Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Ranking NFC South offensive linemen

By Pat Yasinskas

We continue our series of NFC South position rankings with the offensive linemen. In the interest of time (the season starts next Thursday) and space (I’m only ranking the 15 best), I’m going to lump them together. Centers, guards and tackles are different in some ways, but, overall, they’re pretty similar.

Jahri Evans
Jahri Evans needs to be in the conversation when discussing the NFL's elite offensive linemen.
The quick overview on linemen in the division is that this is a position of strength. I see one guy who’s arguably the best overall lineman in the NFL and another who’s arguably the best left tackle. After that, there’s not a huge drop off, like we’ve seen at some other positions. Again, we’re only going to rank 15 here, so if you don’t see all the starters from your team on here, don’t get upset. If a guy makes this list, it’s because he’s a strong player at one of the strongest position groups in the NFC South.
  1. Jahri Evans, guard, Saints. Yes, left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line and that will be reflected in some of our later rankings. But there are a lot of scouts and coaches out there that will tell you Evans is the best guard in the NFL right now and maybe even the best overall lineman. New Orleans’ offensive line is very good and it all starts with Evans.
  2. Jordan Gross, left tackle, Panthers. He’s as solid as they come. Strong as a run and pass-blocker and the anchor of another very good offensive line. Can’t wait to see him go against former teammate Julius Peppers when the Panthers play the Bears in October.
  3. Carl Nicks, guard, Saints. Again, New Orleans’ offensive line is a little bit different than the norm because it’s built from within. Let me know if you can find a better guard tandem than Evans and Nicks.
  4. Jeff Otah, right tackle, Panthers. I’m taking Otah over some pretty good left tackles and I don’t feel guilty about that. If this guy is healthy, he’s a steam-roller for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to run behind.
  5. Davin Joseph, guard, Buccaneers. One of the more unsung players in the NFC South. If New Orleans wasn’t in the division, Joseph would be the NFC South’s best guard.
  6. Travelle Wharton, guard, Panthers. Much like Joseph, Wharton doesn’t get a lot of attention. But playing between Gross and the next guy on our list, he makes it easy for Williams and Stewart to run to either side.
  7. Ryan Kalil, center, Panthers. He’s got a Pro Bowl on his résumé now and is still getting better.
  8. Donald Penn, left tackle, Buccaneers. Is he an elite left tackle? No, but the Buccaneers just handed him a ton of money because he’s capable of protecting Josh Freeman’s blind side.
  9. Jonathan Goodwin, center, New Orleans. It may sound easy to play between Evans and Nicks and snap the ball to Drew Brees, but Goodwin is better than a lot of people realize.
  10. Sam Baker, left tackle, Falcons. Still kind of a mystery as he enters his third year. Baker’s dealt with injuries and hasn’t really established himself as a force. Still, you don’t see Matt Ryan getting beat up very often.
  11. Jon Stinchcomb, right tackle, Saints. Yep, I know he went to the Pro Bowl last season and I’m not trying to sell him short. Stinchcomb is very solid, but he’s a right tackle and that’s not as important as left tackle.
  12. Jeff Faine, center, Buccaneers. A veteran with good leadership skills. The Bucs need Faine to stay on the field all season. When he was hurt last year, it had a huge impact on the entire offense.
  13. Harvey Dahl, guard, Falcons. I feel like I’m selling Atlanta’s offensive linemen a little short. But the reason for that is they’re very good as a group without having much in the way of big names. Dahl may not be the most gifted guy around, but he’s feisty and tough.
  14. Jermon Bushrod, left tackle, Saints. This guy is proof that you don’t need an elite left tackle to win a Super Bowl. Bushrod did a nice job last year, but the Saints gave him plenty of help. They also drafted Charles Brown because they think he might be able to take over for Bushrod at some point.
  15. Todd McClure, center, Falcons. There were several other legitimate candidates for this final spot, but I went with McClure. That’s mainly out of respect. He’s near the end of his career and he’s not what he once was. Still, he’s a very important figure in holding Atlanta’s offensive line together.