- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.
Mathis is one of only two offensive linemen on our list and the only one who plays inside. Yes, it's rare for a guard to make a list such as this one, but I consider myself an especially enlightened football mind and Mathis an exceptional candidate. His case has been made quite famously by the folks at Pro Football Focus, who ranked him the No. 1 guard in the league last year by a pretty fair margin. His overall grade of 34.6 is more than six points better than his closest competitor, Carl Nicks.
But what puts Mathis on this list is his status as one of the elite run-blocking linemen in the entire NFL. As a pass-blocker, he graded out just fine -- No. 9 in the league according to PFF, which charged him with three quarterback hits and 12 hurries. But we know pass-blocking in Philadelphia is rough, what with the quarterback running around and extending plays all day. Where Mathis stands out is as a run-blocker. PFF's grade on him in that area last year was 20.4. The second-highest grade they gave was Marshal Yanda's 6.9.
That's a stunning differential, and it elevates Mathis well above his peers in the most critical element of NFL guard play. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is a good bit higher up this list, but after a year in which he rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns, McCoy has not missed a single chance to credit his offensive line for the work they did opening holes for him. The combination of an explosive back like McCoy and a run-blocking line like the one the Eagles have is a devastating mix. Mathis, who didn't even ascend to his starter's role until late in training camp last year, may well be the most important part of it all.
Rankings so far
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants