Best Centers in NFL History – Who Are The Top 10 Best NFL Centers of All-Time?

15 minutes

Last Updated: May 24, 2024

Scott Kostov

The best NFL centers of all time have always made a bigger impact than they’re credited with. If they’re not giving the fastest NFL players running room, they are protecting the oldest QBs that have won a Super Bowl.

They might not get a lot of attention, but they silently decide which team will have the most SuperBowl wins and which team will participate in the highest scoring NFL games. Oftentimes, the best NFL centers dictate the future of their franchise. So who are the best of them?

Greatest Center of All Time NFL

Jim Otto

NFL Teams: Oakland Raiders (1960–1974)

Accolades: AFL champion (1967), 9× First-team All-AFL (1960–1965, 1967–1969), First-team All-Pro (1970), Second-team All-Pro (1972), Second-team All-AFL (1966), 9× AFL All-Star (1961–1969), 3× Pro Bowl (1970–1972)

The best ability is availability. That’s the motto most NFL teams live by. And it’s not surprising considering a single NFL season is around 20 weeks of gruesome physical competition in open stadiums. That’s why Jim Otto is the best center in NFL history according to many outlets.

For 15 straight years, Jim Otto anchored the O Line for the Oakland Raiders to perfection. He played and started in 210 consecutive games, never missing a snap due to injury. Which is amazing considering he wasn’t one of the biggest NFL players ever.

At 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), Otto was considered undersized for the position by many. But what he lacked in height, he made up for with tremendous speed and work ethic. He was one of the most athletic players in the NFL at the time, a true pioneer in his position. Otto also put in some serious work to achieve his ideal playing weight of 255 pounds (116 kg).

Alongside fellow Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw, Jimm Otto helped the Raiders lead the league in scoring 3 consecutive seasons. He did manage to win the 1967 AFL/AFC championship against the Houston Oilers, with 7 divisional titles in 8 years to boot.

Jim Otto Number 00

The lack of postseason success wasn’t because Jim Otto wasn’t playing like the best center in football history. During his 10-year playing career in the AFL, he was named to the first-team All-AFL team every time. He also earned three Pro Bowl nominations since the merger, spanning from 1970-1972.

This continued excellence made him one of just 20 players to play during the entirety of the AFL. During those 10 years, of those 20 players, he is just one of three to play in every single one of his team’s AFL games. 

Unfortunately, being the greatest center of all time in NFL history, took its toll. Otto had to endure 74 operations, of which 28 were on his knees. Arthritis, back and neck problems also troubled him for the rest of his life. 

Between three life-threatening infections, multiple artificial joint replacements, and having his right leg amputated, Jim Otto made the greatest sacrifice for the game he loved. In his book, “The Pain of Glory”, Otto said that he has no regrets and that he wouldn’t change a thing about his life.

That’s probably one of the best feelings a man can ever have. Walking around as the best NFL center for 1.5 decades is a worthy sacrifice. And it’s why we consider Jim Otto as the best center in NFL history, ahead of the top 10 best NFL centers of all time.

Top 10 Best NFL Centers of All Time

Mike Webster

NFL Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (1974–1988), Kansas City Chiefs (1989–1990)

Accolades: 4× Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), 6× First-team All-Pro (1978–1983), 2× Second-team All-Pro (1982, 1984), 9× Pro Bowl (1978–1985, 1987), NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team, Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame

As the second best center in NFL history, we have Mike Webster. The top 2 spots were really a toss-up, with each player having an amazing career in his own right. After becoming a 5 round draft pick in the 1974 NFL draft, Webster spent his first 2 years on the pine. Being mentored by the Steelers’ center at the time Ray Mansfield, certainly sped up his growth.

Mike became the Pittsburgh Steelers starting center in 1976, after which he played 150 consecutive games. His Ironman streak ended a decade later in 1976, when he dislocated his elbow and missed 4 games. During that period, he served as the team’s offensive captain. 

More importantly, he helped create gaps in the defense for a running game that won 4 Super Bowls. While the Steel Curtain got most of the attention due to their sack leaders, it was Mike Webster at center who was opening gaps for running backs Franco Harris and Christian Okoye.

