The position of an offensive lineman is probably the most underrated positions in the entire game. They rarely get the opportunity to do something spectacular and are always slip under the radar when it comes to the quarterback level of stardom. In reality, however, the offensive lineman is one of the most important cogs in any offensive unit.
The job of an offensive lineman is to make space for the quarterback by blocking the oncoming pass rush. If executed correctly, the QB will have enough time to pick out a teammate further down the field. That is why linemen are so important in the grand scheme of things. If the pass-rush is not checked, then the quarterback will get sacked every time, leading to turnovers.
NFL coaches know the importance of a good lineman, that is why they try and go for a player who has great temperament and game awareness. Over the years, this is one quality that is common across the board. They are truly the unsung heroes of any cohesive offense. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history.
#10. Gene Upshaw
Modern-day NFL fans will remember Gene Upshaw because of the work he did as the executive-chairman of the NFL Players’ Association. However, Upshaw was quite a player during his time with the Oakland Raider as an offensive lineman. When a player is able to sustain a 15-year-long career at the highest level, it is safe to say that he was quite skilled at what he did.
Upshaw was a regular starter for the Raiders in all the seasons he played for the franchise. He was extremely reliable as a teammate and had an uncanny knack for disrupting the opposition’s plays. That is the reason why he was loved by his coaches and the Raiders faithful. Gene Upshaw was also a part of the golden era of the team which saw them win two Super Bowls.
Never one to hog the limelight, Upshaw went about his work with utmost dedication and quiet resolve. He was always there to give bone-shattering tackles and also had the game awareness to lead the line with brilliance. In honor of his contribution to the game, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
#9. Orlando Pace
True to his name, Orlando Pace was a speedy bloke. Moreover, he also had a tremendous physical ability which he used to good effect against his opponent. In fact, he was the one who introduced the term “pancake tackle”, you can assume how hard his hits were. Many players who played against him have admitted that Pace used to hit like a freight train.
There was a calm mind on his broad shoulders, and that is what helped the St. Louis Rams to win the Super Bowl in 1999. When your offensive unit is dubbed “the greatest show on turf”, you must have some iconic players on your roster, Orlando Pace was certainly one of them.
He was always on the frontlines, ready to take on the opponent and flatten him on the field. Truth be told, the NFL has not seen many players who could match Pace’s ferocity after his retirement. There is no doubt about the fact that Orlando Pace was a vicious player who gave results, and his Hall of Fame induction is proof of that.
#8. Art Shell
A teammate of Gene Upshaw, Art Shell was another invaluable part of the iconic Raiders offense during the ’70s. In fact, many analysts are of the opinion that Shell was the one who directed the offense in place of the quarterback. Looking at his game tapes and numbers, his leadership qualities are not hard to believe.
During his time with the Raiders, they became one of the most ferocious sides in the league, annihilating any opponent that came in their path. Paired with Upshaw, Art Shell could easily find pockets of space for QB Ken Stabler to run into, who was a legend in his own right. Moreover, Shell was able to use his 265-pound frame to good effect by wiping out the players who faced him.
To this day, the playing style of Art Shell is taken as an inspiration for all young linemen out there, who want to emulate the feats of this Raiders legend. Shell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989, in honor of his legendary status.
#7. Jonathan Ogden
As far as defensive linemen in the NFL are concerned, Jonathan Ogden is a modern great. There have been very few players who have been able to influence the game as much as he did during his prime. A fantastic physical specimen, Ogden is hands down one of the hardest hitters the league has ever seen.
Generally, players who are hyped up a lot during their college days lose steam as soon as they start in the NFL. Thankfully, that was not the case with Ogden. All the hype surrounding Ogden resulted in him being the fourth-overall pick in the 1996 draft, and with that, the Baltimore Ravens had a fantastic left tackle on their hands. He was immediately slotted into the starting line-up and was a big influence for the side in his rookie season.
As the years progressed, the stature of Jonathan Ogden kept rising in the world of the NFL. He quietly went about his work and became one of the most trusted players in the squad. In fact, he was a big factor behind the glowing career of Jamal Lewis as he provided space for him to run into. In honor of his dedication to the craft, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
#6. Randall McDaniel
In the world of American Football, the name of Randall McDaniel is associated with tremendous concentration and focus. It was evident from his piercing eyes that he took the game more seriously than anybody else on the field. His impact was such that the Vikings’ offense suddenly became one of the most potent in the league.
McDaniel was a leader in the purest sense of the word and he led by example. He was a menacing presence for the opponents and was always at the heart of the action. In the long list of his personal accolades, one thing that has to be mentioned is that McDaniel made 12 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1989 to 2000. That is enough proof of just how good he was in his prime.
