Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Top Holders and Long Snappers In NFL History

By John Turney
Well, in this exercise "NFL history" begins in the 1950s but we will be guilty of 'recentism' because there is more data these days to go by than in the 1950s and 1960s. But we do hope to share some names you have not heard in a while or maybe never had heard of.

Do enjoy, and correct us if you think we missed someone...we likely have. All we are trying to do is celebrate some of the great specialists in the history of the game so we welcome comments -- it is not an exhaustive list on either holers or longsnappers.


Credit: LA Times
1. Nolan Cromwell—He's number one on Rick Gosselin's list as well. The reason we have him number one is that he's one holder that could win or seal a game with a fake. We've seen him do it quite a few times, more than anyone else. He was a tremendous athlete with great speed and good hands. He also was a college quarterback so he could throw as well.

There may be a holder or two with slightly better hands but no one had his legs and impact on a game. Cromwell was a true weapon.

It should also be noted he was a good special team player on the punt block team (six career blocks) as well. And was often the safety on the kick coverage teams because he was a good tackler and had excellent speed so using him as the last line of defense was a good idea.
2. David Humm—Said by Bob Chandler to have the best hands ever.
3. Brad Maynard—Ranked second by Gosselin, we will go with that.
4. Paul Krause—Ranked third by Gosselin. Note that Krause is old school in that he has his front leg forward. You don't see that anymore but it used to be the norm.

Now players are coached not to do that is because it's dangerous for the holder to have his front leg sticking out because somebody could land on it. Although Krause does have it tucked as opposed to Whitsell (below) so the leg is not as vulnerable.

Also, when a holder kneels on his front knee he can use the back leg as a backstop since that where where he's catching the ball and placing it so the spot and setting the ball down becomes much more consistent and less prone to error.

5. Dave Whitsell—Excellent holder and the best edge place kick blocker ever. There may be a couple inside rusher with better numbers but no one from the edge. As mentioned Whitsell has his front leg stretched out like Krause and is kneeling on his back knee. In this position, an edge rusher could lay out and land on the outstretched leg and possibly cause an injury,

6. Sam Koch—These days the snappers and holders are so good that it's hard to critique them. Koch represents the near perfection of today's holders, almost all of who are punters. What we know is on his watch the kickers have been great.

7. Bill Troup—Always ranked high by pro scouting firm in the 1970s.

8. Bob Chandler—Held for the Bills and then the Raiders. 

9. Hunter Smith—Called by one of his special teams coaches, "The best ever".

10. Eddie Meador—Like Cromwell, also a Ram and also wore #21, he could execute a fake as well as anyone outside of Cromwell. He rushed for 59 yards on six fakes and one touchdown and also threw a touchdown on a fake.

11. Joe Theismann—Quick out of his 'holder kneel' could roll and throw. We do know he wasn't loved by Deacon Jones. In 1974, in the final game of the season, the Redskins were blowing out the Chicago Bears. Jones talked George Allen into letting him kick an extra point if the Redskins scored a touchdown, which they did. However, Theismann refused to hold for Jones until the Deacon had a word with him, "I had the threaten the little prick to get him to hold for me".

Also not Theismann is kneeling on his back knee, perhaps one of the last to do it that way. But as we know, Theismann's leg was not injured when he was holding for a kick.

12. Jeff Feagles—Like Maynard held hell for a long time.

13. John Hadl—Held when he was with the Chargers then with the Oilers but not for the Rams in 1973-74.

14. Steve Dils—Like Humm, great hands.

15. Koy Detmer—Stayed in the league largely because he could hold. One of the last of the quarterback-as-holder era.

16. Brian Baschnagel—Another high ranker in the eyes of one pro scouting firm.

17. Roger Wehrli—Scored a touchdown on a fake in his first and last NFL season.

18. Larry Wilson

19. John Sciarra—Interesting player. A college quarterback converted to safety but would sometimes play quarterback in goal line situations for the Eagles.

20. Johnny Hekker—Anyone who can hold and point out to the referee that there are 12 men on the defensive side of the ball at the same time deserves a spot here. He also can throw on fake kicks like he does on punts.

