A football center preparing to snap the ball

A football center preparing to snap the ball (Photo by OSTILL is Franck Camhi on Shutterstock)

In American football, the center is the middle offensive line position. This is the player who snaps the ball between his legs to the quarterback at the start of each play. Center is a pivotal position that often sets the pace for an explosive offensive play. Our list of the top five best NFL centers of all time is a collection of some of the game’s most well-loved players and Hall of Famers.

A football center holds a paramount role as the linchpin of an offensive line, acting as the crucial link between the quarterback and the rest of the team. Their precise snap initiates every play, setting the rhythm and timing for the entire offense. Beyond this pivotal function, centers also play a pivotal role in reading defensive formations, making split-second decisions, and providing vital protection to the quarterback, making them an indispensable force in the dynamic chess match of football.

The elite echelon of NFL centers showcases unparalleled mastery in both mental acumen and physical dominance. Their unrivaled combination of intelligence, technique, and strength solidifies their pivotal role in shaping the success of their teams on the gridiron.

Given that center lineman is one of the most impactful positions on a team’s offensive line, we decided to weed out the greats. Our list of the top five best NFL centers of all time required input from our trusted sources. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

NFL logo and a wall of footballs
NFL logo (Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash)

The List: Best NFL Centers, According to Sports Experts

1. Jim Otto

Standing tall among the greatest all-time center linemen is Jim Otto. His efforts helped make the Oakland Raiders a decorated championship franchise. “Jim Otto played the entirety of his 15-year career with the Oakland Raiders at the beginning of the AFL’s growth as a league. For all but his last two years, Otto either made the Pro-Bowl or was an All-Pro. In fact, Otto was a first-team All-Pro in the AFL (and eventually NFL after the merger) for 11 straight years,” expounds Rookie Road.

“Otto was one of the first more athletic centers the game produced. Assigned with protecting quarterbacks such as Tom Flores, Daryle Lamonica, and Ken Stabler, he was the absolute best at what he did. From 1960 to 74, he was the best center in the league, and it wasn’t even that close,” according to The Grueling Truth.

Twin Spires adds, “Otto was named first-team All-AFL in each of his 10 seasons in the league (1960-1969) and earned three Pro Bowl nominations, from 1970-1972. His brilliance propelled Oakland from AFL bottom-dweller to league champion in 1967. The Raiders also won seven divisional championships in an eight-year period (1967-1974) and led the AFL in points scored from 1967-1969.”

2. Mike Webster

Mike Webster was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997 after his passing in 1990 due to game-related injuries. He was a legendary player whose career on the field ran from 1978 to 1985. B/R writes great praise for Otto, “There is no other offensive lineman who meant more to the success of his team than Mike Webster meant to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the ‘Steel Curtain’ received most of the praise for their four Super Bowl Championships, Webster was the glue that kept their great offensive line in order.”

“Webster … was a key member of the Pittsburgh Steelers team that dominated the league en route to four Super Bowl championships. The Steelers legend helped open up running lanes for the great Franco Harris as well [as] Christian Okoye. In addition to four Super Bowl titles, Webster was a six-time NFL First-Team All-Pro and nine-time NFL Pro Bowl member,” writes Fan Rankings.

Sportskeeda claims, “Mike Webster played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings from 1974 to 1990. He is known for his strength, intelligence and leadership. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a four-time first-team All-Pro. He was a key contributor to the Steelers’ Super Bowl wins in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979.”

3. Chuck Bednarik

One of the all-time greats, Chuck Bednarik was affectionately known as “Concrete Charlie.” His 14-year NFL career earned his reputation as one of the hardest hitting tackles of all time. Sports Brief praises, “Bednarik is widely regarded as the greatest center of all time. After serving with the Airforce in World War Two, he came back home to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, where he won two NFL championships and made the Pro Bowl eight times. He passed away in 2015. The center position may get less praise than quarterbacks and running backs. But the indisputable fact is that the best NFL centers of all time were all cornerstones of the franchises they played for.”

Chase Your Sport adds details of Bednarik’s career, “Pro-Bowler and NFL Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik played both linebacker and center for the Eagles. He played in eight Pro Bowls and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. The NFL selected him as the center for its 50th anniversary team in 1969 and he was elected that year to the College Football Hall of Fame.”

“‘Concrete Charlie’ was one of the great early NFLers. The multi-sport athlete excelled not only at center, but linebacker and sometimes punter as well. During his 14-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Bednarik became the standard bearer. Quick side note: he actually has a trophy named after him given to the best collegiate defensive player. That just goes to show that he was not only a Hall of Fame talent at center, but on the defensive side of the ball, too,” offers Pick Boss.

4. Mel Hein

Mel Hein was a pre-WWII player that started in 1931. Hard-times in the nation called out for the distraction of sports that could provide a short break and pastime for millions of depression-era Americans. “Known as ‘Old Indestructible,’ Hein manned the center position at a time when players competed on both offense and defense. In addition to laying on ferocious tackles at linebacker, Hein was a force on the offensive line, and only once called a timeout (for a broken nose) during his regular, 60 straight minutes of play,” details Twin Spires.

“Mel is considered one of the best players of the 1930s. He was the NFL’s most valuable player in 1938 and won two titles with the New York Giants. After retiring in 1945, he became a successful coach both in the NCAA and NFL. He passed away in 1992,” according to Sports Brief.

B/R adds: “How about this for breaking the barrier of performance along the offensive line? Mel Hein was the first offensive lineman to ever win the NFL MVP Award. This feat was accomplished in 1938 and has not been duplicated since. He is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, after being a finalist six times. Hein had a stellar 14-year career with the New York Giants, making five Pro Bowl appearances and winning two NFL Championships.”

5. Dwight Stephenson

The Miami Dolphins enjoyed their time in the spotlight during Dwight Stephenson’s 1980s career. Heavily lauded as a great team member, Stephenson’s career is filled with highlights. “Has there ever been a better pair than Dan Marino and Dwight Stephenson? Dolphin fans certainly don’t think so. Stephenson built an incredible offensive line at the Dolphins. They were so good that they were the least sacked team for six seasons running. Dwight Stephenson was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1988,” writes Franchise Sports.

“Dwight Stephenson played for the Miami Dolphins from 1980-1987. He is known for his strength, intelligence and technical proficiency. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and a four-time first-team All-Pro and was named to the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team. He was a key contributor to the Dolphins’ Super Bowl appearances in 1983 and 1985,” states Sportskeeda.

Fan Rankings chimes in: “It is hard to replace one legendary NFL player at any position, but that is exactly what happened with the Miami Dolphins as Dwight Stephenson stepped into center to replace Jim Langer. That said, Stephenson did exactly that while blocking for future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Despite having his career cut short due to an injury, the Dolphins star was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998 after racking up four All-Pro honors and five Pro Bowl trips.”

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