Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The NFL's Best-ever Post WWII Centers

By John Turney
We will go all the way back to 1920 in this iteration of our list building up to the NFL's upcoming 100th Anniversary. Usually, because of platoon play, we go back to the end of World War II. Offensive players don't really need that separation, especially centers but we do focus on the recent players.

NFL Films producer and author Chris Willis will be making the pre-WWII selections for Pro Football Journal but if we had combined the lists we'd have ranked Mel Hein second, Bulldog Turner and George Trafton between maybe eight and twelve. And though Chuck Bednarik played a lot of center, we listed him with the linebackers in our picks last year. If he were listed here he would have been listed between five and ten.

We, as always do look at and list post-season honors (All-Pro, Pro Bowls, etc.), rings, and also media reports from the time the players were in the NFL (using Paul Zimmerman, Joel Buchsbaum, Proscout, Inc., among others as resourced). As always we prefer peak performance over longevity if there is a choice to be made.

The first dozen fifteen are elite, the ones after that are excellent. As we've explained before there may not be a lot of difference between say, #17 and #33 or #44 and #77. It's definitely a gradation. But we are confident that the top five were better than the rest and that the top fifteen are better than the bottom fifteen. We've made the list around 100 names to help kick off NFL 100, the NFL's centennial season of 2019 and also to mention of some interesting names that worked hard and didn't get a lot of notice in their careers.

The artwork is by various artists including Merv Corning, Chuck Ren, Gene Sanny, Cliff Spohn, and many others.

Here is the list—
1. Dwight Stephenson
He had a short but amazing productive career, he played eight seasons and five times he was not only All-Pro and a Pro Bowler but the AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year. He was amazing "par-ful" (the way Don Shula pronounced "powerful" and quick according to Fred Smerlas who said Stephenson was ''a bolt of electricity . . . the quickest thing on two legs".

Paul Zimmerman simply said that Stephenson was, "the greatest center I've ever seen. He has everything that all the others had, plus speed".  Dan Marino said, ""He was totally dominating at his position. I know this because he was one of the reasons that I have had such a successful career." Gene Upshaw told the Sporting News that Stephenson was the best-ever offensive lineman he'd ever seen

"A great athlete with tremendous balance, quickness and the strength of a larger man, there isn't a nose tackle he cannot handle", wrote Gannett writer and researcher Joel Buchsbaum.

It took a few years but in 1998 he was voted to the Hall of Fame.

2. Mike Webster
A seventeen-year player and a fifteen-year starter. He was a backup when the Steelers won their first two rings but a vital cog in the second two.

He was the Second-team center on both the 1970s All-Decade Team and the 1980s iteration. He was a six-time All-Pro (First-team) and twice a Second-team All-Pro and was voted to nine Pro Bowls and is a member of the Hall of Fame.

He was a tough man's tough man and was durable (only missed eleven games in his career). He could handle nose tackles and also was quick enough to get to a linebacker on the second level.

Joel Buchsbaum said, "Gets perfect scores for his ability to handle a nose tackle. Explosive strength and quickness off the ball are his greatest physical assets."

3. Jim Otto
Twelve Pro Bowls/AFL All-Star games and also twelve All-Pro/All-AFL honors. It's hard to be more decorated than Jim Otto was. He was also a member of the All-Time AFL team and a first ballot Hall of Famer.

He was durable (zero games missed) and again, one of the all-time tough guys. He started in 210 straight games in the regular season. He also had a bit of a mean streak. He entered pro football at about 205-210 pounds and build himself up to 255, making him among the bigger pivots of his era.

4. Dermontti Dawson
Dawson was a six-time All-Pro, went to seven Pro Bowls and was All-Decade for the 1990s. He was a Hall of Famer, too. Additionally, Dawson was a four-time AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year as well.

He started as a rookie as a guard and then took over as a starting center in 1989 and held the spot until 2000, although 1999 and 2000 were half-seasons due to injuries.

He was in the mold of Dwight Stephenson but didn't quite have all the gifts Stephenson did, but he was close. "Quick and athletic and nimble. . . the most athletic center in football who has the ability to recover when beaten" was Buchsbaum's synopsis.

