Twice a week this offseason Blaine Grisak and Jake Ellenbogen will share their top-10 players from each position in the NFL. We’ll discuss our lists and why we ranked players where we did as well as the position in general.
We also asked the rest of the Downtown Rams staff who their top-10’s were and will have a poll and its results at the end.
In this edition, Blaine and Jake unveil their top-10 interior offensive linemen in the NFL heading into the 2019 season and who is ready to take that next step.
Top-10 Interior Offensive Linemen
1. Jason Kelce – PHI
2. Christian Westerman – CIN
3. Matt Paradis – CAR
4. Zack Martin – DAL
5. Alex Mack – ATL
6. Shaq Mason – NE
7. Marshal Yanda – BAL
8. Quenton Nelson – IND
9. Rodney Hudson – OAK
10. Kevin Zeitler – CLE
1. Zack Martin – DAL
2. Quenton Nelson – IND
3. Jason Kelce – PHI
4. Matt Paradis – CAR
5. Shaq Mason – NE
6. Rodger Saffold – TEN
7. Travis Frederick – DAL
8. Rodney Hudson – OAK
9. Marshal Yanda – BAL
10. Alex Mack – ATL
Blaine: Alright, after our tackles and ending up with the same top-10, I feel like I put out an effort to make sure I had a few different guys in there. I think Kelce is the best in the game in Philadelphia, but after him, I have someone who took huge steps last year in Christian Westerman. He didn’t give up a single sack last year, and I look forward to him staying on that track.
Matt Paradis is one of the best centers in the game right now and the Panthers signing him in free agency was huge. Zack Martin continues to be one of the best in the game, and then Mack is my third center on this list to round out the top-5. Marshal Yanda is one of the best to do it, so I had to have him in there and have him at No. 7. Finally, wrapping up my list Quenton Nelson could have won rookie of the year as crazy as that is, and then I have Kevin Zeitler at No. 10.
Jake: Wow, that’s an excellent pull with Westerman Blaine! I had him at 12th, but I respect your opinion on his game, and he might be (aside from William Jackson III) the only thing that is going right for the Bengals. So, as we dive into mine, I have to say the two best interior offensive linemen I have ever seen are in the league right now and that is why they are 1-2.
Zack Martin and Quenton Nelson from Notre Dame are just next level type of guys. I still remember when people questioned Martin’s short arms, and I can’t recall Nelson having any weakness to his game for someone who was practically the perfect prospect.
I really love Jason Kelce but he falls a little bit on those list because of those guys. Parad is the best center in the game, and it’s not bad for Carolina to replace Ryan Kalil with him. Sneaking into the top five is a Patriots gem that can attribute a lot of his overall development to the legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarneccia – Shaq Mason.
After the top five, former Rams guard Rodger Saffold makes an appearance after really turning on his career following a position switch from tackle to guard. Everyone forgets about the Travis Frederick because of his unfortunate health problems that were beyond his control but make no mistake, Frederick is one of the best in the league.
Finishing off my top ten, we wrap it up with three big-named veterans Rodney Hudson of the Raiders, Marshal Yanda of the Ravens and Alex Mack of the Falcons. Yanda three years ago is probably one or two on this list, but I think injuries are finally starting to slow down the immovable force. So, Blaine, that’s my introduction to my top 10, a top 10 in which like you hoped…is not the same.
Blaine: I love it! I do like your list, and I really can’t argue with anybody you have over my guys. We’re ranking three positions here, so there’s going to be a lot of depth. I want to start with a former Ram in our discussion and kind of start with the Rams in general.
Saffold was such a big part of the offensive line next to Whitworth. After injuries slowed him down, he was finally healthy for all 16 games the past two years. It’s funny, Saffold almost left once before, but a failed physical brought him back, and it benefited his career. How do the Rams move on from him and how do you see him fair in Tennessee? Joseph Noteboom will take over his spot presumably, but this is still a significant loss, and honestly, I was kind of disappointed when they didn’t make Saffold more of a priority.
Jake: In Saffold’s situation, I am more disappointed the Rams didn’t win a Super Bowl for him. When you look at how long he was with the Rams and realize that the supposed franchise quarterback Sam Bradford (who got drafted a round higher than him) has already played for three different organizations aside from the Rams, it puts it into perspective. Of course, we know Saffold would have left in his first free agency to become an Oakland Raider had a ‘freak’ failed physical not have come up. However, Saffold became a focal point of that offense, a veteran that everyone loved and someone that deserved to win a ring.
Saffold joins a loaded front with the likes of Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Ben Jones and Senior Bowl standout rookie Nate Davis. It’s quite the opposite of the Rams, and you can easily make the argument that’s one of the best offensive lines on paper. I think Saffold will continue to play at a high level and either get in the Pro Bowl or finish on the bubble every year.
Now with the Rams side of things. Losing Saffold allowed them to be able to try Joseph Noteboom at left guard while keeping Austin Blythe on the right side who was the highest rated guard per Pro Football Focus 11 weeks into the season. It also allowed the Rams to allocate those funds they saved on Saffold into signing an Eric Weddle or Clay Matthews and even drafting who they did.
It wasn’t my favorite move but I understood it. How well will the Rams do without Saffold? I don’t see Noteboom struggling at all in his debut season. Maybe Brian Allen doesn’t work out at center, maybe Whitworth hits the wall, and perhaps Blythe proves to be a little more than half year wonder. However, either way, the Rams have the talent, the depth, and the coaching to make sure nothing bizarre happens that ultimately derails a Super Bowl team.
