Elite and Underrated: 9 Really Good Offensive Linemen You Haven’t Heard Of
In the sport of football, if you aren’t a quarterback, wide receiver, or running back, you are susceptible to being very underrated, even if you’re among the best players at your position. Here are nine such players for the offensive line.
LT Kelvin Beachum, Pittsburgh Steelers
If you ask an average fan who the best offensive lineman on the Steelers is, they will say “Maurkice Pouncey” without a moment’s hesitation. However, that title may very likely belong to left tackle Kelvin Beachum, at least based on last season. Beachum—a 7th round pick in 2012—first made it onto the field during his sophomore season after the implosion of fellow 2012 draft pick Mike Adams. Today, he is Pro Football Focus’s No. 5 ranked tackle, anchoring the line for one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Beachum is a Steeler fan favorite due to how good he is despite being so unknown. Beachum’s play is unique in that though he is very short for an offensive tackle (6-foot-3) and marginal athletically, he makes up for what he lacks physically with outstanding effort, technique, and aggression. Beachum is one of the best pass-protecting tackles in the league, but struggles a bit with run blocking from time to time.
C John Sullivan, Minnesota Vikings
Center John Sullivan is part of the team that paved the road for Adrian Peterson during his 2,000-yard 2013 season. Sullivan has been the Vikings’ best lineman and an elite center for years, but he hasn’t received a single Pro Bowl bid to show for it.
LT Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
The ideal set for every newly drafted offensive lineman is that they will serve to anchor the line for the next decade. Whitworth is one of those rare players who has realized this ideal. Since being drafted by the Bengals in 2006, he has been in the running for one of the best tackles in the league year after year. Last season in particular, Whitworth posted one of the best pass-blocking seasons in years, allowing 0 sacks and 1 quarterback hit. Whitworth has just one Pro Bowl to show for his outstanding play, but his value and dependability are effusively appreciated by Bengal fans. It’s worth contemplating how much more popular this guy would be if he were on a team like the Cowboys or Packers.
LG Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
When you see an offensive line with Joe Thomas at tackle and Alex Mack at center, it’s easy to overlook the other guys on the line, especially when one of them is a rookie. But Browns rookie guard Joel Bitonio is far from an average Joe, having been named to Pro Football Focus’s All Pro team for the 2014 season. It’s safe to say that Bitonio, along with guys like Zack Martin, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham, highlight the best offensive rookies from the 2014 draft class. With a lineup of Thomas-Bitonio-Mack, the left side of the Browns’ line is downright scary, and will be a focal point from which the Browns will attempt to establish a run-heavy game plan in 2015.
RG Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore Ravens
If the Ravens didn’t start Marshal Yanda at the other guard spot, perhaps Osemele would be more well known. As it stands, the Yanda-Osemele pairing is arguably the best guard tandem in the league. Osemele was a tackle during college but moved inside to guard during his rookie season, where he impressed during the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl run. After missing a good portion of 2013 due to a back injury, Osemele returned in 2014 and didn’t skip a beat, developing into a truly elite guard. In fact, in the near future the Ravens may be caught in a dilemma where they can only keep either Yanda or Osemele, as both players will likely command top dollars in free agency. In terms of play, Osemele is a very dominant run blocker but has room to improve in pass blocking.
LT Jared Veldheer, Arizona Cardinals
Perhaps it’s because Veldheer plays for the Cardinals and blocks for Andre Ellington that not many know about him, but he is one of the league’s best left tackles. He was nabbed from the Raiders with a 5-year $35 million contract during the offseason of 2014, and it’s safe to say that the Cardinals have found their security at left tackle. Veldheer is particularly known for being one of the league’s best pass blockers; Pro Football Focus tabbed him 4th in the league in pass blocking efficiency.
RT Ricky Wagner, Baltimore Ravens
Wagner, Osemele, and Yanda star on one of the most imposing offensive lines in the league. Originally, Wagner did not do any better than Michael Oher, the man he had to sub for during the first game of his rookie year in 2013. But Wagner transformed into an entirely different player during his sophomore season, and Ravens fans have all but forgotten the struggles of the former “Blind Side” star. Wagner allowed just three quarterback knockdowns (hits and sacks) en route to finishing as Pro Football Focus’s highest rated pass-protecting right tackle in 2014.
RG Brandon Brooks, Houston Texans
On a team highlighted by JJ Watt, Brooks, along with left tackle Duane Brown, are studs on the Texans’ line on the other side of the ball. Brooks was lauded for being an unusually quick 350-pounder coming out of college in 2012, and has since shed some weight to further enhance his capabilities. Brooks is particularly known for his versatility—he can make blocks both horizontally and vertically, and is a better run blocker than pass blocker.
RG Brandon Linder, Jacksonville Jaguars
After finishing as one of the worst teams in just about every offensive category last season, the Jags have plenty of question marks on offense. But the one true bright spot they have is with Brandon Linder at the right guard position. As a rookie drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Linder was Pro Football Focus’s sixth best graded guard last season. If Linder can maintain his development, we may be looking at a mainstay on the All-Pro team in coming years. The Jags can only hope that 2013 second overall pick Luke Joeckel can develop as smoothly.