Offensive line play is where PFF’s methodology really shines.
The data is so thin on the ground for the big men up front that if you simply document how players perform on every play in every NFL game, you completely transform the level of information available compared to any other position.
Until PFF came around, the narrative around offensive linemen was largely driven by a few highlight-reel plays, reputation and some misplaced indicative stats like how often the quarterback was sacked or how good the team’s rushing attack was. We know how flawed those numbers can be now, whether it be for a unit overall or for an individual member of that line in particular.
Terrible offensive linemen can ply their trade on excellent lines, and excellent linemen can toil away in vain on terrible lines. And the only way to truly differentiate between the two is by analyzing the tape.
One of our longest-standing awards is the Bruce Matthews Award, given to the best offensive lineman in the NFL over a given season. Only Marshal Yanda has won the award multiple times, and including this season, there have been six different winners. This season, the best offensive lineman in football was none other than Philadelphia Eagles guard Brandon Brooks.
Brooks has been a perennially underrated player throughout his NFL career, whether it was playing in Houston or Philadelphia. Aside from a rookie season in which he played just 173 snaps, he has earned overall PFF grades of at least 74.0 every season since. Four of those six seasons before this one saw him top 80.0 overall, but this year he took his game to another level, earning an overall grade of 92.9. For years we have been making the case that he deserves Pro Bowl, and then All-Pro, recognition, and now he deserves to be acknowledged as the best offensive lineman in the game.
Brandon Brooks: Career overall grades (2012-2019)
|Season||Team||Snaps||PFF Grade||PFF Grade Rank|
What makes it even more remarkable is that Brooks suffered a torn Achilles at the tail end of the 2018 season. So, a year in which you would have forgiven him for performing some way short of his best play actually saw him push his game to completely new heights.
In a league that’s trending ever more pass-happy, Brooks has always been an excellent pass blocker. He has never had a PFF pass-blocking grade that was anything other than very good, and he has allowed just seven sacks in eight years in the NFL. This season, his pass blocking remained strong coming off his injury, and he was beaten for only one sack and 19 total pressures on 647 pass-blocking snaps.
What really improved from his previous baseline this year was his run-blocking grade, which was the highest of his career at 91.4 and the highest mark of any guard in 2019.
PFF grades offensive linemen on a scale on every play. Obviously, blocks have different levels of dominance. A stalemate with a defender at the line isn’t the same as sealing him away from the run, which isn’t the same as driving him off the line and pancaking him to the ground. The same is also true of losses, but if we look at just the highest-graded blocks from this season, only Quenton Nelson had more of them than Brooks did. Brooks also had the second-highest percentage of positively graded run blocks of any lineman in the game.
Most positively graded run blocks by all offensive linemen in 2019 (regular season only)
|Name||Team||Positively graded run blocks||% positively graded run blocks|
There are definitely names that will draw more attention than Brooks'. He has spent his entire NFL career flying under the radar of recognition, despite consistently being one of the best players at his position in the league. This season, coming back from a major injury, he wasn’t just one of the best; he was the best offensive lineman in all of football. He is the worthy winner of PFF’s 2019 Bruce Matthews Award.