With "The Top 100 Players of 2011" wrapped up, it got us thinking: Who are the greatest players of the new millennium, the Y2K era? Since 2000, broad developments in NFL strategy have taken place, as well as the specialization of the players who fit into these new schemes. So who has thrived most in the league's ever-evolving environment?
Today, Steve Wyche and Elliot Harrison make a case for the best offensive lineman. Got an opinion of your own? Sound off in the comments section below.
Wyche: A case for Jonathan Ogden
At 6-foot-9, it was amazing watching how easily, fluidly and violently Jonathan Ogden played left tackle. He was seemingly too tall and massive to be able to keep up against some of the great pass rushers and run stuffers in the NFL, but he simply annihilated most of them.
To see a player line up in someone's shadow and then watch him disappear in it play after play was simply incredible.
Though there have been some great players along the offensive line in this era, Ogden really had no rival as the top lineman -- except for maybe Seattle left tackle Walter Jones, who simply erased players he lined up against.
As was documented in the book and later the movie "The Blind Side," Ogden also helped prove that left tackle is the second most important offensive position after the quarterback. Left tackles are the protector of (right-handed) quarterbacks' blind sides, and he was the best. For years, we've seen teams select left tackles with high draft picks and pay them a lot of money.
Though Ogden never got to protect some of the better quarterbacks in the league, he did earn a Super Bowl ring. The humble Ogden is undoubtedly one of the top linemen … scratch that, he's one of the top players of his generation and deservedly ranks among the top 10 linemen of all time.
Players in the discussion: Walter Jones, Larry Allen, Orlando Pace, Steve Hutchinson, Willie Roaf
Great ... but don't belong: Jeff Saturday, Chris Snee
Guy nobody talks about: Kevin Mawae
Harrison: A case for Walter Jones
My vote goes to the guy the Sporting News labeled the best overall player in the NFL in 2006, Walter Jones.
The 2000s have been an era when passing is king. No longer do teams run to set up the pass. Because quarterbacks are dropping back so much, pass protection has been at a premium. With that in mind, a left tackle has to get my vote for offensive lineman of the 2000s. The left tackle protects the quarterback's blind side (unless we're talking lefties) and often deals with the defense's top pass rusher. The best I saw during this era was Jones.
The man was, well, a large man but very athletic given his immense size (a measly 6-foot-5, 315 pounds). Jones' footwork was such that he could get back in position and just absorb people. I mean, he wiped guys out. Jones didn't need help, be it from a tight end or running back. Much like you could leave Deion Sanders on an island to cover people in the 1990s, you could leave Jones on an island to take out the man lined up over him in the 2000s.
People have a hard time judging offensive linemen. So let me provide a few numbers to help out: Nine straight Pro Bowl selections is a good start. Ricky Watters and then Shaun Alexander ran for at least 1,100 yards for eight straight seasons behind Jones and guard Steve Hutchinson. Seattle finished in the top 10 in team offense every year from 2002 to 2005, the heart of Jones' career.
That's why I give Jones the nod over Ogden. The Ravens never finished higher than 14th in offense during the 2000s while Ogden was with the team from 2000 to 2007. While Ogden was a great player, and more famous than Jones, team offense has to be considered on some level when judging offensive line play.
For all the good linemen who played in the Y2K era -- Ogden, Hutchinson, Brian Waters, Chris Snee, Willie Roaf, Orlando Pace, Larry Allen -- Jones is still the man.