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Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Bryan Knowles

Joe Thomas was the best tackle of our generation, and the numbers tell his story. He was a 10-time Pro Bowler, one of only five players to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons. He was the first-team All Pro tackle seven times, and second-team twice more. He blocked for 20 different quarterbacks, none of whom managed 20 career wins with the Browns. And he appeared in a grand total of zero playoff games.

Zero. For a surefire Hall of Famer in the modern era, that's an astonishing career arc. Only four Hall of Famers since the merger managed to go an entire career without making the playoffs, and all of them were retired by 1974. In an era with 12-team playoff fields and four divisions per conference, when teams like the 2017 Bills or Titans can make the playoffs, it's very difficult to put together a great idea and somehow never make the tournament.

It's even harder when you factor in free agency and easier player movement, benefits that players before 1992 didn't have access to. Thomas could have left Cleveland after the 2011 season and looked for greener pastures; he instead signed a seven-year extension that lasted the rest of his career.

Many of the most famous great players on terrible teams made it to the playoffs at least once. Cortez Kennedy made the 1999 wild-card game. Calvin Johnson has two wild-card losses to his name. Willie Roaf made the playoffs twice. Barry Sanders made the playoffs on five separate occasions!

Thomas, then, has possibly earned one more accolade: the best modern player to never reach the playoffs. It is unlikely we'll ever again see a player this great stuck on a team this bad for an entire career. We witnessed history, even if it required watching the Cleveland Browns to see it.

Thomas isn't the only notable player to never sniff the playoffs, however. Who would Thomas' teammates be on an All-Never-Playoff team? How close did they get? Which active players are still trying to reach the playoffs for the first time? And can any of them measure up to Thomas' career? Our search will take us to some of the worst franchises of all time –- the longest playoff droughts, the deep pits of mediocrity and the sometimes overlooked players who toiled in terrible conditions.

One caveat, first. The playoffs as we know them started in 1967; before then, there was only the NFL (and later, AFL) championship games, with tiebreakers played sporadically and only if necessary. There are plenty of great players from the NFL's prehistory who never reached a championship game and, thus, never reached the playoffs. We're just looking at post-'67 history for this article, to look at players who had reasonable chances for postseason play and never could deliver.

This is obviously a highly subjective exercise -- and one that will be a bit unfairly balanced towards players from the '70s, as the NFL expanded from eight to 10 to 12-team playoffs -- but, hey, it's the offseason, and arguments about offensive linemen from the '70s and '80s is exactly the sort of aesthetic we strive for here. So, without further ado...

Quarterbacks

Archie Manning

1971-1982 New Orleans Saints, 1982-1983 Houston Oilers, 1983-1984 Minnesota Vikings
2x Pro Bowler, 75 Weighted Career AV

Manning is the patron Saint (pun, sadly, intended) for quarterbacks stuck on talent-strapped teams. He was the predominant dual-threat quarterback of his era, and he needed every ounce of his mobility -– with no offensive line to speak of, he retired having been sacked 396 times, which was a record. The Saints' 35-91-3 record with Manning behind center is due to bad management and a lack of NFL-quality talent around him. If you never saw him play, don't think of him as a Peyton or Eli –- Archie was mobile, rushing for nearly 2,200 yards and buying time in the pocket, waiting for someone, anyone to get open. Watching old film of Archie is like watching Russell Wilson today -- an offensive line just letting rusher after rusher through, and a quarterback weaving his way through them to keep the play alive. Hank Stram, who coached Manning in 1976 and 1977, put it best: he was a franchise quarterback without a franchise.

Closest Call: Manning's Saints had exactly one non-losing season. In 1979, they had actually gotten a bit of talent to build around – running back Chuck Muncie, receiver Wes Chandler and tight end Henry Childs all made the Pro Bowl as the Saints ended up with the sixth-best scoring offense. They were tied atop the NFC West with the Los Angeles Rams at 7-6 with three weeks to play, and jumped out to a 35-14 lead on Monday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders in Week 14. Then came the collapse – 63 straight points allowed to Oakland and San Diego the next week, knocking the Saints from contention as they finished at 8-8. It would be eight more years before the Saints earned their first playoff appearance.

Other Contenders
Manning is really in a class of his own, here -– especially in the modern era, where so much of team success can be linked to good quarterback play. I mean, just take a look at this table of the most passing yards without a playoff appearance:

Most Passing Yards, No Playoff Appearances, 1967-2017
Player Years Yds TDs INTs Cmp% Rate
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2005-2017 26,991 173 136 59.7% 79.9
Archie Manning 1971-1984 23,911 125 173 55.2% 67.1
Jeff Blake 1992-2005 21,711 134 99 56.4% 78.0
Brian Griese 1998-2008 19,440 119 99 62.7% 82.7
Sam Bradford 2010-2017 19,049 101 57 62.5% 85.1
Ryan Tannehill 2012-2016 18,455 106 66 62.7% 86.5
Kyle Orton 2005-2014 18,037 101 69 59.5% 81.2
Josh McCown 2002-2017 17,168 97 78 60.4% 80.8
Norm Snead 1967*-1976 16,964 113 150 55.0% 66.5
Jason Campbell 2006-2014 16,771 87 60 60.3% 81.7

That table not only shows the changing use of the quarterback over time (A 125-173 TD/INT ratio is more likely to get you run out of town on a rail rather than your jersey raised into the rafters), but also how difficult it is for any modern quarterback to have a long, successful career without making the playoffs -- a collection of journeymen and stopgaps in the modern age.

Norm Snead was a Pro Bowl quarterback for three quarters of the current NFC East – Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Most of his best years came before 1967, but even if there had been playoffs back then, Snead's teams were never good enough to qualify, never finishing better than third in the NFC East. After that, the list gets a bit iffier. Jeff Blake might be the best option from the 12-team playoff era; he made the Pro Bowl in 1995 with the Bengals and twice finished in the top 15 in DYAR. Ryan Fitzpatrick leads all quarterbacks in raw yardage; has started 119 games and has yet to make the playoffs, despite playing for the 10-6 2015 Jets.

Active Contenders
Derek Carr's Raiders made the playoffs in 2016, but Carr himself didn't; his broken fibula ended his season prematurely, so he's yet to get playoff experience. He's one of only three active quarterbacks to have been named to the Pro Bowl without a playoff appearance. Like Carr, Carson Wentz's injury kept him out of Philadelphia's postseason this year. The last one is Jameis Winston, the first –- but certainly not last -- Buccaneer we'll see on this list, and he doesn't have an injury to hide behind. If you're looking for veteran quarterbacks, there's Fitzpatrick, there's Sam Bradford (who was active for the Vikings' playoff run but didn't enter the game) and there's Ryan Tannehill. No real challengers for Manning on the horizon -- this might be Manning's record for life.

Running Backs:

Floyd Little

1967-1975 Denver Broncos
Hall of Famer, 1x All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl, 70 Weighted Career AV

Little is one of the four modern Hall of Famers who never reached the playoffs. He had to wait until 2010 to finally be inducted as a senior candidate, and the fact that he played for some truly wretched Broncos teams goes a long way to explaining just why. Little was a multidimensional weapon as opposed to a pure running back –- he led the AFL in all-purpose yards twice thanks to his success as a kick and punt returner, and he was also a regular weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. His 12,157 all-purpose yards led the league during his career, and he did it without any great help –- none of his offensive linemen garnered a Pro Bowl selection during his career, and the Broncos went 47-73-6 during Little's career.

Closest Call: The Broncos' best record in Little's tenure was in 1973, when they finished 7-5-2 – the first winning season in franchise history. They were third in the league in scoring, with receiver Haven Moses and tight end Riley Odoms joining Little as Pro Bowlers that year. Their record, however, wasn't even good enough for second place in the AFC West, much less challenging the 10-4 Steelers for the AFC's one wildcard slot.

Gale Sayers

1965-1971 Chicago Bears
Hall of Famer, 5x All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowl, 59 Weighted Career AV

Sayers is another of the four playoff-less Hall of Famers, but his place on this list isn't as sure as you might think. Injuries cut his career short, so he only played in 68 games – and 41 percent of those games came before regular playoffs were instituted. If there was another solid running back to put in this slot, I'd raise them above Sayers.
But there's no one else eligible even half as good as Sayers was in his prime. Sayers had five healthy seasons; he was named a first-team All Pro in each and every one. He led the league in all purpose yards three times, from 1965-1967, with his stellar kick return skills. He led the league in rushing twice, including in 1969 when much of his speed had been sapped by a knee injury. He was arguably the best open-field runner the league has ever seen – imagining what his career could have been like with modern medical skills is a great way to depress yourself.

Closest Call: There actually was an extra playoff game in 1965 – at that time, the NFL didn't use a tiebreaker system; they just had the tied teams play an extra game to determine who made the NFL Championship. The Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts tied at 10-3-1 atop the NFC West…and the Bears were a half game behind, at 9-5. Sayers set a rookie record with 22 touchdowns and the defense was led by some other rookie named "Dick Butkus". The finished the season on a 9-2 run, and things looked bright from there, but that promise never actually translated into on-field success.

Other Contenders
Little is, in fact, the all time yardage-leader for players who never reached the postseason. Sayers' abbreviated career keeps him off the list, though.

Most Rushing Yards, No Playoff Appearances, 1967-2017
Player Years Carries Yds Y/A TDs
Floyd Little 1967-1975 1,641 6,323 3.9 43
Travis Henry 2001-2007 1,488 6,086 4.1 38
Doug Martin 2012-2017 1,150 4,633 4.0 26
Dave Hampton 1969-1976 1,148 4,536 4.0 25
Earnest Jackson 1983-1988 1,059 4,167 3.9 22
Johnny Johnson 1990-1994 1,046 4,078 3.9 21
Leonard Russell 1991-1996 1,164 3,973 3.4 29
Randy McMillan 1981-1986 990 3,876 3.9 24
Jim Nance 1967*-1973 931 3,622 3.9 29
Sherman Smith 1976-1983 834 3,520 4.2 28

Jim Nance was the 1966 AFL MVP and twice led the league in rushing yards -– and ended up in as the all-time leading rusher in the World Football League as well, making him arguably the best running back of all time (non-NFL edition). Gary W. Anderson was the fourth-leading rusher in USFL history. When the league folded, he joined the San Diego Chargers, where he started out as a kick returner and backup before taking over the starting job with a 1,000 yard season in 1988 -– Anderson did reach some USFL playoff games, if you care about that sort of thing. Spending time in alternate leagues is a great way to avoid potential NFL playoff appearances!

