For casual fans, the typical offensive lineman is a faceless brute who is but one mere part of a wall of humanity that crashes together before collapsing onto the turf. Throughout the game, 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 literally limited to a number one overall draft pick at left tackle, or a gimmick tackle-eligible touchdown play on the goal line.
Fans of old school, smash-mouth football, of course, 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 line of scrimmage, move on to the second level, and go on the attack to drive overmatched 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 combined deft footwork, leverage, technique, and size to dominate in the trenches. The greats, of course, were often defined by the ferocity of their pancake blocks, perfect pass protection, and intimidating walls for pulls and traps. 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. Gene Upshaw
As a Hall of Famer and one-time executive director of the NFL Players’ Association, Gene Upshaw was one of the most respected gentlemen to ever put on a pair of shoulder pads. Following his 2008 death, all NFL clubs paid their respects, with a GU No. 63 patch on the stadium field (pictured).
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 was 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. 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, he went number one overall to the 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 Torry 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.
8. Art Shell
At left tackle, Art Shell teemed up with Gene Upshaw to form a devastating left side of the line for the 1970s Raiders. At his playing size of 6’5″ and 265 pounds, Shell could still drop his hips and use 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 and shut down “Purple People Eater” and fellow Hall-of-Famer Jim Marshall at the line of scrimmage.
7. 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 11 straight Pro Bowls until his 2007 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 XXXV ring home back to Baltimore during his playing days.
6. 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 have carried a doughboy appearance, belly fat, and a wideload backside, Randall McDaniel roamed the front lines as a cut, physical specimen, who could fly around the line of scrimmage and get nasty. A fixture of the Pro Bowl, McDaniel made the trip to Hawaii for a record 12 straight years (1989-2000). McDaniel’s versatility was on full display in Minnesota, where he would 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 may have been as equally impressive as the onfield showmanship out of the likes of Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Robert Smith.
5. Mike Webster
Mike Webster quarterbacked the offensive line from his center position throughout the Steelers’ ’70s dynasty and into the late 1980s. “Iron Mike” was the greatest center of all time, and the benchmark for dominant centers out of Pittsburgh. Following Webster, the procession of Steeler greats who snapped the football at the point of attack went on to include Ray Mansfield, Dermontti Dawson, and Jeff Hartings. In today’s game, the young Maurkice Pouncey has proved that he is ready and able to carry forward the tradition of dominant centers at Three Rivers.
Over the course of his 17-year career, 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 the likes of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier at running back. It’s because of his work in the gritty Steel City that Webster was selected to nine Pro Bowls (1978-1987).
4. Forrest Gregg
Vince Lombardi once described Forrest Gregg as the greatest player that he ever coached. Lombardi, of course, was to coach fellow Hall of Fame players Frank Gifford, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, and Ray Nitschke. As a Packer, Gregg brought back five championships to the Green Bay “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 alleyways on the Lombardi power sweep.
3. Bruce Matthews
Bruce Matthews was the most versatile offensive lineman of all time. Matthews, an Oilers/Titans franchise lifer, lined up at all five offensive line positions. Bruce Matthews was especially dominant at center and guard where he was a Pro Bowl mainstay between 1988 and 2001. An Iron Man at offensive line, Matthews is now second only to Brett Favre (298 career starts) atop the professional football longevity list, with 292 career starts. Over 19 years, Matthews has imposed his will on defenders to clear space for the likes of Earl Campbell, Warren Moon, Eddie George, and the late Steve McNair.
2. John Hannah
At guard, the 6’2″, 265-pound John Hannah was somewhat undersized. “The Hog,” however, made up for his lack of size with speed, agility, and fiery intensity. It’s because of his athleticism that Hannah was especially effective as a pulling guard, who could get out front to lead sweeps and counter block on the trap. 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, he was named lead guard on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
1. Anthony Muñoz
Anthony Muñoz was 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, he 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.
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.