His 6 NFL First-Team All-Pro selections and 9 NFL Pro Bowl nods make him one of the best centers of all time NFL history. But Webster’s legacy goes beyond his playing career.

Mike lived miserably in retirement, suffering from amnesia, dementia, depression, and acute bone and muscular pain while living in his pickup truck. After his death at age 50 from a heart attack, he became the first NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. 

Dwight Stephenson

NFL Teams: Miami Dolphins (1980–1987)

Accolades: NFL Man of the Year (1985), 4× First-team All-Pro (1984–1987), Second-team All-Pro (1983), 5× Pro Bowl (1983–1987), NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Miami Dolphins Honor Roll

The anchor of the Miami Dolphins O Line that let Dan Marino do his magic was well underway becoming one of the best NFL centers of all time. Unfortunately, a devastating knee injury in 1987 forced him to retire at just 30 years of age.

But that didn’t stop him from becoming arguably the best center in football history. At 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) and weighing in at 255 lb (116 kg), Dwight had all the tools to become a great lineman. But it was his explosiveness and technical proficiency that set him apart. 

Under the watchful eye of the winningest NFL coach ever Don Shula, Stephenson became a 5 time Pro Bowler with 5 All-Pro nods. As a second round draft pick in the 1980 NFL draft, Dwight spent his first 2 seasons on the special teams, bothering NFL kickers, before becoming a starter at center.

And his transition happened at just the right time because he started snapping the ball to none other than Dan Marino. Replacing another candidate for best center in NFL history in Jim Langer, Stephenson would go on to become the offensive captain and anchor an O Line that allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL for 6 consecutive years.

Despite a rather short career that lacked a Super Bowl win, Dwight Stephenson is undoubtedly one of the best NFL centers of all time. He was inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998 and was probably the most talented of the best centers in NFL history.

Mel Hein

NFL Teams: New York Giants (1931–1945)

Accolades: 2× NFL champion (1934, 1938), NFL Most Valuable Player (1938), 8× First-team All-Pro (1933–1940), 4× NFL All-Star Game (1938–1941), NFL 1930s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, New York Giants Ring of Honor

According to the old NFL fans from that era, MeL Hein is the greatest center of all time NFL history. His contributions as a center on both sides of the ball in the era of one-platoon football, really stand out. Never mind the fact that he was a ferocious linebacker.

In 1931, Hein signed a contract with the New York Giants, a franchise with which he would spend his entire 14 year career. During that period he became the first and only offensive lineman to claim the NFL MVP award. 

This happened during the 1938 NFL season, in which he led the Giants to an NFL championship. It was his second title after winning it in 1934 against the Chicago Bears. His teams made the NFL championship game another 5 times, but they were unsuccessful. 

Nicknamed “Old Indestructible”, from 1931 to 1945, Hein played in an astonishing 170 consecutive games. This record stood for several decades which is insane to think of considering he dominated opposing linemen on both ends.

Mel Hein earned 6 First-Team All-Pro selections and 4 Pro Bowl nods during his career, resulting in him being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, after 6 unsuccessful tries.

For a man that revolutionized the center position, by being the first to snap the ball with one hand, his impact far supersedes his contributions. This alone makes him one of the best NFL centers of all time.

Dermontti Dawson

NFL Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (1988–2000)

Accolades: 6× First-team All-Pro (1993–1998), 7× Pro Bowl (1992–1998), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team, Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Honor, Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame

Taking over from Mike Webster at the helm of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, we have Dermontti Dawson. The second round draft pick of the 1988 NFL Draft started his career as a guard alongside the aforementioned Hall of Fame center Mike Webster.

He started 170 consecutive games, the second-most in Steelers history, during his 12-year tenure with the team. This made him a key contributor to the franchise for over a decade, which resulted in a Super Bowl appearance in 1995.

They didn’t manage to capture the chip, but it was the franchise’s first showing since their 1979 win with Webster at the helm. During his time there, Dawson earned 7 consecutive Pro Bowls from 1992 to 1998 and was a six-time AP First-team All-Pro.

