Welcome back to the NFL PRR! In this series, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, I will be ranking the top 12 players at each position for the previous season. This is not where I believe they will rank at the end of 2021, just where they stand now. Because of this, incoming rookies will be exempt from the "Following the 2020 Season" blogs. After the draft, leading up to the 2021 NFL season, I will be ranking where I believe each player will rank after the 2021 season, including incoming rookies.
These lists will be controversial, they will raise some eyebrows, but, most importantly, they will open some eyes towards who is actually dominating in the NFL today. Without further ado, here are my top 12 offensive linemen for the 2020 season:
12. Michael Onwenu
Picking a seemingly unknown rookie this high to kick off the list may seem silly, but Onwenu was clearly one of the best linemen in 2020. He played all over the Patriots offensive line, taking most of his snaps at both guard spots and right tackle, while dominating at all three positions in an offense that didn't seem to have a bright spot. On 927 total snaps, Onwenu was called for only one penalty (a holding call), and on 486 pass blocking snaps, he allowed only 3 sacks; and this is a rookie who had to play three different positions in his first year we're talking about. You can argue "aren't all offensive linemen positions relatively the same?", to which I would say they aren't. Guards and tackles have different drop points in pass protection, different lead steps in run blocking, different pull and reach angles, and so on. I digress, Onwenu is well deserving to be on this list.
11. DJ Humphries
DJ came ready to prove he's a staple left tackle in the NFL. After battling injuries, leading the league in sacks and penalties, and getting beat in the run game through his first four years, Humphries turned on a switch and went all out in 2020. On 1,129 snaps, he committed 7 penalties, which is still pretty high, but allowed only 3 sacks on 695 passing plays (a .4% sack rate compared to Onwenu's .62%, not a big difference, but still noticeable). He dominated in the running game as well, posting a PFF Run Block Grade of 90.8, which ranks 5th out of all offensive linemen and 2nd for left tackles. Kyler's main protector looks to be a cornerstone for an average offensive line going into 2021.
10. Frank Ragnow
The man that played through a broken throat finds himself in the top 10 for 2020. Ragnow is someone who doesn't get talked about enough, his consistent play and leadership for an inexperienced Lions team showed through a season ago. After allowing 0 sacks and committing only 3 penalties on 929 snaps, Ragnow cemented himself as one of the best centers in the league. PFF had him ranked as the third highest center, but allowing 0 sacks moved him ahead of JC Tretter for me (he allowed 1 sack).
Photo: USA Today
9. Tristan Wirfs
The man who, arguably, could've won OROY made a big impact in his first year. He finished as the best right tackle and 8th best offensive tackle per PFF, but would have ranked higher if not for a laughable second half against the Bears in Week 5, more specifically, against Khalil Mack. On 1,073 snaps, he committed just 3 penalties and allowed only 1 sack, which was given up to the man stated above. Wirfs proved he can be a staple right tackle in the league for a long time, with dominant performances in the playoffs and regular season against some major pass rushing threats (Frank Clark, Cameron Jordan, Joey Bosa, and others). He will make a strong case as the best offensive linemen in the NFL in his sophomore season.
8. Corey Linsley
The First Team All-Pro Center outplayed everyone at his position. After being somewhat above average for most of his career, Linsley took it to another level in 2020, especially with his discipline and awareness. After committing 0 penalties and allowing only 1 sack in 2020, paired along with dominant run blocking, Linsley helped the Packers generate one of the best offensive attacks in the league, spearheaded by Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams. His blocking adjustments for the rest of the offensive line and ability to read blitzes from the defensive front pre-snap is something that not many centers can do. His overall football IQ and incredible play puts him at number 8 for 2020.
7. Brandon Scherff
Brandon Scherff has been one of the best guards in the league since he entered the NFL. Although he allowed 3 sacks and committed 2 penalties, he faced some pretty hefty competition all year long (Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Leonard Williams, Cameron Heyward, and others). His dominance against these players in particular is why he ranks so high on my list. He is the leader on a young Washington Football Team and did a great job anchoring the line for the QB carousel of Washington.
