Looking at NFC South's top guards

Jonathan Bales has his list of the 20 best guards in the NFL in 2011. It’s based on mathematics that involve run blocking and pass pressures allowed.

As you might expect, two NFC South guards rank high on the list. But there’s a third division player on the list who might surprise you.

First, let’s start with what’s not a surprise. New Orleans’ Carl Nicks is No. 2 on the list. He’s behind only Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda. Bales cites Nicks’ pressure rate of 0.68 percent as a big reason he’s ranked near the top. If I were Nicks and his agent, I’d print out these ratings and show them to the Saints as they get ready for contract negotiations. Nicks is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.

It’s also not surprising that Nicks’ teammate Jahri Evans is on the list. What is mildly surprising is that Evans is No. 11. In most conversations on the topic, Nicks and Evans are in the top five. In fact, there’s often debate about which New Orleans guard is better. But Bales says Evans’ ranking was low because he allowed 26 pressures on quarterback Drew Brees and that dropped his value even though he’s one of the league’s top run-blockers.

Now, here’s the big surprise. Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Zuttah is on the list at No. 13. There weren’t many bright spots for the Bucs in 2011, but Zuttah’s play was one. Like Nicks, Zuttah also is a potential free agent. The Bucs are well aware that Zuttah played well last season and they want to keep him. They’re also aware that he’s versatile and also can play center. His value to the Bucs is only helped by the fact that he played in college at Rutgers under new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.

There also are two NFC South guards with reasonably big names that didn’t make the list and Bales addresses both of them. Tampa Bay’s Davin Joseph went to the Pro Bowl and allowed only two sacks while doing a good job as a run-blocker, but Bales points to his 21 pressures allowed as the reason he’s not on the list.

Atlanta’s Justin Blalock also was left off the list. Bales points to the fact that the Falcons averaged just 3.5 yards per carry when running behind Blalock as the reason he didn’t make the top 20.