We look back over the long and storied history of the Cleveland Browns and look at the 15 greatest offensive linemen to ever wear the orange and brown.
The offensive line was a big topic of conversation for the Cleveland Browns this offseason as they had one big decision to make, as well as a high-profile trade. First up was the status of their left tackle, Greg Robinson who was entering free agency.
A former No. 2 overall pick in 2014, Robinson didn't last with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and was sent to the Detroit Lions in 2017. He ended that year injured, but got another chance with the Browns in 2018 — a chance he made the most of.
With a good performance in the second half of the season, Robinson earned a shot to be the blindside protector heading into 2019. However, they had to find a deal that worked for both sides — which they did, as a one-year contract was signed that allows him to prove he deserves a long-term deal.
There will be a lot of eyes on him as he continues to try to lock down his spot permanently, but even more will be on Austin Corbett. The No. 33 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft is in the spotlight after general manager John Dorsey traded away right guard Kevin Zeitler in exchange for Olivier Vernon. While Vernon should be a strong presence on the defensive line, Corbett's ability to play up to his potential could be what decides how this trade will be viewed.
With so much attention being placed on the offensive line, it seems like as good a time as any to look over the Browns' history up front. Here we dive into the 15 greatest offensive linemen in the team's existence.
A second-round pick in 2012, Mitchell Schwartz was a fixture on the Cleveland offensive line for four seasons, as he never missed a snap in that span. One of the more reliable right tackles in the game, Schwartz was known primarily for his excellent ability as a pass blocker.
Unfortunately for him, he was a part of some really bad teams, despite being paired with All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. That may have had a hand in him leaving in 2016 once he became a free agent.
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Schwartz ended up signing a five-year, $33 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs — a contract given to him by none other than John Dorsey, who was the general manager of the Chiefs at the time.
He's only gotten better since then, making the Pro Bowl in 2018, while also earning his first-ever selection to the All-Pro First Team.
The 320-pound right tackle has also continued to be as durable as they come in Kansas City. He's now gone 112 consecutive games without missing a start and is now the active iron-man in consecutive snaps.
He took that role over back in 2017 when his former teammate, Joe Thomas, saw his incredible streak of 10,363 snaps come to an end due to a triceps injury.
Schwartz has a long way to go to beat Thomas, but it's something that he could end up doing. It's just a shame he's doing so well in a city other than Cleveland because he was a rare great selection during a tough stretch of years for the Browns.
Unfortunately for the Browns, most of the success Shaun O'Hara had in the NFL came after he left Cleveland. Had he played out his entire career wearing the orange and brown, he would be much higher on the list. As fate would have it, he spent just four seasons with the team and played only 54 of his 151 career games as a member of the Browns.
In just their second season after returning to the NFL, Cleveland found a solid undrafted free agent out of Rutgers in O'Hara. While he grew up in New Jersey, O'Hara did spend some of his youth in Ohio and landed with the Browns as a center.
During his rookie campaign, that's the position O'Hara played and started four of eight games played. He wasn't able to start full-time the next season though, as Dave Wohlabaugh held down that spot for the next couple of seasons. That forced O'Hara to move to guard where he started four games in his second campaign before becoming the full-time right guard in 2002.
He continued to hold that position down in 2003, starting 14 more games while missing two contests. O'Hara played well enough to earn a contract with the New York Giants in 2004 where he returned to playing center.
O'Hara preferred this spot, saying it was his natural position. He proved that this wasn't just lip service as he went on to start 97 games in his seven seasons with the Giants. During that span, he was named to three Pro Bowls and helped lead New York to a win in Super Bowl XLII.
From 2003 through 2006, Eric Steinbach was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, the team that took him 33rd overall out of Iowa. During his span with the Bengals, Steinbach was consistently considered one of the top five guards in the league, but continued to be a Pro Bowl snub. Then in 2007, his worth was shown as he hit the open market and was the most sought after offensive lineman in free agency.
That's when the Browns came calling. Steinbach joined the better Ohio team on a massive contract which paid him $49.5 million over seven seasons. At the time, that was one of the biggest deals in the NFL for an offensive lineman — not just guards. He then lined up next to Joe Thomas, the rookie who was drafted third overall out of Wisconsin that season.
With those two locking down the left side, Cleveland became a force. They went 10-6, but sadly missed the postseason that year. Still, it was their last winning season. Led by Derek Anderson under center and Jamal Lewis in the backfield, the Browns offense was better than expected — a lot of which had to do with the play of their offensive line.
For Steinbach, he was named as an alternate to the Pro Bowl that season, which was the only time in his career he earned the honor. He started every game for the next three seasons, going 64-of-64 during his first four seasons.
Then a back injury sidelined him in 2011 and he was released after spending the year on Injured Reserve. The Miami Dolphins brought him on in 2012, but he never made their final roster.
