Switching back over to the offensive side of the ball, we now come to a highly important but little-discussed position: the top 10 offensive tackles in the NFL for 2020. Despite what the recent WR contracts may have you think, many teams view OT as the second-most important position on their rosters (after QB of course). These players are responsible for keeping their QBs upright, with those on the left side of the line protecting the fabled “blind side” (unless the QB in question is a lefty). Right tackles generally are superior run blockers, whereas left tackles are premier pass protectors, so the latter are typically more valued in today’s game. However, both are critical, so let’s see who ranks as the best of the best!
1. Trent Williams, 49ers
He isn’t just here because he’s the first o-lineman in NFL history to achieve a 99 Madden rating. He’s here because he’s the best at what he does. The 49ers gave him a 6-year deal in 2020 as a 32-year-old despite having sat out the 2019 season because he’s that good. It’s hard to go into stats as much with lineman as I have with other positions, but one stands out: his ABSURD 98.3 Pro Football Focus grade. Williams allowed 0 (zero!) sacks the entire year, and he combined that with superb run blocking, racking up numerous pancake blocks. He’s the prototype for your franchise protector, and his presence will be critical as Trey Lance takes over at QB in 2022.
2. Tyron Smith, Cowboys
Tyron Smith is the one guy who could challenge Williams for the top spot, but in recent years he has had trouble staying healthy (Williams had one freak medical incident, but he hasn’t gotten too hurt on the field). Even in 2021, he only played 11 games. Regardless, he managed to earn a career-high grade from Pro Football Focus with a 91.9. A premier pass protector, Smith greatly impacted QB Dak Prescott’s play based on whether he was on the field. Elite defensive lines like those of the Commanders did not phase him, and lesser opponents were treated like ragdolls. The Cowboys have a line that is considered one of the premier units in the NFL, and Smith is a big reason why.
3. Terron Armstead, Dolphins
This is another player whose only real issue is injuries. In fact, he has not played a full 16-game season since he came into the league back in 2013. That didn’t stop the Dolphins from throwing $75M at him in free agency though. Why? Because when healthy, there aren’t many more effective players at his position. With premier foot and hand work, Armstead funnels rushers out of the way, and he also possesses the power to resist bull rushes. Miami knows that Armstead is better than anyone else available, whether in the draft or free agency, that they could get to improve their dismal line. After having terrible protection to start his career, QB Tua Tagovailoa will have a star tackle for the very first time.
4. Tristan Wirfs, Buccaneers
Wirfs has played exclusively on the right side of the line due to the presence of Donovan Smith, but his college tape and physical attributes suggest he could play on the left side whenever the need arises. As it stands though, he’s been an elite right tackle, allowing only 3 sacks over his two pro seasons en route to first-team All-Pro honors in 2021. He acts as an immovable object in both the run and pass games, and that almost feels literal since he’s barely missed any snaps in his 2 pro seasons. It seems as though Wirfs will remain at RT for the time being due to Smith, but that simply means that Tom Brady will continue to have stellar protection for as long as he keeps playing.
5. Lane Johnson, Eagles
Here we have our first pure right tackle. I said that players on the right side are valued a bit less (thus the first one showing up at #5), but Johnson is the best there currently is. Truth be told, Johnson could likely man the blind side due to his athleticism, but with Jason Peters there as a stalwart, he couldn’t get playing time over there. Then Jordan Mailata developed into a good LT himself, keeping Lane on the right. No matter, because he allowed less pressures than any other offensive lineman (at any position) in 2021 (only 11). He’s also critically important on a team that runs more than most. Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders shouldn’t have to worry about defenders coming in from the right on most plays.
6. Ryan Ramczyk, Saints
With the departure of Terron Armstead, Ramcyzk may get his chance to man the blind side this season…if the Saints don’t deem his play at RT too special to risk that is. According to his play, Ramczyk will make this decision tough. The team could opt to start rookie Trevor Penning at LT if he’s ready, allowing Ramczyk to remain where’s been a stellar performer for the past 5 seasons. The fact that the Saints extended Ramczyk over Terron Armstead was telling; New Orleans believes that he’s the future of their line. Based on his performance, I don’t disagree with them. He’ll do well at either tackle spot, and his superior durability suggests that he’ll be able to do for years to come.
7. David Bakhtiari, Packers
I had more trouble ranking Bakhtiari than anyone else on this list. Based on pure ability and performance, he’s a top-3 tackle. However, he’s missed a few games each in several seasons, with his most notable injury being his most recent. Bakhtiari missed the final 4 games of 2020 after tearing his ACL and then missed the entirety of 2021 with the exception of one game; he didn’t last too long during that game, showing he wasn’t quite ready to return. I have to ask what version of him Green Bay is getting this year. My expectation is that the extra recovery time will benefit him in the long run. If so, he’ll give Trent Williams a run for his money as the league’s best pass-blocking OT, as he did back when he was last at full strength.
8. Ronnie Stanley, Ravens
You might be sensing a theme here: elite producers with checked injury histories. If they’re on this list though, I expect them to bounce back to their peak forms in 2022. That’s especially true for Stanley, who is younger than the other injured players on this list. After a decent rookie season, he had an above-average sophomore campaign and was a rock in 2018. 2019 was his year though; he earned a Pro Bowl nod and first-team All-Pro honors. That’s when the injury bug hit. He suffered a brutal ankle injury in 2020 after 6 games, and he then missed all but 1 game in 2021 after experiencing a setback. Assuming he’s back to his normal self in 2022, he should pick up where he left off: as a foundational piece that’s as valuable as Lamar Jackson.
9. Orlando Brown, Jr., Chiefs
Brown is in the middle of a contract dispute with KC, but his reported rejection of a contract exceeding $90M (the last year is a dummy year if you’re reading reports that state this as a $139M deal) tells you just what teams think his value really is. A poor combine workout caused Brown to fall to the third round of the 2018 draft, but the tape should’ve told teams a different story. A massive human at 6’8″ and 345 lbs., Brown proved to be a mauler at RT and earned Pro Bowl selections in both 2019 and 2020. Still desiring to become a left tackle, he requested a trade, and KC obliged, sending Baltimore a first-round pick. He acquitted himself well at LT, earning his 3rd Pro Bowl nod. With more experience, he could improve even more in 2022.
10. Penei Sewell, Lions
We’re finishing with the guy I had as the #1 overall player in the 2021 draft class (yes, I’m aware that Trevor Lawrence was in that class). The Lions had a quality LT in Taylor Decker, but for a rebuilding team, can you blame them for going best player available with this guy still on that board at pick 7? He projected as a generational pass protector, and at just 21 years old, he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential. After a bit of an adjustment period while switching over to right tackle, Sewell found his footing and played well, but he was even better when filling in for Decker on the left side. I’m expecting even bigger things from him in his sophomore campaign.