Playing on the offensive line takes toughness, intelligence and craftiness. Marshal Yanda had all three.
It also takes versatility, adaptability and humility. He had those too.
After dominating in the trenches for 13 seasons, the long-time Baltimore Ravens blocker announced his plan to retire Tuesday. His departure leaves behind a major void at right guard. More importantly, it leaves a giant-sized hole in terms of leadership and experience.
No player has epitomized the Ravens better in the post-Ray Lewis and Ed Reed era than Yanda. The perennial All-Pro walks away from the game not only as one of the best at his position but as a top-five player in Ravens history.
Marshal Yanda developed into perennial All-Pro in Baltimore
Yanda was destined for greatness. After all, he hailed from the NFL’s premier offensive line development academy known as the University of Iowa.
The 87th overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Yanda spent his first few seasons finding his footing. Baltimore shuffled him around between guard and tackle until he became a full-time starter in 2010.
By the end of the 2011 season, Yanda earned the first of six straight Pro Bowl selections.
In Baltimore’s 2012 Super Bowl run, Yanda served as the glue between veteran center Matt Birk and rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele. That unit helped pave the way for Ray Rice to turn his final 1,000-yard season en route to a Lombardi Trophy.
Though the Ravens never made it back to the Super Bowl, Yanda continued to carve out his individual legacy. He earned back-to-back first-team All-Pro honors in 2014 and 2015 and second-team honors in 2016, 2018 and even last season. From both an individual and team success standpoint, few did it better than the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder.
Marshal Yanda cemented status as best guard of his era
It’s one thing to let your career drag out. It’s another to dominate from start to finish. In the case of Yanda, he absolutely retired on top.
While he spent the early portion of his career vacillating between tackle and guard, Yanda eventually settled into the right guard spot and never yielded an inch. Though most of his contemporaries brought more size, Yanda’s intelligence and ability to anchor allowed him to toss around defensive tackles with ease.
Most impressively, the Ravens’ right guard thrived in two completely different offenses. Yanda started his career blocking for Joe Flacco and Rice and ended by bulldozing the path for Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram.
Baltimore finished in the top-12 in scoring seven times in Yanda’s 13-year career. His final season saw the Ravens break the rushing record in Jackson’s breakout MVP season.
A relentless technician with legendary practice habits, Yanda’s consistency and game-to-game dominance drew praise from both teammates and opposing defenders.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, one of Yanda’s chief rivals and a perennial Pro Bowler himself, said it best in this piece by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley:
“When I tell my son or daughter about playing football, I’ll tell them he was one of the best guards I went up against in the league. He’s got nastiness. He’s physical and he has finesse. He’s got the whole package.”
Yanda’s legacy amongst all-time Ravens greats
Despite their short existence, the Ravens have had no shortage of Hall of Fame players. From Ray Lewis to Ed Reed to Jonathan Ogden, the top-end talent in Baltimore rivals that from many other historic franchises.
It’s not often that a guard will ever be mentioned amongst a team’s all-time greats. Then again, Yanda wasn’t like everyone else.
Lewis and Reed changed the way defensive players attack the game. Ogden was a physical marvel who set the standard for tackle play. Terrell Suggs terrorized quarterbacks as a physical edge-setting presence.
Yanda belongs in the top-five players in franchise history right behind that quartet. His consistency remained his strongest calling card, but don’t let that detract from his dominance. He remained one of the best at his position even in his final campaign, and he certainly set the standard by which all guards should be judged.
Not only does Yanda belong in the Ravens Ring of Honor but he also deserves a spot in Canton after putting together the best career of any guard since Steve Hutchinson.
He shouldn’t have to wait very long.