Sherman Smith was the first offensive draft pick in Seahawks history, a converted quarterback who was the team's leading rusher for their first four seasons -– and then became quite a good running backs coach, helping Eddie George and Marshawn Lynch. Travis Henry was a Pro Bowl running back for Buffalo whose substance abuse issues and eventual drug trafficking conviction ending him up with a prison term, not a playoff appearance; he may well be your 12-team Playoff Era leader along with the Muscle Hamster, Doug Martin, who has made the Pro Bowl in both of his two seasons when he's been both healthy and not-suspended. Dave Hampton was the 1975 Comeback Player of the Year, dancing around the 1,000 yard mark for the Falcons for years. He finished with 995 and 997 yards in in 1972 and 1973 before finally breaking it in 1975.

Active Contenders
There's honestly not a great collection of active running backs who have never see the playoffs. Doug Martin looks to get his first playoff appearance in Oakland, backing up Marshawn Lynch. C.J. Spiller is the first of many Bills who will pop up on the list, though it's questionable as to how 'active' he is; he was cut four times by the Chiefs in 2017 alone. Bilal Powell is up over 3,000 yards for his career, and just missed on a playoff run with the 10 2015 10-6 Jets; he could crack the top 10 in yards with another half-solid season. There are a few young players who haven't hit the jackpot yet –- notably Melvin Gordon with the Chargers and Jordan Howard with the Bears -– but it's safe to say that Sayers and Little will hold on to these slots for quite some time. Now, if Saquon Barkley were to go to the Browns…

Wide Receivers

Brandon Marshall

2006-2009 Denver Broncos, 2010-2011 Miami Dolphins, 2012-2014 Chicago Bears, 2015-2016 New York Jets, 2017 New York Giants
1x All-Pro, 6x Pro Bowl, 84 Weighted Career AV

Joe Thomas hands off the title of best active player to have never made the playoffs to Brandon Marshall. Unlike Thomas, Marshall has been shuttled around from situation to situation, and still has failed to find that elusive playoff slot. He's made the Pro Bowl with four different teams, had eight 1,000-yard receiving campaigns, led the league in touchdowns in 2015 -– no dice. No one else has ever put up thousand-yard campaign for four different teams, and Marshall has done it without the free agent market; he's been sent around the league in trades. He's only once cracked the top 10 in DYAR – 2013 in Chicago, with a 100/1295/12 line -– but he's been a consistent high-volume producer with some very questionable quarterback play. He should be healthy to start the 2018 season, but whether the 34-year-old will stay with the Giants or bounce head to his sixth NFL team remains up in the air.

Closest Call: Marshall has had the misfortune to play on two 10-win teams that still managed to miss the playoffs. In 2012, his 10-6 Bears lost the divisional tiebreaker to the Vikings, despite a 20.5% DVOA and the top defense in football. In 2015, his 10-6 Jets lost the common games tiebreaker to the Steelers, despite a 12.4% DVOA and a top-five defense. He also left the Broncos the year before the Inexplicable Tim Tebow Playoff Run. Marshall's been exceptionally unlucky.

J.T. Smith

1978 Washington Redskins, 1979-1984 Kansas City Chiefs, 1985-1990 St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals
1x All-Pro, 2x Pro Bowl, 57 Weighted Career AV

J.T. Smith's is perhaps most famous for leading the league in both receptions (91) and receiving yards (1,117) in 1987. Of course, the caveat there is that he played in all three replacement player games, which contributed to his peers not selecting him for the Pro Bowl, but he was 10th in DYAR in just the 'normal' games that year, too. He wasn't a one-season (or poor-competition) wonder, either; Smith was an All-Pro as a punt returner in 1980 and a Pro Bowler as a receiver in 1988, continuing to be a solid receiver into his mid-30s. While his strike-shortened season was tops, he also went over 1,000 yards from scrimmage the year before and after. Smith actually started as a reserve safety in Washington, and then as a running back, while the Chiefs mostly used his speed on punt and kick returns -– it was the Cardinals who eventually stuck him at receiver and kept him there.

Closest Call: Smith led the 1981 Chiefs with 63 receptions for 852 yards, but the real star of that team was rookie Joe Delaney, who ran for 1,121 yards and made the Pro Bowl. The defense was fairly solid, as well, with Gary Green and Gary Barbaro both making the Pro Bowl in the secondary alongside defensive end Art Still. After Week 12, they were sitting pretty at 8-4 and were sitting in playoff position, but an injury to quarterback Bill Kenney helped trigger a three-game losing streak. They finished the year at 9-7, a game behind both San Diego for the AFC West and Buffalo for the last wild card slot.

Other Contenders
Marshall has easily lapped the field when it comes to production from receivers who never made the postseason.

Most Recieving Yards, No Playoff Appearances, 1967-2017
Player Years Rec Yds Y/R TDs
Brandon Marshall 2006-2017 959 12,215 12.7 82
J.T. Smith 1978-1990 544 6,974 12.8 35
Gary Garrison 1967*-1977 359 6,896 19.2 54
Darnay Scott 1994-2002 408 6,193 15.2 37
Danny Abramowicz 1967-1974 369 5,686 15.4 39
Kellen Winslow II 2004-2013 469 5,236 11.2 25
Kenny Britt 2009-2017 329 5,137 15.6 32
Brian Hartline 2009-2015 344 4,766 13.9 14
Stevie Johnson 2008-2015 381 4,764 12.5 34
David Boston 1999-2005 315 4,699 14.9 25
*Not including 1966 performance (642 yards)

Danny Abramowicz led the league in receptions and was named an All-Pro in 1969 with the Saints; he also ranked in the top 10 in receptions and yards from 1968-1970. He was beginning to slow down before Archie Manning arrived, as the Saints never could put everything together. Darnay Scott had a handful of seasons in the top 30 of both DYAR and DVOA, including a 16.5% mark in 1997 with the Bengals. Ben Hawkins led the NFL in receiving in 1967, one of his six years with 30+ receptions for the Eagles. There are also a few receivers who earned an All-Pro nod but never managed to recapture those heights or make the playoffs for various reasons: Dick Gordon, who led the NFL in receptions in 1970; David Boston, whose 2001 season remains one of the most baffling in recent NFL history; and Josh Gordon who may, finally, be getting his career back in order.

Active Contenders
Josh Gordon has had to battle the twin issues of multiple years of marijuana suspensions and playing for the Cleveland Browns; he is arguably the most talented receiver in the NFL today who has yet to see the playoffs, including Marshall. If it's not Gordon, it might well be Mike Evans, who has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first four seasons. Allen Robinson missed the Jaguars' playoff run with a torn ACL; his new deal with the Bears doesn't seem likely to pay dividends with an immediate playoff run, but we would have said the same about Jacksonville, as well. After Marshall, the active leader in receiving yards without a playoff appearance is Kenny Britt, who was on New England's roster this postseason but never saw action.

Tight End

Kellen Winslow II

2004-2008 Cleveland Browns, 2009-2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2012 New England Patriots, 2013 New York Jets
1x Pro Bowl, 38 Weighted Career AV

Of the "modern" tight ends – that is, post-1980, when they started running full route trees and becoming a universal part of an offense's weaponry -– Kellen Winslow II is the cream of the playoff-less crop. With just over 5,000 receiving yards in his nine-year career, Winslow has more yards than any other playoff-less tight end in history. He wasn't just an accumulator, though -– while not the player his father was, Winslow regularly was a 65+ catch receiver when healthy, leading both the Browns and Buccaneers at various points in his career. A broken leg, motorcycle accident and staph infections limited what he could do physically and his – let's say "brash attitude" and leave it at that – made him a less-than-beloved presence in the locker room, but when he was both healthy and in his team's good graces, he was a strong weapon. He's the only tight end in the top 10 of receiving yards for non-playoff players, so that has to count for something.

Closest Call: Winslow was, briefly, a member of a playoff team! In 2012, Winslow was part of the New England Patriots, but requested his release after just one game. He wouldn't have been much of a contributor either way – this was when both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez formed the Patriots' two-tight end set – but he likely would have at least gotten a playoff game or two out of the deal had he been able to physically hold out for the entire season.

Other Contenders
Jim Whalen was the AFL All-Pro tight end in 1968 as a member of the Boston Patriots, ending up with over 3,000 yards in his career and serving as Boston's primary receiving threat in the latter half of the AFL's existence. He's probably your leader of the pre-Don Coryell (and, coincidentally enough, Kellen Winslow Sr) tight end era, where tight ends generally ran short drag routes rather than full route trees.
After him, though, the pickings get mighty slim.

Randy McMichael had five seasons in DVOA's top 20 with the Dolphins and Chargers, and is Miami's all-time leading tight end in receptions and yards. Henry Childs is a New Orleans Saints Hall of Famer and one of Archie Manning's top weapons in the two years where they almost had a winning record. Tony McGee ranked in the top 10 in DYAR from 1995 to 1998. At the time of our 10th anniversary in 2013, Freddie Jones had the lowest DYAR of any tight end we had tracked; he still ended up with 4,200 yards and appears on this list because it's really hard to find good tight ends who never made the playoffs.

Active Contenders
There really aren't any real active contenders for Winslow's throne. Lance Kendricks is the active recieving yards leader among tight ends who have never made the playoffs (there's a suspiciously specific superlative for you), and there's every chance he'll be bumped off this list with a full season from a healthy Aaron Rodgers. Then you have Zach Miller, who may never play again after his gruesome leg injury in 2017. So, when you're looking for an active leader, you might well have to lean on the rookies (Evan Engram and O.J. Howard) or other young tight ends who really haven't been in the league long enough to constiute a 'drought', including Cameron Brate, Hunter Henry and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Offensive Line

Tackles

Joe Thomas

2007-2017 Cleveland Browns
6x All-Pro, 10x Pro Bowl, 83 Weighted Career AV

A fun (or "fun") game to play with Thomas is whether or not you could make a playoff team from all of his Browns teams. You could stick 2007 One-Year-Wonder Derek Anderson at quarterback, with Josh Gordon, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow II as his receivers. Jamal Lewis and former Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis could rotate in the backfield. Plenty of 2017's young defensive players could find a home, along with Shaun Rogers, Ahtya Rubin and Jabaal Sheard on the defensive line. D'Qwell Jackson finally made a Pro Bowl after he left the Browns, and you could bring T.J. Ward and Joe Haden back for the secondary. That's almost a playoff team, at the very least! And it only took a decade of assembling talent to make it happen.