With him on board, the Minnesota Vikings became of the contenders for the championship and were always in and around the top. during his playing days, the brilliance of Randall McDaniel wasn’t talked about much. However, his work started to get appreciated much after his retirement from the sport. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 in honor of his dedication and tenacity.
#5. Mike Webster
Mike Webster is the ultimate unsung hero whose brilliance was overshadowed by the more impactful players in the team. He was part of the iconic ’70s Steelers dynasty that was arguably the most complete side the NFL has ever seen. Filled with stalwarts and influential players, the work of Webster went massively underappreciated.
However, that takes nothing away from the kind of player he was and the influence he had on that team. Considered as one of the greatest Centers of all time, the most accurate way of describing Mike Webster is the quarterback in front of the quarterback. He led the offensive line that tackled the pass rushers and did that with poise and panache.
As the saying goes, the game of football is won in the trenches and that is exactly what Webster was so good at. The way he maneuvered the opposition by using his game-awareness was a thing to behold. In honor of his contribution to the game and the memorable moments he gave the fans, he was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1997.
#4. Forest Gregg
When the legendary Vince Lombardi hails you as the “greatest player he ever coached”, there must be something really special about the way you approach the game. That was exactly the case with Forest Gregg. Part of the iconic Green Bay Packers lineup, Gregg was the most dependable Iron Man in the league at that time. He rarely got injured, and since concussions weren’t a thing back then, he was allowed to play in almost every game.
In fact, Forest Gregg held the record for the most consecutive games played for quite a long time. He also made nine trips to the Pro Bowl during his career. If that is not an indication of just how great Forest Gregg was, then nothing will ever be.
Gregg was an invaluable cog in the machine that was the Green Bay Packers, under the tutelage of Lombardi, Gregg grew to be one of the most vicious tacklers of the game. Moreover, he was surprisingly adept at sealing the edge and stopping the opposition from progressing down the line.
#3. Bruce Matthews
Hands down the most gifted offensive lineman of all time, Bruce Matthews was a force of nature. Every time he took to the field, the opposition knew that they were in grave danger. Matthews was the heart and soul of that Tennessee Oilers team of the ’90s. A quintessential offensive lineman, he was always first on the scene to pick up spillages from the opposition.
Apart from this, Matthews was also one of the hardest hitters during his prime. That is the opposition rushers used to wary of him and tried to stifle his threat. However, he often emerged on top and facilitated his quarterback and the runners. Another factor that comes to mind when talking about Bruce Matthews is his longevity in the game. He was able to sustain himself and play at the highest level for 19 long years, that too with the same franchise.
That is why he is considered one of the greatest one-team legends in the game. One factor that might be behind his prolonged career is the way he approached this game. There was a calm and collected mind on his burly frame which helped him in making quick decisions. In honor of his contribution to the game, Matthews was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 2007.
#2. John Hannah
Generally, the offensive linemen in the NFL are tall guys who are physically gifted. However, in the case of John Hannah, the reality was quite different. Highly athletic and surprisingly quick on his feet, Hannah was a menace for the opposition rushers. Weighing at almost 265 pounds, Hannah was very different from the crop of linemen around him, but he was the most effective of them all.
Despite him being relatively small, Hannah’s tackles were always on point and hard as a wall. Many players who played against him have admitted that he was one of their hardest opponents and his numbers are proof of that. In an era where the league leaned towards the physical aspect of the game, “The hog” was one player who was brilliantly different.
John Hannah is fondly remembered by the New England Faithful as a player who was part of their dominating era. Moreover, as far as personal accolades are concerned, he featured in the Pro Bowl on nine occasions and was named the lead guard in the NFL’s 75th anniversary all-time team. In honor of his legacy, John Hannah was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1991.
#1. Anthony Muñoz
As far as the rich heritage of offensive linemen is concerned, nobody has been able to surpass the quality of Anthony Muñoz. He was simply one of the greatest offensive threats of all time. Even his opponents admit that they haven’t seen any other player in the history of the league who was as good as Muñoz at what he does.
Muñoz is probably the only player on our list who has attained stardom which was at par with a quarterback. Generally, offensive linemen tend to slip under the radar because of how little they have to do. However, that was not the case for “The Cookie Monster”. He liked all the attention on him and was one of the biggest entertainers the league had ever witnessed.
He is fondly remembered by the Cincinnati Bengal faithful as the frontman who could give bone-jarring tackles and was never going to back down from a challenge. There have been innumerable occasions on which Muñoz provided match-winning performances to rescue his team and keep them in the fight.
In fact, many analysts credit him as the player who ushered in a new style of play in and around the line of scrimmage. He showed the world that being an offensive lineman wasn’t just about hitting your opponent hard, it was about how you render the opponent completely useless with fantastic change of pace and quick thinking.
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