Run blocking matters. Rushing production is far more dependent on the play of the men in the trenches than the man with the ball in his hands; it’s the run blockers, not the runners that deserve a stark majority of praise on successful runs.
In an effort to heap praise on some of the NFL’s top run blockers, the list below highlights the top offensive lineman at each position (center, guard & tackle) in success percentage.
All players on any given play are awarded a grade on a scale of -2 to +2. Run-block success percentage calculates the percentage of snaps where a player earns a grade above 0 as a run blocker (Positively graded run-block snaps / all run-block snaps). Players with high run-block success percentages and low run-block loss percentages earn high 0-100 grades in our grading system.
C ALEX MACK, ATLANTA FALCONS – 15.90%
Mack has flown under the radar as one of the NFL’s top run-blocking centers for the last three years. He earned absurd 20.3% and 19.7% run-block success percentages in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and the two single-season marks rank second and fourth among all qualifying offensive linemen in the last three years. And while his run-block success percentage did drop a bit in 2018, he still finished the year as the NFL’s best in the metric among qualifying centers at 15.90%.
The Atlanta Falcons offensive line has undergone a dramatic overhaul this offseason. Three new starters will be playing in 2019, as well as a few new backups. Despite all the changes, the unit will still be anchored by veteran center Alex Mack, who remains one of the most underrated and important pieces for Atlanta’s offense.
Even though he’s now 33 years old, Mack is still playing at a relatively high level. According to our observation, Mack was the best run-blocking center in the league last year, edging out Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles and Ryan Kelly of the Indianapolis Colts.
“And while his run-block success percentage did drop a bit in 2018, he still finished the year as the NFL’s best in the metric among qualifying centers at 15.90%.”
Mack signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Falcons prior to the 2016 season. He’s under contract for another two years.
As valuable as Mack is, it might make sense for Atlanta to move on from him after the end of next season, though. According to over the Cap, cutting Mack after June 1 would save the team $8 million in cap room for 2020. First-round pick Chris Lindstrom could replace him at the center in that scenario.
Havenstein is locked up through 2023 on a reasonable contract, especially after seeing Trent Brown get $16.5 million per year from the Raiders and Ja’Wuan James earn $12.75 million annually in Denver. His salary of $8.125 million now ranks fifth among all right tackles and considering the increasing value of that position, it’s fair to compare their contracts to those of left tackles, too. Among all tackles, Havenstein ranks 20th in annual salary, which shows just how big of a bargain his contract is.
Runners-up: Jason Kelce (14.82%) & Ryan Kelly (13.64%)
G SHAQ MASON, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – 14.96%
Finishing the year as a top-ranked guard in overall grade (85.0) and run-blocking grade (80.6), Mason has firmly entered the conversation for the top guard in the NFL. The former Georgia Tech standout has now played north of 1,200 offensive snaps in three consecutive seasons and earned 80.0-plus overall and run-blocking grades in every single one of them.
In 2018, Mason led all guards in run-block success percentage (14.96%) and has now earned run-block success percentages above 14% in each of the past three seasons. He, not Sony Michel, is the man driving the Patriots’ successful rushing attack.
Shaq Mason is one of the New England Patriots’ most anonymous stalwarts. The fourth-year pro has played in 60 of 64 possible regular-season games since he was drafted and started all 30 games in which he’s appeared since the kickoff of the 2017 season. Interior offensive linemen are always easily overlooked, but it’s obvious given Mason’s availability and consistency that he’s been a key cog for New England dating back to his sophomore season.
And as this eye-popping Pro Football Focus stat suggests, there’s an argument to be made that he’s the Patriots’ best player, too.
Patriots G Shaq Mason was the NFL’s highest-graded right guard in 2018.
Mason was rated as the best right guard in football last season by a significant margin. His top-ranked grade of 85.0 is 6.4 points better than that of the second-ranked right guard in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys’ Zack Martin. More telling, the discrepancy between Martin and the league’s fifth-rated guard is also 6.4 points, indicative of how much taller Mason stood above other elite players at his position in 2018.
His performance surely came as no surprise to New England, which made Mason one of the highest-paid guards in the NFL last August by signing him to a five-year, $50 million contract extension.
Mason’s overall grade last season ranked fifth among all offensive linemen. The Georgia Tech product was especially effective in the run game, ranking first among guards in run-blocking blocking grade. He was no slouch in pass protection, either, rating top-15 as a pass-blocker at his position and allowing just one sack.
New England’s sustained excellence and team-first culture can make it hard for some standout players not named Tom Brady to receive proper credit for their play. Mason, clearly, is one of them.
Runners-up: Quenton Nelson (14.51%) & Connor McGovern (13.81%)
T ROB HAVENSTEIN, LOS ANGELES RAMS – 12.73%
The highest-graded offensive tackles in run-blocking grade both played for the Rams last season. Havenstein finished first with his position-high 12.73% run-block success percentage, but veteran Andrew Whitworth finished the year as a close second with his 78.4 run-blocking grade and a very low percentage of negatively graded run blocks at 7.68%.
Los Angeles was smart to lock up Havenstein with a four-year, $32.5 million contract extension prior to his 2018 campaign. His $8.125 million average annual salaries now rank outside the top-20 highest-paid offensive tackles in the NFL – an absolute steal given his success in the run game.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Los Angeles Rams gave Rob Havenstein a four-year, $32.5 million extensions last August just before the start of the season. He was entering the final year of his rookie deal, but he didn’t look like the third-best right tackle in the NFL, which is exactly what his new contract paid him to be.
After seeing him dominate in 2018, the $32.5 million deal now looks like a bargain. He was outstanding at right tackle last season, particularly in the running game where he was frequently a lead blocker for Todd Gurley. In fact, there wasn’t a better run-blocking tackle in the league last year than Havenstein. Havenstein had a run-blocking success rate of 12.7 percent in 2018, which was the best of any offensive tackle – left or right.
Runners-up: Taylor Lewan (12.57%) & Mike McGlinchey (11.96%)