Offensive linemen take the most punishment in the NFL—however, they’re built to take it. They also have to work together as a cohesive unit; no other position group is as reliant on chemistry and continuity. Plus, they don’t have to run very far. As a result, offensive linemen typically start a ridiculous percentage of snaps. They don’t flex, they don’t rotate, they don’t get spelled, they don’t have multiple sets. SO, there are very few of them for me to break down:
The top-graded guard is New Orleans’ Carl Nicks, thanks to his strong pass-block grade and Herculean, almost-twice-as-good-as-the-next-guy run-block grade. Bringing up the rear is St. Louis’ Adam Goldberg, who was second-to-worst in both pass blocking AND run blocking.
The Lions’ top guard (of the only two with the requisite number of snaps) is Rob Sims. Overall, he graded out as an excellent pass blocker (ranked 16th-best of 82), and a subpar-but-not awful run blocker (68th of 82). His screen block grades were unremarkable (most are), but his penalty mark was nicely above average (only 2 penalties called all year).
Statistically, Sims allowed 3 sacks and 4 hits, slightly off the the league average of 2 and 3. But, his average-snaps-per-sack-or-pressure rate was 162.6, actually better than the 145.4 league average. Same story for pressures: Sims allowed a pressure every 63 snaps, and the average is 62.
A quick reminder: PFF tracks sacks, hits, and pressures separately, a sack does not count as both a hit and a pressure. So, from these numbers, Rob Sims consistently makes good plays in pass protection, earning a quality pass-block, and overall, PFF grade. He allows sacks, hits, and pressures at a slightly better-than-average rate. His run-blocking left a lot to be desired, but he played exceptionally clean. On the whole, we see Sims just about as advertised: a solid NFL left guard, and the best player to slot between Backus and Raiola . . . probably ever.
There's an interesting bit, though: Sims’ grades took a huge midseason swoon. 5 of his 6 negatively-graded games came consecutively: in weeks 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Besides Week 3, Sims was weakly or strongly positive in every other contest. I can’t find any evidence of an injury . . . the only midseason event that happened to Sims was the signing of his four-year extension, which happened during Week 5.
Bottom Line: Sims is an above-average starter just entering his prime. If it weren’t for an odd midseason slump, Sims would have graded out amongst the best in the NFL. He’s locked up until 2014, and should provide stability at the spot for the first time in a very, very long time.
It's no secret that Stephen Peterman struggled with injuries all season long, and his grades reflect it. The seventh-most penalized guard out of 82 with qualifying reps, Peterman was subpar at pass blocking—and simply awful against the run (6th-worst). Considering Peterman is a 6’-4”, 323-pound beast who was PFF’s 13th-best-graded guard in 2009, this only makes sense in the context of playing hurt.
Peterman visibly couldn’t anchor against the run, and he was absolutely abused. He only turned in three strongly positive grades all year, and only two positive run block grades. Against the Vikings, Giants, Jets, Bills, Cowboys, and Bears Peterman was deeply in the red: –7.0, –3.7, –2.7, –2.7, –6.3, and –2.8. By comparison, Sims’ two worst grades were –5.6 and –3.7 in weeks 9 and 10, and the rest of his negatives didn’t dip lower than Peterman’s did.
Peterman's stats are slightly rosier: allowing 4 sacks and 5 hits puts him just a little below average. His 123.0 snaps-per-sack-or-pressure average ranked him 55th out of 82. Same story with pressures; on the average, Peterman went 48 snaps between allowing pressures, a little worse than the league mean of 62. That, combined with his 13 called penalties against (1 declined/reversed), completes the picture: Stephen Peterman was completely overwhelmed at the point of attack, but fought and scrapped and . . . well, cheated as often as possible to protect his quarterback.
Bottom Line: Peterman turned in incredibly consistent, strongly positive grades in 2009, and was clearly hampered by a laundry list of dings this season. We can reasonably expect a major bounceback in 2011—and, like Sims, he is under contract through 2014.
Dylan Gandy is just a guy, but he’s just a guy who keeps managing to stay on the roster. The 6’-3,” 295-pounder can play either guard or center, and it’s that versatility that’s kept him around. He’s 29, though, isn’t being groomed to replace Raiola, and is actually older than the two young veteran starting guards the Lions have locked up.
Bottom Line: I see “starting Center of the future” as a major need for the Lions, and Gandy doesn’t seem to be it. He may have a hard time hanging on as a backup if the Lions do draft a C or C/G swing player in the middle rounds of this draft.
SHOPPING LIST: The Lions are set for starting guards for 2011, and the forseeable future. Gandy is a decent, versatile backup, but his spot could (and likely should) be taken by a developing center.