Team of the Decade: Guard
With the NFL Draft over and the 2019 season fading into the past it is time to take stock of the last decade of NFL action with The Touchdown’s Team of the Decade. This team will be based on a statistical analysis of the past 10 years, looking back at how each player performed overall and on a per game basis. In order to make this a true representative of the decade, only players who have played in 40 regular-season games (a quarter of the decade) will be included, with that being 40 games started for the quarterback position.
In this article we will be looking at the guard position, which is a position that does not get the same levels of respect as other positions along the offensive line. However, the guards are crucial for setting up the middle of the line and preventing interior pressure, while also opening up holes in the run game. We will be looking to select four guards for our Team of the Decade, so let’s get down to business.
Much like at the tackle position selecting which names to focus on with this article was extremely difficult. The guard position as a whole has been reasonably top-heavy in the past decade, with 10-15 names really standing out over the pack. Here are the names that did not quite make the main selection.
Mankins came into the decade considered as one of the best at the position. He continued to be a very good player into this decade. However, he tailed off in the back end of his career and his five Pro Bowl nominations in the decade were largely reputation based.
Osemele was a tough name to leave out given he has a First-Team All-Pro selection this season and has been around the top-10 guards in the league for close to half of his seasons in the league. However, he just misses out of the final selection.
Nelson misses out because he does not qualify with the 40 games, but he deserves mentioning because he has been a First-Team All-Pro in both of his first two seasons in the NFL.
Ali Marpet | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Marpet may well be one of the most underrated guards of the entire decade. The 26-year old has been in the league for five years and has been considered a top-10 guard in half of those. He has yet to receive recognition on a wider scale, thanks in part to being a part of a generally maligned offensive line, that has been attempting to protect a quarterback who holds the ball too long.
He has also moved around the line somewhat in his career, starting at right guard, moving to centre before settling at left guard. Now hopefully settled and protecting a quarterback with experience calling the shots and getting the ball out quickly will see Marpet get the respect he deserves.
Brandon Brooks | Houston Texans/Philadelphia Eagles
The level of respect for Brandon Brooks around the league was clear from the reaction to his injury this week. Brooks was good to start his career in the four years with the Texans, but has gone to the next level with the Eagles. In those four seasons he has been widely considered as a top-10 guard in each year.
Over his eight year career he has actually been somewhat over looked, having only been to the Pro Bowl three times and never having been selected as a First-Team All-Pro. However, he has not only been a good performer, but generally also someone who is on the field as much as he can be, having missed just six regular-season games since becoming the starter.
Carl Nicks | New Orleans Saints/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nicks started the decade with an absolute bang, putting together two of the best seasons at the position that I personally have ever seen. Unfortunately, injury prevented him from ever being able to kick on and take the next level. Officially, Nicks played four years in this decade but realistically only two were at the peak of his powers.
At 41 games he barely qualifies, but those first two season were so good he has to be mentioned. In both of those years he went to the Pro Bowl and was considered a top-five player at the position. He only received one First-Team All-Pro selection in those two years, but was arguably unlucky not to be named both years. Unfortunately, just two peak seasons is not enough to select a player for the Team of the Decade.
David DeCastro | Pittsburgh Steelers
In his eight year career, DeCastro has five Pro Bowl appearances and two First-Team All-Pro selections. When you watch him in comparison to some of the other names on this list he does not “wow” you as much, but his talent is undeniable.
He had a superb three year peak in the middle of his career this decade but has shown some worrying signs of tailing off the last two years, following a slow start. As good as those three years are, they struggle to stack up against some of the more consistent options at the position.
Evan Mathis | Philadelphia Eagles
Mathis’s seven years in this decade saw him play for four different teams. At the start of the decade there was no one better in the entire league than Mathis. He was considered not just in the top-10 those first three or four seasons, but the number one overall.
However, he was somewhat undervalued with just one First-Team All-Pro selection and two Pro Bowl selections. Going through various top-10 articles I found him mentioned as a top-10 player in numerous articles in six different years, demonstrating just how good he was throughout his time on the field this decade.
Jahri Evans | New Orleans Saints
Evans received plenty of acclaim for his performances early in the decade, getting three-straight First-Team All-Pro selections to open the decade. However, his career tailed off somewhat through the rest of the decade as he never reached those same heights again.
The way he opened the decade was extremely impressive and a continuation of a good finish to the previous decade. However, the way he fell off through the second part of the decade makes it a tough call as to his inclusion in our team.
Josh Sitton | Green Bay Packers
Sitton was a name I did not expect to see so regularly in top-10 articles and it made me go back and watch him more. Four Pro Bowl selections are worth noting but not a single First-Team All-Pro selection had me questioning his place. However, the tape backs up the top-10 selections and Sitton deserves a mention here as well as consideration for the Team of the Decade.
Kevin Zeitler | Cincinnati Bengals
From a personal perspective Zeitler is one of my favourite guards to watch play. He has received zero respect this decade, with no Pro Bowl or First-Team All-Pro selections. However, he is a player I personally have among my top-10 for the decade, and while he will not make the Team of the Decade it would be wrong to leave him out.
Mike Iupati | San Francisco 49ers/Arizona Cardinals
A career NFC West player, Iupati has been a really solid contributor to the 49ers, Cardinals and then the Seahawks in 2019. Four Pro Bowl and one First-Team All-Pro selections have seen him receive the recognition his play deserves.
His peak was with the 49ers at the beginning of the decade, with things tailing off recently. The lack of top end play in the last five years makes it hard to put him in the top five of the decade but he is certainly one of the top-10 simply because of his peak.
Marshal Yanda | Baltimore Ravens
When you think of the guard position, Yanda is perhaps the first name that comes to mind. His recent retirement had people actively discussing how the Ravens would fare without him. As an interior offensive lineman it is not often that your loss is actively discussed as detrimental to your team and it is a huge feather in Yanda’s cap.
If you go back through the last 10 years it would be a shock to not find Yanda mentioned as a top-10 player in each of those seasons. On top of that he ranks second in games started for the position in the decade with 140, demonstrating how reliable he has been.
Shaq Mason | New England Patriots
Over the past five years Mason has been a joy to watch play the position. He has yet to receive wide recognition, with zero Pro Bowl or All-Pro selections. However, in his five years in the league he has been a top-10 player in three of those.
After struggling in his rookie season, he player superbly for the middle three years of his career, before dropping off slightly last year. He is now one of the foundation pieces of the Patriots offensive line and should be a key cog in their progress moving forward.
Zack Martin | Dallas Cowboys
We finish up with one of the names in the discussion for the best of the decade in Martin. In six seasons, Martin has been to the Pro Bowl six times and selected as a First-Team All-Pro a fantastic four times. He has been a key part of a dominant offensive line in Dallas.
His performances on the field actually get lost a little sometimes because he is surrounded by talent on the line. However, when you really zero in on Martin it is hard to not be impressed. In his six seasons you would be hard pressed to find a year when he was not a top-10 player at the position. In fact, you could go further and question whether he has ever been outside of the top five.
Guard Selections for The Touchdown’s Team of the Decade:
Starter: Marshal Yanda & Zack Martin
Backups: Brandon Brooks & Evan Mathis
This position has really been top heavy over the past decade and these four names have stood out. Yanda and Martin are far an away the most consistent and therefore, are easy selections as starters. After them Brooks and Mathis are easy selections in the backup spots.
Image credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports & Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports