When trying to compile a list of the best left tackles in the history of the NFL, you have to also examine the history of the position. In today's NFL, the left tackle is one of the most important players on the team, because he protects the quarterback's blind side.
If the quarterback can go back to pass and has the confidence and faith in his left tackle to know that he won't be creamed by the rush coming from his blind side, he then has time to survey the field and look for his second, third or fourth options.
If you visit the NFL Hall of Fame website, you will note that the majority of players that were enshrined as an offensive linemen were also two-way players, as they played a role on both offense and defense. As such, it is very difficult to discern which side of the ball was their forte and how to rank them appropriately in a list like this. So, we will focus on tackles from the 1950's through to the modern-day era.
The other issue I encountered was that a number of Hall-of-Fame-caliber tackles didn't just play left tackle. They might have split time between tackle and guard in their career. Another development is a guy starting his career at right tackle and then eventually moving over to playing at left tackle. In both of these scenarios, it would be grounds for moving a player lower in the rankings.
Finally, since we are talking about the best in history, this list is designed for players that have longevity on their side. They played for many years and proved their abilities due to a long career that stood up over time.
While there are a number of promising tackles that are currently employed in the NFL, like Jake Long, Joe Thomas and Jason Peters, just to name a few, those type of tackles simply have not put in enough years to be considered as the best in history. Down the road, some of them will qualify. If you are wondering why they are not on the list, now you know.
On to the presentation of the 13 best NFL left tackles of all-time.
While doing research on this assignment, I came across an interesting study that was conducted by Pro Football Reference.com. They looked at the history of the tackle position and how the importance of the position has switched sides on the offensive line over the decades.
It seems that the best pass-rushers were battling with the right tackle in the 1970's and 1980's, and it wasn't until decades later that teams realized the importance of lining your best tackle over on the left side. Of course, Lawrence Taylor had something to do with the change or shift from right tackle to left tackle as well.
The link to the Pro Football Reference article can be found right here.
This is their table of tackles who have made at least three Pro Bowls in seasons where they started primarily at right tackle. Due to the length of time that many of these great tackles spent at right tackle, my reaction is that we have to knock these right tackles down a few notches for this very specific list, "the greatest left tackles in NFL history."
For fans of these players, my apologies, but I trust you understand the situation and why we are doing it.
+-------------------+-------+------+----------+ | name | first | last | how_many | +-------------------+-------+------+----------+ | Forrest Gregg | 1959 | 1968 | 9 | | George Kunz | 1969 | 1977 | 8 | | Jackie Slater | 1983 | 1990 | 7 | | Ron Mix | 1961 | 1968 | 7 | | Ron Yary | 1971 | 1977 | 7 | | Dan Dierdorf | 1974 | 1980 | 6 | | Rayfield Wright | 1971 | 1976 | 6 | | Mike McCormack | 1951 | 1962 | 6 | | Bob Brown | 1965 | 1971 | 6 | | Marvin Powell | 1979 | 1983 | 5 | | Russ Washington | 1974 | 1979 | 5 | | Frank Varrichione | 1955 | 1962 | 5 | | Bob St. Clair | 1956 | 1961 | 5 | | Willie Anderson | 2003 | 2006 | 4 | | Erik Williams | 1993 | 1999 | 4 | | Ernie McMillan | 1965 | 1970 | 4 | | Lincoln Kennedy | 2000 | 2002 | 3 | | Harry Schuh | 1967 | 1970 | 3 | | Lee Artoe | 1940 | 1942 | 3 | | Winston Hill | 1971 | 1973 | 3 |
Rayfield Wright is our first example of a great tackle that spent a good portion of his career at right tackle, which was what NFL teams did during the time that Wright was in the league. Wright played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1967-1979.
Wright was a big tackle for his era, going 6'6" and 255 pounds. During his career, Wright was named to six Pro Bowl teams and was named four times as First-Team All-Pro.
Wright was elected to the 1970's NFL All-Decade team and went on to be elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2006. Here is a link to Wright's bio at the Hall of Fame. As we detailed earlier, Wright is one of those tackles that would have been ranked higher if he didn't spend so many years at right tackle.
Ron Yary spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings as a right tackle, based on the earlier chart we surfaced from Pro Football Reference.com.
Yary was a member of the 1970's NFL All-Decade team. Yary played with the Minnesota Vikings for 14 years and was a member of four Super Bowl teams with the Vikings. He played one final year with the Los Angeles Rams in 1982.
In addition to that, Yary was elected to seven Pro Bowl teams and was named to six First-Team All-Pro teams during his career.
Yary was named three times as NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year. He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001.
Dan Dierdorf played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1971-1983. He played many years as a right tackle, and that is why he is ranked where he is.
Dierdorf is also remembered for his many years as a NFL broadcaster. Dierdorf was elected as a member of the NFL 1970's All-Decade Team. In addition to that, he was named to six Pro Bowl teams and was also First-Team All-Pro five times.
He was voted as NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year three different times. Dierdorf was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1996.
Jackie Slater is tied for an NFL record of playing for the same team for 20 seasons. He played for the Los Angeles Rams for the final 19 years of their existence in Southern California and for the first year of the St. Louis Rams.
Slater was with the Rams from 1976-1995. During that time, he was elected to seven Pro Bowl teams and was named to three First-Team All-Pro teams. Slater was never elected to any All-Decade teams.
Slater was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bob Brown was a tackle in the NFL that played for 10 years. Brown played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and the Oakland Raiders. During his career, Brown was elected to six Pro Bowl teams and was named to five First-Team All-Pro teams.
Brown was elected to the NFL 1960's All-Decade Team and was also elected to the Hall of Fame as part of the 2004 class.
