• Cowboys' Zack Martin claims No. 1 spot: He was the only guard in the NFL to not allow any sacks while playing 700 or more pass-blocking snaps in 2022.
• Outstanding 2022 propels Chris Lindstrom into top five: The Atlanta Falcons guard earned a league-best 95.0 PFF grade at the position this past season.
• Browns roster the lone duo to both rank in top 10: Joel Bitonio lands in the top three, while Wyatt Teller rounds out the top 10.
Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins
After ranking the top 32 starting offensive tackles in the NFL heading into the 2023 season, we’re moving inside to guard.
The top tier of guards in the NFL right now features an interesting mix of players who have shown elite performance in the past but are coming off down years, and some players who are trending up but haven’t been around for too long yet.
Martin’s 72.8 PFF grade last season ranked ninth among guards, but in every other season of his career he finished with a top-five grade at the position. He was the only guard in the NFL to not allow any sacks while playing 700 or more pass-blocking snaps, and, on balance, it’s hard to see him not being one of the best guards in football in 2023.
The big question with Nelson is how much recent injuries have impacted him and what that means for him heading into the 2023 season. His PFF grade has declined in each of the past three years, but even with his struggles last season we still saw the flashes of dominance that made him the sixth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Bitonio has gotten better with age. His past three seasons earned the highest grades of his nine-year career, and he ranked inside the top five in PFF grade in each of those campaigns. He turns 32 in 2023, but with PFF pass-blocking grades of 80.0 or better in each of the past seven seasons, there should be no immediate worry about any significant drop-off.
With PFF grades that have jumped significantly every season since he entered the league, including a league-best 95.0 mark in 2022, Lindstrom has a case to be three spots too low on this list. The players above him have impressed for longer, but Lindstrom finished the 2022 season with PFF grades above 90.0 in five of seven games and could be the consensus top guard in football by the end of this season.
Thuney’s 88.9 PFF pass-blocking grade ranked first in the NFL last season, a deserved mark after he allowed just 20 total pressures from 799 pass-blocking snaps in the regular season and playoffs. He’s yet to have a season with a PFF pass-blocking grade below 70.0 in his seven-year career, and while he’s not an elite run blocker, he’s been more than adequate in that facet, with PFF run-blocking grades between 67.0 and 71.0 in each of the past six seasons.
A sixth-round pick out of Michigan in 2020, Onwenu has spent time at both tackle and guard spots on the Patriots' offensive line in his three-year career so far. 2022 saw him spend the full season at right guard, though, and while his 79.3 PFF grade was the lowest of his career so far, it was still the fourth-best mark at the position last season.
Jenkins is another player who has moved around, with starts at both tackle spots, left guard and center in his four-year career. And the reality is that he would probably be a top-10 starter at any position across the offensive line. Over the final seven games of the 2022 season, he allowed just a single hurry in pass protection from left guard.
At 33 years old and in the final year of his contract, it’s fair to wonder how much longer Zeitler will extend his 11-year career, but he was still one of the best guards in the NFL with the Ravens a year ago. He has played more than 11,000 snaps since 2012, and his 2020 season with the New York Giants was the only one in his career where he earned a sub-73.0 PFF grade.
Mason was traded to the Texans this offseason and will provide an immediate upgrade to their interior offensive line. He’s coming off the lowest-graded season of his career since his rookie year in 2015 but produced PFF grades of 80.0 in five of six seasons between 2016 and 2021. His 87.2 PFF run-blocking grade in 2021 ranked sixth at the position.
Teller came back down to earth a little in 2022 after two really strong seasons as a run blocker with the Browns in 2020 and 2021. Despite that, his 70.3 PFF grade in 2022 was still the 18th-best mark at the position. He ranked inside the top five in each of the previous two seasons.
The 14th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Vera-Tucker looked good in three games at right guard to open the 2022 season and could have been on track for a year that would have vaulted him up this list. He started the next four games at tackle before a triceps injury ended his season abruptly. The tools are all there, though, as he earned PFF run-blocking grades above 72.0 in each of his first two NFL seasons. If Vera-Tucker is healthy, there’s every reason to think he can become a top-10 guard in 2023.
A third-round pick out of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the 2021 NFL Draft after impressing at the Senior Bowl, Meinerz took serious strides as a run blocker in 2022. His 78.6 PFF run-blocking grade placed fifth at the position, and while he can still improve his consistency, the peaks in his play have been really impressive to date.
An instant starter for the Chiefs as a sixth-round pick out of Tennessee in 2021, Smith has two really solid seasons to his name in the NFL. Like Meinerz above him on this list, consistency is the one thing lacking from his game. His 2022 campaign included five games with a sub-60.0 PFF grade but six games above 75.0.
Seumalo made the switch across Pennsylvania in free agency after a really strong second half of the season as a pass blocker for the Philadelphia Eagles. From Week 11 through the Super Bowl, he allowed three or more pressures in only one game, with five outings where he shut out opposing interior pass rushers.