Blaine: It’s definitely tough to see him go, but I’ll certainly be rooting for Saffold and can’t wait for him to come back and retire in horns. When we did tackles, we talked about duos. Guard is that same sort of deal where you have two. Which teams would you say have the best guard duos in the NFL? I think you have to put the Patriots in there. The Steelers are so tough with DeCastro and Foster. The Lions are underratedly good here, too. Who would you have as maybe your top-3 duos?
Jake: Great question! I first off like the potential duo of Marshal Yanda with rookie guard Ben Powers who was a wall at the Senior Bowl this past January. Joel Bitonio and Austin Corbett are reliable as long as Corbett stays at guard in Cleveland. James Daniels and Kyle Long in Chicago shouldn’t be forgotten about either, and whether it’s Josh Kline or rookie Dru Samia at right guard in Minnesota alongside Pat Elflein that is a tandem to watch.
Another sneaky one lies in Atlanta with Jamon Brown and rookie Chris Lindstrom. New Orleans’ Andrus Peat and Larry Warford are excellent and let’s not forget what Denver did putting Dalton Risner in at guard alongside Ronald Leary.
Many people may not like Richie Incognito, but he’s alongside Gabe Jackson in Oakland and, to be entirely honest, I’m not sure the combo of Noteboom and Blythe would fall that far out of the top 10 tandems. I will say the top in no order heading into this year: Joel Bitonio and Austin Corbett, Pittsburgh’s David DeCastro and Robert Foster and last but not least I’m going with a rookie headlined one Dalton Risner and Ronald Leary.
Blaine: Alright, so all of our focus has been on the guards up to this point, but we’re forgetting the centerpiece of an offensive line. How important is it to have a standout center to be successful in the NFL? This is a position that’s severely undervalued, and outside of the occasional Travis Frederick, it’s very odd to get one to go in the first round in the draft.
However, you still get teams like the Panthers that will pay big to get a guy like Paradis. When you look back, Peyton Manning was great, but he had Jeff Saturday. People talk about Jason Peters being the anchor of the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line, but Jason Kelce has been fantastic there. The center calls out the protections and is what holds everything together. I want your take on that and then to put a Ram spin on this, I know John Sullivan’s play dropped, but you can’t deny the intelligence he brought. How do you see Brian Allen fitting in on the offensive line?
Jake: John Sullivan is a knowledgeable football player, and that was evident when brilliant offensive-minded head coach Sean McVay brought him in. However, Sullivan dealt with numerous injuries that likely shortened his career. When factor in the lack of athleticism he already possessed and his play suffered. Brian Allen is athletic, he is intelligent, but he’s more about being the guy that is going to put people in the game.
Allen plays with a mean streak, and it shows on film. Will he be able to emulate the little things Sullivan brought to the table? Time will certainly tell. However, after not initially liking the selection of Allen in the draft at all, I have a weird feeling he’s going to be a top 15 center for years to come. Not bad for a fourth-round pick and not having to spend tons of money like the Panthers or spend a first rounder on a position that teams don’t target a whole lot in the first round.
Blaine: Alright, so we head to our honorable mentions before we wrap up the offense. Who do you have? I like Frederick, and I would put Saffold in there. I mentioned him earlier, but David DeCastro from the Steelers and then maybe TJ Lang in Detroit followed by Brandon Scherff in Washington.
Jake: Yeah, I like having Joel Bitonio formerly mentioned in this article on here. Ali Marpet has done a fantastic job for the Buccaneers in his young career so far. Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks, Pittsburgh’s David DeCastro, Jacksonville’s Brandon Linder, New England’s David Andrews, Green Bay’s Corey Linsley, and lastly Los Angeles Ram Austin Blythe. I think if Blythe can establish consistency and last a full season he could be in the top 10 next year.
Blaine: Bold call with Blythe. I like it though. Well, Jake, that wraps up the offense for us. Next week we’ll head to the defensive side of the ball.
DTR Top-10 (First Place Votes)
1. Zack Martin – DAL – (2)
2. Jason Kelce – PHI – (2)
3. Quenton Nelson – IND – (1)
4. Marshal Yanda – BAL
5. Alex Mack – ATL
6. Shaq Mason – NE
T7. David DeCastro – PIT
T7. Rodney Hudson – OAK
9. Matt Paradis – CAR
10. Travis Frederick – DAL
Others Receiving Votes: Rodger Saffold – TEN, Christian Westerman – CIN, Brandon Scherff – WAS, Brandon Brooks – PHI, Andrew Norwell – JAX, Trai Turner – CAR, Joel Bitonio – CLE, Kevin Zeitler – CLE, Ali Marpet – TB
Max Perez: 1. Jason Kelce, 2. Quenton Nelson, 3. Zack Martin, 4. David DeCastro, 5. Shaq Mason, 6. Travis Frederick, 7. Rodger Saffold, 8. Rodney Hudson, 9. Brandon Brooks, 10. Marshal Yanda
Bill Riccette: 1. Quenton Nelson, 2. Marshal Yanda, 3. Rodney Hudson, 4. Alex Mack, 5. Brandon Scherff, 6. Zack Martin, 7. Andrew Norwell, 8. Trai Turner, 9. Joel Bitonio, 10. Ali Marpet
Alex Washburn: 1. Zack Martin, 2. David DeCastro, 3. Jason Kelce, 4. Alex Mack, 5. Marshall Yanda, 6. Travis Frederick, 7. Rodger Saffold, 8. Brandon Brooks, 9. Quinton Nelson, 10. Shaq Mason