Closest Call: In Thomas' rookie year, the Browns were good! Kind of! They were 12th in DVOA at 9.7% and actually featured a top-10 offense. Derek Anderson had his aforementioned One Good Season, throwing for nearly 3800 yards with a receiving core of Edwards, Winslow and Josh Cribbs. They finished 10-6, but lost out on tiebreakers to both the Steelers and Titans to miss the playoffs. They've never had a winning season since.

Matt Herkenhoff

1976-1985 Kansas City Chiefs
49 Weighted Career AV

It's actually pretty rough looking for two offensive tackles for this list. Herkenhoff had a 12-year career with Kansas City, starting 117 games and being a consistent presence on Kansas City's line for decades. He's probably the best player Hank Stram drafted in his last five years in charge of the Chiefs, which might be part of the reason Kansas City had just one winning season between 1974 and 1985.

Closest Call: That one winning season was 1981 – J.T. Smith's closest call from half a dozen paragraphs ago! If the Chiefs win one more game that season, we knock a couple of these guys off the list.

Guards

Lance Smith

1985-1993 St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals; 1994-1996 New York Giants
57 Weighted Career AV

Smith started every game for the Cardinals at right guard from 1988 to 1993, and quite a few others besides – 165 starts in all, missing just 10 games in his career. A noted run blocker, Smith paved the way for Pro Bowlers Ron Wolfley and Rodney Hampton. He never quite lived up to his college potential, where he was a multi-time first-team SEC star at LSU, but a dozen-year career is nothing to scoff at.

Closest Call: Smith played on just one winning team in his entire career – the 1994 Giants, who only managed a -7.0% DVOA. It was an odd year; they opened the season with three straight wins, followed that with seven straight losses, and then won six straight to close the season out. They finished second in the NFC East at 9-7, ending up in a four-way tie for the three wild card slots with Packers, Lions and Bears. Thanks to a complicated series of tiebreakers, the Giants were the one odd team left out, and Smith never made the playoffs.

Doug Van Horn

1966 Detroit Lions, 1968-1979 New York Giants
52 Weighted Career AV

Van Horn started at right guard, right tackle and left guard for the Giants, playing in 172 games and missing only a handful of starts throughout his career – his 103 consecutive starts was a record for the Giants for many, many years until David Diehl and Eli Manning surpassed him in the 2000s. He was a technician, with surprising quickness and footwork for his era – and for a team that was nearly always among the laughingstocks of the league.

Closest Call:: The Giants weren't terrible when Van Horn started out; they gradually drifted that way over the course of his career. In 1970, they finished 9-5, led by Fran Tarkenton and All-Pro Ron Johnson in the backfield. Losses to some terrible teams – the Saints and the Eagles among them – hurt, and they finished a game out of both the NFC East and wildcard races.

Center

Jon Morris

1964-1974 Boston/New England Patriots, 1975-1977 Detroit Lions, 1978 Chicago Bears
1x All-Pro, 7x Pro Bowl, 66 Weighted Career AV

Apart from Thomas, our center is the best of the bunch. A member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, Jon Morris was the second-best center in the AFL, just behind Jim Otto. Morris was named to the AFL All-Star game in each of his first seven seasons, and he wasn't just a product of a weaker AFL – he made the NFL Pro Bowl in the first season after the merger, as well. We mentioned Jim Nance earlier among the running backs; he wouldn't have looked nearly as good without Morris paving the way.

Closest Call: Had playoffs been a thing in 1964, Morris wouldn't be on this list. The Patriots went 10-3-1 that season, second in the AFL East behind the Buffalo Bills. If we limit our look to just post-'67 seasons, then Morris' best chance was 1974. The Pats started off hot, jumping out to a 6-1 record. They only won a single game the rest of the way, however, and 7-7 kept them two games out of playoff contention.

Other Contenders
I debated long and hard about including Ken Gray, a six-time Pro Bowler for the St. Louis Cardinals. While he did last into the playoff era and may still be the best guard in franchise history, too much of his career happened in the '50s and '60s for him to get on the list proper, rather than just an honorable mention. Ditto Howard Mudd, a three time Pro Bowler for San Francisco in the '60s before a knee injury ended his career.

But let's talk about Herkenhoff and those Chief teams of the '70s and '80s. The lines didn't just feature Herkenhoff -- Tom Condon and Charlie Getty were all on the line from 1976-1982, and that's three very solid players to build around. I looked long and hard and couldn't find a similar situation, where a team had such a solid offensive line and yet no success whatsoever. The Chiefs ran early, and they ran often; the 1978 "Wing-T" Chiefs rank fourth all-time with 663 rushing attempts in a season, and three more of these Chiefs squads appear in the top 100 of all time. They ran the ball 69 times in their 1978 opener, which remains the second-highest total of all time! This, to a certain extent, was how the game was played in the late '70s (all of the top 10 most rushing attempts in a season came between 1973 and 1984), but the Chiefs took it to a whole different level.

