A couple of years ago, I started analyzing the game’s top players at their respective positions and explaining what makes them that good. With the major parts of the offseason in the books I decided to go back to that format and look at another premiere player. This article is about the Ravens’ offensive guard Marshal Yanda and why I think he is the number one option at his spot and one of the best overall players in the league. Let’s get to it.
(Usually I add clips to emphasize my points for the respective players, but that’s not as easy with offensive linemen. Therefore, I recommend to just put a Ravens game on and watch number 73 go to work.)
Drive in the run game
At 305 pounds, there’s a lot of guards in the NFL who play way heavier and use that weight as an advantage to mash defenders at the point of attack. Yet the best to do it is Yanda because of the way he positions himself and then moves his opponent away from where the ball is going. Sure, it’s nice to see one of your offensive linemen drive somebody ten yards back, but those guys often let their man get away at times as well. The Ravens guard gets into the frame of his defender and doesn’t let him go, while also displaying smarts in the zone run-game, when to pass on his defender to get to the next level.
Yanda uses a rather passive pass-set as he takes a step back to give the rusher room and when he reads the move, he shuts it down. He has some kind of crazy natural strength and barely ever gets pushed back on a bull-rush. Rather than stepping into his man and landing an early punch he examines the defender’s approach. He might not own the best lateral agility, but he doesn’t get beat clean because he sees and reacts very well, which allows him to square up his target and take the power out of that guy’s rush. According to PFF, Yanda gives up less than one hurry per a hundred snaps and hasn’t given up a single sack of QB hit over the last two seasons.
Grip and strength
I already mentioned Yanda has bear-strength and can absorb most power rushers with ease, but that’s not telling the whole story. While he certainly has some of that “strong uncle”-stuff that came natural, he spends his offseasons in the weight-room constantly adding to that brute strength. That translates very well to the field, but what makes him as effective as he is, is the grip he has on defenders. There’s just a few offensive linemen in the NFL who defenders know, if those guys get their hands on them, it’s over. Yanda is near the top of that list. His control over opponents goes hand-in-hand with his technique, but he maintains that throughout plays by locking onto their shoulder pads and taking away any secondary movement.
Tenacity / Nasty demeanor
I love players who try to impose their will on the opposing team. I don’t think there’s a single defender in the league who would like to have a one-on-one with the Baltimore guard down-blocking on them. The Ravens run a lot of zone-schemes, but when they block man, Yanda will push his guy out of the hole and maybe even the next one. But he’s not satisfied with dominating just one opponent. When he knocks his man down he looks for another target to take out and he takes pride in doing so. That nasty streak gives the Ravens an edge and while that might not be measurable, I’m sure NFL coaches will tell you they love that about players. Going up against that guy for 60-70 plays and taking that kind of beating over and over again is no fun.
After lining up almost all of his career at right guard for Baltimore, Yanda was asked to fill out some other spots in the last couple of years. In 2014 the Ravens’ right tackle Ricky Wagner missed a few games due to injury and Yanda jumped right in to play at an extremely high level. Last season there was serious concern the Ravens guard could miss the second half of the season with a left shoulder injury, but instead of that he moved to the left side and still was that much better than any competition he faced. I believe No. 73 could play every single spot along the offensive line and be an All-Pro probably at each one other than maybe at left tackle.
Like I just mentioned, Yanda showed a lot of grit last season when he didn’t let a serious shoulder injury keep him on the sideline and excelled one the left side, where he never lined up all his career. This wasn’t the first time the six-time Pro Bowler had to fight through an injury. In 2011, he started a game just days after emergency surgery, while two years later he played a large part of the season with a torn rotator cuff. Yanda is willing to put his body on the line for the guys who go to war with him and that team-first mentality combined with the toughness to go through those injuries, make him a highly respected player for his teammates and throughout the league. I guess linemen out of Iowa really have a different kind of toughness.
All the characteristics mentioned above leads me to the conclusion that Marshal Yanda is the best offensive guard in the NFL today. His combination of grit, toughness, strength and tenacious attitude set him apart. No player at his position has given up less quarterback hits and sacks over the last three years, even though I would see he’s an even better run-blocker. He basically never gets out of position and dominates the competition in every single game. Pro Football Focus agrees, as they have rated Yanda the best guard in football in each of the last three years, and the players around the league do so to, as they recognized him as the premiere guy at his position this and last year, according to the NFL Top 100 list. Nobody else at his position has been named to the Pro Bowl for more consecutive years, as the Ravens guard has made the trip in each of the last six years and I don’t see that streak ending any time soon.