5. Jim Ringo
Ringo is a Hall of Famer, the owner of two championship rings and was a seven-time First-team All-Pro and a four-time Second-team All-Pro and a 1960s All-Decade team member. He was smaller (6-1, 235 pounds) but a quick player, like many in his day. He ran well but also could position himself and be a factor in the run game.

He made All-Pro prior to Vince Lombardi's arrival to Green Bay so his "all" status wasn't begun by the success of that program, he was good during the bad years of the Packers. He earned the starting job as a rookie and then was hurt in the fifth game. He was a starting center from day one of his career through the end, a "cradle to grave starter" like Otto and Tingelhoff.

Like Jim Otto he entered the NFL at maybe 210-215 pounds and build himself up to around 235 without sacrificing any quickness.

6. Jim Langer
A strong player, he and guard Bob Keuchenberg were called "Flex" and "Reflex" due to their strength and dedication in the weight room, though we don't know which one Langer was. "Probably the best pass blocking center to ever play the game" according to Buchsbaum. Called "Bob Griese's life insurance policy."

He was the First-team center on the 1970s All-Decade Team and a five-time All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler. He was part of perhaps the best inside trio (guard-center-guard) in history and part of two Super Bowl championships.

He was a starter from 1972-79 and split time when he was a Viking in 1980 and 1981. he was a backup in 1970 and 1971.

7. Mick Tingelhoff
Tingelhoff had to wait a long time to get into the Hall of Fame. Like several Vikings, the specter of four Super Bowl losses hung over him and with Mick, his Super Bowl games were not stellar as a few of the players that played over him had great games.

However, sometimes that can happen, the Super Bowl is a match of the best two teams of each conference and the opponents are often All-Pros. Dick Butkus reportedly gave Tingelhoff high marks and Johnny Sample wrote that Mick was, "about the best I have ever seen play the position of center. He's doing a solid job week after week."

Speaking of All-Pros, Tingelhoff was a First-teamer seven times and that is impressive and in 1969 he was the NFL's Offensive Linemen of the Year. He played seventeen years, started seventeen years, never missed a game (240 straight) and was the team's long snapper his whole career. If the team was on offense he was on the field.

8. Frank Gatski
Like Trafton, he played twelve seasons winning a championship in eight of them and being voted All-Pro in five of them. He didn't make an All-Decade Team but since his career went from mid-decade to mid-decade (1946-57) it made it kind of difficult but here at PFJ picked him four our 1945-55 All-Mid-Decade team. Owner of seven championship rings.

9. Kevin Mawae
Elected to the Hall of Fame this year, he was a one-time AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year and a seven-time All-Pro (plus one Second-team All-Pro) and was voted to eight Pro Bowls. He was also a First-team All-Decade pick for the 2000s.

He began as a guard in Seattle and moved to center in his third year. He played 241 games, starting 238 of them.

10. Jay Hilgenberg
A three-time All-Pro, two-time Second-team All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler. He played thirteen years for the Bears and was the center for the 1985 Super Bowl winning team. "A savvy scrapper known for quickness and technique", wrote Buchbaum. Reggie White named him one of the top five offensive linemen he ever faced stating, "Was as quick as any center I've ever seen."

11. Don Macek
Who? You are asking. Other than his 1976 All-Rookie selection Macek never got any post-season honors. So why do we have him ranked 11th? Well, the major reason is his high rankings according to Proscout, Inc., the premier scouting form that has been around since the mid-1970s.

12. Tim Grunhard
What was said about Macek applies to Grunhard with the exception of the lone Pro Bowl Grunhard earned in 1997. "Old fashioned muscle and maul-type", said Buchsbaum. He was among the top rated guards by Proscout, Inc., and considered by them the best of his era over some of the "perennial All-Pros".
13. Rich Saul
A two-time Second-team All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowl, Saul was a fine pivot. He was one of the few centers who could lead on a sweep and was an excellent pass protector. An ideal combination of strength and quickness. Would be higher but was a backup for a couple of years, then split time for a couple of years before becoming a full-time starter. Also, in his first five years, he was an elite special teams player.

"Supersmart and competitive. Plays well beyond his ability and never makes a mental mistake. A superb technician who's always in the right position", wrote Buchsbaum.

