You shall not pass: 10 offensive linemen who are their QB's best friend

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By MICHAEL SCHOTTEY
FanDuel

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How do you judge an offensive lineman?

For many, this is a question without need for an answer. What do you mean, judge an offensive lineman? Why would anyone ever do such a thing? After the center snaps the ball to his quarterback, the line is rarely thought of by many NFL fans unless a sack is given up. Then, oh then, it's time to complain about the bums up front!

A game in which the quarterback stays upright must mean a great game by the line in front of him. An offensive lineman—like a child of yesteryear—is best when neither seen nor heard. (You can always tell a Milford man.)

None of this, however, is anywhere close to true.

Sacks, almost without question, are far more a function of quarterback play than of a line's pass-blocking capability. There is no statistic for the offensive line, though things like pressures and hurries can certainly help (along with sacks) to tell the story of how a line kept pressure at bay. However, other than a trained eye watching each and every snap with an understanding of how the quarterback should read and deliver to his progressions, there's simply no good way to look at a lineman and tell good from bad.

Evan Mathis, currently a free agent, was one of the best guards in the NFL for a handful of years before anyone outside of Philadelphia and hardcore line watchers even knew his name. Aging linemen, continually, make the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams for a number of years after their worth has run out. It took a long time for most of the NFL audience to realize it was Mike Pouncey (not his brother Maurkice) that was the more talented of the two, but then that same audience didn't keep up when Mike moved to guard and had a disastrous 2014.

For the many for whom line-play is a first love, it can be maddening to watch.

This list should not have many surprises on it, as it's meant to be a Who's Who of talent on the upper echelon of the NFL's pass-protecting hierarchy. There are some talented names not on the list who may have made a simple "best linemen" list or a "running back's best friend" list (the latter to come down the road!), but this group are those to whom one-week fantasy football players must pay special attention.

These linemen help protect their quarterbacks against even the highest level of matchup nightmares in the NFL. Going up against an elite pass rusher? Fret not with one of these linemen on your side. Thinking of playing a top fantasy defense against one of these hogs? Think again, as their pass-protecting prowess can stymie even the most potent of defenses.

Every team has players the opponent has to deliberately scheme around. These are the few offensive linemen who can keep defensive coordinators up at night.

Editor's Note: We're hosting a one-day $20,000 fantasy baseball league on FanDuel tonight. It's only $10 to join and first place wins $2,000. Enter by 7:05pm ET (today, July 9th). Here's the link.

10. Branden Albert (OT, Miami Dolphins)

A year removed from the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga, Miami's pass-protection still had plenty of issues in 2014, but none of that had anything to do with their high-priced free agent from Kansas City. Albert dominated and showed he was worth every penny of his $46 million contract. Ryan Tannehill is still a step slow on many of his progressions, and so many of his receivers failed him last season, but Albert provides an anchor on one side of the line, giving his quarterback one less excuse on his march toward respectability.

9. Kyle Long (OG, Chicago Bears)

One of my favorite maxims about linemen is if you took all of the big bodies in the NFL and divided them only by those who are certifiably insane from those who are more sociably acceptable, you'll have done a pretty good job at dividing the "crazy" defensive linemen from the more polished, mild-mannered offensive linemen. Yet, if there's one young offensive lineman in the league who goes against that general grain, it's Long. He has all of the edge, bite and tenacity of his pass-rushing family.

8. Rodney Hudson (OC, Kansas City Chiefs)

Before Hudson was drafted, a bunch of idiots said he (6'2″, 299) was too undersized to truly star in the NFL.

I, sadly, was one of those idiots.

Like much of the throng, I enjoyed watching Hudson play at Florida State. I saw the incredible functional strength. I saw the amazing footwork. I saw the power and I saw the anger with which he played. After all of that, I still thought Hudson might be a good, but not great player at the NFL level. I was terribly wrong, and I apologize. He's proved me wrong in the best possible way.

7. and 6. Travis Frederick (OC, Dallas Cowboys) & Zack Martin (OG, Dallas Cowboys)

I understand that the inclusion of two linemen on one team essentially undermines the headline of the article, but I tell my five-year-old son he can have more than one best friend and that sort of thing should extend to Tony Romo, as well. Many may quibble more at the exclusion of tackle Tyron Smith, however the Cowboys attempted to funnel pressure inside for a very good reason. Smith is a fantastic player, and can handle many matchups one-on-one, but there is no single player, or combination or scheme that can beat the pairing of Frederick and Martin inside.

These are two of the best young players—regardless of position—in the entire league.

5. Jason Peters (OT, Philadelphia Eagles)

Peters is a big man at 6'4″, 330, but it's the speed with which Peters moves that astounds me every time I get to watch him up close. Maybe Superman could change into his super-jammies in a phone booth, but put Peters in that same phone booth, and he'd have Superman's wallet, keys and the admiration of Lois Lane faster than a speeding bullet. He is proof that force equals mass times acceleration, as he brings both to the party in spades.

4. Nick Mangold (OC, New York Jets)

Mangold is one of the best overall players in the NFL, and he's rarely someone the casual fan thinks about. Though he's a force of nature in the run game, we're going to talk about his pass protection today, which is even better. So often, pass protection is deemed as a game of skill or athleticism while we consider those with brute strength to be more capable run blockers. However, there's something to be said by a behemoth like Mangold squatting his big rear end down and anchoring against pass rushers.

There are few interior linemen in recent memory who can singlehandedly take on both interior speed rushers from the second level and massive bull rushers with equal efficiency. The quarterback situation in New York may be a mess, but the guy snapping to them is aces.

3. Josh Sitton (OG, Green Bay Packers)

Like Mangold, Sitton doesn't make a lot of people's lists for the NFL's best, but he has more impact from the guard position than most players do throwing, catching or running the ball. At 29, he's entering the prime of his career, and though he's had to struggle with guys like Ndamukong Suh for the past couple of years (no longer!), he's established himself as a enforcer and the best interior pass protector in the NFL. The Packers are lucky to have Aaron Rodgers, and Rodgers is lucky to have Sitton.

2. Andrew Whitworth (OT, Cincinnati Bengals)

I'm sensing some confused stares from the audience.

Yes, Whitworth was almost certainly the best pass protecting lineman overall in 2014 and all signs point to him continuing in 2015 and beyond. The only reason he's not No. 1 on the list is that the guy below has been doing it longer and is a bit younger, so he can hopefully continue his dominance. Yet, don't sleep on Whitworth, who started his career at guard and was dominant there before kicking out to tackle in 2009. He's got an intriguing blend of athleticism—just barely enough for the tackle position—along with brute strength and tenacity that overwhelms plenty of speedy pass rushers who have the skills to handle him on paper, but have no chance once they're on the field.

1. Joe Thomas (OT, Cleveland Browns)

Simply the best.

Thomas was found wanting for a good friend at the quarterback position last year, and the time he spent with Johnny Manziel—he of the unpredictable pocket presence—probably hurt Thomas' pressure numbers and frazzled him to the extent that Thomas has ever really been frazzled on a football field. Yet, he's still the gold standard when it comes to tackles and is still just 30 years old. He's been one of the most dominant players in the NFL for his entire career, and is likely only about half done. He'll likely go down as one of the best (if not the best) linemen of all-time.

Editor's Note: We're hosting a one-day $20,000 fantasy baseball league on FanDuel tonight. It's only $10 to join and first place wins $2,000. Enter by 7:05pm ET (today, July 9th). Here's the link.

Michael Schottey is the award-winning Senior Sportswriter for FanDuel and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can find his work here on FanDuel Insider or follow him on Twitter: @Schottey.

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