Brown was the second-overall draft pick in the 1964 NFL draft by Philadelphia. He went on to become NFL Rookie of the Year. Not only that, but he was voted as NFL/NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year three different times.
Forrest Gregg was a member of the 1960's NFL All-Decade team. In addition, Gregg was a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time team. Gregg played for Green Bay from 1956-1970 and for Dallas in 1971.
Gregg was 6'4" and 250 pounds. Although he is smaller compared to the size of today's left tackles, he was able to excel by learning how to finesse the larger players. He was extremely durable, as he played in 188 consecutive NFL games without missing one game due to injury.
Gregg was on seven First-Team All-Pro teams and went to the Pro Bowl nine times. He was a member of six NFL Championship teams with both Green Bay and Dallas. In the NFL Films list of the 100 Greatest NFL Players of All-Time, they ranked Gregg No. 54.
As we established in the second slide, Gregg was one of those players that spent many years at right tackle, and as such, we had to rank him lower on this list since we are interested in the years he played left tackle. If you are unhappy with that ranking, I don't know of a better way to handle it, other than to acknowledge that he was a great tackle that is highly decorated for his talent.
Perhaps Gregg could have no higher accolade than the one bestowed on him by his head coach Vince Lombardi, who wrote of Gregg in his book Run to Daylight: "Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!"
That pretty well sums it up.
Gary Zimmerman was a member of two different NFL All-Decade Teams (1980's and 1990's). He played for both the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos. Not only was he on two NFL All-Decade teams, but he also is on the USFL All-Time team, as he played two years for the Los Angeles Express.
Zimmerman was 6'6" and weighed 294 pounds. Zimmerman played 12 years in the NFL and two years in the USFL. He was selected to seven Pro Bowl teams and was voted All-Pro eight times.
As per this article from Sports Illustrated, we learned from Mike Shanahan, Zimmerman's head coach, that Zimmerman would "play if he had a broken leg."
Zimmerman is strong, quick and tough. He was a technician as a blocker and excelled with his footwork. He separated his shoulder against Oakland, but played the entire game with the injury.
Walter Jones was selected to the NFL 2000's All-Decade Team as a tackle. Jones played his entire NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks from 1997-2009. He was elected to the Seahawks 35th Anniversary All-TIme Team. Jones was also elected to the NFL 2000's All-Decade Team.
Jones was named to seven All-Pro teams in his career in addition to nine Pro Bowl teams. He was voted the NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2005.
As per the Wikipedia entry on Jones, John Madden was a huge fan of Jones and would refer to him in broadcasts as the best left tackle in the NFL.
Willie Roaf was 6'5" and 320 pounds. Due to his size, strength and athleticism, Roaf was able to dominate defensive ends and linebackers during his 13-year NFL career. Roaf played for the New Orleans Saints from 1993-2001 and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2002-2005.
Roaf will be part of the new class of Hall of Fame inductees in 2012. During his career, Roaf was elected to 11 Pro Bowls and was named as First-Team All-Pro six times. He was named to two different All-Decade teams, 1990's and 2000's, which is a testament to his outstanding play and his longevity.
Roaf was only in his second year of eligibility when he was voted in to the Hall of Fame. That is another major reason why he is considered to be one of the best left tackles in history.
Art Shell played for the Raiders organization from 1968-1982 and played for the team in both Oakland and Los Angeles. He also coached the Raiders on two different occasions. Shell was ranked as the No. 76 player on the NFL Films list of the 100 Greatest Players of All-TIme.
Shell was named to eight Pro Bowl teams and was voted three times as First-Team All-Pro. In 1990, he was voted as NFL Coach of the Year by UPI. Shell is a member of the NFL 1970's All-Decade Team.
Shell played in two Super Bowls with the Raiders, Super Bowls XI and XV. Shell was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1989.
Jonathan Ogden is another NFL left tackle that was so good that he made the NFL Films list of the 100 Greatest Players of All-Time. Ogden was ranked No. 72 on their list.
Ogden was an ideal player. He was asked to play left tackle, and then, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome never had to worry about that position for the next 12 years. That is what I call an ideal situation.
Out of his 12 years in the NFL, Ogden made 11 Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro nine times. Ogden was elected to the NFL 2000's All-Decade team. Ogden will no doubt be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame shortly after he becomes eligible to be elected.
Even though his name doesn't appear on the NFL Films list of the 100 Greatest Players of All-Time, it isn't Bruce Matthews or Jonathan Ogden or Art Shell that appears as a tackle on the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time team. That honor goes to Roosevelt Brown.
Brown played tackle for the New York Giants from 1953-1965. Brown was 6'3" and weighed 255 pounds. Brown was the true definition of a sleeper, as he wound up going in the 27th round of the NFL draft in 1953 with the 321st-overall pick. That is really a sleeper, and to think we only draft seven rounds now.
Brown was the starting left tackle for the Giants, and he held the job for 13 years. Brown was NFL Lineman of the Year in 1956 and was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1975. Brown became only the second player to be elected on his offensive line play alone.
In my opinion, Anthony Munoz is the greatest left tackle that has ever played in the history of the NFL. Munoz played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1980-1992. He attempted to play a 14th year in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but injuries prevented him from ever playing in a game for them.
Munoz was a member of the NFL 1980's All-Decade Team. In addition to that, Munoz was named to 11 Pro Bowl teams and nine First-Team All-Pro teams. He is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
When NFL Films came out with their list of the "100 Greatest Players of Al-Time in the NFL," Munoz was ranked No. 12 on that list. He is the highest ranked lineman on the list, and that further justifies why he is our No. 1 left tackle of all-time.