14. Ray Donaldson
Seventeen years of service and sixteen years as a starter. Who can match that? He was voted to six Pro Bowls and was Second-team All-Pro twice. Earned a ring with Dallas in 1995. He was a big center for his era, not so much now, but in the 1980s 310 pounds or so was huge. The only thing keeping him from being higher was year-to-year consistency.

15. Kent Hull
A three-time All-Pro and an addition Second-team selection as well. He began his career in the USFL and was the center for the great Bills teams of the late-1980s and early 1990s. A tall (6-5) center, built like a tackle. Here at PFJ, we named Hull the Second-team center on the 1985-95 All-Mid-Decade Team as well.

16. Jeff Saturday
Fourteen years (thirteen as a starter) and six Pro Bowls for Saturday. He was also First-team All-Pro twice and a Second-team All-Pro twice. He played in 211 games and made 202 starts and won a Super Bowl ring in 2006. Wasn't called to a lot of penalties, fewer than two per season on average.

17. Nick Mangold
A three-time All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler. He played eleven seasons and was a starter for all eleven. Played clean, averaged about one and a half penalties per season (including those declined or offset). PFJ named him the center on the 2005-15 All-Mid-Decade Team.

18. Tom Nalen
A three-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler. A fourteen-year player with thirteen years as a starter (194 games, 188 starts) he was a key player in the zone blocking scheme of Alex Gibbs than had a 1,000 rusher nearly every year. Possesses two Super Bowl rings.

A smaller, quick, center. "A young Stepnowski only bigger but not as savvy".
19. Ryan Kalil
A two-time All-Pro and a Second-team All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler. He will begin his thirteenth season in 2019. He's had four seasons where he's missed at least half the games, so injuries have been an issue. Has only been called for five holding penalties in his career.

20. Alex Mack
A one-time All-Pro and a two-time Second-team All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler. He is going into his eleventh season in 2019.

21. Olin Kreutz
Six Pro Bowls and a two-time First-team All-Pro. He was the Second-team center on both the 2000s All-Decade Team as well. He played 14 seasons and was a starter for 13 of them, playing in 195 games, starting 187. Not the best athlete, but a hard, hard worker and a self-made player.

One negative eas his penchant for penalties, he was called for 65 in his career, an average of 4.6 per season, about double what other recent centers on this list averaged.

22. Jason Kelce
Kelce was a Pro Bowler in 2014 and 2016 and an All-Pro in 2017 and 2018. Very quick, can get out and lead sweeps, doesn't have tons of power at the point of attack, but Eagles use him in ways that maximize his skills. He gets caught holding a lot (23 so far in his career) and like Kreutz averaged more than double what most recent centers did (5.0 per season).

23. Jeff Van Note
Van Note played 18 seasons and was a starter for sixteen of those seasons. He was a Pro Bowler in 1974 and 1975, then from 1979-82. He was a Second-team All-Pro in 1979 and 1982. A quick-type center, typical of his era. PFJ named him to the 1975-85 All-Mid-Decade Team, edging out Saul and Rudnay.

24. Tom Banks
The "Wolfman". One of the top handful of pass blockers on our list. He was All-Pro in 1976 and Second-team All-Pro in 1977 and was All-NFC from 1975-79. Another quick-type. "A superb cutoff blocker who excels against a 4-3 defense but struggles when a nose tackle plays over his head" according to Joel B.

25. Len Hauss
Hauss got post-season honor both pre-George Allen and during Allen's term with the Redskins. He was All-Pro in 1972  and Second-team All-Pro in 1973, 1974 and 1975. He was a Pro Bowler in 1966, 68, 69, 70, and 72. He was First- or Second-team All-NFC from 1971-77 give him post-season honors in eleven of his fourteen seasons. Again, a quick-type.

26. Jack Rudnay
Ruday was a Second-team All-Pro 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1979 and a Pro Bowler from 1973-76. Another of the "quick-type" centers of the 1960s-1970s era.

27. Bob DeMarco
For the era he played in, DeMarco was highly decorated because he was able to sneak some All-Pro years in when usually Mick Tingelhoff was getting the lion's share of them. He was Second-team All-Pro in 1963, First-team All-Pro in 1964, Second-team again in 1965 and 66 then First-team All-Pro in 1967, then Second-team in 1968 and again First-team in 1969 and you can throw in a Second-team All-AFC in 1971.

