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Ranking NFL’s top 10 offensive linemen for 2021: David Bakhtiari, Quenton Nelson headline star-studded group

What’s better than top 10 rankings? That’s right — more top 10 rankings! With the dead period of the NFL calendar upon us, now is as good a time as ever to take the temperature of all the key positions throughout the league and we here at CBS Sports have decided to take that challenge head-on. Already my colleagues have provided you with the best of the best at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions, and now it’s time to get to the big fellas along the offensive line. Unlike our other top 10 lists, we’ll divvy up the offensive line into two top 10 lists. The first will center around tackles with the second giving us the opportunity to move into the interior of the O-line and highlight some of the game’s best there. 

As for how we came to this determination, we took into account a number of various statistics from the fine folks over at Pro Football Focus along with other analytics outlets, along with durability, how the offensive line performed as a whole, specific awards and more. Before we dive into this further, here’s a quick look at some linemen who just missed the cut. 

Just missed (OT): Lane Johnson (Eagles), Orlando Brown (Chiefs), Duane Brown (Seahawks), Isaiah Wynn (Patriots), Mekhi Becton (Jets)
Just missed (IOL): Jason Kelce (Eagles), Michael Onwenu (Patriots), JC Tretter (Browns), Ryan Kelly (Colts), Brandon Brooks (Eagles)

Top 10 offensive tackles10. Garett Bolles, Broncos

Bolles took a noticeable leap in his development in 2020. While the 2017 first-round pick was always a solid tackle, last season saw a more polished game from him that had the 29-year-old only looking up to just Trent Williams and David Bakhtiari — two linemen you’ll read more about a little later — for third on PFF’s overall grading at the position. He also has 12 games of allowing one or fewer pressures and was second in the NFL in the fewest pressures allowed (13) among tackles with at least 400 snaps. Those efforts earned him second-team All-Pro honors and a four-year, $68 million extension that was executed in the midst of the 2020 campaign. The biggest change for Bolles last year was the reduction in penalties. He cracks the top 10 for being able to bring those penalties down last year, but we’ll hold off on moving him up much farther as a hedge to this possibly being a flash in the pan rather than a complete shift in his career trajectory. 

9. Taylor Moton, Panthers

As a unit, Carolina’s offensive line hasn’t been much to write home about, but the biggest bright spot of that group is certainly Taylor Moton. The right tackle has blossomed into one of the better tackles that the league has to offer and the Panthers made sure that he’d be with the organization for at least the 2021 season by placing the franchise tag on him earlier this offseason. One of Moton’s calling cards is his durability. He’s never missed a game in his career and has currently made 48 straight starts. Throughout that stretch (2,071 pass-blocking snaps), PFF notes that Moton has allowed just 10 sacks. Not too shabby. What finds him inside the top 10 here is not only his durability, however. Last year, Moton was much improved as a run blocker, which made him a more complete player, well-deserving of a lucrative franchise tender and potential extension down the line. 

8. Jack Conklin, Browns

Conklin won’t be the only Cleveland Brown that you’ll see squeak into these top 10 lists and for good reason. The club boasts arguably the top unit in the entire NFL heading into 2021, especially after a strong first season under Kevin Stefanski. The Browns were sixth in the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards and were particularly strong at allowing backs to create plays beyond the line of scrimmage, ranking first in the NFL in Second-Level Yards. Specifically for Conklin, his first season in Cleveland was tremendous and well worth the $42 million deal he inked last offseason. The 26-year-old finished with a top 10 overall grade at his position under PFF’s metrics and turned in top 15 grades as a run blocker and in true pass sets. With that in mind, it’s no surprise he was an All-Pro in 2020.  

7. Tristan Wirfs, Buccaneers

This could be a little high for just a one-year sample, but the Buccaneers rookie sure didn’t look like a first-year player in 2020. Wirfs was a key piece to a Tampa Bay offensive line that kept Tom Brady upright throughout the regular season and was third-best in the league in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate. Not only that, but they were elite en route to Tampa’s postseason run to a Super Bowl LV title. Specifically with Wirfs, he was the second-highest graded right tackle in the NFL by PFF at the end of the regular season. Out of his 769 pass-blocking snaps (including playoffs), Wirfs allow one sack. Speaking of Super Bowl LV, he was also PFF’s highest-graded player in that victory, turning in a 91.7 mark. Again, this is almost unheard of for a rookie lineman, which is pretty exciting for the Bucs going forward as he’s seemingly just scratching the surface of his potential.   

6. Laremy Tunsil, Texans

Houston doesn’t have a ton to hang its hat on as of late, but Tunsil is one player the Texans can look at as a building block. Yes, the club gave up a king’s ransom to acquire him, but he’s still one of the better blindside tackles that the league has to offer, particularly in pass-blocking sets. In that regard, he’s still among the very best in the NFL at protecting the quarterback when he drops back to pass, which is particularly difficult in a Texans offense that has signal-callers moving around quite a bit off play-action and bootlegs. If he were to elevate his run-blocking ability a tick, we’re talking about a top five, maybe even top three player on this list. While Houston may not be playing for an AFC South title anytime soon, that doesn’t take away from Tunsil being among the very best at his position. 

