As Awards Week at PFF rolls on, we turn our attention to the trenches, and for the third year in a row, crown the best offensive lineman in the NFL as the winner of our Bruce Matthews Award.
Over the course of his career with the Oilers and Titans, Matthews played all three line positions, earning Pro Bowl honors at guard and center, which epitomizes the ethos of this award to crown not simply the best left tackle in the NFL as the league’s best lineman each season, but to reward the league’s best lineman in a given season, regardless of position. This has been highlighted by the first two winners of the award being guards (Evan Mathis and Marshal Yanda), with a center finishing in the top five a year ago.
Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns
This year, the brief monopoly on the Bruce Matthews Award for guards is broken by Joe Thomas, who earned the second highest single-season grade of his career in 2015, even though some Browns fan seem to wrongly believe Thomas is not among the league’s elite offensive linemen anymore. All Thomas did this season was lead OTs in pass blocking efficiency, surrendering just 24 pressures on a league-high (tied with teammate Mitchell Schwartz) 705 snaps in pass protection. That earned Thomas the highest grade (93.6) of any offensive tackle in pass protection, and his run blocking was strong for a third year in a row, following a brief lull in 2011 and 2012. Thomas may not be at his 2009 top form anymore, but he's still nothing short of the best offensive tackle to play in the last decade. A 3-13 record for Cleveland doesn't diminish Thomas' play this year, as he earns his first Bruce Matthews Award.
Tyron Smith, LT, Dallas Cowboys
As he did for our All-Pro team, Tyron Smith comes in right behind Thomas when it comes time to hand out another honor. Evaluating the two beasts was closer than you’d imagine, with Smith’s exceptional run blocking (96.8, best among offensive tackles) hard to overlook, but it was Thomas’ superior pass protection that gave the veteran the upper hand. Smith didn’t have a single game graded below -1.0 (0.0 is average) as a run blocker all season, and while he allowed two fewer pressures than Thomas, he also pass-protected for 124 fewer snaps. On a per snap basis, Thomas’ edge as a pass protector is as comfortable as Smith’s is as a run blocker. After a tough first year at left tackle in 2012, Smith has now established himself as one of the league’s elite blockers.
Marshal Yanda, RG, Baltimore Ravens
Last year’s winner holds his place on the list of finalists for the Bruce Matthews Award, but we saw a slight step back from Yanda, at least compared to the tackles listed above. Baltimore’s leader only earned a negative grade once in pass protection, and produced plenty of his trademark punishing performances as a run blocker this season, including nine straight positive grades to start the year until he faced Aaron Donald and the Rams. It was another excellent season from Yanda, who is—without question—one of the best linemen we have ever graded in our nine seasons here at PFF.
Richie Incognito, LG, Buffalo Bills
The scenario surrounding his departure from the league should have meant that Incognito’s return to professional football with Buffalo was a highly-covered storyline this year, but it was surprisingly overlooked. Rather, it was his performance on the field that was praiseworthy. It’s wrong that Incognito’s most well-known plays this season were his struggles in pass protection against the Eagles and Fletcher Cox in Week 14, while the rest of his performances in 2015 were consistently excellent. The league’s best pull blocker all season, Incognito finished the year as one of PFF’s highest-graded guards as a run blocker, earning a positive grade every week in that facet of the game until Buffalo’s Week 17 finale against the Jets.
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