Building the Perfect NFL Interior Offensive Lineman

Photo: USA TODAY Sports - Matthew Emmons

With another NFL draft cycle in the books, it is time for evaluators like myself to recalibrate. One of the best exercises to do each offseason is to study the best players at each position in order to see what the standard is for each trait. If you only watch college players on film, you will never know what to look for, so it is essential to watch the best of the best execute. For each trait, I have picked an NFL player that I believe exemplifies what I look for in that specific skill. With that being said, here is what I believe to be the perfect NFL interior offensive lineman – trait by trait.

Functional Athleticism – Jason Kelce

Running a 4.89 forty-yard dash at the NFL Combine, Jason Kelce is one of the best pure athletes playing along the offensive line. But from a football perspective, you see it show up on tape over and over again, especially when he is asked to reach three techniques. His combination of balance, foot quickness, and lower-body flexibility makes him the best move blocker in today’s game. Any time Kelce is in space, the play usually turns out pretty well, whether it’s out on a screen or it’s him walling off defenders at the second level. In my eyes, he could fit any of these traits as “the standard,” but there is not an interior offensive lineman who uses their athleticism as effectively or consistently on the field as Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce.  

Pass Protection – Marshal Yanda

Marshal Yanda has been one of the league’s elite interior offensive linemen for a decade, and a lot of that is due to his consistency in pass protection. I mean, according to Pro Football Focus, he has not allowed a sack since 2015. That is nearly 1,800 snaps without being beaten for a sack. Not to mention, Yanda is also one of the best interior offensive linemen I have ever seen in terms of “looking for work.” You want to talk about racking some ribs? Look no further than this nasty dude. I wish I could use a player twice for this piece because Yanda’s competitive toughness is simply off the charts. But because I can only pick one, I truly believe Yanda, in his prime, is the standard for pass protection among interior offensive linemen.

Run Game Effectiveness – Zack Martin

Zack Martin has played in both zone and power schemes for the Dallas Cowboys, yet the title remains the same: The best run blocker in football. Not only is he one of the most physically-imposing players at the point of attack in the NFL, but he is one of the most effective move blockers as well. He can play in a phone booth and drive his man off the ball, and he can also lead a screen play 20 yards down the field. There is a reason why Zack Martin has been an All-Pro guard every year of his career, and a lot of it is evidenced in how he dominates defenders in the run game.

Competitive Toughness – Quenton Nelson

If I’m building the perfect interior offensive lineman, I want the angriest, nastiest dude imaginable. Well, Quenton Nelson is that guy on the football field. For goodness sake, he literally screams when he blocks. In fact, he destroyed safety Barry Church so bad he got fined for it. If that doesn’t exemplify competitive toughness, I’m not sure what will. He finishes every block to the ground and takes pride in it. That same viciousness is what I saw from him coming out Notre Dame, and to this day, he is hands-down the best college prospect I have ever scouted. I have no doubt Nelson is on a Hall of Fame path.

Football IQ/Technical Prowess – Travis Frederick

Unfortunately, Travis Frederick missed all of last season because of Guillian-Barre syndrome, but he is expected to be fully ready for 2019. That is great news for the Dallas Cowboys, primarily because the All-Pro center is one of the smartest, most effective offensive linemen in the league. No matter how many different stunts or blitzes are thrown his way, Frederick makes sure the rest of the front is mentally equipped before each snap. Frederick is the glue of the Cowboys offensive line, and if I could put his brain and snap-to-snap hand technique in a more physically-gifted player, I’d probably have the perfect interior offensive lineman right there.

Written By:

Jonah Tuls

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. As heard on ESPN radio, Sirius XM, and the Sports Illustrated podcast. Texas Tech University journalism graduate.