5. Ronnie Stanley, Ravens

Stanley was high on our list last year but falls a few spots partially due to a season-ending ankle injury he suffered in Week 8 that erased the bulk of his 2020 season. In the six games that he did appear in, Staley was once again elite in pass-blocking situations. Prior to going down for the year, he was the highest-graded pass-blocking tackle, according to PFF’s metrics. Not only that, but Baltimore continues to have an elite running game, which is plowed open by Stanley and the rest of his linemates. So long as he returns to full strength and regains his elite play as the Ravens left tackle, he’ll almost certainly creep back up inside the top three.

4. Terron Armstead, Saints

While the quarterback may be different in New Orleans, the Saints can still protect whomever will be under center with the top tackle duo in the entire NFL. The Saints were the fourth-best line in football in 2020 in Adjusted Line Yards. Armstead has been one of the league’s better left tackles for quite some time. With eight seasons now in the books, he has a career PFF grade of 92.1, which is tied for sixth among all tackles that have played at least a thousand snaps since 2013. Over that same stretch, he’s allowed pressure just 4.1% of the time. Last season was just another chapter in what has grown to be a dominant career. 

3. Ryan Ramczyk, Saints

The other piece to New Orleans’s dynamic tackle duo. Ramczyk earned second-team All-Pro honors after another strong season in 2020. The former first-round pick saw his fifth-year option get picked up earlier this offseason and it’s tough to blame the Saints for it. After all, Ramczyk is arguably the best run-blocking tackle in the entire NFL and shines in pass protection as well. Since coming into the league in 2017, he’s PFF’s highest-graded run-blocker and the fourth-highest graded tackle overall. On top of that, Ramczyk has also been a durable piece along the O-line, never playing fewer than 95% of the offensive snaps during the regular season. 

2. Trent Williams, 49ers

We all knew that, when healthy, Williams is one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles. He quickly dispelled any sort of doubt after sitting out the 2019 season while in Washington after he was traded to the 49ers. In 2020, Williams showed little to no rust from being sidelined the previous year, grading in as Pro Football Focuses top overall offensive tackle with a 91.9 mark. While Williams is an extremely well-rounded tackle, he particularly excelled run blocking in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, turning in 91.8 grade. He was back to being a Pro Bowler in 2020 and is now the highest-paid offensive lineman in the entire NFL after inking a six-year, $138.06 million contract extension with San Francisco in March. I wouldn’t even fight you too hard if you wanted to bump Williams up to the top overall spot on this list. 

1. David Bakhtiari, Packers

Bakhtiari just continues to dominate in pass protection and — in a passing league — that gives him the nod as the best offensive tackle in the league. He was the only tackle in the NFL last season that turned in a pass-blocking grade that was 90 or better (91.6), according to Pro Football Focus. The left tackle headlined an O-line in Green Bay that kept Aaron Rodgers off the ground last year, ranking as the sixth-best unit in the league in Adjusted Sack Rate. Out of tackles that had at least 400 snaps in 2020, Bakhtiari specifically allowed just nine pressures, the lowest in the NFL. If you want your quarterback’s blindside protected when he drops back to pass, there’s arguably no one better than Bakhtiari, who also was strong in the run-blocking game as well.

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Top 10 interior linemen10. Frank Ragnow, Lions

If there were any doubts about Ragnow’s toughness (there shouldn’t have been), the Lions center dispelled that in the midst of the 2020 season. Back in Week 14 against the Packers, Ragnow suffered a fractured throat. Despite that, he didn’t miss a snap and didn’t allow a sack, quarterback hit, nor pressure over that time. Impressive, right? But Ragnow isn’t on this list simply for the fact that he’s tough as nails, as he’s given Detroit strong play in the middle of its offensive line. Last season, he was PFF’s second-highest-rated center in the NFL, only looking up to Corey Linsley. He also allowed just nine pressures in 2020. Just recently, he received an extension with the Lions that makes him the highest-paid player at his position. 

9. Wyatt Teller, Browns

Told you we’d have more members of this elite Browns offensive line. Starting with Teller, he saw a pretty significant leap in his production when looking at his PFF marks in 2020. He was the league’s highest-graded guard last year, coming in with a 92.9 overall grade, which was 36.2 points higher (!) than what he put together in 2019. Specifically, Teller’s calling card has come in the run game. In the 11 games he played last year, the Browns were able to rush for over 115 yards on the ground, averaging 178.6 rushing yards per game on 5.16 yards per carry. In the games Teller was sidelined, the run production fell off a cliff — 81.7 yards per game on 3.59 yards per carry. That’s no coincidence and partly why he was named second-team All-Pro.  

