1. Mike Iupati
The 49ers drafted Mike Iupati 17th overall in 2010 and many saw him as one of the top guard prospects of the decade. He hasn’t quite lived up those expectations, but he’s still been a very good guard, grading out in the top-14 at his position on Pro Football Focus in 4 of the 5 seasons he’s been in the league, with the exception coming in an injury plagued 2013, when he still graded out above average. Despite that injury plagued 2013 season, he’s missed just 4 games in 5 seasons, all coming in 2013. One concern is that, while he’s annually one of the top run blocking guards in the NFL, he has graded out below average as a pass protector in 3 of 5 seasons so, as talented as he is, he’s not that well-rounded and he does have a glaring weakness. Still, he should top the 5-year, 30 million dollar deal Zane Beadles got last off-season and deservedly so.
2. Orlando Franklin
Orlando Franklin has started 63 games since the Broncos drafted him in the 2nd round in 2011, 47 at right tackle from 2011-2013 and 16 at left guard last season. His versatility will serve him well on the open market, as will his abilities, as he’s graded out above average in each of the last 3 seasons, 12th among offensive tackles in 2012, 17th among offensive tackles in 2013, and 13th among guards in 2014. He should make upwards of 6+ million dollars on his next deal. Zane Beadles, another former Bronco offensive lineman, got 5-year, 30 million from the Jaguars last off-season. I think Franklin is a better player and that deal will be a floor for what he’ll get this off-season.
3. Clint Boling
Boling, a 2011 4th round pick, barely played as a rookie (175 snaps), but he’s been a starter over the past 3 seasons, making 44 of 48 starts (2 of which were at right tackle) and grading out above average in all 3 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked guard in 2012, 18th ranked in 2013, and 19th ranked in 2014. He’s quietly one of the better guards in the NFL and will command a decent amount on money on the open market. He’s expressed interest in returning to Cincinnati and they’d love to have him back.
4. Rob Sims
Rob Sims is an ironman who has made all 80 starts over the past 5 seasons since arriving in Detroit, but he’s going into his age 32 season and graded out below average last season for the first time since 2008, back when he was a reserve with the Seahawks. He still played pretty well last year, grading out slightly below average, but he’s been Pro Football Focus’ 37th and 40th ranked guard in 2013 and 2014 respectively, so the days of him grading out in the top-13 at his position, like he did in 2011 and 2012, and being one of the better guards in the NFL are gone. Still, he’s a starting caliber guard who won’t break the bank, so he’ll draw plenty of interest. I don’t expect him to get much guaranteed money past 2015 though.
5. Justin Blalock
Blalock was cut by the Falcons to save 3.8 million earlier this off-season, but that’s doesn’t mean he can’t still be a starter somewhere. He was just a poor fit for the Falcons’ new zone blocking scheme. Blalock graded out above average in 2014, as he’s done in each of the last 5 seasons and he’s made 125 starts since the Falcons drafted him in the 2nd round in 2007. Going into his age 32 season, coming off a release, Blalock will come relatively cheap this off-season and could be a good value on the open market.
6. James Carpenter
James Carpenter was a surprise 1st round pick by the Seahawks in 2011 and he’s been a rare mistake of the John Schneider front office. He’s started just 39 games in 4 seasons (31 at left guard, 8 at right tackle, where they originally wanted him to play). That’s a result of several injuries and overall poor play, as he’s graded out well below average in all 4 seasons. His versatility could serve him well on the open market, but it’s debatable whether struggling at multiple spots counts as versatility. He shouldn’t be guaranteed a starting spot for 2015.