The 10 Best Centers in NFL History
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The center position in the NFL is one that usually goes unnoticed, but it is extremely important to the continuity and success of an offense.
Throughout the history of the league, only a handful of individuals playing this position have been paid the ultimate respect—a bust in Canton.
With that said, there have been many great players to man the interior of the offensive line over the course of NFL history. It takes a special person to play this position—or might I say, an extremely intelligent individual.
You have to look at the nuances of playing the center position in order to best understand how difficult it is. The center has to snap the ball perfectly, immediately coming off the line to protect his quarterback and show great awareness in doing so.
While other offensive linemen don't have to worry about multiple pre-snap decisions, the center has to make the calls and put his quarterback in the position to succeed. In short, I have the utmost respect for individuals tasked to play center.
This article is going to focus on the top 10 centers in NFL history.
10. Dermontti Dawson, 1988-2000
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Seven Pro Bowl and Six All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012
One of two Pittsburgh Steelers on this list, Dermontti Dawson is a member of the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. This is a great honor for an individual who plays a position that doesn't get a lot of play in Canton.
He dominated opposing AFC defenses for the better part of a decade, opening up holes for the likes of Barry Foster and Jerome Bettis throughout his career.
More than that, Dawson acted like the glue that held the Steelers' offensive line together for so many seasons.
His reward was seven Pro Bowl selections and a bust in Canton. Probably one of the best modern interior linemen in the history of the league.
9. Frank Gatski, 1946-1957
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One Pro Bowl and Three All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985
Playing most of his career with the Cleveland Browns, Frank Gatski was one of the best offensive linemen of his era. From 1952-1957 he made the All-Pro Team four different times.
The Cleveland Browns won a whopping eight league championships with Gatski under center, as he protected Otto Graham, giving the quarterback time to find Mac Speedie on the outside.
8. Jim Langer, 1970-1981
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Six Pro Bowl and Four All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987
Lost in the shuffle of the Dolphins' three-headed running back monster, was the fact that they had one hell of an offensive line.
The undefeated 1972 team had two offensive linemen elected to the Pro Bowl. Surprisingly enough, Langer wasn't one of them. This was the last season in a seven-year stretch that the future Hall of Fame center did not make the Pro Bowl.
Over the duration of the next decade, Jim Langer became one of the best players along this heralded unit. He consistently opened up running lanes for their backs and protected Bob Griese up the middle.
7. Mel Hein, 1931-1945
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Four Pro Bowl and Five All-Pro Selections.
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963
How about this for breaking the barrier of performance along the offensive line? Mel Hein was the first offensive lineman to ever win the NFL MVP Award. This feat was accomplished in 1938 and has not been duplicated since.
He is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, after being a finalist six times.
Hein had a stellar 14-year career with the New York Giants, making five Pro Bowl appearances and winning two NFL Championships.
6. Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, 1940-1952
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Four Pro Bowl and Seven All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966
Another center from the pre-modern era, Clyde Turner had an extensively great career playing for the Chicago Bears from 1940-1952. He made seven All-Pro teams in an eight-year span, clearly distinguishing himself as one of the best centers ever.
The Chicago Bears won four NFL Championships with Turner as their primary protector of future Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman.
5. George Trafton, 1920-1932
Two Pro Bowl Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964
Widely credited for being the first center to snap the ball with one hand, George Trafton was a trendsetter at the center position.
The former Chicago Bears center was actually a member of the Decatur Staleys, making him the oldest person on this list. He played 13 seasons in the NFL, starting 100 games and dominating opposing defenses.
4. Dwight Stephenson, 1980-1987
Five Pro Bowl and Four All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998
Dwight Stephenson replaced the aforementioned Jim Langer as the Miami Dolphins' starting center, after being selected in the second round of the 1980 NFL draft—three years later Dan Marino would join the Dolphins.
From that point on, Stephenson was the best center in the entire league. He anchored a Dolphins offensive line that gave up the least amount of sacks for a record six consecutive seasons, from 1982-1988.
Despite his exceptional athleticism, Stephenson saw his career cut short after suffering a serious knee injury in a 1987 game against the New York Jets.
If the Hall of Fame center had not injured that knee, he might sit atop this list.
3. Jim Ringo, 1953-1967
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Ten Pro Bowl and Six All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981
The Green Bay Packers won two NFL Championships in his final three seasons with the team, but Jim Ringo's dynasty isn't limited to that.
He was asked to protect Bart Starr while opening up holes for Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. In 1961, that running back tandem combined for over 1,800 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns, and they racked up 26 total touchdowns the following season.
Ringo was the primary reason for this.
After leaving the Packers following the 1963 season, Ringo made three Pro Bowl appearances in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
2. Jim Otto, 1960-1974
Twelve Pro Bowl and 10 All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980
This is where the list gets interesting. I had an extremely hard time choosing between Otto and the No. 1 center of all time.
The former Oakland Raiders Hall of Famer was, by far, the best at his position every single season he played in the NFL.
Tasked with protecting quarterbacks such Tom Flores, Daryle Lamonica and Ken Stabler, he was the absolute best at what he did.
Otto wasn't just a mauler, he exhibited the trend towards more athletic centers who we currently see in the league today.
He played in 308 consecutive games from 1960-1974, showing a tremendous amount of durability.
1. Mike Webster, 1974-1990
Nine Pro Bowl and Five All-Pro Selections
*Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997
There is no other offensive lineman who meant more to the success of his team than Mike Webster meant to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the "Steel Curtain" received most of the praise for their four Super Bowl Championships, Webster was the glue that kept their great offensive line in order.
He consistently opened up holes for Franco Harris, while remaining one of the best pass-protecting centers in the game.
Over the course of an eight-year span from 1978-1985, Webster was a staple in the Pro Bowl, making it each season.
Webster left the Steelers after 16 years with the team. In 1989 and 1990, he became one of the primary reasons that Christian Okoye combined for over 2,200 yards in two seasons.
In the end, Webster paid the ultimate sacrifice for the game he loved. The Hall of Fame center passed away at the young age of 50 due to football related injuries.