NFL News & Analysis

2022 Offensive Guard Rankings and Tiers

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Indianapolis Colts offensive guard Quenton Nelson (56) leaves the field at half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Only by ranking NFL players does one begin to appreciate where they stand compared to the rest of the league. Fans often believe that certain players are far better or worse than they actually are because they’re not looking at the full context.

Offensive guard is one of those football positions where, all of a sudden, there is a very thin pool of high-level talent, but players who aren’t among the elite are still more than capable starters when you look at the alternatives.

Here are the NFL's top guards ahead of the 2022 season, organized into tiers.

Tier 1: Elite

  1. ZACK MARTIN, DALLAS COWBOYS
  2. QUENTON NELSON, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
  3. JOEL BITONIO, CLEVELAND BROWNS

When Quenton Nelson is at his best, there’s nobody in his class. However, injury led to a dip in his performance, so it’s only fair to credit Zack Martin, who just keeps on plugging away at an elite level on the Dallas offensive line, regardless of who's around him. Martin is, if anything, getting better with age, and last season he posted a 93.4 overall PFF grade, which probably would have garnered far more attention if Trent Williams hadn't been breaking the scale for offensive line grades over in San Francisco. 

Quietly, Joel Bitonio has forced his way into this conversation, as well. He may not have the physical gifts of Nelson or the run-blocking pedigree of Martin, but Bitonio is on a streak of six straight seasons with an 80.0-plus PFF pass-blocking grade. He even narrowly beat Martin’s overall grade in 2021, with a 93.6 mark.

Tier 2: Road Graders But Not Elite in Pass Pro

  1. WYATT TELLER, CLEVELAND BROWNS
  2. SHAQ MASON, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
  3. CHRIS LINDSTROM, ATLANTA FALCONS
  4. MICHAEL ONWENU, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The NFL may be a passing league more than ever before, but some of the better guards in the league are still road-grading specialists in the run game. It’s not that these players are bad pass-protectors, but they excel in the run game — pass-blocking is definitely a secondary skill set.

Shaq Mason is a player for whom that skill set makes perfect sense. Mason came from a triple-option offense in college at Georgia Tech where he barely ever had to pass block and spent most of his time in a four-point stance firing off the line to bulldoze space for the option attack behind him. Mason remains an elite run-blocker at the next level and has developed into a solid pass-protector, but that area of his game is never likely to match the muscle memory-powered run blocking.

Wyatt Teller’s explosion onto the scene as a top guard was also propelled by his run-blocking performance for the Browns. Teller backed up his breakout 2020 season with another high-level performance for Cleveland, despite nonexistent elite tackle play outside of him.

Chris Lindstrom has been an impressive player for the Falcons since being drafted in the first round, but the offensive line regressing around him just highlights the limitations of a guard's impact on the entire unit.

New England’s Michael Onwenu has shown nothing but elite play in the NFL across multiple positions, yet he couldn’t get on the field as a starter last season. With Mason traded to Tampa Bay, along with other offensive line departures from New England this offseason, Onwenu should get a chance to lock down a starting spot in 2022 and really show what he can do.

Tier 3: Very Good

  1. BRANDON SCHERFF, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
  2. JOE THUNEY, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
  3. LAKEN TOMLINSON, NEW YORK JETS
  4. KEVIN ZEITLER, BALTIMORE RAVENS

Washington drafted Brandon Scherff with the fifth overall pick in 2015, higher even than Quenton Nelson’s draft slot, before he became a mainstay at guard with the team. He got a big-money free agent move to Jacksonville this offseason after never enduring a bad season in the NFL. In seven years at this level, his lowest overall PFF grade is 73.6 and he has surrendered just 11 sacks combined.

Joe Thuney justified his lucrative move to Kansas City, allowing only one sack in 2021 and posting a career-best overall PFF grade (81.2).

Laken Tomlinson is hoping to do likewise this year for the Jets after earning himself a hefty contract with the Jets. Tomlinson is a former first-round pick, but it took him until Year 6 to earn his first 70.0-plus PFF grade for a season. He has been extremely durable over the past several years, playing over 1,000 snaps for five straight campaigns.

