Saturday, August 10, 2019

Who Are the Top Senior Defensive Tackles That Could be Considered for the HOF Centennial Class?

By John Turney

As we've recently discussed there are a number of players that will be considered for the expanded 2020 Centennial Class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In this post we preview the defensive tackles.

Karras was as good a pass-rushing tackle as there was in the 1960s, maybe was the best. He played on a fine defense that was good at stopping the run and getting to the quarterback year-in and year-out.

He had a 'hop-and-d0dge' style, like a basketball player using short-step footwork to get by an opponent—which was a unique style. Karras paired with Roger Brown in the early-to-mid-1960s and were as formidable pair of defensive tackles as there have ever been in the NFL. The Lions didn't get much edge pressure, what they did have was from right outside linebacker Wayne Walker. If they had defensive ends that were even Pro Bowl level the Lions 1960s defensive line would be remembered as one of the best ever.

From 1960-70 the Lions were top three is fewest yards rushing allowed and in total sack yards and were second in yards per rush allowed.

He played a dozen seasons and was a 1960s All-Decade pick and was a four-time First-team All-Pro and was a Second-team All-Pro five additional times. We have his career total for sacks at 98½ but records are spotty for his first couple of seasons, so we are convinced he had over 100 sacks, maybe as many as 105, 110. But the exact total is unknown. However, that number of sacks in 12 seasons makes him among the best pass-rushing tackles ever.

Tom Sestak
A big man who was like a combination of Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen of the AFL but a knee injury felled him. He was not as big as Olsen not as quick as Lilly, he was right in between. 

He was very solid versus the run and could get after the passer, totally 17½ sacks one season.

Sestak only played seven seasons, was a First- or Second-team All-AFL pick in six of those seasons and three of them he was a consensus First-team All-AFL pick.

In the mid-1960s the Bills were the top defense, especially against the run and in getting to the quarterback. In his career, the Bills were top five in top run defenses in pro football.

They would vary their fronts, using a goodly amount of 3-4 defensive looks putting Sestak at the end sometimes and on the nose sometimes. It would have been great to see what kind of career he might have had, if healthy.

He may be the best AFL player (peak value anyway) not in the Hall of Fame.

Big Daddy could have been the best All-time, or at least the best of his era. Effort on the field and drinking off the field spoiled that. He began as a Ram and played both tackle and end but got released.

The Colts picked him up and being surrounded by Gino Marchetti, Art Donovan and Don Joyce brought out the best in him. He was All-Pro in 1958 and 1959 and according to Coach Weeb Ewbanks' statistics, he led the Colts in tackles both seasons. He would even, at times, play inside linebacker in a quasi 3-4 look. In that era when teams played a 3-4 they usually dropped one of their ends as an outside linebacker. Not so with the Colts, they moved the Daddy to linebacker and the ends stayed put. 

With the Colts he was a sideline-to-sideline player (a cop or 'policeman' as it was called), often running down plays from the backside of the play. When he when to the Steelers, his play changed into more of an up-the-field player, evidenced by his 1961 season when he had 17½ sacks, leading the NFL (unofficially) and would have been a great candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, though such an award didn’t exist. He followed that up with 10 sacks in 1962, his final year. 

In all, Lipscomb played ten seasons and 112 games. He was a four-time First-team All-Pro (three consensus).

Joe Klecko wasn’t a pure defensive tackle, like Dan Hampton he moved around. He played defensive tackle as a rookie then played a year as a 3-4 defensive end then back to defensive tackle. He played 1980-82 as a defensive end and then 1983-84 back inside. In 1985 he moved to nose tackle and stayed there the rest of his career, but again, when he played in nickel he played on a guard rather than a center. 

He was All-Pro as an end in 1981 and as a nose in 1985. He also went to the Pro Bowl as a tackle. So, in the end, we put him with the tackles and included his nose tackle work as part of the evaluation—making him the exception to our rule. Regardless, he was a fine player and deserves Hall of Fame consideration.

A closer look at his Proscout, Inc. scores does show that Mark Gastineau was very close to Klecko, however. Gastineau bears the brunt of the criticism for that but Kelcko (and Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam) also deserve some of the blame. One man cannot make a run defense as bad as the Jets were in 1984 in stopping the run, for example.

23. Roger Brown
Brown would be a star today. Massive size, good quickness. He might be compared to a Ndamukong Suh or Jerome Brown. He had six sacks in the famous 1962 Thanksgiving massacre of the Green Bay Packers and was also great the rest of that season. He was named the LA Times NFL Lineman of the Year and he also got AP and UPI Player of the Year award votes (rare for a defender in those days).

Brown played ten years and 138 games and was a First-team All-Pro twice, a Second-time All-Pro three times and was a six-time Pro Bowler.

Also overlooked. Was a dominant player versus the run, he was a master of the “butt technique” where he just slam a guard’s momentum. And if pass showed he’d convert to a pass rush move. He also could twist his upper body and quickly slip (usually swim) a guard a move that impressed his teammates.

The Rams defense from 1972-81, then ten years he started the Rams led the NFL in sacks and allowed the second-fewest rushing yards and allowed the second-fewest points in that span. 

In all, he played eleven seasons and 131 games, was a First-team All-Pro twice and a Second-team pick one additional season. He went to five Pro Bowls and was a First- or Second-team All-NFC pick six times. He led the Rams defensive linemen in tackles from 1973 through 1980, except for 1975 when he was out half the season with a knee injury.

“A fine interior rusher with fine moves and body control. Guards swear it is impossible to block him” according to Buchsbaum.

We are not suggesting he will get any Hall of Fame support because that's very unlikely, but we are saying he was as good a defensive tackle, if not better than then any listed here and the same applies to a few who are in the Hall of Fame according to him study.

Ernie Ladd
The Big Cat who was a pro wrestler as well, was 6-9, 335 pounds. At times he was dominant (he had a 4½-sack game) but also didn’t always seem to give full effort. He, at his peak, could have been the best, but gripes about pay and other issues held him back, he was an all-time talent but not quite an all-time great.

Ladd played eight years and was an All-AFL choice three times (1961 and 1964-65) and was an AFL All-Star from 1962-65 giving him post-season honors in all five seasons as a Charger. He played for the Pilers for a year and a half and the Chiefs a year and a half to close his career.

31. Wally Chambers
Chambers played a bit of defensive end early in his career but moved to tackle and was a dominant one from 1974-77 (hurt a knee mid-season 1977). He was traded to the Buccaneers where played left DE until the knee gave out for good.

Chambers won some Rookie of the Year Awards in 1973 and was the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and the NFLPA NFC Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1975 and 1976. 

He had 14 sacks in 1975 for his career-high and had nine in 1973 six in 1974 and eight in 1976. In 1973 the Bears credited him with seven forced fumbles and in 1979 the Bucs show his total was also seven. From 1973 through 1976, pre-knee injury, he averaged about 85 tackles a season and in 1975 he was credit by the Bears with 11 tackles for loss and in 1976 the number was nine.

Another player who had knee issues. A solid player who often totaled over 100 tackles a season ended his career with 69½ sacks and was the 1976 UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He was First-team All-Pro that year and went to four Pro Bowls. He reached double digits in sacks four times (1972, 74, 76 and 79) and was credited with 6 blocked kicks/punts (one was a tackled punter which is the same as a block).

Sherk was a prolific tackler averaging just under 90 tackles a season from 1970 to 1979. He missed significant time in 1977 with the knee injury and almost all of 1980 with it. In 1981 he came into games as an inside rusher in the nickel defenses of the Browns. In the mid-1970s some writers like the respected Cliff Christl felt that Sherk was the most consistent defensive tackle in the game.

