Offensive tackle is a premium position in the NFL—just check out any free-agent binge lest you need a reminder. Center has enjoyed an increase in love of late, too, as more and more offenses look to push the tempo and more and more defenses try to counter by attacking the A-gaps.
Lost in the shuffle a bit is the guard position, despite the fact that NFL guards on the whole are only getting better as a group. Spread offenses have impacted the guard spot, just as they have everywhere else, by upping the demand for mobile blockers. There are still an ample number of “phone booth” guards—borderline immovable objects who are at their best working one-on-one within narrow spaces. But on the whole, that model is dwindling in favor of guards who can get to the edge or cover expanding space in a zone scheme. Thanks to an infusion of talent from the last several drafts, the level of guard performance across the league is about as high as it’s been in some time. Here are the best of the best:
Just missed the cut
Richie Incognito, Bills: Kind of amazing, considering Incognito’s career arc, that he is in the conversation among the NFL’s top guards right now. But there is no denying how strong he was as a 16-game starter for Buffalo last year. Should he repeat again in 2016, the now 33-year-old will have to claim a top spot. Others just shy of the list include Cleveland’s Joel Bitonio, who was a revelation in ’14 prior to an injury-plagued ’15 setback, and Indianapolis’s Jack Mewhort, who stamped himself into a guard role after moving there full-time last season.
Next big thing
La’el Collins, Cowboys: An easy choice now that Collins is the unquestioned starter at left guard. He wasted little time claiming that spot in 2015, supplanting Ronald Leary. It was not always smooth for Collins during his rookie season, but with the mess of his draft fall now well in the rearview mirror, he’s on the verge of being a special player.