21. Jeff Rutledge

22. Jason Baker

23. Charlie Waters

24. Brian Moorman—Did it playing in cold, windy Buffalo.

25t. Danny White—A Gil Brandt entry

25t. Sane Lechler

25t. Pete Holohan—Terrific hands. One of the few tight ends to hold.

25t. Elroy Hirsch—A HOF receiver with excellent hands.

25t. Joe Scarpati—Longtime holder for Eagles, held for Tom Dempsey's 63-yard field goal in 1970 for the Saints.

Sure, we could list many more names, but we just can only assume guys like Sonny Jurgensen, John Brodie, or Len Dawson or all the punters now did a good job our someone else would do it. George Allen, in his 1985 book on special teams mentioned Richie Petitbon and Bobby Boyd of the Colts as well.

As we've mentioned would love some anecdotal evidence from kickers, snappers in the NFL and the retired guys to hear some stories as to why their guy, their holder was the best.

Long Snappers
We've sorted them by games played but that is not how we rank them. We really cannot rank them because there is not a way we know of to do that, short of tracking each snap's accuracy and velocity.

We do, however, talk to people we trust and get input about that. One person said the most important things are #1 Accuracy #2 Not having a "hitch" prior to the snap #3 Velocity.

The names on the list that played 105 games or less (aside from Anno) are recommendations from George Allen in his book on special teams.

Recently, Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin ranked the long snappers with Steve DeOssie first, Patrick Mannelly second, and Don Muhlbach, third.

That order sounds fine to us.

After that, we'd go with Junkin, Hellastrae, Dorenbos, Mike Morris, Zak DeOssie (probably the best at getting downfield and making tackles since Rich Saul), Mike McDonald (maybe had the best accuracy and velocity and no "hitch"), Dan Turk.

Bush and Maples were starting centers a good portion of his career, Tingelhoff was a starter his whole career and handled all snaps. Bobby Bell and D.D. Lewis were starting linebackers.

Who was the first? No one knows. Could it be Joe Reid of the 1951 Rams? We've seen films of that team and the only time we saw #52 was long snapping but not enough to know how many games he did it. He didn't begin the season doing it (he was a tookie) but did, at some point, take over the job. So, the question remains. 

Tom Catlin snapped for the Browns in 1958 and was not the starting center (1957, too, but missed four games) and George Allen named him as one of the best he'd ever seen. He certainly was a pioneer of an exclusive snapper for kicks. 

George Burman was the Rams long-snapper from 1967-70, though he missed 1967 with an injury and often didn't snap for placekicks, only punts until 1970. That year he was the long snapper for both placements and punts. He went on to do the same for Washington for the next couple of seasons. 

So, if we've omitted anyone, please let us know. We are sure that guys like Jim Otto did a credible job but we'd love to hear the stories. Todd Christensen and Wesley Walls were a pair of tight ends who were excellent long snappers. Jeff Robinson was a defense end then a tight end but was a long snapper his entire career.

With some of the field and game conditions back in the day sometimes just getting a kick or punt off was likely a feat. So if there is more to this we are all ears, we would love to learn more about the esoteric aspects of special teams play.
Some notables, though not a complete list of snappers who spent all or part of their careers long-snapping—
Name      Years  Games
Trey Junkin 1983 2002 281
David Binn 1994 2010 256
Blair Bush                    1978 1994 246
Patrick Mannelly 1998 2013 245
Mick Tingelhoff 1962 1978 240
Ethan Albright 1995 2010 236
Kendall Gammon 1992 2006 234
Don Muhlbach
John Denny
2004 2005 —  — 2018
L.P. Ladouceur
Dave Moore                 

Dan Turk                  1985 1999 218
Dale Hellastrae        1985 2001 205
Adam Schreiber            1984 1999 202
Jeff Robinson
Jon Dorenbos

Adam Lingner 1983 1995 200
Guy Bingham 1980 1993 199
Brian Kinchen             1988 2003 193
Lonie Paxton 2000 2011 189
Ed Brady 1984 1995 188
Mike Morris   1981 1999 188
Zak DeOssie 2007 2018 188
D.D. Lewis 1968 1981 186
Bobby Maples 1965 1978 184
Rob Davis 1996 2007 183
Greg Warren 2005 2016 180
Rich Saul 1970 1981 176
Steve DeOssie                1984 1995 175
Cullen Loeffler 2004 2014 171
Mike Bartrum                  1993 2006 171
Bobby Bell 1963 1974 168
Mark Rodenhauser 1987 1999 168
Garrison Sanborn 2009 2018 160
J.J. Jansen 2009 2018 160
Kevin Houser 2000 2010 159
Mike Schneck 1999 2009 159
Randy Kirk                 1987 1999 157
Trevor Matich 1985 1996 148
Brad St. Louis 2000 2009 144
Chris Massey
Morgan Cox
Jon Weeks
Nick Sundberg

