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.
To help frame the conversation and provide an understanding of which offensive linemen received significant consideration for this list of the top 10 eligible offensive linemen not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, here are the players who earned spots 11-25 on my list.
As I mentioned earlier, no position has seen as many worthy candidates as the offensive line. For this reason, there are quite a few great players who just missed making the top 25. Among the players who were seriously considered, but fell just short, were: Marvin Powell, Leon Gray, Rich Saul, Ralph Neely, Richmond Webb, Grady Alderman, Bruce Armstrong, Dennis Harrah, and Jeff Van Note.
Only players who are currently eligible for the Hall of Fame were considered.
11. Steve Wisniewski
12. Ed Budde
13. George Kunz
14. Duane Putnam
15. Russ Grimm
16. Chris Hinton
17. Dick Barwegan
18. Mike Kenn
19. Winston Hill
20. Mark Stepnoski
21. Ken Gray
22. Bill Fralic
23. Tony Boselli
24. John Niland
25. Lomas Brown
No offensive line unit has received more notoriety than the Washington Redskins’ famous “Hogs” in the 1980s.
The anchor of the unit was left tackle Joe Jacoby, the mammoth 6-foot-7, 305-pound lineman from Louisville.
Despite being un-drafted out of college, Jacoby earned a spot with the Washington Redskins in 1981 and became an immediate starter.
In 1982, Washington running back John Riggins followed the “Hogs” to 610 yards in four playoff games as the Redskins earned their first Super Bowl title.
On the critical drive in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XVII, Jacoby made a key block to spring Riggins for a 43-yard fourth-down touchdown run to seal the victory.
Jacoby was selected to four straight Pro Bowls and twice earned first team All-NFL honors. He was selected as a member of the All-Decade team for the 1980s.
After eight seasons at left tackle, Jacoby moved to right tackle in 1989 and retired in 1993.
Only 10 players in NFL history ever started more games thanMinnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff.
As the mainstay of an offensive line that also featured Hall of Famer Ron Yary, Tingelhoff started 240 consecutive games for the Vikings between 1962 and 1978.
He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and earned first team All-Pro recognition five times.
Minnesota was annually among the top running teams during the 1960s and then in the 1970s had one of the top passing offenses in the league.
The Vikings made 10 trips to the playoffs during Tingelhoff’s career and appeared in four Super Bowls.
Though the defense tended to get most of the notoriety, the Chicago Bears offensive line of the 1980s was an important element of their team success.
As the steady rock in the middle of the lineup, center Jay Hilgenberg earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl and was a two-time first team All-Pro.
The Bears led the NFL in rushing yards four consecutive seasons between 1983 and 1986 and also ranked in the top three each season between 1988 and 1990.
In 1985, the Bears averaged 4.5 yards per rush attempt while rushing for 2,761 yards on their way to a 15-1 record and victory in Super Bowl XX.
During Hilgenberg’s tenure, the Bears made seven playoff appearances.
In just seven NFL seasons, Dick Stanfel emerged as one of the best offensive linemen of his era.
Stanfel was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and also earned first team All-NFL honors five times during his career. He was honored as a member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1950s.
After missing what would have been his rookie season in 1951 due to a knee injury, Stanfel moved immediately into the starting lineup at right guard for a Detroit Lions team that claimed the NFL Championship in 1952.
In 1953, the Lions repeated as NFL Champions and Stanfel earned first team All-Pro honors while also being named the team MVP (a rare accomplishment for an offensive lineman).
He again earned All-Pro honors in 1954 as the Lions reached the NFL title game before losing to Cleveland.
Following the 1955 season, Stanfel was traded to Washington and earned first team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in each of his three seasons with the Redskins.
Given that he was unquestionably one of the premier players of his era, Stanfel would likely have been a lock for the Hall of Fame had his career been slightly longer.
One of his teammates on the Lions offensive line, Lou Creekmur, played 10 years in the league and was selected for the Hall of Fame in 1996.