He also received two separate awards, becoming the co-AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1993 by player voting and the NFL Alumni’s Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1996. Dawson was a force to be reckoned with, helping the Steelers lead the NFL in rushing in 1994 and 1997.

But he also benefited from blocking for Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, who ran for a career-high 1,665 yards during the 1997 NFL season.

Dermontti’s name is forever etched in NFL history, as a part of the Steelers team that welcomed the Browns back in Cleveland with a 43-0 shutout.

Trashing one of the worst NFL teams ever was the last highlight for one of the best NFL centers of all time, who dealt with various hamstring injuries during his final 2 years in the league.

Chuck Bednarik

NFL Teams: Philadelphia Eagles (1949–1962)

Accolades: 2× NFL champion (1949, 1960), 10× First-team All-Pro (1950–1957, 1960, 1961), 8× Pro Bowl (1950–1954, 1956, 1957, 1960), NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame

At number 9 on our top 10 best NFL centers of all time list, we have a major throwback with “Concrete Charlie”. A former WW2 veteran with over 50 Air Force missions over Nazi Germany became the first overall pick in the 1949 NFL draft.

Bednarik spent his entire career with the Philadelphia Eagles, serving as the last two-way player in the NFL. Playing both as a linebacker and center, Chuck Bednarik’s “The Hit” at Yankee Stadium sent New York Giants running back Frank Gifford into an 18-month retirement due to a concussion.

The multi-sport athlete etched his name as one of the best centers of all time NFL history, earning 10 First-team All-Pro selections. With 8 Pro Bowl nods and 2 NFL rings to his name, “Concrete Charlie” is much more than one of the hardest hitters ever.

He is one of the best NFL centers of all time, due to his durability, versatility and contributions to both the country and the team.

Best Centers in The NFL 2023

Corey Linsley

NFL Teams: Green Bay Packers (2014–2020), Los Angeles Chargers (2021–present)

Accolades: First-team All-Pro (2020), Second-team All-Pro (2021), Pro Bowl (2021)

The best center in the NFL right now in 2023, has to be Corey Linsley. As a fifth-round draft pick during the 2014 NFL draft, Linsley was supposed to be a backup center for the Green Bay Packers. But an injury to expected starter J. C. Tretter made Linsley the designated Aaron Rodgers protector, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Linsley has started all 127 games he has played during his career and at age 32, he’s never been better. He allowed zero sacks during the 2022 NFL season, which is great news for the LA  Chargers who made him the highest-paid center in the league with a  five-year $62.5 million contract in the 2021 offseason. 

Linsley is coming into the 2023 NFL season after recording the highest PFF grade of his career, with two All Pro nods in the last 2 years. In 858 snaps last season, he was graded in the 80th percentile or higher in pass-blocking and zone run-blocking sets.

There’s still time left for Corey Linsley to become one of the best NFL centers of all time. If he and Justin Herbert win a Super Bowl in the next two years, the latter will become one of the youngest QBs to win a Superbowl. This pairing has shown a lot of promise so far, but it’s uncertain what the future might hold.

Best NFL Centers of the 2000s

Kevin Mawae

NFL Teams: Seattle Seahawks (1994–1997), New York Jets (1998–2005), Tennessee Titans (2006–2009)

Accolades: 7× First-team All-Pro (1999–2002, 2004, 2007, 2008), Second-team All-Pro (1998), 8× Pro Bowl (1999–2004, 2008, 2009), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, PFWA All-Rookie Team (1994), New York Jets Ring of Honor

Kevin Mawae is undoubtedly the best NFL center of the 2000s. Everywhere Mawae played, his team’s offense improved. And a lot of his teammates in skill positions owe a portion of their success to him.

Kevin Mawae became the highest offensive lineman to be drafted in 30 years, after being chosen in the second round of the 1994 NFL draft. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches and weighing 289 pounds, the Seattle Seahawks felt like Mawae possessed a combination of size, strength, and agility that would make him a generational talent. Turns out, they were spot on.