Tom Goode 1962 1970 113
Ed Perry
Josh Harris                     

Charlie Ane 1975 1981 105
Mike McDonald 1983 1992 104
Dan Ryczek 1973 1979 102
Sam Anno 1987 1993 102
Ted Fritsch
Kyle Nelson

George Burman
Vic Lindskog

John Rapacz 1948 1954 76
Larry Strickland 1954 1959 62
Tom Catlin 1953 1959 51


  1. Wasn't Bruce Matthews a snapper for much of his career?

    1. Yes, but that is why we posted 'Some notables, though not a complete list of snappers'

      there are a lot of starting centers that long snapped, Otto, Tingelhoff and on and on was normal until the 1970s and 1980s.. specialists took off then

  2. To the best of my knowledge Bruce did play center as well as guard & tackle ( which he was all pro at both positions) but I don't think he was a long snapper,in my opinion he is the best offensive lineman in NFL history, simply because he could play any position at all pro caliber and did it for @19 years, Sincerely Yours J V Nick Nichols DC1 USCG (Ret)

  3. L.P. Ladouceur for the Cowboys is currently at 237 games

  4. Jeff Robinson played from 1994-2010 season, for the Broncos, Rams, Cowboys, and back to the Rams. He won a super bowl (special teams captain) with the Rams

  5. Jeff Robinson was also the first Long Snapper added to a Pro Bowl team specifically for long snapping. He was out of the country at the time, and consequently did not play in the game.

  6. T-Mac is right: Bruce Matthews did handle the Oilers long snapping for much of his career, according to NFL GSIS box scores and plenty of videos I've come across. I've been attempting to create an accurate list of every pro football long snapper in history. I have 1991-2020 complete. 1990 and before is proving to be a bit of a challenge.

    1. I know Matthews was but didn't go back to check---someday will check with my primary source that grades them going back to 1976 or so, but have not done it. Will know much more then.

      In 1970 George Burman snapped for punts and FGs/PATs for Rams, before that he did punts beginng in 1966 or so. He was likely the first specialist...other than that it was usually the teams starting center that did it.

    2. I've gotten back through 1987 now (aside from about half the teams during the strike... I know, I'm a sick, obsessed man). Looking at 1988, it varied a lot: Joel Hilgenberg in New Orleans, Dermontti Dawson of the Steelers, Grant Feasel for Seattle, and Bart Oates of the Giants were the only ones doing the long snapping while also playing center all the time. A few were other starting linemen (Matthews, and guard Keith Bishop for Denver), a few were total specialists who used it as a springboard to play a lot in the future at a non-LS position (Eric Sanders in Detroit, Brian Kinchen in Miami, Frank Winters in Cleveland, Steve DeOssie in Dallas). But the other 15-20 were pretty well specialized as solely long snappers (Ed Brady, Adam Lingner, Randy Kirk, and Chuck Thomas, to name a few).

      That's part of why I started on this project, to kind of get a gauge for when it became a specialized position for most teams.

      If you ever catch a video of Super Bowl VII, the broadcast specifically highlights Burman as being a specialized long-snapper. I recently read a long-form piece on Dr. Burman and his career from Windy City Gridiron.

    3. Burham was the Rams long snapper in 1970, and snapped for punts before that. He was the first specialist, but did it for Rams before the Redskins. In teh 1970s Billy Curry was a long snapper after he was no longer a starter, same with Bob DeMarco, Dan Ryczek did it for Rams, Redskins and Bucs. Mike McDonald, Ed Brady, and more.

  7. Didn't Steve Largent hold for Norm Johnson ?

    1. He did hold for Johnson some but usually a backup QB or the punter. Jim Zorn did. Zorn also held for Herrera. Johnson had several holders. If memory serves Largent did it late in his career ...