NFL’s top 5 guards for 2015

The old guard of guards is making the bigger money, but there is a strong core of young talent emerging at the position.

Guards are getting more respect these days than they did a decade ago when it comes to comparative salaries, but they still aren’t at the level of tackles.

While five left tackles are averaging $10 million or more per year in their contracts, the highest-paid left guard (Logan Mankins) is averaging $8.5 million. The highest-earning right tackle (Gosder Cherilus) is averaging $7 million on his contract while the best-paid right guard (Marshal Yanda) is slightly below that at $6.4 million per year.

Still, talent across the offensive line is important and several young guards could be seeing a significant pay increase in coming years after strong performances last year.

Here are our top five guards for 2015:

1. Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys
Making both the Pro Bowl and the more exclusive Associated Press All-Pro team, Martin has the respect of both peers and media, for good reason. Martin not only played all 16 games, but he helped lead the way for DeMarco Murray to lead the league in rushing and the Cowboys to finished with the No. 2 rushing offense. Meanwhile, Tony Romo stayed well-protected, and Martin did it all as a rookie.

2. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
Yanda was the other guard that made both the Pro Bowl and the first-team All-Pro team. In the last six seasons, Yanda has missed only two games, but he will turn 31 in September. However, he played a big part in Justin Forsett’s breakout, 1,266-yard season in which he averaged a healthy 5.4 yards per carry.

3. Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers
The Packers don’t often break the bank on offensive linemen, but they did it for Sitton, who is averaging $6.75 million through 2017. His $7 million cap number is second among left guards and he’s worth it, considering how valuable it is to keep franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers protected. Sitton is especially accomplished in that area, credited with allowing no sacks and only six quarterback hurries in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus.

3. Kyle Long, Chicago Bears
Like Sitton, his counterpart on the rival Packers, Long didn’t allow a sack but he was credited with 13 quarterback hurries. In only two seasons in the NFL, Long has made an impact in trying to revive what was an aging Bears offensive line when he entered the league. It still isn’t an established line, but Long stands out among the parts.

5. Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
Bitonio proved in college at the University of California that he is a well-rounded athlete, playing basketball and putting the shot, and he made a quick impression as a rookie last year. The Browns didn’t have a great offense, but Bitonio was good in both pass protection and run blocking, credited by PFF with giving up only one sack, three quarterback hits and 11 quarterback hurries. Martin got all the rookie attention among linemen, but Bitonio could see more of that as he becomes more of a name nationally at the NFL level.

Honorable mention: Mike Iupati, Jahri Evans, Evan Mathis, Kelechi Osemele, Kevin Zeitler.

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