The Big Uglies up front simply get no respect. To the casual fan, your typical offensive lineman is a faceless brute, who is part of a wall of humanity that crashes into it self and collapses onto the turf. Throughout a broadcast, a team’s best offensive lineman may never even hear his name called–without making a mistake for holding, illegal procedure, or unnecessary roughness. In terms of celebrity, an offensive lineman’s ceiling is limited to a number one overall draft pick at left tackle, or a gimmick tackle-eligible touchdown on the goal line.
Of course, fans of old school, smash mouth football admire the brute force and timely efficiency of a cohesive offensive line unit. The best offensive linemen love to run block, where they can pin their man at the ling of scrimmage, move on to the second level, and go on the attack to drive hapless linebackers into the ground. In the passing game, a great offensive lineman keeps his mean streak, as a bodyguard – enforcer to protect his quarterback and lay down the law.
The greatest offensive linemen of all-time combine deft footwork, leverage, technique, and of course, size, to dominate in the trenches. Without detailed statistics to measure pancake blocks, sacks given up, and the effectiveness of a trap block, it is relatively difficult to compare offensive lineman against each other across eras. With limited stats, we must rely more so upon how a lineman is evaluated by his peers, in terms of awards and accolades. The greatest offensive linemen of all time were permanent fixtures on All-Pro lists and Pro-Bowl squads during their respective heydays.
#10 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Gene Upshaw
As a Hall-of-Famer and one-time executive director of the NFL Players’ Association, Gene Upshaw is one of the most respected gentlemen to ever put on a set of shoulder pads. After his 2008 death, all NFL clubs paid their respects–with a G.U. #63 patch on the stadium field.
As a Raider, Gene Upshaw played 15 seasons at guard between 1967 and 1981. Upshaw started 207 out of 217 career games and was named to seven Pro Bowls. Upshaw is also a two-time Super Bowl champion–with rings in 1977 and 1981. Upshaw performed as a gladiator for the Silver and Black–complete with full body armor, elbow pads, and one fiberglass cast to deliver forearm shivers to the opposition.
#9 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Orlando Pace
As an Ohio State road grader, Orlando Pace introduced the game of football to the term “pancake.” At the point of attack, Pace often left a trail of destruction that was evidenced by defenders laying flat on their backs. As a professional, Orlando Pace went number one overall to the St. Louis Rams in 1997. In St. Louis, Pace protected Kurt Warner’s blind side for the Greatest Show on Turf, which also featured Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Tory Holt. Behind their offensive firepower, the Rams were to become a mini-dynasty, who won Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.
At left tackle, Pace was named to seven Pro Bowls and is a member of the 2000s All-Decade team. Orlando Pace was to finish out his career with the Chicago Bears—in 2009.
#8 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Art Shell
At left tackle, Art Shell teemed up with Gene Upshaw to form a devastating left side of the line for the 1970’s Raiders. At his playing size of 6’5 and 265 pounds, Shell kept a low base, and used good leverage to seal the edge and clear space for running back Mark van Eeghen to bounce to the outside. In the passing game, Shell helped to form a pocket and clear passing lanes for Ken Stabler and Oakland’s vertical attack. During his 15-year career, Art Shell was named to eight Pro Bowls and two First-Team All-Pro lists. Art Shell also won two Super Bowls with the Raiders, including a classic Super Bowl XI performance–where he dominated fellow Hall of Famer Jim Marshall at the line of scrimmage.
#7 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Jonathan Ogden
As a fourth overall pick, Jonathan Ogden was drafted as the franchise left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens in the 1996 draft. Dubbed a can’t miss prospect out of UCLA, Ogden did not disappoint, as he went on to immediately start at left guard his rookie year. The next season, Ogden slid over to left tackle–where he appeared in eleven straight Pro Bowls until his retirement. At 6’9 and 340 pounds, Ogden helped pave the way for Baltimore’s bruising Jamal Lewis–who racked up 2,066 rushing yards in 2003. Ogden also helped bring one Super Bowl ring home back to Baltimore–during his playing days.