That tallies three times First-team and four times Second-team All-Pro plus a Second-team All-AFC. Interestingly there are players in the Hall of Fame with less of an "All-Pro resume" than DeMarco does. Just food for thought.

He was a fixture for the Cardinals from 1962-69 then played for the Dolphins in 1970-71, going to the Super Bowl in 1971 and then he went to the Browns and started for them. In 1975 he was the Rams long snapper, ending his 15-year career after that season.

28. Kevin Glover
A fifteen-year vet and a thirteen-year starter and a First- or Second-team All-Conference/Pro Bowler from 1994-97 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1995. Along with Lomas Brown the best blockers Barry Sanders had. Glover was a quick-type, rather than overpowering, a position blocker.
Already a three-time All-Pro (plus one Second-team All-Pro year) and a seven-time Pro Bowler. However, many feel he's overrated. There are years we like him and years we don't. Overrated in terms of honors? Yes. But he's a good center when healthy and motivated, just not to the tune of seven Pro Bowls and three All-Pros.

30. Jon Morris
The AFL's second-best center behind Jim Otto, he went to seven AFL-All-Star games and was All-AFL (First-team) in 1966 and All-AFL (Second-team) in 1964, 65, 67, 68, 69.

31. Mark Stepnoski
Stepnoski played 13 years and was a starter for 12 of those. He earned two Super Bowl rings for Dallas and was a five-time Pro Bowler. He was a First-team All-Pro in 1992 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1994 and 1996. A small center who relied on quickness. "Superb technician with great hand-quickness" was Buchsbaum's comment.

32. Doug Smith
A cerebral, self-made player, he took over the Rams center position in 1982 and held it for a decade. He was a six-time Pro Bowler. He was simply a good offensive lineman. As a rookie, he stepped in for an injured Dennis Harrah and graded very well. In 1979 the same thing, until he got hurt himself. In 1980 Harrah held out and Smith took over his position and Harrah didn't get it back until Smith injured a knee and was out for the year. In 1981 Smith took over for a slumping Kent Hill and outplayed him but then had to move to tackle due to the Rams losing their starters to injury. 

Then as we mentioned he took over the center spot in 1982.

33. Joe Fields
Fields was All-Pro once and a Second-team All-Pro twice and a Pro Bowler twice.

34. Forrest Blue
Blue was a converted tackle and was tall for a center (6-6) but was very quick. He was the NFC's dominant center from 1970-74. He was All-Pro in 1971, 72, and 73 and a Pro Bowler/All-NFC pick from 1971 through 1974. He was traded to Baltimore in 1975 for two high draft picks (a #2 and #3) and spent the last half of his career on the bench.

Joe Thomas, the Colts GM wanted Blue to be an upgrade to Ken Mendenhall, but coach Ted Marchibroda didn't agree and didn't make the change. So Blue, a former All-Pro rode the pine for several years, mostly long snapping. Odd.

We rank him high based on his peak performance, not his longevity.

35. Bob Johnson
Like Blue, he was a tall (6-5) center, unusual for that era. Johnson was a First-team All-Pro in 1973 and Second-team All-Pro in 1968 and 1975. He was a Pro Bowler/First- or Second-team All-AFC pick in 1968, 70, 72, 74, and 76. All told he received post-season honors in seven of his twelve seasons.

36. Larry McCarren
McCarren was Second-team All-Pro in 1983 and a Pro Bowler/First- or Second-team All-NFC in 1981, 82, 83, and 84.

37. Ray Wietecha
A ten-year starter and four-time Pro Bowler Wietecha was a fixture during the Giants glory years from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. He was also an All-Pro in 1958 and a Second-team All-Pro pick in 1956, 57, 59, 61, and 62. We named him Second-team on the 1955-65 All-Mid-Decade Team as well.

38. Matt Birk
Birk went to six Pro Bowls he was also All-Pro in 2003. On the tall side (6-4) he was a converted tackle. A classic cerebral player.

39. Bart Oates
Oates began his career in the USFL, like Kent Hull, and came to the NFL in 1985 and was a five-time Pro Bowl pick with both the Giants and 49ers.

