This is the fifth in our series of position-by-position rankings. It is a little different this season because we’re ranking the players before free agency starts and before rosters are set. We will adjust accordingly as we go along. Onto to a solid group of offensive linemen:
1. Ryan Clady, Denver: Clady was a little rusty early last season due to an offseason knee injury. He is still an upper-echelon player and a cornerstone on a weak Denver team.
2. Nick Hardwick, San Diego: Cagey, tough veteran is the anchor of a strong line.
3. Kris Dielman, San Diego: Big, tough Pro Bowler who is a lot to handle for defensive tackles.
4. Marcus McNeill, San Diego: There’s a reason why the Chargers gave him a long-term deal. He solidifies this line.
5. Ryan Lilja, Kansas City: He was a great addition last year. He helped set the tone for a strong run game and is a real tough guy.
6. Brian Waters, Kansas City: He’s aging, but Waters is still near the top of his game. He’s a great leader.
7. Casey Wiegmann, Kansas City: The Chiefs hope to get one more season out of the steady Wiegmann.
8. Chris Kuper, Denver: He’s an underrated player who gives Clady a lot of help on the line.
9. Louis Vasquez, San Diego: The young guy on the Chargers’ offensive line has been a good fit.
10. Branden Albert, Kansas City: He’s a good, not great, player who needs to improve in 2011.
11. Jeromey Clary, San Diego: Everyone wants the Chargers to replace him, but he’s a gamer.
12. Jared Veldheer, Oakland: Veldheer has a chance to zoom up this list soon. I look forward to seeing him at left tackle for a full season.
13. J.D. Walton, Denver: He got great experience as Denver’s center last season and has potential.
14. Cooper Carlisle, Oakland: Oakland could replace him. But he always gives an honest effort.
15. Barry Richardson, Kansas City: Like Clary, everyone wants to replace him. But Richardson looks like he has another season in him with the Chiefs.
16. Zane Beadles, Denver: Like Walton, Beadles got a lot of great experience as a rookie last season. He’s not great, but he should get better.
Footnote: Veteran Ryan Harris (Denver) and Robert Gallery (Oakland) are expected to leave through free agency and that’s why they are not listed. We are not averse to listing rookies, but we are keeping promising rookies Stefen Wisniewski (Oakland), Orlando Franklin (Denver) and Rodney Hudson (Kansas City) and second-year player Bruce Campbell (Oakland) off this list. I simply want to see each of these guys play before ranking them.