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The Career Profile for a Hall of Fame Offensive Lineman

Over the last few years, we’ve invested 3 first round picks in offensive linemen, seen Larry Allen inducted into the Hall of Fame and Tyron Smith selected to his first Pro Bowl, and enjoyed an excellent rookie season from Travis Frederick. After the O-line winter of our discontent a few years ago, that’s a lot of positive new coming from a position group, poised (we hope) to enter a new era of dominance.

Partially inspired by another recent fanpost discussing Jason Witten’s Hall of Fame profile, and considering all the Offensive Line news and focus of the last few years, I wondered what the career profile looked like for a Hall of Fame Offensive Lineman. What type of career would Smith, Frederick, and Martin need to have to merit that honor – to allow us to mention them in the same breath as Larry Allen or Rayfield Wright?

Evaluating Offensive Line Careers

As you might imagine, evaluating the career of an individual offensive lineman is extraordinarily difficult, and I will not be breaking any new ground on this point. On the OL, perhaps more than any other position group, individual success depends on position group success. Additionally, without any defined statistics, it’s sometimes hard for fans to dispassionately evaluate the merits of individual players.

In building an offensive line HOF profile, I wanted to be able to differentiate between positions. Many offensive linemen played multiple positions over their careers. For the purposes of this look, I grouped any players into the position he played the most (e.g. Larry Allen is a guard, even though he played some tackle as well). If a player split time evenly, I include career stats in both position groups. I did not differentiate between left side and right side.

Also, I wanted to be able to differentiate between eras. Football has changed a great deal over the last 7 decades, and the demands on offensive linemen have changed over time. The physical skills required in pass protection are far more important now than in earlier eras, while the ability to drive block has decreased marginally. Seasons are longer. Offensive schemes are significantly more complex. I’ve decided to use the 1978 expansion to a 16 game schedule, which roughly corresponds to the advent of the West Coast Offense and other modern concepts, as my dividing line for comparison. In short, after that point, I think offensive linemen selected to the HOF best represent what current voters want.

From there, I had to pick a couple of things to establish a profile for HOF OL. I chose the following:

  • Career Approximate Value (from Pro-Football Reference): This provides some semblance for consistent evaluation over positions and eras. I think most are familiar with CAV as a concept, but would recommend looking at an OCC article from earlier this year or to visit the Pro Football Focus site if you want more. It is important to note that PFR doesn’t offer AV numbers prior to 1960, so some players don’t have any stats here.

  • Approximate Value per Year: This allowed for some comparison of yearly value. Without this, I was concerned that high performers with shorter careers might get lost in the noise of sheer statistical accumulation. If a player had the majority of their career after 1960, I included them, but only divided by the number of years that I had available data (e.g. Forrest Gregg played 16 years, but I only had AV data for 12 of them. So his AV total was divided by 12, not by 16).

  • # of Years with AV Higher than 10: This was intended to look at the players peak performance, with and AV of 10 or higher roughly corresponding to Pro-Bowl level play.

  • Games Started: A simple measure of career longevity.

  • # of All-Pro and Pro Bowl Selections: While there are some biases inherent in these selections, especially with offensive linemen , it does provide an idea of how players are valued against their peers. In some cases, PFR didn’t seem to credit a player for 2d or 3d team All-Pro, so there may be a few minor holes in these numbers. I don’t think that changes the story much.

Hall of Fame Profile for Offensive Linemen

A total of 37 offensive linemen have been selected to the HOF (though some from the 40s and 50s played defense as well – I did not include Chuck Bednarik in the evaluation as his HOF case rests primarily on his play as a LB). The table below provides a career profile for all HOF linemen, agnostic of position, spilt between the early and modern eras.

#

Career

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Pre 1978

21

12.3

110.9

9.1

6.2

38.9%

150.3

4.8

7.0

Post 1978

16

13.5

135.4

10.1

7.6

57.5%

184.2

4.6

8.9

For modern era players, several things stand out:

  • Career Longevity: With the exception of Dwight Stephenson, no modern era HOF lineman played fewer than 11 seasons, with the average at 13.5. Unlike some position players in the HOF who blazed like meteor but burned out quickly (think Gale Sayers), that model doesn’t apply to linemen. However, there was some lost playing time, either from injury or backup status early in their careers, losing on average 2 games a year over their career.

  • They had extended peaks, accumulating Approximate Values of 10 or higher for more than half their seasons, and were perennial Pro-Bowlers across that peak. Most had years in which they were among the league’s highest rated players in AV.

  • They were recognized as the league’s best at their position (All-Pro) for about 1/3 of their seasons, and made the Prow Bowl in about 2/3 of their seasons. In fact, in the modern era, only 1 had fewer than 2 selections as an All-Pro (Jackie Slater with 0)

Hall of Fame Profile for Tackles

Overall, 16 offensive tackles have been selected for the hall of fame, with 7 of those playing in the "modern era." The below table provides the complete list.

