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Using historical NFL player comparisons to value top 2022 free agent offensive tackles

Jacksonville, Florida, USA; New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) reacts in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

While the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams are still focused on this year and Super Bowl 56, the rest of the league and its fans are preparing for the offseason. PFF is also getting into the action with the launch of its 2022 Draft Guide and free agency rankings, which allows you to sort by position or team needs and includes OverTheCap contract projections as well as historical grades and wins above replacement (WAR) numbers for the past three seasons.

This article is part of a series going through PFF's top-ranked free agents (excluding quarterbacks) by position group, using their past stats to match them with historical players. Once we have a sample of similar players, we can see how they performed in subsequent seasons to get an idea of the current player’s range of outcomes. I’ll also include any potential bargain free agents who aren’t at the top of our rankings but look better than expected in WAR projections.

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For each of the offensive tackles below, the closest comparable players were found by measuring the similarity between them based on several features — age (within one year), WAR, previous-year WAR, WAR per snap, PFF pass-blocking grades and PFF run-blocking grades.

The most similar players across these metrics are grouped together to calculate the expected WAR numbers for 2020 and 2021, and the weight of each comparison reflects the level of similarity. I didn’t use the same number of comparisons for all players, as it is more difficult to find a wide range of comparable seasons for older players.

The first plot shows the relevant WAR numbers for each of the tackle’s closest comparisons, the next displays past and future performance for the free agent based on the comparisons and the final table shows the dollar values based on positional WAR baselines for each outcome (expected, ceiling and floor) through 2023.

I decided to restrict the forecasts to the next two years in order to maximize the number of comparable players we have in the data set, reduce error for longer forecasts and reflect the fact that all but the NFL's top-tier free-agent contracts are glorified two-year deals that give teams the option to continue.

No. 2: Terron Armstead

It’s more difficult to find comps for Armstead than for younger tackles. He is entering his age-30 season, and there have been a handful of successful tackles who continued to play at an elite level well into their 30s.

Armstead’s grading fell some in 2020, but the biggest reason his WAR production fell is injuries keeping him off the field. He played only 263 pass-rushing snaps in 2021, compared to an average close to 600 the prior two seasons.

We project Armstead will sign for around $19 million per season for three seasons. The Saints could use the franchise tag and try to extend him, but they already have a ton of money invested in younger tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

Outcome 2020 2021 2022 2023 Two-Yr Avg
Actual/Expected $26.5 $8.1 $15.5 $20.6 $18.1
Ceiling (90th) N/A N/A $21.7 $42.3 $32.0
Floor (10th) N/A N/A $3.1 $9.3 $6.2

No. 9: Orlando Brown Jr.


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