However, while Stanfel was a finalist for the Hall of Fame in 1993, he has never been a finalist again.
In many ways, Stanfel’s career is very comparable to that of former Jacksonville Jaguars standout Tony Boselli.
Boselli earned five Pro Bowl and three All-Pro honors during his career, but only played six full seasons before his career was derailed by injuries.
A key member of the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins for more than a decade, Bob Kuechenberg has been tantalizingly close to earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.
He has been a finalist for the Hall of Fame each of the last eight seasons, but has not earned entry while watching seven other offensive linemen selected during that time.
Originally selected in the fourth round of the 1969 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Kuechenberg was cut by the Eagles and Atlanta Falcons before catching on with the Miami Dolphins in 1970.
He saw action in all 14 games as a rookie and then in 1971 moved into the starting lineup at left guard.
The Dolphins made three straight Super Bowl appearances from 1971-1973, claiming two titles. Miami led the NFL in rushing yards in 1971 and 1972.
Kuechenberg was selected to six Pro Bowls and was a first team All-Pro in 1978.
Miami returned to the Super Bowl in 1982 and Kuechenberg was a Pro Bowl player in 1982 and 1983.
Two members of the Dolphins’ offensive line from the 1970s, Jim Langer and Larry Little, have already earned induction in the Hall of Fame.
While Kuechenberg was a solid player, in some respect the fact that he has been a Hall of Fame finalist so many times seems to be more a tribute to the great Dolphins running attack of the 1970s than a result of Kuechenberg’s greatness.
There are many offensive linemen who have not received significant Hall of Fame consideration despite earning more Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections than Kuechenberg.
Kuechenberg will likely one-day earn a place in the Hall of Fame, but I think this is one of the rare cases where the Hall of Fame voters have been right to pick other linemen before giving the nod to Kuechenberg.
For more than a decade, Dick Schafrath was a key member of a Cleveland Browns offensive line that annually paved the way for the top running backs in the NFL.
In 1960, Schafrath stepped into the left tackle spot previously manned by Hall of Famer Lou Groza and for the next 12 years was recognized as one of the elite offensive tackles in the NFL.
Cleveland running backs Jim Brown (six times) and Leroy Kelly (twice) led the NFL in rushing during Schafrath’s career.
Schafrath was selected for the Pro Bowl six times and was a first-team All-Pro four times during his career.
The Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship and made six playoff appearances during Schafrath’s career.
Another key member of the Browns’ line of the era, Gene Hickerson, was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 and hopefully Hall voters won’t wait too many more years before putting the Canton native into the Hall.
A first round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers, Walt Sweeney stepped immediately into the lineup for a team that went on to claim the AFL Championship in 1963.
The following year, he began a string of nine consecutive Pro Bowl seasons.
From his guard position, Sweeney teamed with Hall of Fame tackle Ron Mix to anchor the right side of the line for an offense that was explosive both running and throwing the ball.
Sweeney was a first team All-AFL selection in 1967 and 1968 and was a second team choice on the all-time All-AFL team.
After 11 seasons in San Diego, Sweeney completed his career with two years as a starter for the Washington Redskins.
Following in the footsteps of Ray Mansfield and Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson enjoyed an impressive career as the center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After seeing limited action as a rookie, Dawson replaced future Hall of Famer Webster in the lineup in 1989 and over the next decade was among the top centers in the league.
He earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl and six times was honored as a first team All-Pro.
Pittsburgh reached the playoffs seven times during his career and appeared in Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season.
Dawson was a finalist for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2009, and it probably won’t be long before he takes his place among the all-time greats.
Because of off-the-field circumstances, it is likely that Jim Tyrer will never be inducted into the Hall of Fame regardless of on-the-field worthiness.
A nine-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time All-Pro, Tyrer was the anchor of the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line for more than a decade. He was a first team choice for the AFL’s All-Time team.
He helped lead the Chiefs to three AFL Championships and victory in Super Bowl IV.
In Super Bowl IV, Tyrer and the rest of the Kansas City offensive line completely dominated the much-heralded defensive front of the Minnesota Vikings.