Name

Pos

First Year

Last year

Career Duration

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Creekmur, Lou

T, G

1950

1959

10

116

6

8

McCormack, Mike

T

1954

1962

9

119

6

St. Clair, Bob

T

1953

1963

11

119

4

5

Brown, Roosevelt

T

1953

1965

13

162

6

9

Parker, Jim

T, G

1957

1967

11

82

10.25

5

63%

135

8

8

Gregg, Forest

T

1956

1971

16

113

9.42

8

67%

193

7

9

Mix, Ron

T

1960

1971

11

102

9.27

7

64%

142

8

9

Brown, Bob

T

1964

1973

10

95

9.50

6

60%

124

5

6

Wright, Rayfield

T

1967

1979

13

103

7.92

5

38%

166

3

6

Shell, Art

T

1968

1982

15

121

8.07

5

33%

169

2

8

Yary, Ron

T

1968

1982

15

128

8.53

5

33%

180

6

7

Dierdorf, Dan

T

1971

1983

13

99

7.62

6

46%

150

3

6

Munoz, Anthony

T

1980

1992

13

174

13.38

10

77%

184

9

11

Slater, Jackie

T

1976

1995

20

129

6.45

4

20%

211

0

7

Zimmerman, Gary

T

1986

1997

12

131

10.92

8

67%

184

3

7

Matthews, Bruce

G, C, T

1983

2001

19

210

11.05

13

68%

293

7

14

Roaf, Willie

T

1993

2005

13

139

10.69

6

46%

189

3

11

Ogden, Jonathan

T

1996

2007

12

119

9.92

8

67%

176

4

11

Jones, Walter

T

1997

2008

12

126

10.50

8

67%

180

4

9

HOF Tackle Averages

13.1

124.7

9.6

6.9

54%

168.0

5.1

8.3

Modern Era HOF Tackle Averages

14.4

146.8

10.4

8.1

59%

202.4

4.3

10.0

Of the 3 offensive line positions, offensive tackles have the highest standards to achieve a HOF profile. They play almost an entire season longer than guards, accumulate more AV, and receive more post-season recognition. Modern HOF tackles essentially play at a pro-bowl level (whether they are recognized or not) for their entire career. The one exception was Jackie Slater, who seems to be an aberration – a good tackle who played for so long he accumulated enough stats to be deemed worthy.

How does Tyron Smith stack up after 3 years?

The short answer is pretty well. With an AV/Yr of 10, especially over the early years, puts him in a very strong position. He accumulated an AV of 13 this past year, while picking up his first Pro-Bowl birth. In order to put himself in a realistic HOF discussion, he’ll need to play at least 9 more seasons, accumulating approximately 10 AV a year and a string of post season recognition. A few off years will be fine, as long as he throws up a few stellar ones to compensate. It’s far too early to think Smith is Canton-bound. But he has put himself on a track that has the potential to lead to there.

Name

Career Duration

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Smith, Tyron

3

30

10.00

1

33%

47

1

1

How do other current and recently retired Tackles stack up?

Below is a table of other active or recently retired tackles, in order to see who else might be on a HOF path. Those who have a chance, but I wouldn’t consider sure things are highlighted in yellow. Barring something unforeseen, those in red, while quality players, aren’t on a HOF track. I’ve limited the look to those who have played at least 6 years. Of this group, Joe Thomas is an interesting case. He has the accolades, and has been a dominant pass blocker. But at least based on AV, he doesn’t have the type of dominant years (likely mediocre run blocking- although that isn’t really how AV works) typical of a HOF tackle. Jake Long also seemed to be on the right track, but has fallen off the last few years, which makes me wonder if he can sustain performance for long enough. Finally, Matt Light has an interesting profile, one that surprised me. It almost seems he was underrated for much of his career, as his numbers in this methodology would tell me he should have had more post-season accolades. I think Light will be a guy that stays on the HOF voting lists for a while, but comes up short in the end.

Name

First Year

Last Year

Career

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Jason Peters

2004

2013

10

80

8.00

4

40%

113

2

6

Joe Thomas

2007

2013

7

67

9.57

3

43%

112

4

7

Ryan Clady

2008

2013

6

53

8.83

3

50%

82

2

3

Joe Staley

2007

2013

7

56

8.00

3

43%

98

0

3

Jake Long

2008

2013

6

56

9.33

3

50%

89

1

4

D'Brickashaw Ferguson

2006

2013

8

62

7.75

0

0%

128

0

3

Matt Light

2001

2011

11

109

9.91

6

55%

153

1

3

Flozell Adams

1998

2010

13

101

7.77

3

23%

194

0

5

Hall of Fame Profile for Guards

Overall, 14 Guards have been selected for the hall of fame, with 7 of those playing in the "modern era." There are very few differences from the Tackle profile, with a slight lower level of performance in almost every category. Like tackles though, the performance requirements are higher for modern players than those from earlier eras. Since Zack Martin hasn’t yet played a game, we’ll need to check back on his performance in about 3 or 4 years to see how he compares to the profile.