40. Dave Dalby
"Never gets much ink because of Shell and Upshaw but he is very steady and does surprisingly well against nose tackles", said Buchsbaum. Dalby took over for Jim Otto in 1975 and held the position through 1984. He earned three Super Bowl rings and was a Pro Bowler in 1977. He was not big, but played more like a big center than a lot of the other centers his size.
41. Bill Lenkaitis
"Handles nose tackles and pass protection assignments equally well. He starts ahead of Pete Brock who is the best young center in the league." Lenkaitis began his career as a guard with the Chargers and was acquired by the Patriots in 1971 and was their starter from 1973-80.

42. Bill Bryan
"Not as strong or durable as Mike Webster but quicker", said Buchsbaum. Bryan played twelve years, eleven as a starter for the Broncos. His only "honor" was in 1985 when he was a Second-team All-NFL pick, but he played in an era where it hard to be All-Pro unless your last name was Stephenson. He was a quick-type center who used leverage and position to win.

43. Kirk Lowdermilk
Called by John Madden the best center in the game (this was after Stephenson was out of the NFL) in 1988.  He was a Second-team All-Pro in 1989 and 1992. Like Bill Bryan a position type with good leverage and smarts.

44. John Hill
Hill began his career as a part-time starter with the Giants in the early seventies. He was acquired by the Saints in 1974 and he held the starting job through 1984. The Saints did get better in 1978 and 1979 but really, Hill suffered through some bad years and the Saints got good after he retired. But, that does not mean he wasn't a solid player for that because he was. He was undersized (249 pounds) but very quick and another of the heady centers on this list.

45. Ken Iman
Kenny Iman played 14 seasons and 194 games. From 1960 through 1963 he backup up Jim Ringo and sat out the 1964 season with an injury and then from 1965-74 he was the Rams starting center, though in 1973 and 1974 he split time with Rich Saul. He was a smaller pivot (240 pounds) but had enough quickness to compensate. The only post-season honor he received was a Second-team All-Conference selection in 1969. He was another steady player with good quickness and staying power.

46. Tom DeLeone
A two-time Pro Bowler, DeLeon was the snapper for the Kardiac Kids in the late-1970s, early 1980s.

Best of the rest:
47. Brad Meester—Strong-type, was a solid center for eleven seasons (plus three as a guard at beginning of his career). Never any post-season honors but in many of his seasons he graded higher than the AFC Pro Bowl centers (looking at you Jeff Saturday and Kevin Mawae).

48. Nick Hardwick—Eleven years and a Pro Bowl. Played clean, few penalties compared to average. Rated better than his post-season honors suggest.

49. Ed Flanagan—A twelve-year starter, four Pro Bowls he was second-team All-Pro in 1970. A really good player on a good run blocking line, coached by Chuck Knox.

50. Bruce Bosley—Began career as a defensive end, became 49ers starting center in 1957 and held the job through 1968 and then went to Falcons for a season. Was a four-time Second-team All-Pro center in an era where it was hard to get honors when Tingelhoff and Jim Ringo were in the league.

51. Rodney Hudson—Eight years, two Pro Bowls, still active and will move up on our list. Excellent center.

52. Andre Gurode—Ten years, five Pro Bowls. Kind of a penalty machine (4.5 per season) in his career.

53. Don Mosebar—All-Pro once, Second-team once and three Pro Bowls in twelve seasons.

54. Ray Mansfield—Began career as a defensive tackle, moved to center in his fourth season and started at center for Steelers from 1966-76, even holding off Mike Webster for a few years.

55. Mike Pouncey—Four Pro Bowls in eight seasons so far (one as a guard).

56. Guy Morriss—Played fifteen seasons, thirteen as a starter. Only "all" was his 1981 All-NFC selection.

57. Ken Mendenhall—A smaller center, not strong but quick. Colts traded for a bigger center (Forrest Blue) and held him off as a starter.

58. Carl Mauck—Played thirteen seasons, ten as a starter. Played his best ball in the late-1970s blocking for Earl Campbell. Was a Second-team All-AFC pick in 1979.

59. Fred Quillan—Two Pro Bowls, two rings in ten seasons.

60. Chris Myers—Played a decade, eight as a starter and went to two Pro Bowls. Another of the 'clean' players, averaged 1.5 penalties a season, about the same as Nick Mangold. He and Myers averaged the fewest penalties among recent (1994-present) centers.

