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Why Tom Nalen deserves to get into the Hall of Fame and almost certainly won’t in my lifetime

Denver Broncos great Tom Nalen has too many centers “ahead” of him and faced a steep climb to get that Hall of Fame nod.

Denver Broncos vs Oakland Raiders - November 12, 2006 Photo by Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary

With the long overdue selection of Randy Gradishar to the Hall of Fame, many in Broncos Country have been talking about the next Denver Broncos great who should get enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Mike Shanahan is the obvious answer and I have argued in the past why he is more deserving of enshrinement than some other coaches who are in the Hall.

Tom Nalen deserves to be in, but sadly I doubt he ever gets that gold gacket. Now, I am late to this party as Thomas Hall from Mile High Huddle has been on this for some time now. See the video below. Hall argues that Nalen definitely should be in the HOF.

He makes some great arguments, particularly about how Nalen was the leader of that OL that seemingly could turn any cell phone salesman into a 1000 yard rusher. Nalen played 14 seasons in the NFL after being a 7th round pick (in the first season when there were only seven rounds). He was the 5th to last player taken in the draft.

Nalen was selected to the Pro Bowl five times and was named first team All-Pro two times. He was also got some votes for comeback player of the year in 2003 after missing most of the 2002 season with injury. He was named second team All Pro once. This was done while two Hall of Fame centers were playing in the league, Dermonti Dawson and Kevin Mawae. Ask any former NFL player who hard it is get named first team All Pro when there is a generational player playing at your position in the league at the same time (See Manning, Peyton).

Nalen was the keystone to the rise to prominence of the zone blocking scheme and he was the only constant on the Bronco OL over the time from 1994 to 2007. As Hall points out is his video, being a catalyst and driver for the evolution of game is what got Joe Namath into the Hall. As such, Nalen should get the same treatment (even though I doubt he will).

The issue is that there are a handful of other centers who are eligible for the Hall or will be soon and have better “resumes”. According to ProFootballReference.com’s Hall of Fame score, Nalen has a lower score than Jason Kelce (who just retired), Maurkice Pouncey, Jeff Saturday, and Alex Mack. Mack has no chance because he was never the best center in the league during his career, but Kelce, Pouncey, and Saturday all will most likely get in before Nalen.

With the exception of Mack, all of those centers were more visible to the national media either because they played in larger markets or simply because they talked to the media unlike the Orange Hush OLs from that era who would get Alex Gibbs’ (RIP) boot up their rear if they talked to the press.

Nalen’s team rushing performance is the best of any of those who are above him in score but not in the Hall. In fact, the rushing results from the Broncos between 1995 (Nalen’s first year as a starter) and 2006 (his last) are better than the seven centers who ARE in the Hall.

Player HOFm Chmp AP1 PB St From To wAV G GS
Dermontti Dawson 123.50 0 6 7 11 1988 2000 96 184 181
Jim Otto 116.43 0 10 12 15 1960 1974 112 210 210
Mike Webster 111.20 4 5 9 14 1974 1990 114 245 217
Dwight Stephenson 107.58 0 4 5 6 1980 1987 80 114 87
Average HOF C 103 1 5 8 12 100 198 183
Kevin Mawae 98.53 0 3 8 15 1994 2009 108 241 238
Jim Langer 90.28 2 3 6 8 1970 1981 90 151 110
Jason Kelce 78.53 1 6 7 11 2011 2023 102 193 193
Maurkice Pouncey 75.18 0 2 9 9 2010 2020 78 134 134
Jeff Saturday 75.00 1 2 6 13 1999 2012 118 211 202
Mick Tingelhoff 72.90 0 5 6 17 1962 1978 103 240 240
Alex Mack 71.15 0 0 7 12 2009 2021 86 196 196
Tom Nalen 67.53 2 2 5 11 1994 2007 102 194 188
Mark Stepnoski 61.28 2 0 5 12 1989 2001 80 194 182
Jay Hilgenberg 59.10 1 2 7 9 1981 1993 83 188 152
  1. Dermontti Dawson
  2. Jim Otto
  3. Mike Webster
  4. Dwight Stephenson
  5. Kevin Mawae
  6. Jim Langer
  7. Mick Tingelhoff

Nalen’s eleven seasons as a starter matches Dawson while his five Pro Bowl selections matches Stephenson and is one less than Tinglehoff. What hurts him is that he only got two first team All-Pro selections and all of the centers in the Hall get at least three with Otto getting ten and Dawson getting six (as did Kelce in his career). Kelce is a lock. I believe Jeff Saturday is as well, mainly because he was Peyton Manning’s center in Indy (much like Webster got a bump for being the center of those great Steeler teams in the 70s and being Terry Bradshaw’s center).

The Broncos ran for more than 2000 yards in eight of the eleven seasons with Nalen as the primary starting center. The Broncos average rank in YPC was 6th during Nalen’s eleven seasons as starter but only in two seasons did the Broncos finish outside the top 10. In terms of team rushing yards, the Broncos average rank was 5th.

Season YPC Lg rank Rushing Yds Lg Rank
1995 4.5 2 1995 5
1996 4.5 4 2362 1
1997 4.6 2 2378 4
1998 4.7 2 2468 2
1999 4.0 14 1864 12
2000 4.5 6 2311 3
2001 3.9 19 1877 10
2002 5.0 3 2266 5
2003 4.8 4 2629 2
2004 4.4 8 2333 4
2005 4.7 4 2539 2
2006 4.4 9 2152 8

The only center in the Hall with more Super Bowl rings is Webster (four). In fact four of the seven centers in the Hall never played for a team that won the Super Bowl with them playing.

Of course playing on the OL, Nalen supporters can’t really point to stats in the same way that Gradishar supporters can - other than team rushing stats. Hall makes a great point that Nalen blocked for six different 1000 yard rushers and one 2000 yard rusher.

  1. Terrell Davis
  2. Olandis Gary
  3. Mike Anderson
  4. Clinton Portis
  5. Reuben Droughns
  6. Tatum Bell

No other offensive linemen can say the same and that is Hall of Fame worthy at a position where there are almost NO stats to look at. We really didn’t start keeping OL performance stats until about ten years ago. You can see my two recent articles about league-wide OT and IOL data-driven performance analysis.

Poll

What’s you opinion on Tom Nalen and the Hall of Fame?

  • 4%
    He doesn’t deserve to be in
    (12 votes)
  • 54%
    He deserves to be in, but won’t ever get in because the Hall of Fame is not for Denver Broncos
    (134 votes)
  • 33%
    He deserves to be in and will get in but not until a long time from now
    (83 votes)
  • 7%
    He deserves to be in and will be the next center inducted into the Hall after Kelce
    (19 votes)
248 votes total Vote Now