Already with Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas on the roster, the Browns added another stud in 2009 when they used their first-round pick on Cal center Alex Mack. He came into the league expected to be a star, as his NFL.com scouting report highlighted his ability to win on multiple levels while playing with a high motor.
" Tall, athletic center with large biceps and a solid lower body build. Puts in full effort on every play, often getting downfield for a second or third block. Nimble enough to get in front of screens, trap block inside and eliminate linebackers at the second level. Keeps his legs moving once making contact with his target, often putting his man on the ground in the process." — NFL.com scouting report
As a rookie, he started all 16 games at center for the Browns, a feat he accomplished the first five years of his career. He missed 11 games in 2014 with a broken leg, but returned in 2015 to start every game, and made his third Pro Bowl appearance that season.
Mack then hit free agency and Cleveland was unable to keep him in town. He headed south to join the Atlanta Falcons on a five-year, $45 million deal. So far, that's looked like a good move for the Falcons, as he's been in the Pro Bowl all three seasons with his new team.
It's hard to find any state that takes youth football as serious as Texas does. Countless NFL players come from the Lone Star State, which is where former Cleveland offensive lineman Cody Risien hails from. A product of Cy-Fair High School in Houston, Risien ended up playing collegiately for the Texas A&M Aggies.
He wasn't a star player by any means for A&M, which led to him waiting until the seventh-round to find his NFL home. That's when the Browns came in and made him the 183rd overall selection in the 1979 NFL Draft. In the end, they proved that to be quite the steal, as Risien then spent the next 10 seasons on the Cleveland offensive line.More:Top 15 All-Time first-round draft picks
As a rookie, Risien started 10 games while appearing in all 16. He was a guard during that seasons, starting on the left side. In 1980, he switched positions and moved outside to right tackle. That ended up being a permanent move and Risien became a fixture on that side.
In his impressive career, he started 140 of 146 games and made the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons in 1986 and 1987. He was able to help pave the way for four different 1,000-yard rushers and helped keep quarterback Brian Sipe standing upright during his MVP season in 1980 as a member of the Kardiac Kids.
After his playing days were over, the hard-working Risien continued his blue-collar ways. He moved back to Texas and began working with a large construction company based in Austin.
The Browns have gone through so much change since 2017 that guard Joel Bitonio and linebacker Christian Kirksey enter the 2019 season as the longest tenured members of the team. Both were added in 2014, with Bitono being selected at No. 35 overall out of Nevada.
Bitonio played tackle at Nevada, but was quickly moved to guard in the NFL. At that position, he's been able to shine. He started all 16 games as a rookie before two injury-plagued seasons in 2015 and 2016.
Bitonio missed a total of 17 games in that stretch, but still played at a high level when he was on the field and was able to earn a big contract heading into 2017. He and the Browns agreed to a five-year contract that paid him $51.2 million, with $23.7 million being guaranteed.
He was able to shake those early injury issues and now has started all 16 games the past two seasons. In those two years, he's developed into one of the best interior guards in the NFL and made his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2018.
That was also a year in which he showed off his versatility. With Cleveland saying goodbye to all-time great left tackle Joe Thomas following 2017, Bitonio was moved out to left tackle during the preseason.
He performed admirably at that position and would have been a good option. The only issue was there was too much of a let down from him to his replacement at guard, so he moved back to his original position. Still, knowing he can move around like that and not miss a beat is a testament to the kind of player Bitonio is.
A little bit of a spoiler alert here, but Doug Dieken had some pretty big shoes to fill, as he joined the Browns in 1971 and replaced Dick Shafrath, who comes in a few slots later in this top-15 offensive line ranking. It was quite the task to place upon a sixth-round pick out of Illinois, but Dieken ended up handling things rather well.
After starting just five of 14 games as a rookie, Dieken never came off the bench again for the rest of his career. He also never missed a game until 1982 when he was 33 years of age. Missing seven games that season became the only period of his entire career where Dieken wasn't suited up and ready to go the for the Browns.
He played 14 total seasons in Cleveland and made the Pro Bowl once in 1980. After his career was over, Iron-Man Diek moved into the broadcasting booth for the Browns and is still a beloved voice on the radio calling Browns games.
While Dieken isn't originally from The Land, he came to love being a part of the community and is one of the more underappreciated figures in team history — and in the community — which is something that was covered in a piece from DPD's own Dan Justik.
Like many who come to Cleveland to play for the Browns, Dieken ended up realizing the passion of this fan base is unmatched anywhere else. It's easy to hear in his voice how much he appreciates the sports town that he represented for nearly a decade and a half on the field.
Jim Ray Smith
Back in 1954, the Browns used a 'future draft pick' on Jim Ray Smith who was at Baylor at the time. It was a different time, as this pick could be used on a player who wasn't yet eligible to play in the NFL, but it gave the team his rights. It was also different, as there were so few teams in the league that Smith was the 64th overall selection in that draft, but technically was a sixth-round pick.