At 6-7, 295 (or more) Butz was a classic 4-3 tackle for the George Allen scheme. Much like Ndamukong Suh, he’s one who opposing guards judged by how sore they were the days after the game rather than the tackles or sacks they gave up.

Butz began his career as a defensive end with the St. Louis Cardinals, making him one of the biggest players at that position for his era. He injured a knee and signed as a free agent with the Redskins (Redskins had to give two first-round draft picks as compensation) and was a backup for a year with the Skins before taking over the left defensive end spot in 1976. He was a Second-team All-NFC pick in 1979 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1984 but 1983 was his ‘career year’. He was also a Second-team selection on the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-1980s Team.

That year he totaled 69 tackles and 11.5 sacks and forced five fumbles and was a consensus All-Pro. Notes from George Allen’s playbooks note that Allen loved Butz’s play versus the run but wished he would perform the “Jet” technique better. This was just after the 1977 season, his second as a starter when he totaled just one sack after having 3½ sacks in 1977. Perhaps it was communicated to Butz because from 1978-86 Butz averaged 6½ a season, not a stunning total, but an excellent one for a man of his size.  Butz ended his career with 63 sacks and deflected 40 passes at the line of scrimmage.

Butz's teammates felt he was the ideal left tackle for the George Allen/Richie Petitbon defense—"he played defensive tackle the way it was supposed to be played".  He was also hard to move. Right guards and even tackles always mentioned that when we asked them about Butz—he was a "mountain of a man" they said.

With the Rams fearsome foursome, he was the “cop” or “piano player” who watched from draws, screens, and traps while Jones, Olsen, and Lundy got up the field.

Grier began with the New York Football Giants in 1956 and played there through 1962. As a Giant, he was a First-team All-Pro once and a Second-team selection twice and counting Pro bowls and All-Eastern conference selections garnered post-season honors in six seasons. With the Rams he was an All-Western Conference pick and Second-team All-Pro. It was with the Rams that he made history with the Fearsome Foursome. 

Grier was a big man for the day, 6-5, listed at 290 but was like heavier, especially with the Rams but had excellent quickness. It’s said that he taught the head slap to Deacon Jones, who then perfected it. 

Grier was a HOF Finalist in the past but his active candidacy was short-lived.

The challenge for the Blue Ribbon committee that will come up with the list of ten senior players is how to rank the candidates. Do they go by peak value or career value? 

In this case, we'd say the top peak players are Tom Sestak and Big Daddy Lipscomb but Lipscomb's career did have the period of lack of effort and Sestak was felled by an injury. Karras likely has the highest career value, being very good for a long time and also some high peak seasons.

Klecko is unique in that he played three positions well, actually more than that but he was First-team All-Pro and two of those positions and a Pro Bowler at one more. However, his peak does not match that of some others and he didn't have the career value of Karras.

The rest are in-between, Brooks and Ladd had high peaks but Ladd, like Lipscomb there were some negatives. Chambers and Sherk both won AFC/NFC Defensive Player of the Awards and Chambers career was cut short by injury and Sherk's was, too, though he was able to come back to get a few more years but really, only 1979 was to his previous level and that was injury marred, too. 


  1. Alot of interesting choices, and underrated players, especially Brooks and Sherk. I like Karras and Brown alot, but unfortunately, like Riley and Parrish in Cincinnati, they both may cancel each other out for the ten open, senior slots. Bob Lilly's greatness, might have hurt Jethro Pugh's career, and Dan Hampton's, might have hurt Steve McMichaels, who was an excellent pass rusher himself. Did John Randle hurt Henry Thomas's career/numbers ?
    I thought Thomas actually helped Randle and deserves more recognition for his pash rush, and unselfishness, when moved around various lines.

    Though a DE, was Brito of Washington really that good a pass rusher ? Thanks to your site, I have learned alot more about his rush ability, including praise from Gino Marchetti and Paul Brown, would like to know more of his stats, didn't he have double digits sack numbers in three to four of his seven seasons at DE ?