Name

Pos

First Year

Last year

Career

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Creekmur, Lou

T, G

1950

1959

10

116

6

8

Parker, Jim

T, G

1957

1967

11

82

10.3

5

63%

135

8

8

Shaw, Billy

G

1961

1969

9

68

7.6

2

22%

119

5

8

Hickerson, Gene

G

1958

1973

16

111

7.9

5

36%

202

3

6

Mack, Tom

G

1966

1978

13

120

9.2

7

54%

184

1

11

Little, Larry

G

1967

1980

14

131

9.4

7

50%

156

5

5

Upshaw, Gene

G

1967

1981

15

151

10.1

9

60%

207

5

7

DeLameilleure, Joe

G

1973

1985

13

111

8.5

5

38%

175

3

6

Hannah, John

G

1973

1985

13

147

11.3

9

69%

183

7

9

Grimm, Russ

G

1981

1991

11

90

8.2

4

36%

114

3

4

Munchak, Mike

G

1982

1993

12

116

9.7

8

67%

156

2

9

McDaniel, Randall

G

1988

2001

14

164

11.7

11

79%

220

7

12

Matthews, Bruce

G, C, T

1983

2001

19

210

11.1

13

68%

293

7

14

Allen, Larry

G

1994

2007

14

131

9.4

8

57%

197

6

11

HOF Guard Averages

13.1

125.5

9.6

7.15

54%

175.50

4.86

8.43

Modern Era HOF Guard Averages

13.7

138.4

10.0

8.29

59%

191.14

5.00

9.29

One difference between the tackle and guard profiles is that we have seen fewer guards from the recent decades inducted. Larry Allen is the only HOF inductee who began his career in the last 25 years. But there are some strong HOF candidates coming.

How do other current and recently retired Guards stack up?

Looking at table below, there are 3 recently retired Guards who are likely inductees. Thought Will Shields hasn’t made it yet, he exceeds almost every measure. Likewise, from the current players, Logan Mankins and Jahri Evans are strongly on track. As good a reputation as Jahri Evans has, I was surprised how strongly his career compares to HOF players. From the borderline candidates, Carl Nicks has the best chance. He has had a few injured years in a row which have derailed him a bit.

Name

First Year

Last year

Career

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Will Shields

1993

2006

14

156

11.14

9

64%

223

2

12

Alan Faneca

1998

2010

13

145

11.15

8

62%

201

6

9

Steve Hutchinson

2001

2012

12

118

9.83

6

50%

169

5

7

Logan Mankins

2005

2013

9

108

12.00

7

78%

130

1

6

Jahri Evans

2006

2013

8

103

12.88

6

75%

126

4

5

Ben Grubbs

2007

2013

7

57

8.14

1

14%

102

0

2

Chris Snee

2004

2013

10

90

9.00

4

40%

141

1

4

Brian Waters

2000

2013

13

106

8.15

4

31%

170

2

6

Carl Nicks

2008

2013

6

51

8.50

2

33%

61

1

2

Hall of Fame Profile for Centers

Overall, 8 centers have been selected for the hall of fame, with 4 of those playing in the "modern era." Unsurprisingly, this is the lowest quantity among the OL positions, though the overall profile looks very similar to the other OL positions. Travis Frederick secured an AV of 8 this past year over 16 starts, a very respectable rookie mark compared to the best centers of all time. If he starts picking up Pro Bowl berths within the next couple of years, and throws up AVs above 10, he’ll be on track with this profile.

Name

Pos

First Year

Last Year

Career

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Gatski, Frank

C

1946

1957

12

144

4

1

Ringo, Jim

C

1953

1967

15

91

11.38

6

75%

168

6

10

Otto, Jim

C

1960

1974

15

154

10.27

10

67%

210

10

12

Langer, Jim

C

1970

1981

12

106

8.83

6

50%

110

4

6

Stephenson, Dwight

C

1980

1987

8

91

11.38

5

63%

87

4

5

Webster, Mike

C

1974

1990

17

163

9.59

9

53%

217

5

9

Dawson, Dermontti

C

1988

2000

13

125

9.62

6

46%

181

6

7

Matthews, Bruce

G, C, T

1983

2001

19

210

11.05

13

68%

293

7

14

HOF Center Averages

13.9

134.3

10.3

7.9

0.6

176.3

5.8

8.0

Modern Era HOF Center Averages

14.3

147.3

10.4

8.3

0.6

194.5

5.5

8.8

How do other current and recently retired Centers stack up?

Jeff Saturday stands out from this group, and I’d say he has a strong HOF profile. Strangely, despite really strong seasons early in his career, it took a while for voters to start sending him to the Pro Bowl (must have been distracted by Peyton Manning). Among the current centers, Nick Mangold is building a solid profile and if he throws up a few more elite years, he’ll merit strong consideration.

Name

First Year

Last Year

Career

Career AV

AV/Yr

Yrs w/ AV 10+

% Yrs w/ AV 10+

Games Started

All Pro

Pro Bowl

Jeff Saturday

1999

2012

14

158

11.29

10

71%

202

2

6

Matt Birk

1998

2012

14

112

8.00

4

29%

187

0

6

Nick Mangold

2006

2013

8

74

9.25

4

50%

126

2

5

Ryan Kalil

2007

2013

7

50

7.14

2

29%

84

1

4

Andre Gurode

2002

2013

11

78

7.09

5

45%

131

0

5




Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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