Unfortunately, all of his success on the field is overshadowed by his tragic death.
After suffering financial misfortunes in his post-football business career, on September 15, 1980, Tyrer murdered his wife and then committed suicide.
He was a finalist for the Hall of Fame the next year, but was not inducted and has not been a finalist since.
Given the current emphasis of Commissioner Roger Goodell on player conduct, it is doubtful that the Hall of Fame, regardless of his prowess as a player, will ever honor Tyrer.
Given the plethora of offensive linemen who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in recent years it makes absolutely no sense that Jerry Kramer has yet to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame.
One of the key members of perhaps the greatest offensive line of all-time, at the time of his retirement no football expert would have believed that 40 years later he would still be waiting to have his name called for the Hall of Fame.
Anyone who followed football in the 1960s knew about the famous Green Bay Packers power sweep.
It was the signature play for the great Packer offense that led the NFL in rushing yards three times and finished second three times between 1960 and 1967.
The play relied on the athletic ability of the offensive linemen to pull out from their normal positions and lead block for the running back heading around end.
Kramer was ideally suited for the play and often would make crushing blocks to allow Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, both Hall of Famers, to gain yards and score touchdowns.
He also made one of the most famous blocks in football history as he paved the way for Bart Starr to score the decisive touchdown in the final seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship game (also known as the “Ice Bowl”).
Kramer was recognized as a first-team All-Pro selection five times during his career and appeared in three Pro Bowls. He was chosen to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
In 1969, Kramer was one of only a handful of NFL players selected by the Hall of Fame selection committee for the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team. He is the only member of that team who has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In fact, no player who has not eventually received induction into the HOF has been a finalist for the Hall more times than Kramer. He first was a finalist in 1974 and has been a finalist 10 times with the last time coming in 1997.
So what changed between 1969 and 1974 (and the 35 years since) that has kept Kramer from earning his rightful place in the Hall of Fame?
There are probably two possible explanations for why Kramer has been snubbed for so long.
The first has to do with the over-saturation of members of the great Packer teams of the 1960s in the Hall.
Beginning with Jim Taylor in 1976 and ending with Henry Jordan in 1995, 10 members of the 1960s Packers have been selected for the Hall of Fame.
During the time that Kramer was a finalist in seven of eight years (between 1974 and 1981) seven Packers were chosen for the Hall and all but one year included a Packer in the HOF class.
It is possible that Hall of Fame voters decided to slow down a bit on selecting Packers to allow for some balance and then by the time they started choosing Packers again, Kramer had been pushed aside.
After the selections of Willie Davis and Jim Ringo in 1981, not member of the 1960s Packers was chosen again until Paul Hornung in 1986.
The other possible explanation has to do with the perception by some that Kramer’s role on the team has perhaps been exaggerated due to his own self-promotion.
During the Packers’ final Super Bowl season of 1967, Kramer teamed with the late, great Dick Schaap to write the book "Instant Replay," which chronicled the final season of the Lombardi Packers.
The book became a best-seller and was one of the first books I ever read.
He followed it up nearly 20 years later with the book "Distant Replay," which re-connected with members of the great Green Bay teams 20 years after their championships.
The greatness of the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s was in their team chemistry, rather than in the greatness of each individual player.
It is possible that some Hall of Fame voters have perceived the notoriety that Kramer received for his books as excessive self-promotion that over-emphasized his value to the Packers.
He also seems to have been anointed as the de-facto spokesman for the Packers of the 1960s as he is always prominently featured in video clips about the team, Coach Lombardi and the era.
Of course in this era when newspaper writers across the country are climbing all over each other to get on television, if Hall of Fame voters are indeed punishing Kramer because they think he craved the limelight, the level of hypocrisy would be beyond description.
My hope is that sometime soon, before it is too late and the now 73-year old Kramer is no longer able to enjoy the moment, Hall of Fame voters overcome whatever reason they have had for overlooking this deserving player and put him in the Hall.