  2. Ooops, sorry guys, when I say Hampton or Lilly hurting McMichaels or Pugh's, career/ numbers, I only meant, hurting these guys CHANCES, at being in the HOF. Pugh, McMichael, and Thomas all, had great careers, despite being overshadowed. Klecko, may have been overshadowed by Gastineau.

  3. Tom Sestak should have been voted in the PFHOF many yrs ago. The primary reason he isn't in is because he played in the great AFL....He was the catalyst for a defense that didn't allow a rushing TD in 17 straight gms from 1964-66, a pro football record that still stands today.

    1. AFL, short career ... still one of the best of his era. Would like to see Tom get his due, but don't think it's in the cards for him.

  4. I doubt it will happen, but Big Daddy is the MAN among these do him an injustice in stating "he got released" from the Rams....he was learning his craft at the time, mygoodness, he came to them straight from the Marines, completely raw, used all over, it took him some time to jell (for the record, a guy named Unitas was 'released' during the same (1955) year.....until his early demise (I've always been convinced THIS is the reason the HoF was reluctant to promote/seriously consider his candidacy) he was regularly his virtues: the most mobile of any of the (relatively) early big you point out, a sideline to sideline pursuer....his sack totals in his maturity rank with any DT in history, and his versatility which you also point out is unique.....check out the clip starting at 10:08 from the 1960 49ers highlight film on YouTube: Daddy damn near takes John Brodie's head off...after dropping into a deep zone from his interior position (!?!!!)…..then there's the "legend" of Big Daddy....Teddy Karras, a pretty good offensive lineman spoke for most of his peers when he tells the story of being terrified by Mr. Lipscomb....a hugely intimidating presence, and a charismatic character mention Ernie Ladd...his primary nickname was not "Big Cat" was "Bigger than Big Daddy" many players in any sport in history have such a significant presence that their nickname is included as tribute by one of their contemporaries....Gene Lipscomb deserves to have his place amongst the all-time greats by being named to the Centennial Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

    1. From the film I've seen of Big Daddy, it seemed to me he took a lot of plays, and games, off. When he was on, there was no one scarier, but sometimes he was just a non-factor. Is that a fair assessment?

    2. I think that's fair. Modern comparison might be Albert Haynesworth. When he was "on" he was great. But wasn't always "on". Maybe the drinking held him back...but for whatever reason you can see games he dominates and games he just is "there"

  5. How does Houston Antwine compare to this group? He went to the AFL version of the Pro Bowl several times and received some 1st team all AFL honors. Just curious.

    1. I don't think he compares, I'd say a level lower

  6. I like Lipscomb, but from the books I read about the Colts team, Big Daddy wasn't as motivated to rush the passer, or penetrate the line as much as stringing down the runner from behind, or pouncing on a players back legs. Maybe he was jealous of Marchettis great rush, and rather just wanted to go down the line, either way. Had he not been murdered, perhaps by a jealous man, his pass rushing, would have gotten better, and he would be in the Hall. John Sample stated, that when he was motivated, he was unblockable...

  7. My Top three would be karras brown sestak

  8. Klecko is my pick. Got the highest grades from me in run defense. Has the best testemonials from the best tackles like Munoz and Mike Kenn.

    1. I would guess Klecko has good shot at getting in, and he's fine, but not as good as a few on this list. But he played in NY so got extra pub. Mostly very good, but 2 great seasons.

      Not as high a peak as some and not as high a career as some others, kind of in middle.

  9. Replies
    1. I consider NT a separate position, really, I call Smerlas and Michael Carter "pure NTs"...guys like that but I think Smerlas is HOF worthy

  10. I admit I didn't see Sestak and karras. I just love kleckos run defense though and I like his 80 and 79 seasons a ton as well as 81,85, and 86. I also have klecko down for a lot of created sacks where he forced the passer into others arms.

  11. On klecko I am not sure it is an exaggeration to say that he had some of the strongest hands of any dlineman ever.

  12. Sherk or Klecko.