After watching games and breaking down film, Scouts Inc., in conjunction with ESPN.com's Matt Williamson, has evaluated and graded more than 2,500 NFL players heading into the 2012 season. Here's how the top guards stacked up.
Note: No rookies were included in this exercise. Age refers to player's age at start of 2012 season on Sept. 5.
When evaluating the guard position, tenacity and aggression are particularly important.
Guards often set the physical tone for their team's offensive line and often for the entire offense. Flanked by blockers on each side of them, elite athletic ability is not a prerequisite for this position, but the ability to hit a moving target in space and get out and pull effectively makes them all the more valuable.
In protection, guards not only have to deal with the athletic marvels that rush the quarterback from the defense's interior, but they have to be aware and cognizant of stunting defensive ends and blitzing second- and third-level defenders.
There are many excellent guards in today's NFL, but there is not a clear-cut No. 1 player at the position. Logan Mankins and former teammates Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are physically dominant and have been top-notch players this position over the past few years. There are also several excellent performers such as Marshall Yanda, Josh Sitton, Brandon Moore and Evan Mathis whose contributions do not get the proper recognition.
When I break down that list, this is how it shakes out:
Evans has very good initial quickness, agility and body control. He is quick to fire out on the snap and does a good job of getting a fit with his hands to steer opponents by the play.
Evans is a natural knee-bender who can keep his pad level down to leverage blocks. He has active feet and the ability to react and adjust to movement to sustain and finish blocks off. He brings an excellent combination of size, strength and agility and is an effective pulling guard who gets in front of the play and does a good job of turning upfield and zeroing in on the block. Evans has been very durable and has started all 16 games for each of the six seasons he has been in New Orleans.
Nicks is a massive lineman with long arms. He can get a good fit with his hands to steer opponents by the pocket.
Nicks has developed the ability to keep his pad level down to sustain blocks and can react to movement. He can roll his hips on contact to drive opponents off the ball and does a good job finishing blocks off.
Mankins bounced back from injury in 2010 to have another very solid season for New England. He has good size, strength and athleticism for an interior offensive lineman.
Mankins wins with instincts, toughness and technique and has shown versatility playing center and guard during his seven years in the league.