In the fifth installment of our position-by-position look at the best eligible players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we are looking at the position that has sent more than twice as many players to the Hall of Fame in the last 15 years than any other, the offensive line.
Since 1996, 17 offensive linemen have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. By comparison, in the same time period a total of only 22 offensive skill players (8-WR, 7-QB, 4-RB, 3-TE) have been selected.
Overall in the modern era, more offensive linemen (34) have been enshrined in Canton than players from any other position. Standing second is the defensive line with 27.
Given the abundance of offensive linemen in the Hall of Fame, you might think that creating a list of the best linemen not in the Hall of Fame would be a little like making a sandwich from Thanksgiving leftovers; enough decent pieces to get a meal, but obvious that the best stuff is already gone.
Surprisingly, that really isn’t the case.
With most of the other positions I have evaluated so far, there are usually 3-4 players at the top of the list who obviously have been overlooked by Hall of Fame voters and deserve induction, but then most of the others on the list have enough flaws that it is clear to see why they have not been chosen.
Of the offensive linemen on my list, you could easily make a strong case that most of the top 20 deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day.
Because offensive linemen don’t have individual statistics on which to be judged, their merit for greatness is generally based on such things as Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition and team success.
Of the 34 modern era offensive linemen in the Hall of Fame, only seven never appeared in a Super Bowl or NFL/AFL Championship game.
One reason I believe that Hall of Fame voters have been so aggressive in selecting offensive linemen to the HOF in recent years, rather than filling the slots with offensive skill players is that you don’t have the same level of statistical confusion with linemen that you do with skill position players.
As offensive statistics have exploded over the last three decades due to rules changes and offensive styles, it has made it significantly harder to distinguish which skill position players really deserve to be labeled as the best of all-time.
At most positions the answer has simply been to select only those obvious “no-brainer” choices and put off selecting players who are at all questionable.
Those slots have been going to offensive linemen because there are a plethora of players at the guard, tackle, and center positions that regularly stood out through Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections as being among the elite in the league.
However, the one flaw with that scenario is that each year a lot more offensive linemen receive Pro Bowl recognition than players at the skill positions.
While usually only two running backs, three quarterbacks and four wide receivers earn Pro Bowl selection per conference, as many as 10 offensive linemen can be selected from each conference.
Thus, there are a total of 98 eligible offensive linemen who are not in the Hall of Fame despite having earned at least three trips to the Pro Bowl (many of them five of more) during their careers.
With so many worthy candidates to select from and no individual statistics with which to differentiate players, it was a challenge to identify the best players not in the Hall of Fame at this position.
As with the other positions, I looked at how they compared to players of their own era in regard to Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections.
I also looked at how the team annually rated in offensive categories and gave special consideration to players on teams that annually ranked among the best in the league either running or throwing the football.
I also looked at team success, but primarily only when other categories were too close to call.
So, here is my list of the top 10 eligible offensive linemen not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I look forward to your comments, discussion, and disagreements.