|David Drapkin/Associated Press|
|Jahri Evans, who has started 96 consecutive games for the Saints, is the complete package at offensive guard.|
Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah is getting into the Olympic mindset early this summer, handing out NFL Podium Awards for the top three players at each position group. Keep in mind, this list is based on where these players are ranked heading into the 2012 season. Today, he takes on offensive linemen.
The NFL currently lacks an offensive tackle in the mold of Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones or Orlando Pace. I only truly considered two tackles for this list and one of them was eliminated because of an offseason injury. While the league might be thin at tackle, it is absolutely loaded with quality interior lineman. Because of this depth, top-level talents like Nick Mangold, Logan Mankins, Ryan Kalil and Maurkice Pouncey were unable to land a spot on the podium.
This spot was reserved for Eagles OT Jason Peters before he ruptured his right Achilles tendon -- twice -- during this offseason. That injury moves Evans to the top spot on my list. In my discussions with general managers, personnel executives and NFL coaches, the same two words were repeatedly used to describe Evans: complete and consistent. He has excellent size, strength, quickness and intelligence. He has also proven to be incredibly durable, as evidenced by his 96 straight starts for the Saints.
Thomas has been the NFL's most reliable pass protector during his five-year career. He isn't a dominant, physical presence, but he plays with flawless technique and rarely finds himself in the wrong position. He lacks the power to maul defenders in the run game, but he does a nice job of fitting up and sustaining his block. He has yet to miss a game during his career (80 straight starts). He has been rewarded for his play with five straight trips to the Pro Bowl.
There was a long list of candidates for this last spot on the podium. The offensive and defensive line coaches that I spoke with were very high on Ravens guard Marshal Yanda. Another name that kept popping up was a bit of a sleeper on the national scene: Bills center Eric Wood. However, Nicks was given the nod because of his freakish size, strength and ability to protect the passer. He is impossible to penetrate in the pass game because he has quick feet, a strong base and excellent balance. He has dominant moments in the run game, displaying the strength and power to knock defenders off the ball. If not for a few mental lapses, Nicks would have a legitimate case to claim the top spot on this list.
Others considered: Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets; Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers; Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins; Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers; Marshal Yanda, OG, Baltimore Ravens; Eric Wood, C, Buffalo Bills.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.