61. Dick Szymanski—began as a center where he went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, his career took a detour to middle linebacker where he played well (five interceptions one for a score for the 1959 Champion Colts). He returned to center in 1961 and stayed then until Bill Curry took over going to two more Pro Bowls in the process.

62. Bill Curry—Began career as a backup linebacker for the Lombardi Packers. Went to Colts and started for them and was Second-team All-Pro twice and went to three Pro Bowls. Broke his leg in 1973 when playing for the Oilers. Went to Rams in 1974 as their long snapper.

63. Jeff Bostic—A fourteen-year player, a starter for thirteen though a few seasons were cut short due to injuries, he was All-NFC in 1983 (and a Pro Bowler as well). Owner of three Super Bowl rings.

63. Max Unger—Still active, a ten-year vet; A one-time All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler.

64. Jesse Sapolu—Played thirteen seasons,  four as a guard, the rest as a center. Received some honors as both.

65. Scott Wells—A classic workmanlike center. Played eleven seasons, one Pro Bowl. Signed with Rams for his final three seasons and really didn't garner any notice there. Kind of a holder (22 accepted calls against him).

66. Robbie Tobeck—Thirteen seasons, ten as a guard, one Pro Bowl. Got called for holding a lot.

67. Greg Larson—A thirteen-year player, began as a tackle, received post-season honors in 1966 and 1968. Said by Bob Lilly to be one of the best three centers he ever faced.

70. Travis Frederick—An illness is threatening his career, he's played five seasons so far and two he's been a consensus All-Pro and has been to four Pro Bowls.

71. Mike Pyle—A nine-year starter for the Bears, won a title and went to the Pro Bowl in 1963 and was Second-team All-Pro that year as well.

72. Joel Hilgenberg—Played ten seasons, was a Pro Bowl selection once.

73. Tony Mayberry—Played a decade, started for nine and went to three Pro Bowls.

74. Jeremy Newberry—Two Pro Bowls in nine seasons.

75. Shaun O'Hara—A one-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bower he was the Giants center on the 2008 Super Bowl winning team. He began his career as a guard for the Browns.

76. Jeff Christy—Played eight seasons, was All-Pro in 1999, Second-team ALl-Pro in 1998 and went to Pro Bowls from 1998-00.

77. Casey Wiegmann—15 seasons, 227 games with 200 starts he was a one-time Pro Bowler.

78. Mike Baab—Big for his era and super strong, the opposite of the "quick-types" we've mentioned. Played eleven seasons (didn't start as a rookie) and he never got any post-season honors but the center position in the AFC was stacked in the 1980s.

79. Tim Ruddy—Played a decade and made one Pro Bowl. Among the most penalized players on this list.

80. Dominic Raiola—Had a nice 14-year career, starting thirteen of his seasons. Other than being All-Rookie never got any honors but was a solid, service player who got by on smarts and being bale to make proper line calls.

81. Dave Manders—A single Pro Bowl eleven years.

82. Ken Bowman—Helped Jerry Kramer block Jethro Pugh in the Ice Bowl.

83. Tom Rafferty—Fourteen seasons, thirteen as a starter, began as a guard.

84. John Fitzgerald—Ten years, eight as a starter, is sandwiched between Manders and Rafferty.

85. Barret Robbins—Known for a mental health crisis the week of the 2002 Super Bowl, he was a good center and an All-Pro in 2002.

86. Dan Koppen—Another player with at least ten years of service and a single Pro Bowl to his credit.

87. Bob Schmidt—A three-time All-AFL pick in 1961-63 (behind Jim Otto). Played for four teams in eight seasons.

88. John Schmitt—A Second-team All-Pro in 1969 and in 1968 the New York Daily News named him All-Pro, perhaps a hometown thing, but he was Second-team All-Pro by everyone else.

89. Frank Winters—"Bag of Donuts" was pretty solid, though he didn't have a great looking physique. Bounced from the Browns to the Giants to the Chiefs before landing with the Packers. He played 231 games starting 147 (some as a guard) he went to a lone Pro Bowl in 1996 and won a ring that year as well.

90. Jonathan Goodwin—Played thirteen seasons, starter for eight and went to a Pro Bowl in 2009.

91. Bobby Maples—A great long snapper he began as a linebacker and was a starter for both the Oilers and the Broncos. He was Second-team All-AFL in 1967, an AFL All-Star in 1968 and a Second-team All-NFL pick in 1974.

