We all love “best of” lists, but what if people around the NFL created their own? To preview the 2022 NFL season, we surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive lineman. This is the third edition of these rankings, and there are several players who moved up or dropped from last year’s lists. Today, we focus on the offensive tackles.
Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2022. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who are the best players today? Pretty simple.
Five of the top 10 offensive tackles are at least 30 years old. As one NFL senior national scout pointed out, young offensive tackles come into the league with less refinement and skill because colleges are playing considerably less pro-style offense.
But a few young stars are aiming to change that narrative. This year’s rankings feature a pair of 23-year-old former Big Ten standouts who made major moves into the top tier. By next year, more should be joining them. Let’s look at some of the game’s top offensive tackles as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL.
Williams treated the voting here like his signature open-field pancake block, destructing his way to nearly 80% of the first-place votes.
Pro Football Focus gave him an outrageous 97.8 rating in 2022, his 92.3% pass block win rate was ninth among tackles, and he didn’t allow a single sack. One knock on Williams is he occasionally misses in the open field — his seven run-game whiffs last season were the most among the tackles who made the list — but that’s a small toll for his splash playmaking.
“He’s the most talented for sure, but he is a true student of the game with great passion for improving and an extremely smart player as well,” an NFC executive said. “He’s the total package.”
This is high for a player entering his third season, but Wirfs’ immediate impact in the league can’t go unnoticed. Wirfs narrowly beat Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari for second place in the voting. Bakhtiari had more first-place votes, but Wirfs had the better average and overall score.
“Elite pass-blocker,” an NFL personnel director said of Wirfs. “He’s got all the tools to be the best in this area.”
Having incredibly light feet for his 6-foot-5, 320-pound size helped Wirfs post a 91.6% pass block win rate last season — 12th best at the position — while leading all tackles in pass-block snaps (754).
His pass-block prowess is especially impressive considering Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady‘s lack of mobility, though Brady is also highly skilled at getting rid of the ball quickly. But questions persist about Wirfs’ game when Brady hands the ball off. His 72.2% run block win rate was 49th among offensive tackles last season.
Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 10
Age: 30 | Last year’s ranking: 2
It’s hard to judge Bakhtiari’s play after he missed 16 games last season, but consider this a career appreciation posting. After nine years in the NFL — with five first- or second-team All-Pro nods — Bakhthari belongs close to the top. And evaluators expect him to regain his form as he comes off a torn ACL in his left knee.
“He’s just super technical, which helps him last longer,” an NFC personnel executive said. “As long as the injury doesn’t take too much mobility away from him, he’ll be fine.”
In 2020, Bakhtiari ranked sixth among tackles with a 93.1% pass block win rate, and he has allowed only five sacks over his past 29 regular-season games.
“I still think Aaron Rodgers helps him more than he gets credit for. Rodgers moves around and avoids sacks,” a veteran NFC personnel man said. “But he’s still really good.”
Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 23 | Last year’s ranking: Unranked (rookie)
Slater faced pre-draft questions about whether his size — 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds with 33-inch arms — would translate as an NFL tackle. But he answered that in a big way in Year 1 for the Chargers.
“He plays big,” an AFC scout said. “Plays with his hands really well, uses all his length, strong hands, great feet.”
Slater acquitted himself well as a rookie with a 90.4% pass block win rate (17th among tackles) and an 83.6 Pro Football Focus grade.
“[He] has good potential to be a top dude a year from now,” an NFL personnel executive said. “He tested dominant [pre-draft] but doesn’t necessarily always play that way. But his athleticism and consistency will carry him. Young, smart, will only get better.”
Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 31 | Last year’s ranking: 9
Smith spent 2021 reminding us all what happens when he’s healthy: Defenders get thrown around. In 11 games played, Smith posted the highest Pro Football Focus rating of his career at 91.9, and his 78.3% run block win rate was No. 7 among tackles. He’s known to have two of the heaviest hands in the modern NFL, which helps for clubbing pass-rushers off the play.
“I know he’s old and injured, but I don’t care,” said an NFL coordinator who voted him No. 1. “He’s still the best. … Athleticism and strength accented by vet savvy and toughness.”
Smith last played a full NFL season in 2015. But that’s OK for Dallas, which has an elite tackle on a major discount. Smith has two years left on an eight-year, $97.6 million deal. The payout of $12.2 million per year ranks 25th among tackles.
Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 27 | Last year’s ranking: 3
Tunsil made back-to-back Pro Bowls before missing most of 2021 with a thumb injury. He played in just five games last season and posted an 83.8% pass block win rate, which would have been outside the top 50 had it qualified. But his pass block win rate in the two prior seasons was 90.6%.
“He’s maybe not as good as he was, but I give him a pass because of the conditions,” an AFC scout said. “That’s not a good team. I’d still take him ahead of most.”
Tunsil’s 76.1% run block win rate since 2019 ranks 16th among tackles. And many evaluators say you can’t replace his power and range.
“He’s still a high-level athlete to me,” an AFC executive said. “Plays with violence.”
Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: 10
Age: 32 | Last year’s ranking: Honorable mention
Johnson surged back into the top 10 after injuries wrecked his 2020 campaign. His 94.9% pass block win rate was second best among offensive tackles, and he was solid against the run (76.2% run block win rate, 17th at the position). All of this was good enough for an All-Pro second-team honor.
“What’s funny is he’s probably not the [great] athlete he used to be, yet he’s still more athletic than more than half the starters, which shows just how athletic he was in his prime,” an NFL personnel director said. “That’s impressive, that he’s lost a step but [is] still a high-level guy.”
Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 28 | Last year’s ranking: 5
Stanley’s position on the list is a bit puzzling, considering he has played only seven games over the past two seasons because of a major left ankle injury that required multiple surgeries. But voters seemed to give tackles grace on the injury front (see: Bakhtiari), and many are still enamored with his early-career play.
“When he last played, he was pretty darn good — elite range and footwork,” an NFC executive said. “It figures that if he’s close to where he was pre-injury, he’s still a top guy.”
The Ravens are hoping for that but aren’t declaring that Stanley is all the way back to full speed, letting him work back into game shape. In 2019, Stanley dominated with a 94.1% pass block win rate, fourth among tackles that season. As one AFC personnel executive pointed out, Stanley’s strength is finesse more than power, so the key coming off the injury will be whether he can anchor in his stance with the same efficiency.
Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 28 | Last year’s ranking: 10
Ramczyk occupies a strange existence in the tackle pantheon — undoubtedly a top-10 player at the position but not flashy enough to earn a lot of top-five votes. Still, he has made three All-Pro first or second teams in five years, he’s durable (missing one game through his first four seasons), and he led all tackles in pass block win rate last season at 95.0%.
“He’s kind of like Bakhtiari, who didn’t get a lot of respect early on in his career but got respect over the years,” an AFC personnel man said. “He’s just steady, gets the job done, never flashy. He’s balanced. One of the better run-blocking tackles.”
To that point, Ramczyk posted a 76.7% run block win rate last season — 14th at the position — and had zero run-block whiffs.
Highest ranking: 6 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 30 | Last year’s ranking: 4
After being a fixture in the top five over the past two years, Armstead’s fall to No. 10 is a slight surprise. Miami sees him as a top-shelf tackle after giving him a five-year, $75 million free agency deal this offseason, but he has missed 48 games in nine seasons, and some teams didn’t love his 2021 tape.
“He’s still an above-average pass-blocker; his run-blocking wasn’t great, which is interesting considering where he signed,” an AFC executive said. “The Miami offense will be run-heavy with [coach] Mike McDaniel, probably with designed passes for Tua [Tagovailoa] and keepers.”
But a high-ranking NFL personnel man saw that as a strength: “That system needs tackles with athleticism in space, and Armstead still has that.”
Armstead’s 74.2% run block win rate was 28th among tackles last season, and his 89.8% pass block win rate would have been just outside the top 20 had it qualified (he missed nine games last season).
Orlando Brown Jr., Kansas City Chiefs: Brown made his first career Pro Bowl in his fourth NFL season, his first as a full-time left tackle after a trade from Baltimore to Kansas City. He ranked first in run block win rate (80.6%) among tackles with at least 600 snaps played. Evaluators are still torn on him, though. “Against average competition, he’ll dominate,” an NFL personnel director said. “Against good competition, he doesn’t look good. He’s big, not super athletic. Finds a way most weeks.” A quick passing game helps him, and asking him to play in space for extended periods can be an issue. His pass block win rate last season (87.1%) was outside the top 40 at the position. A high-ranking NFL exec said, “To me, he’s a right tackle. He’s a mauler, a little lazy in his play.”
Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions: The Lions knew moving Sewell to right tackle after selecting him sixth overall — he played left tackle at Oregon — would be an adjustment, and that showed up in some of the stats. He ranked 54th in pass block win rate (84.0%), gave up 10 sacks and had 10 run-block whiffs. But he improved as the year went on, recording a 77.0 Pro Football Focus rating. “There was good performance in there; it wasn’t a lost year for them,” an NFL personnel director said. “He had a higher ceiling for me than Slater. Slater you knew would be good. Sewell is a bit more boom or bust, but he could be a Hall of Famer.”
Jordan Mailata, Philadelphia Eagles: Mailata isn’t a marquee name leaguewide but might be by this time next year. At 6-foot-8 and 346 pounds, Mailata held down the left side for Philadelphia with a 79.8% run block win rate, fourth among tackles. “Really impressive and really big,” an AFC scout said. “Watching his [Rugby League] highlights from before he came into the league and then when he first started with [Philadelphia], I was like, ‘Man, this dude is awesome.'”
Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans: Lewan has toughness and attitude that coaches love and is a quality left tackle. Back-to-back appearances on previous top-10 lists back that up. But he turns 31 later this month, hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2018 and has missed 16 games over the past two seasons. “He’s still living off his name a bit,” a veteran AFC scout said. “The overall body of work and performance hasn’t been there recently.”
Kolton Miller, Las Vegas Raiders: Miller has an impressive combination of size (6-foot-8, 310 pounds) and light feet to help him in pass protection. His 92.6% pass block win rate ranked sixth among tackles. “He’s really good — my only thing with him is he can get off balance and knocked back, not as physical as you’d like,” an AFC executive said.
Taylor Moton, Carolina Panthers: A four-year starter in Carolina, Moton earned a four-year, $72 million extension last offseason. But his pass block win rate (87.2%) and run block win rate (72.2%) ranked 40th and 48th among tackles, respectively, last season. “I’ve never been a huge fan. I get why he got paid, and he’s got a lot of ability,” a veteran NFL scout said. “He’s just always been inconsistent.”
Brian O’Neill, Minnesota Vikings: O’Neill is coming into his own, earning a Pro Bowl berth and a contract that pays more than $18 million per season. He posted a 73.4 Pro Football Focus grade and a 91.1% pass block win rate (15th among tackles) last season. “Long, tough, smart and a unique athlete,” an AFC exec said.