Wednesday, 01 June 2011 12:33
New Orleans Saints: NFL’s Best Offensive Lineman?
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New Orleans SaintsIt's a question to which you'll get a variety of answers depending who you ask. Some will say Nick Mangold while others will look at blindside protectors like Jake Long and Joe Thomas. There will even be guys like Brian Balldinger, a former NFL lineman and now a TV analyst for NFL game, who picks 2009's dominant guard Jahri Evans of the Saints.


"All are worthy choices," says Khaled Elsayed of profootballfocus.com, who keeps statistics on every NFL player, game and play, "when you're at who is the best offensive lineman in the NFL, and for many different reasons. While I wouldn't argue against any of those, I think one guy needs his name added to that list after three seasons of top-notch play that has seen continual improvment."

Carl Nicks.

Fresh off a superb season, the Saints guard made the Pro Bowl squad (though not as a starter) and was criminally overlooked on the All-Pro team. According to Elsayed, Nicks was the highest positioned offensive lineman on his 101- players- of -the- year list, and the talent detective will tell you why he thinks Nicks is better than anyone appears to give him credit for.

Here's Elsayed's story about living in the shadows:

"Back in 2009 there was a guard that really stood out above all others. He was a punishing run blocker who made the kind of blocks that get connoisseurs of offensive line play salivating. His performance was so good that his Pro Football Focus run blocking grade was a full +9.4 points above the next best guard in the league. So good  that he earned end -of-the season awards. So good that he earned the largest contact ever handed out to an interior offensive lineman.

"I am of course talking about Jahri Evans. The Saints' right guard built on a very good 2008 to establish himself as the league's premier guard a year later."

Few of us really focus on linemen until they get penalized.

"The only problem is he wasn't quite as good in 2010." said Elsayed. "He still demonstrated the ability we've come to know, but there were more lapses. Six more penalties and more lost match-ups, with guys Brandon Mebane and Derek Landri getting the better of him. It wasn't a terrible season, but it wasn't what we had come to know, didn't live up to the contract, and didn't warrant the Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors that came his way."

But just a few feet to his left on the Saints line was a guy who was deserving, but with the focus on Evans, fans just didn't know how good of player Nicks had become.

Nicks' performance wasn't a bolt from the blue. It wasn't like the shock emergence of Brando Lloyd because Nicks has always produced.. In 2008, he had finished with the 14th highest grade of all guards, a full +26 points ahead of Evans (using the same grading system that had Evans the top guard in 2009) and in 2009 had jumped up to fourth place with a noticeable improvement in his run blocking. Sure, he  had been upstaged  by Evans as the Saints won their Super Bowl, but that season was still among the elite.

He carried the elite play into 2010, kicking the season off in fine fashion. While his teammates (including Evans) were having trouble with Kevin Williams, Nicks was getting the better of the normally stout Pat Williams for most of the game. (the Williams linemen of the Vikings and the Saints' Will Smith) will sit out four games of the 2011 season in the Starcaps" suspension).

What was incredible about Nicks is just how many key blocks he made. PFF.com reviewed the grades on every play, and Nicks rated just behind Logan Mankins (who played fewer snaps) with an incredible 17.66 per cent of his run blocking plays resulting in a positive mark

Elsayed ranks the NFL's top 5 guards like this: 1) Logan Mankins  2) Carl Nicks 3) Chilo Rachal  4) Ryan Lilja 5) Jahri Evans.

 

 

Ed Staton

by Ed Staton

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