Mawae spent all but 2 games of his first two years at right tackle, before moving to center for the rest of his career. He nabbed first-team All-Rookie honor en route to helping running back Chris Warren have back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons of over 1,300 yards rushing.

Kevin signed with the New York Jets in 1998 and his impact was evident from the start. He was never one of the most paid NFL players, but making room for running back Curtis Martin was his daily routine.

Curtis would go on to rush for a Jets franchise-record 8 100-yard rushing games and a total of 1,287 yards during the 1998 NFL  season. 7 of Martin’s 10 1000-yard seasons with the Jets were with Mawae as the center, effectively punching Martin’s ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Best NFL Centers 2000

In his 7 years with the Jets, Mawae earned 5 First-team All-Pro selections and 6 Pro Bowl appearances. During his time there, the Jets were consistently near the top of the league in terms of points scored and time of possession, while allowing the fewest sacks in the league. These stats all point to a dominant O Line performance, which Mawae spearheaded. 

After 124 consecutive starts, he suffered a season-ending injury in the 2005 season-opener, which meant the end of his Jets tenure. 9 days after being cut, the Tennessee Titans signed Mawae and turned their fortunes. 

Running back Travis Henry finished the 2006 NFL season with 1,211 rushing yards and rookie quarterback Vince Young was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, behind a revamped O Line that allowed the tenth fewest sacks and set a franchise record of 4.7 yards per carry.

Mawae recorded two more first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections with the Titans, helping the team record a franchise record and NFL-low 12 sacks allowed during the 2008 NFL season.

For his tremendously successful career, Mawae was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019. The lack of postseason success is certainly hurting his stock but he’s definitely the best NFL center of the 2000s. Multiple teams and players benefited from his efforts, so they might be right to call him one of the best NFL centers of all time.

Best NFL Centers of the 2010s

Jason Kelce

NFL Teams: Philadelphia Eagles (2011–present)

Accolades: Super Bowl champion (LII), 5× First-team All-Pro (2017–2019, 2021, 2022), 6× Pro Bowl (2014, 2016, 2019–2022)

You might know Jason Kelce as the older brother of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. But in the eyes of every NFL fan and executive over the last 10 years, Jason Kelce has been the best center in the NFL.

During the 2011 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles took a shot on Jason Kelce in the sixth round. He would end up blowing past expectations, starting all 16 games as a rookie, becoming the first Eagles center to do so. 

The following year, in a week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, he would suffer a partially torn MCL and torn ACL that sidelined him for the entire year. But since then, Kelce has been among the best NFL centers of all time. 

The following 2013 NFL season, saw Kelce start all 16 games, helping the Eagles reach the playoffs. The team set franchise records of 442 points and 6,676 yards, with the NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy bursting for 1,607 yards through holes Kelce created. Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated Kelce as the best center in the NFL that year.

Since then Kelce has received 5 first-team All-Pro selections on top of 6 Pro Bowl nods. But nothing compares to becoming an NFL champion, by beating Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 52.

Five years later, in 2022, the Eagles and Kelce made another Super Bowl appearance. Super Bowl 57 was the first Super Bowl in which two brothers faced off on opposing teams as players. The Chiefs and Travis Kelce came out on top, but Jason is already one of the best NFL centers of all time.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Who is the best Centre in American football?

As of October 2023, with 4 weeks of the 2023 NFL season being played out, Center Connor Williams for the Miami Dolphins is ranked as the best center in American football according to ProFootballFocus.

How many centers are in the Hall of Fame?

As of October 2023, there are 9 Centers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. These include: 

  • Chuck Bednarik (C-LB) 1949-1962
  • Dermontti Dawson (C) 1988-2000
  • Frank Gatski (C) 1946-1957
  • Jim Langer (C) 1970-1981
  • Kevin Mawae (C) 1994-2009
  • Jim Otto (C) 1960-1974
  • Jim Ringo (C) 1953-1967
  • Dwight Stephenson (C) 1980-1987
  • Mike Webster (C) 1974-1990

Who is the greatest football center ever?

Picking one of the best NFL centers of all time to crown as the greatest football center ever is hard, but according to us, Jim Otto is more than worthy of that title.

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