“For those who have been following me, you probably know that I have been covering center in the NFL for a couple of years. And as I have been doing so, I have been approached by a few people who have been interested in the overall position as a whole. And as a result, I have been compiling a list of the best centers in NFL history. That list is now complete, and it begins with the two-time Super Bowl champion, Dwight Freeney.”
Many NFL fans are interested in the best players to play center in the NFL, but how many of them know the best centers of all time? This list of the best centers of all time features some of the most talented offensive linemen in pro football history.
The NFL has no shortage of great centers on its rosters, and some of the best of all-time. Five-time league champion and seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Stephenson is one of the most talented centers of all-time, while 1980s and 1990s Hall of Famer William “The Refrigerator” Perry was an unstoppable blocker out of the backfield.
As they are hoisted on the shoulders of massive linemen, NFL quarterbacks continue to break throwing records. The line leaders are in charge of reading defensive coverages, communicating with the quarterback, and rearranging the rest of the line as needed. The play doesn’t start until the center snaps the ball. Then it’s time to keep their play-face caller’s clean and create openings for their rushing backs. There are many reasons for the great regard in which this position is held.
Who in the NFL is the best center?
Since 2015, the following centers have had the highest pass-blocking grades:
Rodney Hudson 89.9 in 2015; Rodney Hudson 89.3 in 2016. Rodney Hudson, Rodney Hudson, Rodney Hudson, Rodney Hudson, Rodney Hudson, Rodney Hudson Rodney Hudson 90.8 in 2018; Rodney Hudson 91.2 in 2019.
In the NFL picture, Rodney Hudson is the gold standard at center. twitter.com/kiD9Gd4BHX
June 24, 2020 — PFF (@PFF)
Rodney Hudson has established himself as the best center in the NFL since joining the Raiders in 2015. He’s made the Pro Bowl three times in ten years. In 2020, the now-32-year-old was only penalized for one penalty and gave up one sack while playing a complete 16-game schedule. For the season, he had a PFF grade of 73.6, which placed him in the top five. The top pass-blocking center in the PFF from 2015 through 2019 fell to No. 7 in 2020.
Hudson was dealt to the Arizona Cardinals during an offseason in which supporters’ hopes were sky-high. On an Arizona squad that went 8-8 in 2020, he joins fellow pro-Bowlers defensive end J.J. Watt, wide receiver A.J. Green, cornerback Malcolm Butler, and kicker Matt Prater. In his third season, Hudson will serve as a defender for quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray will have a lot more time to pass out of the pocket, and he’ll be able to improvise as needed.
The west is wide up for the taking, with the Seahawks, 49ers, and Rams all facing major concerns. The finest NFL center can hope to return to contention this year after missing the playoffs for the last four years.
All-time greats in the National Football League’s center position
Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers blocks a Dolphins defensive lineman | George Gojkovich /Photo by Getty Images
Toughness, leadership, and durability are all qualities shared by the greatest NFL centers in history. The bulk of the NFL’s best centers have long ago retired and are honored with bronze busts in the Hall of Fame. Because statistical measures for centers are limited, they go about their business discreetly. Their awards are mostly for team accomplishments, with Pro Bowl and All-Pro voting occurring at the conclusion of the season. With the assistance of Twinspires, we selected three of the best of all time:
Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Webster (1974-90)
- Nine players have been named to the Pro Bowl.
- There are five All-Pro choices.
- Super Bowl victories on four occasions
“Iron Mike” is a fictional character. Webster’s 17-year career coincided with Franco Harris’s, and it’s no surprise that Harris had plenty of space to gash defenses. Webster was a fantastic run blocker who helped quarterback Terry Bradshaw win four Super Bowls by keeping his jersey clean. Bradshaw started his remarks at Webster’s 1997 Hall of Fame induction ceremony by snapping a photo of the 45-year-old Webster from between his knees.
Oakland Raiders’ Jim Otto (1960-74)
- Three players were named to the Pro Bowl.
- All-AFL ten times
- One AFL Grand Final victory
Jim Otto will long be known as “Mr. Raider,” embodying the franchise’s toughness and team-first attitude during the 1960s and 1970s. Opponents of the Raiders targeted Otto with cheap shots, believing that if the Raiders offensive leader was gone, the rest of the squad would collapse. There was no such luck.
Otto had close to 80 operations, making him one of the most frequently operated sportsmen of all time. He was, nevertheless, one of the most tenacious. The native of Wausau, Wisconsin, was adamant about not missing downs. On a line that included Hall of Famers Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, the center was the finest.
New York Giants’ Mel Hein (1931-45)
- NFL All-Pro eight times
- All-Star four times
- One MVP campaign
- Two Super Bowl victories
When NFL players played on both sides of the field, Mel Hein, nicknamed “Old Indestructible,” excelled at center and linebacker. He was a real impact player who earned the MVP award in 1938 for his outstanding two-way performance. Hein’s endurance and stamina stood out at a period when players were expected to complete entire games.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the center reportedly remarked, “We played 60 minutes in those days.” I don’t believe I would have enjoyed playing for half as long as they do now.”
The size of an NFL center is important.
Jim Otto was named to the #NFL100 All-Time Team as one of four centers!
In a 15-year career, he has never missed a game. 10 First-Team All-Pro selections (tied for most in NFL history) 6EbzGBAMar, a 12-time Pro Bowler pic.twitter.com/6EbzGBAMar, a 12-time Pro Bowler pic.twitter.com/6
December 14, 2019 — NFL (@NFL)
You’ll find centers that have long since retired on any top 10 NFL centers list. According to Business Insider, the size of defensive lineman has grown dramatically over the decades. As a result, the offensive linemen charged with dealing with them have grown in size.
Webster and Otto were both 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2, and neither weighed more than 260 pounds, making them comparable to today’s linebackers. Hein was 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 220 pounds, which was about typical for a lineman in the 1930s. He’d be about the same size as the typical wide receiver today.
According to Business Insider, today’s average offensive lineman is 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds, which is almost 3 inches and 100 pounds more than Webster and Otto. Edge rushers who weigh up to 300 pounds and defensive lineman who weigh up to 330 pounds benefit from the additional bulk. Some teams constantly blitz, and the extra bulk absorbs the extra blows from huge lineman, powerful edge rushers, and quick backs.
Offensive linemen are growing larger, but they’re also getting stronger and more agile. Linemen often perform sub-5-second 40-yard sprints, 7.8-second three-cone exercises, and 26-plus bench press repetitions at NFL Draft Combines.
We don’t see the same physical specimens snapping the ball to quarterbacks as we have in the past. Webster and Otto, not to mention Hein, would be dwarfed by Hudson. However, one thing stays constant. The difference between excellent and outstanding centers is toughness and durability. If Hudson can continue his present level of performance for another five to six seasons, the Arizona Cardinals will be ecstatic.
Pro-Football-Reference.com provided all statistics.
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The NFL is the highlight of most weeknights for fans of America’s favorite pastime, but what about the players they play the game with? The same goes for the centers of an NFL offense. Who are the best centers of all time?. Read more about best offensive tackles of all time and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the greatest NFL center of all time?
This is a difficult question to answer because there are so many great centers in NFL history. I would say the best center of all time would be Jim Otto, who played for the Green Bay Packers from 1957-1971.
Who is the best center in the NFL 2019?
The best center in the NFL 2019 is Max Unger.
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