After examining the offensive line performances of all 32 teams from the regular season, NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara has selected his five nominees for the Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Year. The winner will be revealed during NFL Honors on Feb. 2 in Atlanta, which will air on CBS at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
The top five nominees, in alphabetical order, are ...
The Colts were one of the best stories of the 2018 season, as the offensive line pulled a complete 180 and went from giving up the most sacks in 2017 to the least amount this season. That's hard to do for any group, and it's even harder with a quarterback who hadn't played in over a year and a half. Thanks to GM Chris Ballard, the Professional Football Writers of America's 2018 Executive of the Year, the Colts now have the players to protect their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, as was evident this season. The highlight of the offensive line was the play of rookie left guard Quenton Nelson. The top-graded left guard this season by Pro Football Focus, Nelson gave up some penalties early on, but eventually settled down in pass protection and didn't allow a sack or quarterback hit in his final five games. The rookie was PFF's second-ranked run-blocking guard and third-best guard overall. The scary thing is there is still room for Nelson, who didn't miss a single offensive snap all year, to improve. There's no doubt he has helped change the culture in the room and was always there to pick up his running back after the play. Nobody did it more often or as enthusiastically than Big Q.
Another rookie who played a big role in the offensive line's turnaround was right tackle Braden Smith, who allowed just three sacks this season. That's an impressive campaign considering he was a guard in college; his athleticism allowed him to slide outside to tackle. Ryan Kelly missed several games, but really established himself as one of the more physical centers in the league when healthy.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams had one of the highest-scoring and most explosive offenses in the league. They put up gaudy numbers in part because they have great offensive weapons, but don't get it twisted: The offensive line provided the foundation to do so. The unit that protected Jared Goff was led by Rob Havenstein. One of the most consistent players up front, Havenstein allowed just two sacks and was one of the league's top right tackles. Right guard Austin Blythe enjoyed a great season in which he didn't give up a single sack while playing in more than 1,100 offensive snaps. The Rams were the only team this season to have all five starters log at least 1,000 snaps, a major reason for great chemistry and why they are playing Sunday.
Despite being one of the less-heralded guys of the group, center John Sullivan excelled in combination blocks. Any good center will tell you he's only as good as his guards, and they really excelled at the second level as a group. Rodger Saffold allowed three sacks in another steady campaign and earned PFF's second-highest run-blocking grade among guards. Veteran Andrew Whitworth just does not seem to age as he continues to be a phenom at left tackle. He was great in both the run and pass games -- and is the player who leads the charge on most runs to the left side. Impressively, this group allowed just 13 sacks this season, according to PFF.
New England Patriots
The Patriots quietly had one of the best O-lines this season. Sure, Tom Brady gets the ball out quickly, but he got some help from the guys up front to become the least-pressured quarterback this season. The Patriots were tremendous in the ground attack, as the running backs gained more rushing yards before contact than any other team outside of the Baltimore Ravens. This group has definitely benefited from O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia's tutelage. The entire line has great feet, hands and similar technique, a sign of good coaching.
Shaq Mason was PFF's top-ranked guard in the league and hasn't allowed a sack since Week 1. Mason is an elite pulling guard and does a great job with his leverage in the run game. Left guard Joe Thuney has made strides this season and remarkably hasn't allowed a sack as the team's premier pass blocker. Center David Andrews had another solid campaign and worked well with Tom Brady to get everyone on the same page from a protection standpoint. Tackles Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon allowed a combined five sacks, and Brown proved his trade worth by playing a vital role in the run game.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints were led by tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, who were both among PFF's best run-blocking tackles in 2018. That's extremely impressive, considering Armstead missed a chunk of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. He also allowed just one sack all year and solidified himself as one of the league's elite tackles. Ramczyk was the unit's best player and was recognized by PFF as the league's second-highest graded tackle. Plus, the Saints' ground game averaged 6.6 yards per carry when running behind Ramczyk. Jermon Bushrod was a big part of the Saints' success, filling in when Armstead went down. Bushrod didn't allow a sack on 372 snaps in relief.
Guards Larry Warford and Andrus Peat each allowed a pair of sacks this season, while Max Unger had a solid campaign in which he had zero penalties while not missing a snap at center. Although Unger struggled with pass pro early in the season, he rarely gets fooled by the defense and is good in space at the second level. The biggest takeaway from this unit was Drew Brees was the second-least-pressured quarterback this season. This O-line continues to play well when faced with adversity, which is why it landed here.
The Eagles dealt with more adversity in 2018, but they made this list thanks to the stellar play of their center and the right side of the offensive line. Leading the way for this group was Jason Kelce, who was one of the best run-blocking centers and an elite player in the screen game. He was the top-graded center this season by PFF and didn't give up a single sack for the second year in a row. Right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Lane Johnson became one of the best guard-tackle duos in the league on run plays. Brooks, a two-time Pro Bowler, allowed only one sack and two quarterback hits to become PFF's second-best pass-blocking guard this season. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles in the playoffs and has a tough road ahead. Unlike Brooks, who was great from Week 1, Johnson had a slow start but turned his play around to become one of the top run-blocking linemen this season.
The Eagles also got a big effort from 15th-year veteran Jason Peters, who allowed just two sacks this season. He'll continue to be one of the most athletic and powerful tackles as long as his body holds up. One question mark was at left guard, and Stefen Wisniewski did a good job of solidifying his spot as the starter after struggling early. In his seven starts, he gave up one sack -- and he had his best performance late in the year against the Rams with Philly's playoff hopes on the line, keeping Aaron Donald without a sack.