Kevin Zeitler bounced back in a better environment after a tough final season in New York. He allowed just 17 pressures last season for Baltimore, including only one sack.

Tier 4: Solid Starters

  1. TREY SMITH, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
  2. CONNOR WILLIAMS, MIAMI DOLPHINS
  3. CODY WHITEHAIR, CHICAGO BEARS
  4. MATT FEILER, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
  5. JAMES DANIELS, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  6. ALEX CAPPA, CINCINNATI BENGALS
  7. WES SCHWEITZER, WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
  8. AUSTIN CORBETT, CAROLINA PANTHERS
  9. RODGER SAFFOLD, BUFFALO BILLS
  10. ALIJAH VERA-TUCKER, NEW YORK JETS

This tier features a couple of young players who could quickly propel themselves into a completely different plateau with a strong 2022 season. Trey Smith was a revelation as a rookie, giving Kansas City one of the best value picks in the draft. He slid into the sixth round due to medical concerns but was a dominant run-blocker for the Chiefs and a capable starter from the outset. If he can iron out some of his inconsistencies as a pass-protector, he could become one of the game’s best.

The same is true for Alijah Vera-Tucker, whose rookie year for the Jets was a wild rollercoaster. He posted PFF single-game grades as high as 90.7 and as low as 46.7. 

Connor Williams drew the ire of a large group of Dallas fans simply because he wasn’t able to become the next first-round-pick-turned-All-Pro the team usually produces. However, that short changes the solid starter he has become. Williams allowed only 15 pressures, including two sacks, all last season. James Daniels and Cody Whitehair have each suffered from being moved around on the offensive line and not necessarily nailing down one position long-term, but each has been a solid starting guard. Daniels gets a chance to prove that further with the Steelers this season. 

Tier 5: Better pass pro than run blockers

  1. ANDREW NORWELL, WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
  2. ISAAC SEUMALO, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
  3. KEVIN DOTSON, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  4. JUSTIN PUGH, ARIZONA CARDINALS
  5. DALTON RISNER, DENVER BRONCOS

Just as there are road graders who can’t quite match their physical run-game dominance with pass-blocking production, there is the yin to that yang with players who are pass-protectors first and don’t (or haven’t yet) offer as much in run blocking.

Andrew Norwell has been that style of player for a number of years now, never recording a PFF pass-blocking grade under 70.0 across his eight-year career but coming in under that mark for run blocking in five straight seasons.

Kevin Dotson’s time in Pittsburgh amounts to almost 1,000 snaps of action now across two seasons, and his pass protection has been elite over that time (aided by Ben Roethlisberger’s league-fastest average time to throw). Conversely, he has PFF run-blocking grades of 55.1 and then 60.8 on his resume.

Tier 6: If an upgrade came along…

  1. DAVID EDWARDS, LOS ANGELES RAMS
  2. JONAH JACKSON, DETROIT LIONS
  3. MARK GLOWINSKI, NEW YORK GIANTS
  4. NATE DAVIS, TENNESSEE TITANS
  5. EZRA CLEVELAND, MINNESOTA VIKINGS
  6. DAMIEN LEWIS, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

There are 64 starting guards in the NFL, but even toward the end of the first half of that group there are players teams wouldn’t mind upgrading on if the opportunity presented itself. Guard play has a real lack of depth in today’s NFL relative to a few years ago, and some of the most unexciting moves in free agency involve signing players who aren’t great but are still clear upgrades over bad starters.

David Edwards has two seasons with over 1,000 snaps under his belt, with his overall PFF grade hovering around 70.0 overall in each. However, he surrendered seven sacks and 41 pressures last season, including the Rams' Super Bowl run, and is likely on a short leash unless he can take a step forward.

Mark Glowinski was one of the few signings the New York Giants could afford to make in their offensive line overhaul. While he should upgrade one spot on the unit, he has never earned an overall PFF grade higher than 75.0 over a season.

Detroit’s Jonah Jackson is an interesting case study in offensive line development, struggling badly as a rookie before being much better in Year 2. Another jump could see him propel himself into the realm of a capable starter, but his pass-blocking grade needs to improve from the 56.4 mark that saw him surrender 35 pressures and eight penalties over the season.

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