Those Chiefs are also in a bit of a league of their own. Yes, they have one of the longest playoff droughts in the postseason era, but they were rarely terrible. Most teams in the midst of droughts find themselves in the basement of their division, but the Chiefs were a cut above your normal awful teams:

Longest Playoff Droughts, 1967-2017
Team Drought Seasons Last in Division Record Winning Pct
New Orleans Saints 1967-1986 20 9 90-196-5 0.318
Buffalo Bills 2000-2016 17 8 112-160 0.412
Cleveland Browns 2003-2017 15 13 67-173 0.279
St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals 1983-1997 15 7 88-149-2 0.372
Cincinnati Bengals 1991-2004 14 6 71-153 0.317
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1983-1996 14 8 64-159 0.287
Kansas City Chiefs 1972-1985 14 5 83-120-2 0.410
New York Giants 1967*-1980 14 7 74-127-1 0.369
Oakland Raiders 2003-2015 13 6 63-145 0.303
St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams 2005-2016 12 6 60-131-1 0.315
San Diego Chargers 1967*-1978 12 3 71-93-6 0.435

The '60s and '70s also have a pretty lengthy list of linemen with a decade or more of starting experience and no playoff appearances, including:

  • Darrick Brilz (SEA and CIN)
  • Ernie McMillan (STL)
  • Willie Young (NYG)
  • Terry Owens (SD)
  • Bob Newton (CHI/SEA)
  • Bob Kowalkowski (DET)

Free agency and expanded playoff fields make it a bit tougher to find 21st century players. If you're looking for a 12-Playoff-Team-Era line, you probably start with Chester Pitts, was one of the original Texans, with all the growing paints that implies. He started every game for their first eight seasons, at either left guard or left tackle. Erik Pears is one of many Bills that fell into the 17-year playoff drought they broke in 2017. Then you have long-term veterans like Damion McIntosh, Ian Beckles, Victor Riley and Kendyl Jacox -- regular starters, but not exactly knocking down the doors of the Pro Bowl, much less the Hall of Fame. They're joined by Mike Pouncey, who has now escaped the Dolphins and leads us nicely into…

Modern Contenders:
With Thomas riding off into the sunset, the title of best offensive linemen stuck in terrible situations goes to a pair of three-time Pro Bowlers. Mike Pouncey was somewhat surprisingly released by the Dolphins as part of their big offseason purge; while he's no longer the Pro Bowl player he was from 2013-15, and his hips are a major injury concern, he's still a major pickup for the LA Chargers (and might end his playoff-less streak there). Kyle Long is the other Pro Bowler; he hasn't been fully healthy for two seasons, but made the Pro Bowl at both guard and center before that. It's quite a downgrade from Thomas, of course, but who wouldn't be?

There are actually six other active linemen who have started 60 or more games in their careers and have yet to see the playoffs:

  • Will Beatty (who has managed to earn two Super Bowl rings without a single postseason snap)
  • Cordy Glenn (who missed the Bills' playoff run this year with foot and ankle injuries
  • Demar Dotson
  • Joe Barksdale
  • Ricky Wagner
  • Shawn Lauvao

Tomorrow, we'll look at the defensive side of the ball to find two more Hall of Famers as well as the league leader in games played without a playoff appearance.

(Ed. Note: Career AV numbers courtesy Pro-Football-Reference.com)

Comments

27 comments, Last at 12 Apr 2018, 4:04pm

1 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by mansteel // Apr 09, 2018 - 2:19pm

Fun article, perfect for the offseason. And a nice trip down memory lane for this fortysomething football fan...and Giants fan. Doug Van Horn! Not a name you see mentioned every day, he was among the best players on the teams I grew up rooting for. Bet we'll see a couple of '70s Giants players on the defensive side of the ball as well. Brad Van Pelt lasted past the end of the playoff drought, if memory serves, but maybe John Mendenhall? Brian Kelley?

Can't believe that Brandon Marshall has never played for a playoff team. By the way, I think you meant that he left the Broncos the year before the crazy Tebow year, not joined a year after.

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2 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Aaron Schatz // Apr 09, 2018 - 3:22pm

I'll go fix that.

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3 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by vrao81 // Apr 09, 2018 - 4:48pm

Could you do list of all-stars for players who had never made a pro bowl? For example: Jeff Backus, Curtis Conway, Tony Nathan etc.

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4 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Bryan Knowles // Apr 09, 2018 - 5:34pm

An interesting question.

At quarterback, you could actually go with Joe Flacco, though I think I'd be a Steve Grogan guy, myself. It's that pro-Patriots bias this site is so famous for, I suppose. Jim Plunkett, Joe Ferguson, Steve DeBerg and Craig Morton make a lot of sense, as well.

You've got a tougher time elsewhere. You could do worse than Reggie Bush/Mark Van Eeghen as your running back/fullback combo. Tony Nathan would technically count as well, but he was an All-Pro returner one year, so it feels like that breaks the spirit of the game.

You mention Curtis Conway, but I think we can do better at receiver. Marques Colston never made the Pro Bowl, nor did Joey Galloway, and they were around forever. Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer would be an interesting pair as well -- and I have to rep Freddie Solomon, because I can be a filthy 49ers' homer at times.

I'd have to dig into the numbers more than a quick reply, but Bob Tucker probably holds the tight end record for yardage without a Pro Bowl appearance.

The offensive line takes the longest time to research of all this stuff (there's not exactly a lot of stats out there, nor a lot of ink spilled over the fourth-best offensive tackles of the 1970s), but just going straight by AV, you'd have Wayne Gandy and Stan Brock as your tackles, Dan Alexander and Randy Rasmussen as your guards and Todd McClure as your center, and that's as good a list as any, I suppose.