A two-way lineman who played offensive and defensive tackle at Baylor, Smith finished his career with the Bears and ended up doing enough to later be inducted into the Baylor Hall of Fame.
On top of that, he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame. Smith never made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he did have a career full of accolades after spending seven seasons with Cleveland and his final two with the Dallas Cowboys.
Smith also had a commitment to the U.S. Army and eventually joined the Browns in 1956. Once there, they tried him out at defensive end as a rookie before moving him to guard. Smith ended up starting six games in 1957 before taking over as the left guard full-time. He never gave that job up and was a stud for the Browns during the span of 1958 through 1962.
The offensive lineman was named to five Pro Bowls from 1958 through 1962 and was also a selection to the All-Pro First Team three times (1959 through 1961) and All-Pro Second Team twice (1958 and 1962).
It was a different era when Lou Groza played the game, which is why he was able to play both offensive line and kicker during his insanely long career. Groza ended up playing in 268 games during a career that spanned from 1946 all the way through 1967.
For the first two seasons of his career, Groza was mainly a placekicker and earned the nickname "The Toe." He was famous for his strong leg that allowed the Browns to kick the ball from further distances than most teams would even attempt.
By his third season, Groza started to play on the offensive line in addition to his kicking duties. After playing some center for them in a reserve role early in his career, Groza settled in as the left tackle and was a key figure in their dominant tenure in the AAFC — where the Browns won four consecutive titles.
He then helped lead them to four NFL titles in 1950, 1954, 1955 and 1964. Of all those NFL titles, he was the starting left tackle with the exception of 1964 — which was actually part of his second stint with the team.
A back injury forced Groza to retire in 1959. After taking the 1960 season off, he returned to the team, but no longer played on the offensive line. Focusing only on kicking at this point, he continued to play until the age of 43.
While he doesn't have as many of the accolades as some of the other offensive linemen on this list (for that position, of course), Groza still played the position and is too big of a figure in the Browns' history not to mention.
Dick Schafrath has lived quite an accomplished life. He was a star at Ohio State in the late 1950s, as he played on both sides of the football. An offensive tackle and defensive end, Schafrath helped the Buckeyes win a National Championship in 1957. He then took part of the Rose Bowl in 1958 before declaring for the NFL Draft.
Schafrath stayed in the state as the Ohio-born kid was drafted by the Browns in the second round — 23rd overall. In an attempt to bulk up to play on the Browns' offensive line, Schafrath began lifting weights, but also entered eating contests. He put on 50 pounds following his rookie season.More:15 best free agent acquisitions of all-time
That led to him starting all 12 games his sophomore season at left tackle, a position he never relinquished. Schafrath started 158 of the next 164 games in his career before hanging it up after the 1971 season. As a player, Schafrath won one NFL Championship in 1964 while being named to six Pro Bowls and earning four selections to the All-Pro First Team.
After his playing days were over, he moved to the coaching staff for the Washington Redskins for three seasons. Eventually, he moved into an entirely new profession, as the former NFL player got into politics.
He started out as a part of a committee called "Athletes for Reagan-Bush '84" where he tried to help Ronald Reagan raise money for his campaign. Eventually, he moved into his own political career, as he became a member of the Ohio Senate in 1987. He stayed in office all the way through August 2000.
As a player, Joe DeLamielleure probably should go a little higher on this list. However, he spent his first eight seasons in the NFL before joining the Browns for his final five. Because of that, he slides just a little, but was still one of the best offensive linemen to ever wear the orange and brown.
Originally drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills, DeLamielleure was there from 1973 through 1979. He was part of the big Buffalo offensive line that blocked for O.J. Simpson during his 2,003-yard season in 1973 — which was the first time a player eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark.
That historic offensive line was nicknamed the "Electric Company" and the Bills finished with a total of 3,088 rushing yards that year, which was the most ever during the era of the 14-game schedule.
In 1980, DeLamielleure was traded to Cleveland where he then became a part of the Kardiac Kids. He made history in 1982, as he helped block for NFL MVP Brian Sipe. DeLamielleure became the first player to ever clear the way for a 2,000-yard rusher and block for a 4,000-yard passer. During that MVP season for Sipe, the Browns were the best in the league in sack percentage and still had a 1,000-yard rusher.
When all was said and done, DeLamielleure had six Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro First-Team selection. He finds himself in the Browns Ring of Honor as well as the Bills Wall of Fame. He was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A Pro Football Hall of Famer who played nine seasons for the Browns (from 1954 through 1962) had an interesting start to his career. Mike McCormack was originally drafted by the then-New York Yanks in 1951, but then went to serve in the Korean War.
His team moved to Dallas while he was gone and became the Dallas Texans. However, they folded after one season. So when McCormack returned to the states, he was a man without a team.
