The 10 best players in the trenches
Offensive and defensive linemen rarely get the recognition or accolades they deserve. Despite it being one of the most physically demanding positions to play, it’s not a very high profile one, and linemen typically don’t get much glory to go with all that pain. Put simply, it’s hardly the most glamorous position in football.
But there’s an old adage — that “football games are won and lost in the trenches” — and that has proven to be true again and again over the years. So this week we give credit where credit is due – to the guys in the trenches, on either side of the ball, who have performed at the highest level this season:
1. DeForest Buckner, Oregon
Buckner was a no-brainer to top this list as his play has been unmatched in nearly every major category among interior defensive linemen. The Oregon standout leads all players at his position with a +62.7 overall grade — more than 20 points higher than the No. 2-ranked player. Where he stands out most though is his ability to get after the quarterback – Buckner currently leads his position group in pass rush grade (+35.9), sacks, batted passes and total hurries. Adding to an already impressive resume, Buckner ranks fourth against the run and leads all interior linemen with 38 total stops.
2. Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Joey Bosa posted a monster game in Week 10 (+13.3), earning the highest grade among 4-3 defensive ends and further distancing himself as the top-rated player at his position this season (+59.4 overall following Week 11). Like Buckner, Bosa is near the top of the rankings in almost every area of the game. He has by far the best run grade among his peers (+26.8), and leads defensive ends with 33 total stops on the year, helping the Buckeyes rank as PFF’s third-best defense this season. As dominant as he is against the run, Bosa has been just as effective when rushing the passer, earning the second-highest rush grade (+34.7) and pass rush productivity rating (PRP) in the nation.
3. Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
Our first offensive lineman on the list, Forrest Lamp is one of the most balanced players you’ll find. PFF’s top ranked offensive tackle this year (+31.8), Lamp has been just as impressive protecting his quarterback as he has been opening up holes in the running game. His pass blocking grade of +10.8 is the third-best in the nation and he has yet to give up a sack this year. With a grade of +17.3 in the run game, Lamp is the only offensive tackle in the nation to rank in the top 10 in both pass and run blocking.
4. Joshua Garnett, Stanford
Stanford’s Joshua Garnett has been a force in the running game this year, and while he was lit up by DeForest Buckner in Week 11, you can’t argue with the way he’s been producing this season. Garnett leads all guards with a run block grade of +30.1, helping open holes for Heisman contender Christian McCaffrey. With a pass blocking grade of +2.7, he has been effective in the passing game as well, allowing only three sacks this season. The Cardinal’s best offensive lineman, Garnett also owns PFF’s highest overall grade (+35.0) for a Power-5 offensive guard through 11 weeks.
5. Charles Harris, Missouri
Charles Harris entered the year expected to replace Shane Ray, a 2015 first -round NFL draft pick. So far this season, Harris has had no problem living up to those expectations. Ranked as PFF’s 2nd best overall edge defender (+45.6), Harris has had a breakout year — ranking in the top 5 in pass rush grade (+28.4), run defense (+15.3) and total stops, with 33. Through 11 games Harris has racked up 44 total pressures, including 7 sacks, 12 QB hits and 25 hurries – placing him in the top 10 nationally for each respective category. Maybe most impressive of all has been his consistency – Harris has yet to post a negative overall grade this season and only once has he graded out poorly in either pass rush or run defense.
6. Carl Nassib, Penn State
Carl Nassib comes in next on our list, currently ranking as PFF’s 4th best overall edge defender in the country (+37.5). Nassib has posted a solid +10.1 grade vs. the run this year, but what really sets him apart is the way he’s been terrorizing quarterbacks all season long. The senior defender currently leads all defensive ends with a pass rushing productivity rating of 19.3. On 223 pass rush snaps this year, Nassib has generated 16 total sacks, which leads the country by a wide margin.
7. Matt Skura, Duke
Life in the trenches begins and ends with the center. The offensive line’s signal caller and the player that anchors it all, this list wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the best at the position – and this year that player is Duke’s Matt Skura. Through 10 weeks, Skura is PFF’s highest rated center with an overall grade of +37.1. There are few weaknesses in his game, as he’s earned the highest run block grade in the nation (+29.1) and ranks fourth in pass protection (+5.5). Skura hasn’t allowed a sack all year, and has made it through the entire season without once being called for a penalty.
8. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
Our last spot for a defensive lineman on this list came down to a handful of worthy players, however we decided to go with Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins based on the overall balance of his game. Rankins is PFF’s third-highest graded interior D-linemen through 11 weeks (+41.9) and has performed extremely well both when stopping the run and getting after the passer. In run defense, Rankins has earned an impressive +26.5 grade and ranks fifth in the nation in run-stop percentage. He has been just as productive when rushing the passer, with five sacks, nine hits on the quarterback and 31 total pressures.
9. Chase Roullier, Wyoming
Chase Roullier of Wyoming has had himself an impressive year, grading out very well in both run blocking (+26.0) and pass protection (+9.3). In both categories, Roullier ranks in the top ten among all guards. His strength seems to lie in the run game, but not by much – Roullier has an outstanding pass blocking efficiency rating of 99.3 (No. 3 nationally) and has not allowed a single sack this year. His consistency in both areas is what has earned him PFF’s No. 1 overall grade for guards this season (+37.5).
10. Joe Dahl, Washington State
Joe Dahl remains one of PFF’s highest graded offensive linemen, despite missing two games due to injury. So far this season, he has graded out positively in all but one of the games he’s played. Though reliable in the run game (+5.0), Dahl has performed especially well when in pass protection. Asked to drop back and protect his quarterback a staggering 505 times this year, Dahl has excelled, leading the nation with a pass blocking grade of +15.7.