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7 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by JIPanick // Apr 09, 2018 - 6:34pm

Here's my take.

QB: Craig Morton. He couldn't compensate for poor line play or being in Super Bowls, but he was great otherwise. Got snubbed in voting for the 1969 and 1977 pro bowls in spite of leading the NFL in passing efficiency (at least, once he actually threw it...) possibly because he had sack rates of 9% and 14.5%(!) in those two seasons.

Honorable mention to Steve DeBerg, who probably could have been great if he could have gotten out from behind Staubach/Montana/Elway/Young/Marino (delete where not applicable for a given year). DeBerg '90 (#3 DYAR, #3 DVOA) was one of the all-time great seasons to draw a Pro Bowl snub.

RB: Reggie Bush. He's second all-time in running back YSrcm without a playoff spot, behind longtime Arizona/Tampa change of pace guy Michael Pittman. Kind of odd that his accomplishments exceeded his recognition given the hype train he rode into the NFL on.

Honorable mentions to Mark Van Eghen (back-to-back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons for Madden's Raiders, including the Super Bowl winner), Preston Pearson, a utility back/return man for the Steelers and then Cowboys of the 1970s who got a couple years as a feature back before Tony Dorsett came along, Kevin Faulk, long time Patriot guy, and Fred Jackson, who you are probably familiar with.

WR: Joey Galloway laps the field here. A high pick who put in a long career with a lot of good seasons (6x1,000 yards receiving) but never managed to really have a GREAT one. It probably hurt him that his quarterbacks were either past their peak (40 yo Warren Moon, Tampa era Jeff Garcia) or just terrible to begin with (the Aikman-Romo interregnum).

I think the other starter gets to be Amani Toomer, who was useful but unspectacular for many, many years with the Giants.

Honorable mentions to Toomer's teammate Plaxico Buress (maybe if he hadn't shot the last few years of his career in the foot?), Eddie Kennison and Marques Colston.

TE: Bob Tucker was rock solid for the miserable Giants teams of the 1970s; he is just barely behind Benjamin Watson for most receiving yards for a Pro Bowl-less tight end, which is extremely impressive for the era.

Honorable mention to Watson.

LT: Matt Lepsis was the consensus 2nd best lineman on the "plug-and-play 1,000 yarder" Broncos behind Tom Nalen after Zimmerman retired but never got a Hawaii trip.

LG: Brad Meester played 209 of a possible 220 games at left guard and then center for the trainwreck the Jaguars became in the 2000s. He might have made the above article if they'd lost one more game in 2007.

C: Todd McClure was a 7th round pick for Atlanta in 1999; he took over as the starting center the year before they brought in Michael Vick, and retired after the heartbreaking NFC title loss to San Francisco. In between he played 207 games for the Falcons.

RG: Tom Rafferty missed only one start between the ages of 23 and 34, all for the Dallas Cowboys; he was at right guard for Tony Dorsett's first carry and snapped the ball for Aikman's first pass. He may have gotten lost in the glare of the other stars on those teams.

RT: Stan Brock was a high first round pick in 1980, and went on to start more than 200 NFL games, mostly for the still doormat post-Archie Saints. He almost managed the double-whammy of no pro bowls and no playoff wins, but in his next last to season he was on the Chargers team that Steve Young and Jerry Rice used as a punching bag in Super Bowl XXIX.

That's 10 because I didn't pick a fullback... we can go 3 wide with Plaxico to get to 11.

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5 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by JIPanick // Apr 09, 2018 - 5:45pm

Fun article, I look forward to part two.

"[Archie Manning] was the predominant dual-threat quarterback of his era" is a kinda bold claim to make about a contemporary of Fran Tarkenton and Roger "the Dodger" Staubach. Manning was 5th in rushing yards over the 1971-1977 window where he was still mobile; trailing Bobby Douglass, Greg Landry, Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw. Of course, calling Douglass "dual threat" would be overly generous to his passing.

Brian Griese being on the "no playoff appearances" table is a little unfair, he led the Broncos to a wildcard spot in 2000 but missed the game with an injury; I think this one was in game against the 49ers, and not the time he tripped over his dog and fell down the stairs. Similarly, Kyle Orton took the Bears to a bye in 2005 but was benched for Rex Grossman when the latter returned from injury during December.

It's nuts how Brandon Marshall has somehow managed not to make the playoffs. He should become the next obligatory Patriot veteran minimum receiver; either he gets off the list or the curse of Marshall knocks the Pats out of the playoffs. I'm happy with either =D

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6 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Bryan Knowles // Apr 09, 2018 - 5:50pm

Unfair, but accurate: the Brian Griese story.

If anything, I feel worse for Will Beatty. A detached retina cost him Super Bowl XLVI, and he ended up as a bench warmer for Super Bowl LII. Let the man have one playoff snap!

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8 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by gomer_rs // Apr 09, 2018 - 10:37pm

Would love to see this for defense...

Give me some CORTEZ KENNEDY!!!
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

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10 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Bright Blue Shorts // Apr 10, 2018 - 7:47am

Careful reading reveals ...

"Many of the most famous great players on terrible teams made it to the playoffs at least once. Cortez Kennedy made the 1999 wild-card game. Calvin Johnson has two wild-card losses to his name. Willie Roaf made the playoffs twice. Barry Sanders made the playoffs on five separate occasions!"