6. Zack Martin
Like Scherff, Martin has been one of the best guards since coming into the NFL. Although he missed 6 games and had a down year in regards to pass blocking, he still allowed only 1 sack and dominated in the run game. After getting embarrassed by Aaron Donald in Week 1, he turned his season around and posted the second highest guard grade according to PFF. He was the only consistent piece in a shoddy Cowboys offense, and losing him only hurt Dallas as they tried to make a playoff push. He looks to bounce back in 2021 after a down season; which is scary to think when you consider he still made #6 on this list.
Photo: Associated Press
5. Quenton Nelson
One of the most dominant offensive linemen we've seen in a long time makes the top 5 for 2020. Despite posting 9 penalties, 3 of which against Green Bay, Nelson made up for it with another season of crushing run blocking and sound pass protection. He allowed only 1 sack and made way for rookie running back, Jonathan Taylor, to rush for over 1,000 yards. It's hard not to like Nelson, and he has been one of the main reasons the Colts offensive line has gone from one of the worst to one of the best since his arrival in the league.
4. Garrett Bolles
What a story for this guy. After getting his 5th-year option declined and seeming like a draft bust following 3 seasons where he posted some of the worst grades for all offensive linemen, Bolles turned it around in 2020 and made his case as one of the best offensive linemen in the league. After allowing 14 sacks in his first 3 seasons, Bolles went on a tear, putting edge rushers in the ground and posting them up; keeping them away from the QB. He allowed 0 sacks in 2020 and also helped open huge running lanes for Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon. Garrett finished the season as the 3rd highest graded offensive tackle and proved he can be a stud for the future.
3. David Bakhtiari
It's no secret Bakhtiari has been the best offensive linemen in the NFL since 2016. He has transformed the left tackle position in the NFL with his lateral quickness and sneaky strength. He has proven to be one of the best pass blocking offensive linemen in the league, which was backed up with only 1 sack allowed throughout the season. He allowed Aaron Rodgers to have a lot of time in the pocket and helped open run lanes for Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Pairing him with Elgton Jenkins and Corey Linsley made for one of the best offensive line trios in 2020.
2. Wyatt Teller
After barely winning a starting spot, Teller made his name known throughout the NFL. In a run heavy offense, he showed that he could decimate defensive players in front of him and open huge lanes for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. His pass blocking wasn't the best, but he didn't need to necessarily succeed in that area. The Browns ran more than most teams in the NFL, and this was due in large part to Teller's ability to open the A and B gap on his side. After posting sub 61 grades his first 2 years in the league, Teller was the highest graded linemen in 2020 with a 92.3. So who could have beat out the highest graded offensive linemen?
Photo: Associated Press
1. Trent Williams
Trent Williams proved that he is not only one of the best tackles in the league, but one of the most dominant offensive linemen as well. After holding out for a trade from Washington in 2019, Williams found himself in San Fran for 2020 and put on a show. If you haven't seen his crushing Week 1 block against Jordan Hicks, here it is in all of its glory:
Trent made pancake blocks like this all year long, either in the trenches, on screens, or at second level. He posted the 8th best pass blocking grade and the best running blocking grade out of all offensive tackles. He did commit 10 penalties and allow 4 sacks, but his sheer violence and overall win percentage on all blocks puts him ahead of other players who may have done better in regards to discipline and protecting their QB. The free agent hopes to return to San Francisco and prove that he is still the best offensive linemen in 2021.
Photo: USA Today
Sources: Pro Football Focus, NFL Penalties
Some guys that just missed the list, either due to lack of competition in comparison to guys who made the list, or inconsistent play from game to game, are Elgton Jenkins, Duane Brown, JC Tretter, and Joel Bitonio. These guys are very well deserving of making the list, but were outplayed by their peers. Look for these four to have a big 2021.
Join me next time as I cover the top 12 safeties in 2020!