8. Rodney Hudson, Cardinals

Hudson continued to be one of the NFL’s top centers in 2020, but will now be switching teams heading into this season after being traded to the Arizona Cardinals. While the jury is still out on how this change of scenery will impact Hudson’s play, what we’ve seen this point is borderline immaculate. Over his 10 seasons played in the NFL, the 31-year-old has allowed just 10 sacks. Yes, he allows his defender to get by him for a sack only once a year on average. Hudson has allowed just three sacks since 2015. Kyler Murray should be very happy about this offseason addition in Arizona. 

7. Ali Marpet, Buccaneers

Marpet is another interior lineman that has been able to stack up strong seasons year after year. Of course, Marpet’s 2020 campaign was extremely successful as he blocked for Brady en route to a Super Bowl LV victory. A large piece of Tampa Bay’s success came along the offensive line, which kept Brady upright for the bulk of the season and only allowed 22 sacks on the year. Per PFF, Marpet gave up just 11 pressures in 2020 and zero sacks. Sports Info Solutions also calculated the rather significant difference when Marpet was and was not on the field for the Bucs. In the 13 games Marpet was on the field, Tampa Bay’s completion percentage was +7.2% as opposed to him sidelined. Yards per attempt increase from 6.4 to 7.9 and the pressure rater dips from 34.8 to 22.5. A true difference-maker. 

6. Joel Bitonio, Browns

The 2020 second-team All-Pro left guard was particularly strong in pass protection for Cleveland last year. He didn’t allow a single sack and was a key piece along a Browns O-line that was able to push defenders down the field in the running game, totaling 1.45 Second-Level Yards (best in the NFL). Bitonio was also a reliable piece inside the Browns unit, playing all 16 regular-season games and 100% of the offensive snaps. He was called for just three penalties (all false starts). 

5. Joe Thuney, Chiefs

Thuney has been among the game’s top left guards for quite some time and is now he’s being paid like one. After playing the 2020 season on the franchise tag with the Patriots, the former third-round pick entered free agency and inked a five-year, $80 million deal to join the Chiefs. What Kansas City hopes to get is Thuney’s continued elite play as a pass- and run-blocker. Over the last three seasons, he’s allowed just three sacks (1,733 pass-blocking snaps). His 74.2 PFF grade was 10th among guards, but his overall résumé of success keeps him in the top five, despite not turning in his best possible campaign in 2020.  

4. Brandon Scherff, Washington

Once we start getting into the All-Pro players, there’s really not much debate about whether or not they should be top 5 and you could make the case for any one of them being higher on this list as we close in toward the No. 1 spot. With Scherff, he was a top 10 guard as a run-blocker and in pass protection last season. Dating to 2018, Scherff has allowed just five sacks in 1,218 pass-blocking snaps. In 2020, Scherff surrendered one sack and was called for just one penalty, adding to his reputation of being one of the most well-rounded linemen in the league. The only thing holding Scherff back from being at the top of this last has been his lack of durability. The 29-year-old hasn’t played a full 16-game season since his second year in the league in 2016.

3. Corey Linsley, Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers knew they needed to better protect budding superstar Justin Herbert heading into this offseason and they made significant strides in that regard by signing Linsley. The All-Pro center is looked at as one of the more well-rounded players at the position. Last year, he allowed just four pressures (437 pass-blocking attempts) and was part of a Packers offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks and was ranked sixth in the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate. His 86.4 PFF grade was first among all centers in 2020 and was strong as a run-blocker as well. Linsley’s arrival to L.A. should do nothing but good things for Herbert as he heads into Year 2. 

2. Zack Martin, Cowboys

Injuries truly plagued Dallas in 2020 and Martin was unable to sneak away from the injury bug himself. He was limited to just 10 games after being placed on IR in early December due to a calf strain. Despite missing time, it’s hard to really knock a player of his caliber down. He joins Quenton Nelson — our No.1 interior lineman — as the only two offensive linemen to have 85 or better PFF grades in each of the last two seasons. When Martin was on the field, he continued to be a dominant force, allowing just one sack in the past two years combined (1,027 pass-blocking snaps). He’s as elite as they come and one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. 

1. Quenton Nelson, Colts

We’re talking about an all-time talent here with Nelson as he continues to be the face of the position. With three years in the NFL under his belt, Nelson has allowed just three sacks over that stretch, which is also as many All-Pro nods he’s received over that time. Nelson is just the second player in the past 30 years to be named an All-Pro in each of his first three seasons with the other being Lions running back Barry Sanders. Not bad company to be in if you ask us. In 2020, he allowed just 15 pressures and one sack. He can lock up any of the league’s best pass-rushers and bulldoze his way down the field in the running game as well, making him one of the best interior linemen that we’ve ever seen at this stage and is on course to be one of the best of his era.