(Alex Mack photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)
(Joe Thomas photo on the cover courtesy of the Cleveland Browns)
Talk of Fame Network
The Dallas Cowboys have three first-round draft picks on their offensive line: tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick.
Collectively, the Cowboys have what is widely regarded as the best blocking front in the NFL. But how about individually? Do the Cowboys have the best single blocker in the NFL? That’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll – who is the best blocker in the NFL. All three Cowboys are on the ballot, as are three other centers, a guard and a tackle.
So it’s your call. Who’s the NFL’s best blocker? Here are your candidates:
David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh. DeCastro was a two-time All-Pac 12 selection at Stanford when he opted to skip his senior season to turn pro. The Steelers claimed him with the 24th overall pick in 2012, but a preseason knee injury kept him off the field until the 14th game of that season. He started for the Steelers in both 2013 and 2014 and was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2015. He also was selected first-team All-Pro that season.
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas. The Cowboys didn’t like where they were sitting at 18 in the first round of the 2013 draft, so they traded back to 31 and claimed Frederick. He became a walk-in starter as a rookie and a Pro Bowler by his second season. That was the first year Frederick, Martin and Smith all played together, and the result was an NFL rushing crown by DeMarco Murray with a franchise record 1,845 yards. Frederick has gone to the Pro Bowl each of the last two years. The Cowboys gave him a six-year, $56 million contract extension this season.
(Travis Frederick photo courtesy of James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)
Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina. The only player on this ballot who was not drafted in the first round. The Panthers selected Kalil in the second round in 2007 with the 59th overall pick. He didn’t become a starter until his second season in 2008 but has since gone to five Pro Bowls and was selected as first-team All-Pro in both 2013 and 2015. The Panthers ranked in the Top 10 in rushing in six of Kalil’s nine seasons and have won the last three NFC South titles and the 2015 NFC crown.
Alex Mack, C, Atlanta. The Browns don’t know much about winning these days, but they seem to know offensive linemen, drafting both Joe Thomas and Alex Mack with first-round picks. Cleveland drafted Thomas in 2007 and Mack in 2009 with the 21st overall selection. He became a walk-in starter as a rookie and a Pro Bowler by his second season. Despite his team’s struggles on the field, Mack was voted to three Pro Bowls with the Browns. He left Cleveland in free agency for Atlanta this season, signing a five-year, $45-million contract with the Falcons. Atlanta now sits atop the NFC South and leads the NFL in offense.
Zack Martin, G, Dallas. Martin became the object of a draft-night tug-of-war in the Cowboys war room. Owner Jerry Jones wanted Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, but the football people in the building wanted the versatile Martin, who could play guard or tackle at Notre Dame. The football folks won out, and Martin became the third offensive linemen selected by the Cowboys in the first round in four years. Like Smith and Frederick before him, Martin became a walk-in starter as a rookie. Unlike Smith and Frederick before him, Martin was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He’s been to the Pro Bowl each of his first two seasons and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2015.
(Zack Martin photo courtesy of James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)
Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh. The Steelers selected Pouncey with the 18th overall selection of the 2010 draft – the highest a center had been drafted by an NFL team since 1999. He became a walk-in starter as a rookie and a Pro Bowler. Pouncey suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening day of 2013 but returned in 2014 for another Pro Bowl appearance, the fourth of his career. The Steelers rewarded him that season with a five-year, $44-million contract extension.
(Maurkice Pouncey photo courtesy of Karl Roser/Pittsburgh Steelers)
Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas. So highly did the Cowboys regard Smith that in 2011 they made him their first offensive-line selection in the first round in 30 years. He became a walk-in starter as a rookie and has been a Pro Bowler each of the last three seasons. He also was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2014 when his blocking helped DeMarco Murray win an NFL rushing title. The Cowboys gave him an eight-year, $109-million contract extension in 2014.
(Tyron Smith photo courtesy of James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)
Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland. The Browns have been a disaster since their return to the NFL in 1999 with 14 last-place finishes in the AFC South and only one playoff berth. But the one thing Cleveland got right was the selection of Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas with the third overall pick of the 2007 NFL draft. He went to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season – and every Pro Bowl since then, nine in all. He also has been a six-time All-Pro left tackle, the toughest position to play on the offensive line.