves much more acclaim than they have received, not only because of this epic OL they’ve built, but how they have drafted overall.

Frederick is the premier center in the NFL, and his excellence is derived from highly efficient technique, a nasty demeanor, mobility, and tremendous functional strength. Not only can he bang down on an ACE block to generate movement, he can reach block a wide-shade to either his left or right. His pass protection is outstanding due to his mobility, he can pull his back leg into extension quickly which creates space for himself to operate. His mobility also allows him to maintain good leverage from snap-to-finish through good ankle and hip mobility. From there Frederick’s technique, power, and competitive toughness take over.

Here are a few examples of Frederick showing his best traits this season:

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]

RG Zack Martin – Dallas Cowboys
Games started: 8

Martin is the best offensive lineman on the Cowboys’ roster.

I have a hard time choosing a better all-around offensive guard in the NFL. Ravens RG Marshal Yanda is right there and has been for longer than Martin, but there is something special that only Martin has: Physical talent. Yanda in my mind is an elite-level technician with elite-level competitive toughness, and a solid-to-good athlete on the field.

Martin is elite in each of these categories and has been at his best in 2016.




Martin has good size for the position and possesses very good functional strength, but it becomes elite once you factor in the techniques he utilizes that consistently give him the leverage advantage. Martin’s raw power can be trumped by someone like Raiders LG Kelechi Osemele, but Osemele doesn’t play with the same understanding and mastery of the details that Martin does to get people blocked.

Martin is a well-oiled machine on the field who plays with brilliant technique, takes great angles in space, fits on smaller defenders well, and is always looking to play through the whistle. Martin has all of his ability maximized. He’s humming this season, and we all should take a moment to appreciate what that looks like.

A few examples:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Midseasonvid2.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Midseasonvid2Still.png”]

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]

RT Riley Reiff – Detroit Lions
Games started: 8

Efficient, tough, strong and a vintage Iowa lineman through and through, Reiff is a very clean player in terms of technique who frequently wins by a superior application of leverage through pad level and hand technique, as well as functional mobility.

Most impressive about Reiff is the fact that this is his first season as a starting right tackle. The previous four seasons of his career Reiff manned the left tackle position.

Adjusting to the right side brought a few inconsistencies in his pass sets in terms of finding his spot and maintaining the half-man relationship, but he has consistently improved in these areas throughout the season. Furthermore,  Detroit is asking a lot from Reiff, not only by the position switch, but also by asking him to man an island in pass protection quite often. Having rookie first-round pick Taylor Decker at left tackle has taken away some of the usual help out of the backfield given to the right tackle. Reiff has handled it well.

Aside from these minor knocks, Reiff has been outstanding for the Lions. Reiff’s efficiency is rooted in how precise he is with his hand usage in the run game. Creating superior leverage against run-defenders is his bread and butter, once his initial fit is secure he is able to hit, lift, and drive defenders off the ball. Finishing is never an issue with Reiff either, and he gets after people for four hard quarters.

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Midseasonvid3.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Midseasonvid3Still.png”]

Reiff has been a good pass-blocker this season, and he is capable of not only reaching his set point consistently against wide-shaded rushers, he is able to transition smoothly into an anchor to eliminate speed-to-power rushers. He possesses good range and coordination to turn and run rushers past the quarterback, as well as good athleticism in space to wreak havoc on second and third level defenders.

I’ll leave you with this as an example:

I will be closely following these players as well as the rest of the league’s offensive lineman during the remainder of the season. I look forward to selecting the five offensive lineman who will be a part of Inside the Pylon’s second-annual Offensive Line Awards & Blocks of the Year article due out after the season has finished.

Follow Brandon on Twitter @VeteranScout. Read more of his work here, including his look at the wonder that is Joe Thomas, an explanation of why Doug Free is underrated, and his piece on Kansas City Chief center Mitch Morse.

All film courtesy of NFL Game Pass

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.