By John Turney
Now, and we know you were dying to see them, we present the top linemen of the decades. We start with the offensive linemen and then add separate defensive linemen as the historical record becomes clear enough with the available film and the literature of the day, et al.
Here are our offensive line picks:
Duke Slater and George Trafton are honorable mentions for the 1920s. It was close but all were solid. We are hoping Slater will be able to be elected to the Hall of Fame next year in the newly announced "Centennial Class" which should bring into the Hall many players who have been overlooked.
Hannah edged Joe DeLamielleure and Yary, Shell, Langer and others in the 1970s. It was a very competitive decade. Doug Wilkerson and Ed White get honorable mentions for 1975-85.
Munoz and Stephenson just dominate the 1980s. Stephenson has a slightly higher "peak" but Munoz was healthier and kept his ranks high the whole decade. Finding a runner up was difficult but with Jackie Slater having an amazing year in 1980 and then being the NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1983, 1986, 1987, and 1989 help him take the nod over Mike Kenn and Joe Jacoby.
Zach Martin has been in our top 5 every year since 2014 and has been #1 a couple of times and top 3 other years. Smith has had some great years but has been nagged by injuries in a couple of others so the inconsistency put him at the runner-up spot. Marshal Yanda is an honorable mention.
Here are the defensive line picks:
Hewitt was known for his defense as much as offense in his career. "Tarzan" Christensen was part of the good Lions offenses and defenses of the 1930s.
Gino Marchetti did well enough as a rookie in 1952 (then was offensive linemen in 1953) to warrant honorable mention for the 1950s but the consistency of Nomellini and the peak of Ford make them first and second and Marchetti is the honorable mention. We also give Gene Brito an honorable mention as well.
From 1955-65 two Giant ends Jim Katcavage and Andy Robustelli deserve honorable mention as does Big Daddy Lipscomb. Lipscomb, when motivated could be great but too often, especially early in his career could loaf and it shows on film.
Of course, the top two linemen are Marchetti and Doug Atkins who was just coming into his own around 1957.
But the top players—Deacon Jones and Bob Lilly were simply a cut above. And Merlin Olsen was the closest to them.
Carl Eller, whose "decade" would be 1966-75 make him an honorable mention in that time frame. He got some sort of postseason honors every year from in that decade and had good years in 1976 and 1977, too.
Jack Youngblood was the top defensive end of the 1970s but Greene and Page edged him out for the top two slots. Like Eller, Youngblood's excellence continued past his "decade". Youngblood was top notch in 1980-81 an then in a 3-4 defense he was a top 10 DE in 1983 and 1984.
We are going to give Fred Dean an honorable mention for 1975-85. He was a very good end with the Chargers and played All-Pro-type football from 1977-80 with them, then in 1981 he was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year as a designated rusher and he also had a big year in 1983 in that role.
Fred Smerlas, Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko all are honorable mentions. Smerlas had played more games, started more games, made All-Pro and the Pro Bowl more than any pure 3-4 nose tackle ever. He was the prototype of the position for years. He was great in the early 1980s and then ended excellent as well.