92. Al Bemiller—He played some guard but was essentially the Bills center for the decade of the 1960s.

93. Mike Flanagan—Ten years, one Pro Bowl. Yes, another one. Played pretty clean, averaged 1.5 penalties a season, about one less the average of recent centers.

94. Art Hunter—Began career as a tackle, took over to Frank Gatski in Cleveland and was a Pro Bowler in 1959. Was traded to the Rams and started on the West Coast until Ken Iman was ready to take over.

95. Buzz Nutter—A Pro Bowler in 1962 and All-Conference in 1963 he played a dozen years.

96. Courtney Hall—Was being touted as "the next great center" until an injury ended his career. He was smart, quick and strong, he had all the tools.

97. Pete Brock

98. Andy McCollum

99. Jim Sweeney

100. Blair Bush

101. Jerry Fontenot

102. Dave Wohlabaugh

103. Jeff Uhlenhake

104. Dave Rimington

105. Frank Garcia

105. Steve Everitt


  1. Totally agree with Stephenson being number one...Completely manhandled people and got off the snap to Marino quickly...loved watching him throw William Perry around in that 85 defeat of the Bears, that may have stopped a perfect season.

    Didn't see a mention of John Schmidtt of the Jets...a smart center who protected Namath well. Macek, Dalby and Stepnoski I believe, should be in the HOF.

    1. Dalby and Stepnoski are not HOFers. Macek has a case but will never get in. Dalby and Stepnoski were good, not great.

  2. Hi John, I don't have that much film on Rudnay and Van Note from the '70s. In your best estimation, from 1970-77ish, would you say Rudnay and Van Note were as fast as some of faster pass rushing defensive ends of that era? I remember how fast guys like Cedrick Hardman, Jack Youngblood, Fred Dryer, L.C. Greenwood were, how did the better, speed type Centers of that day compare? Talking about playing speed with the pads on.

    1. Honestly, no. They may have had short-area quickness, but if you put a clock on them---I'd guess low 5s in the 40, maybe 5.0 at best. They were OL for a reason

      The DEs you mention are anywhere from 4.6 to 4.8

  3. Comprehensive list. The following are my top Centers including pre WW2: 1 Mike Webster 2 Jim Langer 3 Dwight Stephenson 4 Jim Ringo 5 Dermonti Dawson 6 Bulldog Turner 7 Mel Hein 8 Kevin Mawae 9 George Trafton 10 Frank Gatski 11 Jim Otto 12 Chuck Bednarik 13 Mick Tinglehoff 14 Alex Wojiciechowski 15 Jay Hilgenberg 16 Joe Fields 17 Ray Donaldson 18 Tom Nalen 19 Maurkice Pouncey 20 Nick Mangold 21 Mark Stepnoski 22 Forrest Blue 23 Kent Hull 24 Jeff Van Note 25 Rich Saul 26 Len Hauss 27 Olin Kreutz 28 Matt Birk 29 Alex Mack 30 Bill Bryan 31 Charley Brock 32 Jeff Saturday 33 Ryan Kalil 34 Jason Kelce 35 Kevin Glover 36 Bob Johnson 37 Larry McCarren.

  4. How the living hell did you miss Chuck Bednarik? You missed a top 5 center and didn't get him in the top 100?

    1. Didn't miss him. He played more LBer than center and we put him with the OLBers. Though he played some MLB, he was more a OLBer and with the Eagles 1950s "Eagle defense" he was usually over a tackle, rather than a center or guard.

      So, yes, he played center and in early 1960s he played both ways a lot. Less so the 1950s.

      But given the totality of the film study, we classified him as an OLBer.

      Nice civil tone, dude.

    2. I fact checked everything you said...
      You're right, his legend as a center is overstated.
      I don't really think my tone was that uncivil. Whining is super unattractive.

  5. You didn't include Charley Brock at either C or LB...was he missed?

    1. He was included in Chris Willis' list of pre-WWII era centers. So, yes, he was included.

  6. If you had to rate Chuck Bendarik as a Center, where would he place in this group?-Bill

  7. Had to revisit this post ... been watching a lot of 60s NFL Films, especially the Eagles and Jim Ringo's quickness and tenacity was awesome ... this was like 13-15 years into his career !