Dickerson has grown into one of the top pass-blocking guards in the NFL in his two seasons with the Eagles, after joining as a second-round pick out of Alabama in the 2021 NFL Draft. His 78.7 PFF pass-blocking grade last season was the ninth-best mark in the NFL, with Dickerson allowing 12 fewer pressures than the season before despite being on the field for an extra 179 pass-blocking snaps.
Slotting Smith on this list was a challenge, given that he played left tackle for all of 2022 but is expected to start on the inside with Tyron Smith back at left tackle for the Cowboys as things stand. It doesn't seem unreasonable to expect him to be in the top 25% of starting guards this upcoming season. He finished the 2022 campaign strong at tackle, with PFF grades of 70.0 or better in six of the final eight games of the season.
Hunt has improved every season since entering the NFL as a second-round pick out of Louisiana in 2020. He set career highs in 2022 with both a 74.6 PFF pass-blocking grade and a 74.5 PFF run-blocking grade.
A big part of the Bengals’ ongoing offensive line rebuild, Cappa produced a career-high 71.4 PFF pass-blocking grade in 2022. At 28 years old, he’s probably not vaulting himself into the upper echelon of guards in the NFL at this stage of his career but is a more-than-capable starter.
Scherff is coming off the lowest-graded season of his career, posting a sub-60.0 PFF run-blocking grade for the first time since he entered the league in 2015 and allowing a career-high six sacks. Given that this was the first season where he posted a PFF grade lower than 72.0, he should bounce back.
Daniels set a career high with a 73.2 PFF pass-blocking grade in 2022 and tied for another career high with a 98.4 pass-blocking efficiency rating, allowing 20 pressures from 686 pass-blocking snaps. Like many of the players in this range, he’s not going to be confused for a top-five player at the position, but he’s also unlikely to be a weak link either.
21. Nate Davis, Chicago Bears
Pass blocking has been an issue for Davis in the NFL so far, but he’s coming off a season where he posted a career-high 66.8 PFF grade in that facet, allowing 14 total pressures on 385 pass-blocking snaps.
Salyer started at left tackle in 2022 and looked anything but a sixth-round rookie when he took the field. He earned a 76.4 PFF pass-blocking grade, which ranked him as the second-best rookie tackle. There’s some projection here as he kicks inside to guard, but the Chargers won’t be too concerned, given how he performed at tackle as a rookie.
Corbett was solid in 2022, earning a 69.1 PFF grade that ranked 19th among guards. Particularly impressive in pass protection, he achieved a career-high PFF pass-blocking grade (76.2), allowing just 15 pressures on 541 pass-blocking snaps.
Injuries have limited Jenkins in his first two seasons, with his 576 snaps last year ranking 61st among guards. However, he was impressive when on the field, posting an 80.7 PFF grade, which ranked him third at the position.
Cleveland has shown consistent improvement in his three NFL seasons, particularly as a run blocker. His 73.4 PFF grade in 2022 ranked him eighth among guards. However, he continues to struggle in pass protection, posting a sub-60.0 pass-blocking grade in all three seasons since entering the NFL.
Jackson has struggled in pass protection during his first three years, with sub-60.0 PFF pass-blocking grades in all three seasons. He has posted PFF run-blocking grades of 70.0 or higher in each of the past two seasons, though, ranking 11th at the position as a run blocker in 2022.
A third-round pick out of LSU in 2020, Lewis has shown promise in his three-year NFL career. His 72.5 PFF grade ranked him 11th at the position last season, and he has produced PFF grades above 70.0 in both seasons where he played at least 1,000 snaps.
Glowinski's 65.6 PFF grade in 2022 ranked 29th among guards. While he’s unlikely to ever be considered elite, he has proven reliable and serviceable, producing PFF grades above 65.0 in each of the past three seasons.
Tomlinson’s 56.8 PFF grade in 2022 was a career low, but he was far better in the previous two seasons, ranking inside the top 15 at the position. He fits the “best ability is availability” mantra well, having played more than 1,000 snaps in six consecutive seasons.
A surprise first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Strange initially struggled as a rookie but showed improvement later in the year. His 66.3 PFF grade from Week 13 onward ranked 22nd among guards, and he allowed just six pressures over the final six games of the year.
Cosmi primarily played as a tackle in his first two seasons, making just one start as a guard. His run blocking over the course of that span will give the Commanders faith that he can kick inside easily, though, with Cosmi producing PFF run-blocking grades of 71.5 or better in both 2021 and 2022.
A fourth-round pick out of UTSA, Burford struggled initially before a strong stretch of performances late in the year. His 72.8 PFF grade from Week 16 through the divisional round of the playoffs ranked 11th in the league. He did get worked against the Eagles in the NFC Championship game, earning a 34.1 PFF grade on just 22 snaps, but there was enough in the five games before that for some optimism for growth in 2023.