Our Best in the NFC North series zeroes in on those big uglies doing the dirty work in the trenches. That enough cliches for ya? Let’s begin…
1. Josh Sitton – Packers
We have to give it up to the Packers on this one. Their offensive line is not only the best in the division by far, if you ask people like Evan Silva, it’s the best line in football period. The strength of that line is the right side. You can debate back and forth which guy on the right deserves the #1 spot but I’ll give it to Sitton. He was building to a Pro Bowl level in 2010, and still had a strong year in 2011 despite injuries. Before the injuries slowed him down he turned in the best single game performance of any right guard in the NFL (according to Pro Football Focus).
2. Bryan Bulaga – Packers
If there were an award for the guy whose looks and name most scream “Green Bay Packers,” Bulaga would have to win it. But he’s more than just an ugly face and a last name that’s fun to say in a John Madden voice, he’s also a heck of a right tackle. The right side of the Packers line is basically a mauling machine. Just ask Brian Robison, Remi Ayodele and Chad Greenway who were pretty much flattened at the Dome last year during that game clinching drive where they just handed off to James Starks over and over.
3. Jeff Saturday – Packers
Scott Wells would’ve fit neatly into this spot but he left Green Bay. Enter Jeff Saturday who, after years of snapping to Peyton Manning, will now have Aaron Rodgers’ hands in his butt every Sunday. And who wouldn’t love having Aaron Rodgers’ hands in their butt every Sunday? Saturday may be getting up there age-wise but he’s still one of the top centers in the league and, as icing on the cake, he’s one of the most respected men in the league.
4. John Sullivan – Vikings
It was around the mid-point of last season that the wonks started telling us how great John Sullivan is. Now, full disclosure. Much of the wonk argument for Sullivan was built around the Vikings’ up-the-middle running statistics, and those numbers may have been inflated somewhat by who was toting the rock in many of those games. Adrian Peterson? Yeah he’s pretty good. And the great thing about Adrian is, he doesn’t need much of a hole. He picks his way through traffic better than almost any back you’ve ever seen. So, how much credit does Sullivan really deserve for those stats? I’m just throwing that out there.
All that said, I will defer to the wonks and place Sullivan in the top 5. It’s not like there are a ton of other guys to choose from in this division. Basically, the entire Bears and Lions offensive lines are disqualified for sucking. Okay the Lions line is supposedly good at pass blocking, but who on that line am I supposed to honor with a spot on this list? Jeff Backus aka the guy Jared Allen makes his b-word every time they play? Rob Sims? Gosder “Cheap Shot” Cherilus? And don’t even bring up the Bears. They’re so bad, Mike Tice doesn’t even know who he’s going to play from one week to the next. Offensive lines aren’t supposed to be re-worked on a game-to-game basis like a Lou Piniella line-up.
5. Holding This Space Open For Matt Kalil
It would be silly to anoint a rookie one of the top 5 in the division so I won’t. Instead I’ll hold this space open for Matt who I fully expect to be on this list, and maybe even sitting atop it, come next offseason.
Other guys to watch: T.J. Lang – Packers (Brian Robison likes going low on him); Marshall Newhouse – Packers; Phil Loadholt – Vikings (This could be the year for Loadholt. No I mean that seriously.); Riley Reiff – Lions (if he beats out Gosder Cherilus in camp which he may very well do)