"Tomorrow, we'll look at the defensive side of the ball to find two more Hall of Famers as well as the league leader in games played without a playoff appearance."

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27 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by gomer_rs // Apr 12, 2018 - 4:04pm

I always forget that Tez was still on the team with Galloway, Kitna, and Springs.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

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9 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by hoegher // Apr 09, 2018 - 10:58pm

Sam Bradford played in the NFC Championship last year. You may have turned off the game by that point, though.

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15 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by ChrisS // Apr 10, 2018 - 1:28pm

I don't see his name in the snap counts for that game.

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17 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by hoegher // Apr 10, 2018 - 2:01pm

Weird, I was sure he played. Maybe I imagined it, I was drowning my sorrows pretty heavily.

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11 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Will Allen // Apr 10, 2018 - 9:45am

You really have to adjust for era. Gary Garrison was a great receiver, playing the vast majority of his career in the most passing unfriendly era in NFL history. No, J.T. Smith's 6900 yards from 1978 to 1990 is not superior to Garrison's 6800 yards from 1967 to 1977. Garrison's yardage is much, much, much, more valuable. I even think a case can be made that Garrison was better than Marshall

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16 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by ChrisS // Apr 10, 2018 - 1:40pm

I did not remember Garrison, in those days there were limited games on TV, but his stats do seem to put him in the same neighborhood as Marshall. Garrison/Marshall: 4/6 Pro Bowls, 6/5 Top 10 RecYds/Season, 5/4 Top 10 TDs/Season. Where they differ is that Garrison is more of a deep threat 6 years in top 10 yds/catch (0 for Marshall), and Marshall is more of possession receiver, 8 years in top 10 for #Receptions (0 for Garrison). But that difference is also a part of the difference in the eras, Long-Ball vs West-Coast.

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12 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Will Allen // Apr 10, 2018 - 9:59am

The corpse of Norm Snead started two games for the 1971 Vikings, which had a historically great defense from 69-71, and a terrific offensive line, but was saddled with crappy quarterbacking. Snead did not get any snaps in the Vikings playoff loss to the champion Cowboys, quarterbacked by Staubach, as two Viking qbs, Lee and Cuozzo, tossed 4 ints in a 20-12 loss.

The '69 Viking team, of course, lost to a Chiefs team qbed by HOFer Len Dawson, and the '70 team lost to a Niner team qbed by a great player, John Brodie, who would have been on this list, if he did not finally get some decent teammates at age 35.

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13 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Will Allen // Apr 10, 2018 - 10:07am

Terry Bradshaw was born 9/2/48, and Archie Manning was born 5/19/49. Reverse those DoBs, and I think there is about a 95% chance that Archie is thought to be a better qb than his son Peyton, and Bradshaw is a local New Orleans celebrity.

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14 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Apr 10, 2018 - 12:25pm

In Pittsburgh, perhaps.

Peak Archie Manning seems to be a lot like Staubach. Does anyone seriously consider Staubach better than P. Manning?

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18 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by JIPanick // Apr 10, 2018 - 2:17pm

I consider Staubach the closest thing P.Manning has to a peer. Certainly Staubach has a case; similar passing efficiency, better athleticism, and you can make a good argument Manning had better receivers.

Staubach with four Super Bowls would be thought of as a Brady-Montana level QB, and they are often claimed to be better than Manning. If you assume the Steelers still win as much with Archie as with Bradshaw and your comparison is valid that's what you're looking at.

All that said, I don't know about "Archie Manning on a good team = Staubach". Of course, if you assume Archie goes to Pittsburgh and doesn't keep up, then the real Staubach probably gets four. =D

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23 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Will Allen // Apr 10, 2018 - 3:29pm

Archie was flat out better, by a good margin, to Bradshaw, through their first 5 years or so. Put Archie on that 1972 Steelers team, and I like their chances against the Dolphins in the AFCCG. Who knows what NFL history looks like. I like Archie as a 1st ballot HOFer with Pittsburgh, with maybe 5 Super Bowl rings.

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25 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Jerry // Apr 11, 2018 - 3:22am

Does Archie get concussed in the 1972 Championship Game and miss time the way Bradshaw did?

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26 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Will Allen // Apr 11, 2018 - 9:00am

Maybe not. Bradshaw was mobile, but not nearly as elusive as Archie was. People forget how many seasons it took for Bradshaw to fully establish himself. Archie was clearly the better player coming into the league, and if he had been given the benefit of the Steelers roster and Chuck Noll, the Steelers would have been even better in the first half of the 70s.

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19 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by bkennedy99 // Apr 10, 2018 - 2:32pm

Jason Peters deserves some serious consideration for this list

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20 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Travis // Apr 10, 2018 - 2:36pm

Jason Peters played in 3 different postseasons for the Eagles (2009, 2010, 2013).

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21 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by bkennedy99 // Apr 10, 2018 - 2:39pm

n/m - I picked up a bad factoid somewhere

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22 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by Travis // Apr 10, 2018 - 2:54pm

He's probably on the list of best players never to win a playoff game.

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24 Re: Joe Thomas All-Stars (Offensive Edition)

by The Ninjalectual // Apr 11, 2018 - 2:04am

Am I the only person who moved Joe Thomas to TE in Madden? I haven't played recently, but he was dominant there for several years.

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