#6 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Randall McDaniel
At left guard, the freakishly athletic Randall McDaniel controlled the line of scrimmage for the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers between 1988 and 2001. Whereas most offensive linemen are associated with a doughboy appearance, belly fat, and a wide-load backside, Randall McDaniel roamed the front lines as a cut specimen who was just downright nasty. A fixture of the Pro Bowl, McDaniel made the trip to Hawaii for twelve straight years–between 1989 and 2000.
McDaniel’s versatility was on full display in Minnesota, where he could protect the quarterback, kick out outside linebackers as a pulling guard, lead mass convoys in the screen game, and even line up at fullback in short-yardage situations. During the 1998 season, McDaniel’s Minnesota Vikings put a then record 556 points on the scoreboard. That year, McDaniel’s work in the trenches was equally as impressive as the on-field acrobatics of Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Robert Smith.
#5 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Mike Webster
Mike Webster quarterbacked the offensive line from his center position throughout the Steelers’ 70’s Dynasty and into the late 1980’s. Iron Mike is the greatest center of all time, and the benchmark for dominant centers at Three Rivers. In addition to Webster, Steeler greats who snapped the football include Ray Mansfield, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings. Today, young Maurkice Pouncy is proving that he is ready and able to carry forward the tradition.
Over a span of 17 years, Mike Webster started 217 times out of the 245 games in which he appeared. In Pittsburgh, Webster was tenacious, as he made line calls to protect Terry Bradshaw and open up gaps for Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Because of his work in the gritty Steel City, Webster was selected to nine straight Pro Bowls–between 1978 and 1987.
After his playing days were over, the once infallible Iron Mike degenerated into a shell of his former self. The hits and head slaps from raging nose guards and linebackers had taken their toll, and Webster was to suffer from dementia, depression, and muscle pain into middle age. Mike Webster died in 2002 at age 50–after living out the last of his years as a vagabond between Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.
#4 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Forrest Gregg
Vince Lombardi describes Forrest Gregg as the greatest player that he ever coached. The list of Hall of Fame players who learned the game behind the tutelage of Lombardi include Frank Gifford, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Bart Starrr, Jerry Kramer, and Ray Nitschke. As a Packer, Forrest Gregg brought back five championships to the Frozen Tundra. In the twilight of his career, he won Super Bowl VI with the Dallas Cowboys.
As an Iron Man, Gregg played in a then record 188 straight games between 1956 and 1971. During this period, Gregg made nine trips to the Pro Bowl and seven appearances on the First-Team All-Pro list. As a right tackle, Gregg will forever be immortalized for sealing the edge and creating alleys on the Lombardi power sweep.
#3 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Bruce Matthews
Bruce Matthews is the most versatile offensive lineman of all-time. As an Oilers – Titans lifer, Matthews lined up at all five offensive line positions. Bruce Matthews was especially dominant at center and guard–where he was a Pro Bowl lock between 1988 and 2001. An Iron Man at offensive line, Matthews’ sits atop the professional football longevity list–with 292 career starts. Over 19 years, Matthews has imposed his will on defenders—to clear space for Earl Campbell, Warren Moon, Eddie George and the late Steve McNair.
#2 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: John Hannah
At guard, the 6’2 265 pound John Hannah was somewhat undersized. The Hog, however, made up for his lack of size through speed, agility, and fiery intensity. Because of his athleticism, Hannah was especially effective as a pulling guard, who could get out front to lead sweeps and counter traps. With the New England Patriots, Hannah was part of a 1978 unit that bulldozed defenses for a record 3,165 yards on the ground.
John Hannah was selected to nine Pro Bowls between 1976 and 1985. Most impressively, John Hannah was named lead guard on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
#1 Greatest NFL Offensive Lineman of All-Time: Anthony Muñoz
Anthony Muñoz is the greatest offensive lineman of all time. At left tackle, Muñoz was the total package of size, strength, athleticism, and technique. In the passing game, Muñoz routinely shut down the game’s best defensive ends and outside linebackers. In the running game, Muñoz could wall off his man for two counts, throw him onto the ground, and rumble downfield to wreak havoc on pesky linebackers and defensive backs. As a receiver, Muñoz also hauled in four touchdowns on tackle-eligible plays during his 13-year career as a Cincinnati Bengal.
Anthony Muñoz mastered, perfected, and dominated his position as well as any man that has ever played any sport. Anthony Muñoz–the Gold Standard franchise left tackle.