Now a free agent, he signed with the then-Baltimore Colts, but never played for them. That was because Paul Brown made a trade for McCormack, who was a defensive lineman at the time. While serving in that role, he made a huge fumble recovery against the Detroit Lions, which helped Cleveland win a title in 1954.
Despite his positive play on that side of the ball, McCormack was moved to offensive tackle in 1955 — the same position he played as a rookie with the Yanks. He spent the remainder of his career as a right tackle, playing until the age of 32. He finished his playing career with six Pro Bowl nods and won two NFL Championships.
McCormack got into coaching when his playing days were done and had three head coaching stints. From 1973 through 1975, he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. From 1980 to 1981, he was the head coach of the Colts. Then in 1982, he took over as the Seattle Seahawks' shot caller.
He was never able to record a winning season, however. McCormack finished 29-51-1 with his best record being a 7-7 campaign in Philadelphia during the 1974 NFL season.
Following his coaching days, he moved into a general manager role with Seattle. He was later the president and general manager for the Carolina Panthers during their inception, finally retiring in 1997.
The list of players Gene Hickerson blocked for during his 15-year career is quite impressive. His time with the Browns carried into three decades as he was there from 1958 to 1973 and played in 202 career games for Cleveland. During that time, he had Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and LeRoy Kelly in the backfield.
He helped each of them carve out some successful careers. All three repaid the favor, as they led him onto the stage for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 2007. He was unable to do so as he was battling dementia, but they lent a hand to Hickerson, as the former guard's son gave a speech thanking the voters for electing his father into Canton.
As for his play on the field, Hickerson was an offensive tackle at Ole Miss, but moved to guard for the Browns who drafted him in the seventh round of the 1957 NFL Draft. That sounds like a rather late pick, but with it being a different era, he was actually the 78th overall selection at the time.
Hickerson was highly thought of by legendary head coach Paul Brown, who had the offensive lineman deliver the plays to the huddle. The "messenger" was part of the 1964 NFL Championship roster and ended up in six Pro Bowls with five selections to the All-Pro First Team. He was also honored as a member of the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team.
He ended up passing away in 2008 and the team paid tribute to him that season by playing with his initials on their helmets.
One of the most undervalued positions in football happens to be the center. Usually the anchor of an offensive line, no one realizes how important centers are until they don't have a good one. And for 11 seasons, the Browns had an amazing one — who was arguably the best in the league during his career — Frank Gatski.
He was so good that Samantha Bunten of Bleacher Report even put him in the top-10 all-time back in 2011 when she ranked the 50 greatest players in Cleveland history.
"Center Frank Gatski was the Browns center from 1946 to 1957. It is difficult, admittedly, to think of a center as a top-10 player for any team, but then it's also pretty difficult to find a center anywhere in the league in any era who was as good as Gatski.
One of the things that made Gatski stand out? He never fumbled the snap. NEVER.
Gatski was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, after failing to make it in as a finalist in 1976." ‚— Bunten, Bleacher Report
A four-time AAFC champion, Gatski was a reserve for the first two seasons of his career and even played some linebacker. But in 1948, he was the full-time starter in the middle of the offensive line and started that impressive streak of never fumbling a snap.
A four-time selection to the All-NFL Team, Gatski made the Pro Bowl just once which was a shame in itself. He did wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and deserves to be mentioned as one of the best to ever play in The Land.
Finally, we get to the No. 1 offensive lineman to ever play for the Browns and it's the iron man himself, Joe Thomas.
Coming out of Wisconsin in 2007, Thomas ended up being the third overall selection and immediately became the starting left tackle for the Browns. He was a part of a stellar line that season which helped lead them to a 10-6 record, although the Browns just did miss the playoffs.
Unfortunately, that was the only winning season during Thomas' time in the NFL. Despite playing on a perennial loser, Thomas continued to give it everything he had week in and week out. His career lasted 11 seasons and it wasn't until his final year that he missed a single snap.
Thomas became the first player to ever record 10,000 consecutive snaps and only saw that streak end (at 10,363) after suffering a torn triceps muscle on Oct. 22, 2017. As bad as that injury was, what was worse is that it was the last time No. 73 played for the Browns.
He ended up calling it a career after that and has since started to work more in the media. He's the co-host of the popular ThomaHawk Podcast along with former Browns teammate Andrew Hawkins. Thomas will also start working on NFL Network this season for Thursday Night Football games.
This success is well-earned for Thomas ,who goes down as one of the most popular players of all-time in Cleveland. Not only is this due to his play, but his dedication as well.
Every year, it seemed as if there were rumors of contending team wanting to add the left tackle. However, Thomas always made it known that he wanted to stay with the team that drafted him. Desperate to turn their fortune around, Thomas fell short of that goal, but he remains one of the team's biggest cheerleaders following his career.