2012 NFL Season Predictions – Top 5 Offensive Linemen in the NFL: While quarterbacks, running backs and receivers make the headlines and the highlight reels, the big guys up front on the offensive line are the unsung heroes. After all, any running back that is a talented enough to make it to the NFL can look pretty darn good if they have huge holes to run through. Similarly, just about any quarterback can find an open receiver if they have all day to stand in the pocket and throw. A great offensive lineman can mask a lot of other problems with a football team, and while they may not get endorsements and commercials, linemen have a big impact on the game. With that in mind, here is a look at the top offensive linemen in the NFL for the upcoming 2012 season.

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2012 NFL Predictions: Top 5 Offensive Linemen

1.      Joe Thomas, Offensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns

Where do I begin with Thomas? The guy has been in the NFL five years, and he has been named to the Pro Bowl five times. He has also been named a First-Team All-Pro in each of the last three years. Thomas has been a pillar at the left tackle spot for the Browns, keeping the carousel of mediocre Cleveland quarterbacks upright. He also helped pave the way for Peyton Hillis to become a one-year wonder at running back. Thomas has been called for just six holding penalties in his five-year career, and it is a shame that the Browns haven’t been able to surround such a dominant offensive lineman with a little more talent.

2.      Nick Mangold, Center, New York Jets

At 6-4 and more than 300 pounds, Mangold has been a mountain in the middle of the Jets’ offensive line throughout his career. He has been named to four straight Pro Bowls and been an All Pro in three straight seasons. Mangold has the size and strength to dominate at the point of attack, but he also had the agility to kick out and stretch plays to the sideline. In terms of talent and durability, there is no better player at the center position in the NFL today. It is no coincidence that the Jets lost both games he failed to play in last year.

3.      Jahri Evans, Offensive Guard, New Orleans Saints

While Drew Brees gets a lot of the credit for running the high-powered New Orleans’ offense, Evans does his fair share of work up front. He has made three straight Pro Bowl and been named an All Pro three years in a row for an offense that can dominate teams both on the ground and through the air. Not to mention that while Brees was setting a single-season record for passing yards and attempting 657 passes, Evans allowed just a single sack. In fact, he has never allowed more than two sacks in a season in his NFL career. There is a reason that Evans became the highest-paid offensive guard in league history when he signed an extension in 2009.

4.      Ryan Clady, Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos

After he started every game in his rookie year and allowed just half of a sack, it was obvious that Clady was going to be a star in the NFL. He has been in the league four years and has two Pro Bowls under his belt, along with two appearances on the All Pro team. Last year, he was the anchor for an offensive line that led the NFL in rushing at nearly 165 yards per game. With Peyton Manning running the offense this year and getting the passing game involved, Clady will have a chance to showcase his all-around skill once again.

5.      Jake Long, Offensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins

Big, strong and technically sound, Long has more than justified being selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He has made the Pro Bowl all four years he has been in the NFL, and is a two-time All Pro selection. A variety of nagging injuries caused him two miss the first two games of his career last season, but again, he still managed to make the Pro Bowl. Long also helped Reggie Busch top 1,000 yards rushing for the first team in his career. Without a lot of talented offensive pieces surrounding him, Long has been the model of consistency and reliability at the left tackle spot for Miami.

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