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Are Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks the Best Guard Tandem in the NFL?

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We know the Saints struck gold with both Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks in the NFL Draft. Nicks was picked in the 5th round, Evans in the 4th. And since then, it's been clear that both were easily worth a high first round pick based on what they've accomplished.

Nicks has been to the Pro Bowl once and Jahri has been twice. I watch tape of these guys and grade them on each game based on their individual performances, and by and large they always impress me as dominant players. But how do they stack up against the rest of the league?

While I'm familiar with the names and the players that are considered "good," I don't watch or pay close enough attention to guards on other teams to give you a fully educated opinion. That, plus I'm clearly biased. It's hard to isolate individual play on the offensive line in a general sense because there's no easy stats to point to and the only real recognition a guard gets is a Pro Bowl berth.

I don't watch other guards close enough to fairly compare them to our boys. Granted, both Evans and Nicks have recent Pro Bowl invites, so we could base our claim that they're the best tandem on the support of their peers. Still, I thought I'd turn to Pro Football Focus and see how they stack up against other tandems.

Carl Nicks was actually rated last year as the top guard in the NFL with a 26.2 rating. Evans came out 31st overall with a 0.2 rating, mostly thanks to all the penalties he suffered (2nd worse of all NFL guards). Combined they had a 14.1 rating. That was the best combined rating in the league, with the Houston Texans (13.45), Atlanta Falcons (11.9) and San Francisco 49ers (11.6) behind them. Wade Smith of the Texans bumped that average up and he had two guys he was paired with that played reasonably well, but I'd argue that the Harvey Dahl & Justin Blalock tandem in Atlanta is more solid. 

If you go back to 2009, Jahri Evans led the NFL with a 34.0 rating amongst guards and Carl Nicks was fourth with a rating of 24.9. Obviously no one in the league averaged a score higher than their average with a whopping 29.45. Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal of the Patriots did average 25.45 together, Evan Mathis and Bobbie Williams of the Bengals averaged 20.1 together. Dahl and Blalock combined for a negative rating in 2009. Seems like the scores in general, according to PFF, were much higher across the board in 2009 than they were in 2010.

So there you have it. According to Pro Football Focus, the Nicks/Evans tandem has been the best graded tandem based on their play in both 2009 and 2010. By the way, the tandem ranked 4th in the NFL in 2008 according to PFF, behind the guard tandems from New England, Kansas City and New York Giants. Still, 4th best in 2008 and best in both 2009 & 2010 I think does nothing to dispute the claim that the Saints' pair of guards are the best in the league.