The AFC's offensive tackles include two of the best NFL linemen in the last decade, Joe Thomas and Jake Long. Thomas was the third overall pick by the Browns in 2007, and has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last five years. Long was the first overall pick by the Dolphins in 2008 and, similarly, has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four years.
That leaves our own Andrew Whitworth in a constant uphill battle to make the Pro Bowl every year. This year, Whitworth was trumped by the New York Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson and the Denver Broncos' Ryan Clady, leaving Whitworth as the second alternate for AFC offensive tackles.
When Long was placed on Injured Reserve in week 17 with a torn right bicep muscle, Clady took his spot, leaving Whitworth out in the cold.
Joe Thomas, however, thinks his fellow AFC North lineman is "deserving every year" of getting a Pro Bowl spot.
"I’m not sure why he doesn’t get voted in; he’s one of those guys that’s deserving every year," Thomas said. "You look at the tackles in the AFC and we’re very strong. It’s a question every year who is going to get in. I think Andrew deserves to be here."
Thomas goes on to praise Whitworth's skillset and size, both different than his own:
"I watch him and respect him, but I wouldn’t try to do the things that he does because he’s so much bigger than I am," Thomas said. "He wipes them out. I can’t do the things he does because of how big he is. He’s a great athlete, but we’ve got two different kinds of technique."
Whitworth is the same height as Thomas, but Big Whit has a 24 pound advantage over his Cleveland counterpart. Whitworth can use his big body to drive defenders far behind the line of scrimmage, but also has the agility to keep up with the league's best pass rushers.
This year in particular, Whitworth excelled in pass protection, but was inconsistent in run blocking. He only allowed three sacks the entire year (tied with Joe Thomas and Andre Smith for 4th best among all offensive tackles). He also allowed only three QB hits and fourteen QB pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That gave him an incredible 16.6 pass protection rating, second only to the 20.0 of Joe Thomas. In run-blocking, however, Whitworth ranked 33rd out of 43 offensive tackles that started a majority of this year's games.
Whitworth must improve his run-blocking to allow the Bengals to run the ball efficiently and increase his chances at making the Pro Bowl. I have faith that he'll get there eventually.