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 tackles stacked up.
Note: No rookies were included in this exercise. Age refers to player's age at start of the 2012-13 season on Sept. 5.
The left tackle position gets the most publicity among offensive linemen, as he is almost always the most physically impressive member of the front five. Ideally, these guys are 6-foot-5 or taller with very long arms and well over 300 pounds and move gracefully with balance, quickness and extreme power.
That is asking a lot, but amazingly the NFL has many players who fit the description. Pass protection is stressed more at left tackle than being a mauler in the run game, which is why guys such as Joe Thomas and D'Brickashaw Ferguson rank so high on this list. But there are also several all-around left tackles such as Jake Long, Jason Peters, Duane Brown and Jordan Gross who are extremely difficult to beat, no matter what the play call is. Tyron Smith moves from right tackle, where he excelled as a rookie, to the left side this season. Expect him to vault up this ranking next season.
It could be argued that Smith was the best right tackle in all of football last year. While that is certainly a compliment to Smith, it also is indicative of how weak the right tackle position is overall in the NFL right now. The right side is typically the heavier, more mauling, nasty blocker who teams prefer to run behind. But examining the league last season, there were as many as 16 teams playing with a liability at right tackle. And not only were there a lot of lesser players starting at left tackle last season, but there were also very few great ones.
Long was put on injured reserve with a biceps injury but has been one of the most durable, consistent offensive linemen in the league since 2008. He has great size and strength but isn't exceptional athletically. Long wins with great tenacity, toughness and technique at the point of attack.
He has great power and punch with good quickness early in the play and can stay connected well to finish defenders off. Long can eliminate a team's best edge defender with active hands, strength and consistent effort.
Thomas has lived up to his high-profile first-round draft status as one of the best left tackles in the league. He has excellent size, athleticism and functional strength for the position. He plays with great technique and active hands as both a run- and pass-blocker.
He is an instinctive player who reacts quickly to stunts and changing fronts. Thomas is the cornerstone of the Browns' offense and brings leadership qualities to the entire roster.
Peters has been solid for the Eagles since being acquired in 2009 from the Bills, although he'll likely miss the 201-13 season with an Achilles injury. He is a powerfully built player with good athleticism as both a run- and pass-blocker.
He is a solid reactor who understands angles and how to leverage quicker defenders if he can engage early in the play. He can get exposed in space at times but is excellent at the point of attack.