Saturday's print edition included an article on Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who will attempt to ward off outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and the rest of the Ravens when they visit Cleveland Browns Stadium this Sunday.
Thomas is generally regarded as one of the best left tackles in the NFL, and Matt Williamson, a NFL scout for ESPN.com and Scouts Inc., didn't disagree with that sentiment.
Williamson, who ranked the top 50 players in the league at the midpoint of the 2012 season in a list that is scheduled to be published next week, put Thomas at No. 40. The only other offensive tackle ahead of Thomas is the Houston Texans' Duane Brown at No. 31.
Williamson, whom you can follow on Twitter at @WilliamsonNFL, discussed his reasoning for ranking Thomas at No. 40 and his perspective on Thomas' strengths.
Why did you rank Thomas at No. 40?
"Since he's come into the league, there's a ton to like about the guy. First of all, if you look at the offensive tackles right now and offensive linemen in general, I think it's very weak. For example, I was with the Browns nine years ago [as a scout] and my job was to be in charge of the NFC West, watch every game tape and have a grade on those guys. And [the Seattle Seahawks'] Walter Jones and [the St. Louis Rams'] Orlando Pace were remarkable, and there aren't any linemen of that caliber or [the Jacksonville Jaguars' Tony] Boselli's or [the Ravens' Jonathan] Ogden's in the league right now. But if you look at the past five years or so, Thomas has been the best left tackle, and he's great. He's just not that great. He's not a masher in the run game. But he's extremely consistent, which is huge because you know what you're getting from him every week. He can handle more or less any pass rusher in the league alone every week. He's been a part of a bad offensive line and has had to give other people help. The Browns have always been weak at right tackle during Thomas' days. So he's always alone against Suggs, [Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker] James Harrison or whoever, and he's an elite pass protector. That's the beauty of him. In a left tackle, that's obviously more important than run blocking. He's probably No. 1 – since he's joined the league – as an offensive tackle in protection. He's not a masher in the run game, but he's not a liability either."
How significant is it for the Browns that they can leave Thomas alone on the left side and not devote another player to help block?
"It's huge. Generally, that blind-side pass rusher is going to be – more often than not – the defense's top guy. So it's almost like a [New York Jets cornerback Darrelle] Revis situation where Revis can take away [Houston Texans wide receiver] Andre Johnson and then the Jets can play 10-on-10 with the rest of the team. It's sort of the same deal where if he can take away James Harrison and you still have four more protectors staying in on every snap and they're bringing a standard four-man rush, you've got four on three now, and that's obviously favorable. And their three are not as good as the one that you took away. So if the right tackle is weak – which is usually the case – you can put the tight end on the right tackle's side or the running back protects to the right, and the right tackle is either getting chip help or a pure double team on a guy like [Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr] Woodley, who would obviously be a mismatch for the right tackle if left alone."
What is Thomas' greatest strength?
"Certainly the consistency and the reliability. But if you go deeper, every week, he's tall [at 6 feet, 6 inches]. His size never goes away. He's got long arms, he's very fundamentally sound, his slides all look the same. It's not like he's all over the place and winging it. He's always in the right position, he's always under control, his footwork is very steady, and he's very light on his feet. He's more athlete than he is mauler."
How can a pass rusher negate Thomas' reach?
"It's awful tough. Long arms are great, but if you're slow to get them on the opponent, then they won't be any good. A guy like James Harrison is 5-11, and obviously, he has a massive height disadvantage with Thomas and arm-length disadvantage. But he gets into you so quickly that he uses that against you. If your hands are slow to get up, he's into your pads before you ever get that punch on him. So you have to be quick with your hands, and your hand placement has to be proper, and [Thomas] is very good with all of those things."