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2021 NFL awards: 49ers’ Trent Williams voted Offensive Lineman of the Year

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NFL honors were created to recognize transcendent individual talents each season, but those awards — beyond the All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams — are generally attainable for every position except offensive linemen. In an effort to level the playing field, CBSSports.com elected to create an offensive line specific award and the timing felt right considering how well one lineman performed this season. 

I solicited rankings of the top three individual offensive linemen from NFL writers at CBSSports.com, including senior NFL writer Pete Prisco and Pix Sox Podcast host Will Brinson and other NFL experts. 

49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams was the unanimous selection for the NFL’s best offensive lineman during the 2021-2022 regular season. 

Three points were given for first place votes, two points for second place and one point for third place. Cowboys offensive guard Zack Martin was second with twelve points. Browns offensive guard Joel Bitonio was third with eight points. Buccaneers offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs had two points. Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson and Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth each had one point. 

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San Francisco’s left tackle earned a 96.6 grade on a scale to 100 by PFF which carries historical relevance. 

“Williams has the highest PFF grade over a single season that PFF has ever given out. It’s obviously the highest grade given to a tackle as well, and the next two guys on that list are Jonathan Ogden and Joe Thomas, current or future hall of famers both,” Sam Monson shared.

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Highlight plays are often reserved for skill players but the former Sooner has had several viral moments this season. A rare combination of size, speed and power, Williams has exhibited the torque through his core to ragdoll opponents like Sid from Toy Story while also possessing the athleticism to punish defenders in space, as shown in the NFC divisional round against Green Bay.

His impact on San Francisco’s offensive game planning is immeasurable. 

“His ability to hold up as a one-on-one protector is huge in their passing game. But he’s also the best run-blocking left tackle in the league, which we know is huge in their offense,” Prisco explained. “One quick thing: Stop getting cute with him like the 49ers did in the playoffs. He’s too good for that.”

A native of Longview, Texas, Williams was drafted with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft by Washington. His relationship with the team grew treacherous in the spring of 2019 when he had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his head. It was reported that the training staff had told him it was not a serious matter in 2013. At that time, the Oklahoma alum had grown frustrated with his situation and demanded a trade from the organization. 

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In April of 2020, San Francisco acquired him in exchange for third and fifth-round picks. Less than a year after the trade, he signed a six-year contract extension worth an average annual salary of $23.01 million, which gave him the distinction of being the league’s highest-paid offensive lineman. In 11 seasons playing the game, Williams has been selected to nine Pro Bowls. 

PFF lead NFL analyst Sam Monson, PFF senior NFL analyst Steve Palazzolo, Bleacher Report offensive line analyst Brandon Thorn, The Athletic Football Show’s Nate Tice and Robert Mays also took part in this poll.

The talk surrounding Tom Brady and his ability to perform at a high level despite being 44-years-old was justified. What he was able to accomplish at that stage of his career is remarkable and his MVP candidacy should have been stronger for it. By the same token, there was not enough conversation about the 40-year old Whitworth tapping into the same fountain of youth as Brady. 

When the Bengals allowed Whitworth to leave in free agency following the 2016 season, they likely anticipated that the end of his career was near. While Cincinnati has struggled to find competent offensive line play since his departure, Whitworth has continued to play at a high level. Career lengths are on the rise for most positions, but 40-years old is still an outlier and he has done it playing one of the sport’s toughest positions as teams chase young, invigorating pass rush talent. 

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The LSU product has three All-Pro and four Pro Bowl selections over the course of his career. If the Super Bowl victory was the end of his career, he will go down as one of the more underappreciated players of his era. 


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